Current Affairs 26th May

Over 13 lakh evacuated as Yaas races towards Odisha coastline #GS3 #DM

Several thousands of people in coastal districts of Odisha are bracing for the impact of the very severe cyclonic storm, Yaas, which is set to hit the coast with wind speeds of 155-165 kmph early on Wednesday morning. The State government has moved over two lakh people from vulnerable areas to safety.

In neighbouring West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said about 11 lakh people have been evacuated and given shelter in 4,000 cyclone shelters of the State. Ms. Banerjee said that there were reports of localised tornadoes at two places Halisahar in Nadia and Chinsurah in Hooghly district of the State.

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the cyclone was intensifying and moving north-northwest and is likely to make a landfall near north Odisha coast very close to Chandbali-Dhamra port. According to the IMD wind speeds would further increase to 155-165 kmph over northwest Bay of Bengal and along and off north Odisha and adjoining West Bengal coasts including Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara and Bhadrak, from early morning of May 26.

The system will extend to Balasore district of Odisha from the forenoon of May 26. Tidal waves of height 2-4 metres are likely to inundate low lying areas of, Balasore, Bhadrak and about 2 metres above tide are likely to hit coastal areas of, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur Districts around the time of landfall.

We had started the process of evacuation from Monday. As of now, more than 2.5 lakh people have been evacuated and the process is going on.

The government said it was prepared for landfall near Bhitarakanika, Dhamra and Chandbali. It has also brought new areas such as parts of Dhenkanal, Angul and Sundargarh districts under disaster management operations along with Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Jajpur.

New IT rules come into force today; will comply, says FB #GS3 #SnT

While the new stricter rules for social media intermediaries such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google. Twitter and Telegram, come into effect, a majority of platforms are yet to fully comply with ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’.

There is no clarity on the immediate consequences of non-compliance. However, experts say these companies could lose the ‘safe harbour’ protection that currently gives them protection against liability (civil as well as criminal) for content posted on their platform by third party users.

In reply to a query, social media giant Facebook on Tuesday said it “aims to comply” with the provisions of the revised IT Rules and continues to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government.

“Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform.

Meanwhile, in an emailed response, instant messaging firm Telegram said it has complied with “almost all the new IT laws” and has informed the concerned authorities regarding the compliance in writing. Indian microblogging platform Koo, has said that it has met the compliance requirements of the new rules.

Bay of Bengal, fomenting Yaas, hotter than normal for season #GS3 #DM

Climate scientists say the Bay of Bengal, where Cyclone ‘Yaas’ has formed, is at least two degrees warmer than what is normal for this time of the year. “The north Bay of Bengal is exceptionally warm with temperatures up to 32 degrees Celsius. Distance to landfall is short, preventing it from drawing that energy and intensifying into an extremely severe cyclone.

Generally, cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are ferocious and cause significant devastation. Amphan was a super cyclone that ravaged West Bengal in March last year. It was the strongest storm that hit India’s eastern coast since the super cyclone of 1999, that struck Paradip, Odisha. Before Amphan, Fani in 2019 also hit Odisha, causing immense damage that lasted weeks.

Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are not unexpected in May and result from increased ocean surface temperatures. The formation of storms in this period are favourable for drawing in the monsoon into the Andamans and subsequently to the Kerala coast.

Researchers have pointed to trends that suggest a relative decrease in the number of cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and a rise in the Arabian Sea. About 60% of the cyclones that form in these seas make landfall in India causing damage and devastation, according to data from the Earth Sciences Ministry.

First warning

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) first warned on May 19 the likelihood of the formation of Yaas, even as Tauktae was still to completely abate after landfall over Gujarat.

The maximum windspeeds from Yaas, a name furnished by Oman’s meteorological agency, are expected to touch 125 kmph, lower than recorded from Tauktae, which landed at the Gujarat coast earlier this month, and was categorised as an ‘extremely severe’ cyclone, which is only one category lower than the highest ‘super cyclone’ grading on the weather agency’s cyclone grading scale.

Yaas is expected to heighten into a ‘very severe’ cyclone by Tuesday noon and make landfall between the Odisha and West Bengal coasts by Wednesday morning.

“It is very likely to cross north Odisha-West Bengal coasts between Paradip and Sagar Island around Balasore (Odisha) during noon of May 26 as a very severe cyclonic storm,” said an IMD statement on Monday.

With the advent of the storm, rains and gale force winds are expected in northern Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim. Tidal waves up to 4 metres in height are expected over the West Bengal and Odisha coasts as the storm approaches.

CJI made ‘statement of law’ at CBI panel #GS2 #Governance

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s opinion in the high-level committee to avoid officers with less than six months left to retire for appointment as CBI Director is a simple “statement of law”. It was not a comment on the professional prowess of those who now find themselves outside the zone of consideration.

Two senior IPS officers, Y.C. Modi and Rakesh Asthana, went out of contention for the post. Mr. Modi retires in May. Mr. Asthana in July.

The CJI was clear during the meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of largest Opposition party, on Monday that the committee’s selection of officers should be able to withstand the “scrutiny of law in the future”.

For this, officers with a “few days left” in service should not be considered. In this context, 10 of the senior most officers of the 1984 batch, scheduled to retire soon, were not considered. The six-month minimum residual tenure rule was introduced by the Supreme Court in a March 13, 2019 order. Though the order in the Prakash Singh case pertained to the appointment of DGPs, it was extended to CBI Director too.

The order, pronounced by a three-judge Bench led by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had clarified that the “recommendation for appointment to the post of Director General of Police by the Union Public Service Commission and preparation of panel should be purely on the basis of merit from officers who have a minimum residual tenure of six months, that is, officers who have at least six months of service prior to retirement”.

The apex court had indicated the possibility that officers with only a few days of service may be in an insecure state of mind. In the Prakash Singh case, the Supreme Court had stressed the point that appointment of DGPs “should be purely on the basis of merit and to insulate the office from all kinds of influences and pressures”.

As on date, the CBI has jurisdiction to investigate offences pertaining to 69 Central laws, 18 State Acts and 231 offences in the IPC. The Director is to hold the post for not less than two years as held by the Vineet Narain judgment of 1998. He/she may not be transferred except with the previous consent of the high-level committee.

The CJI had also studied a Supreme Court judgment, Union of India versus C. Dinakar, reported in 2004, in the context of the appointment process. In this, the apex court had held that “ordinarily IPS officers of the senior most four batches in service on the date of retirement of CBI Director, irrespective of their empanelment, shall be eligible for consideration for appointment to the post of CBI Director”.

Mucormycosis: avoid damp, dusty places #GS3 #SnT

It takes around four weeks for the effect of steroids administered to COVID-19 patients to wear off and it is important to keep oneself protected during this time. Patients, especially those in the high-risk category for mucormycosis, should avoid visiting damp and dusty places for a few weeks post recovery.

He said if it is unavoidable, they are strongly advised to wear a three-ply mask and gloves and fully cover legs and arms. It is vital to keep COVID-19 patients’ oxygen mask and canula sterile to prevent mucormycosis. It is necessary to keep a regular check on water used in oxygenation for any possible contamination.

Mucormycosis (black fungus infection) is caused by a group of moulds known as mucormycetes, which are present in the air, water and moist surfaces, in damp places. It appears as black spots in the nasal cavity, mouth and throat.

A healthy person’s immunity does not allow it to cause infection. However, it can cause severe infection in an immunocompromised person. The Central government allocated an additional 19,420 vials of Amphotericin-B to all States/UTs and Central institutions.

Dr. Sharma said doctors should guide a COVID-19 patient about how to look for its early signs. “At the hospitals, doctors and nurses should check for the symptoms in patients being treated with steroids or other immunosuppressive agents.

On why so many patients are getting affected, Dr. Sharma said mucormycosis is generally affecting COVID-19 patients who are prescribed steroids or those who have uncontrolled diabetes.

“Though steroids are an effective treatment for some patients who develop severe inflammatory response. But they should always be given under medical supervision. If given too early, too much and for too long, they can make one susceptible to catching secondary bacterial or fungal infections.

Doctors say Amphotericin-B is not a commonly used antifungal drug and with a low safety profile it’s used for very severe, life-threatening fungal infection or for mucormycosis, for which cases were low previously.

Vikramjeet Singh, senior consultant, Department of Internal Medicine, Aakash Healthcare, Delhi, said: “Now due to COVID infection and some other factors, the incidence of mucormycosis has increased and we have started using Amphotericin-B in these cases. For post-COVID mucormycosis, this is the only drug which can be given.

“Due to the shortage of the drug, it is the patients of mucormycosis who are suffering. But the situation is improving and we are hopeful that patient survival rate will be good.

Panel to define offences of speech, expression #GS2 #Governance

A panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”

As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is attempting for the first time to define such speech.

“Who will decide what constitutes a hate speech? Legally speaking, for criminal Sections to be invoked, any such speech has to lead to violence or disturbance of law and order. We will refrain from using the word ‘hate speech’ as it is a loaded term, merely criticising someone is not hate speech

Bureau’s definition

The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently published a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases that defined hate speech as a “language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on their identity and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability or religion etc.).”

Earlier in 2018, the Home Ministry had written to the Law Commission to prepare a distinct law for online “hate speech” acting on a report by a committee headed by former Lok Sabha Secretary General T.K. Viswanathan who recommended stricter laws.

The committee was formed in the wake of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, that provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services being scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2015.

In 2019, however, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after seeking suggestions from States, the Supreme Court, High Courts, the Bar Council of India, Bar Councils of States, universities and law institutes on comprehensive amendments to criminal laws.

The suggestions received by the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws will be examined by the Ministry before the changes are adopted.

“The committee is examining a gamut of subjects pertaining to reforms in the IPC. Instead of ad hoc changes, it was decided that all the pending issues such as those on hate speech as recommended by the Viswanathan committee can be examined and comprehensive changes are brought in.

ICMR unlikely to commission new COVID-19 serosurvey #GS3 #SnT

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is unlikely to immediately undertake a fourth national serology survey to estimate the extent of exposure to the coronavirus since January. Officials told The Hindu that though discussions were still on, undertaking such a study presented newer logistical challenges and the ongoing vaccination drive could lead to erroneous inferences.

The ICMR has conducted three national serology surveys since May 2020 and found that the exposure to the virus was much higher than that was reported by confirmed cases. The third serosurvey that measured the spread of infection between August and December found that 21% of India’s adult population and 25% of those in the 10-17 age group may have been infected.

However, India’s devastating second wave began around mid-March amidst a vaccination programme that prioritised healthcare, frontline workers and senior citizens.

Serology surveys take blood samples from participants and measure antibodies to check past exposure to the virus. However, because vaccinations also trigger an antibody response after two weeks, they could be misleading. “Serosurveys lose their scientific relevance once vaccination starts in the population.

HCWs overburdened

Another official said that with hospitals and healthcare infrastructure in several districts being entirely occupied in dealing with the surge in cases, to be able to conduct a serology survey at this point would be challenging.

We have had discussions on this. A fourth survey would give useful insights but there are logistical challenges in the districts. However we may revisit this question next month.

Manoj Murhekar, Director, ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, who has been part of the ICMR surveys, said only in some infectious diseases was it possible to differentiate antibodies from a vaccination from one in a naturally acquired infection. “A fourth survey would also have to account for the waning of antibody levels and may require an entirely new survey design.”

Independent experts however, said that with vaccinations on, conducting serology surveys on a smaller, defined group was possible. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has surveillance studies done on a section of its employees across constituent laboratories in India. “This is a defined group that we can easily follow.

Other than overarching numbers, the serology surveys have also revealed patterns of infection in urban, rural areas, slum and non-slum regions. It also gives an indication of whether a significant fraction within a region had reached threshold immunity levels to keep future outbreaks in check.

GDP likely grew by 1.3% in Q4 FY21: SBI research #GS3 #Economy

India’s GDP is likely to have grown at 1.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020-21 and may have contracted by about 7.3% for the full financial year, according to an SBI research report ‘Ecowrap’.

The National Statistical Office (NSO) will release the GDP estimates for the March 2021 quarter and provisional annual estimates for the year 2020-21 on May 31.

“Based on our ‘nowcasting model’, the forecasted GDP growth for Q4 would be around 1.3% (with downward bias),” the lender’s economics research team said in the report.

“We now expect GDP decline for the full year (FY 2020-21) to be around 7.3% (compared to our earlier prediction of minus 7.4%),” the research team said.

State Bank of India (SBI) has developed a ‘nowcasting model’ with 41 high-frequency indicators associated with industry activity, service activity, and global economy in collaboration with State Bank Institute of Leadership (SBIL), Kolkata.

The economics research team said that going by the estimate of 1.3% GDP growth, India would still be the fifth-fastest-growing country among 25 nations that have released their GDP numbers so far.

‘Concomitant decline’

It said one likely consequence of any upward revision in FY21 estimates is a concomitant decline in FY22 GDP estimates.

“Our estimates now indicate that there might be nominal GDP loss of up to Rs. 6 lakh crore during Q1 FY22 as compared to loss of Rs. 11 lakh crore in Q1 FY21,” it said.

Real GDP loss would be in the range of Rs. 4-4.5 lakh crore and, hence, real GDP growth would be in the range of 10-15% (as against RBI forecast of 26.2%).

The researchers further said both deposits and credit of all the banks declined in April and May. However, the trend in deposits had changed from FY21. Deposits had increased by a staggering Rs. 2.8 lakh crore in 2020-21; and in the current financial year, it has already increased by Rs. 1 lakh crore till May 7.

Household stress

“The interesting point to note is that deposits have shown alternate periods of expansion and contraction in FY22 in the first three fortnights.

According to the SBI research team, it is possible that such expansion, followed by contraction, could indicate household stress as people getting salary credits in the first fortnight are withdrawing it in the second fortnight for health expenses. They are also stocking up currency on a precautionary motive and given an uncertain scenario, and the trend continues.

SEBI to appoint forensic auditors for listed firms #GS3 #Economy

Markets regulator SEBI is looking to appoint auditors for conducting forensic audits of financial statements of listed companies as part of efforts to curb frauds. In recent months, SEBI has ordered forensic audits of certain companies.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has invited applications from eligible chartered accountant firms “for empanelment to take up assignments relating to forensic audit of financial statements of listed companies.

“Application shall not be considered where disciplinary action or proceedings have been initiated against the applicant, its partners or directors, by any regulatory body or court of law. In October 2020, SEBI asked listed firms to disclose about the initiation of forensic audit to stock exchanges to address gaps in the availability of information.