Current Affairs 24th March

As cases rise, govt. gives nod to inoculate all over 45 from April 1 #GS3 #SnT

Citizens above the age of 45, irrespective of co-morbidities, will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination from April 1. At present, only citizens above 60 and those over 45 with co-morbidities are allowed to get the vaccination.

“This decision has been taken by the Union Cabinet on the basis of the advice of the COVID task force and experts,” said Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, while making an appeal to eligible citizens to register for vaccination.

According to him, over 4.85 crore people had received at least one dose of the vaccine. He added that 80 lakh had received the second dose so far. The cut-off date for the 45+ years category is those persons born before January 1, 1977, the Health Ministry said.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has written to the States/UTs stating that while the government has expanded the prioritised age group to include all persons aged 45 years and above for COVID-l9 vaccination, accordingly there will now be no need for a comorbidity certificate for people aged 45 years to 59 years, from April 1.

Software modified

The Co-WIN software is also being suitably modified for doing away with the need for confirmation of co-morbidities. The Secretary added that the registration on Co-WIN would begin from April 1 and directed officials to immediately undertake measures for expansion of the vaccination drive.

While ensuring wider dissemination of information for increased uptake of vaccination services, the focus should be on optimal utilisation of the capacity of COVID-l9 Vaccination Centres (CVCs) while minimising the wastage of vaccines.

Meanwhile, with India currently seeing a surge in COVID cases former national president of the Indian Medical Association Ravi Wankhedkar said there is an urgent need to rework the vaccination strategy and encourage “vaccination on demand” to eligible people, high risk people, frontline workers in all fields and those interacting with large numbers every day and exposed to risk of infection.

Fortunately India is having more than adequate vaccine production capacity and we should involve the private health sector in a greater way to increase reach of vaccination and decrease vaccine hesitancy.

India abstains from UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka #GS2 #IR

India abstained from a crucial vote on Sri Lanka’s rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The resolution on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ was, however, adopted after 22 states of the 47-member Council voted in its favour.

Colombo rejects move

Sri Lanka, which had earlier deemed the resolution “politically motivated”, was quick to reject the UN move to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes in the country, committed by the armed forces and the LTTE.

“Without the consent and acceptance of the country concerned, it cannot be implemented,” Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said at a media conference in Colombo. The statement made clear Sri Lanka’s resistance to the process envisaged in the resolution to prosecute war criminals through an international evidence gathering and investigation mechanism.

The money allocated — an estimated $2.8 million — for the effort would find better use towards providing housing for the war-affected people, the Minister said, even as scores of Tamils continue seeking their lands, new homes and jobs from his government.

Ahead of the vote, both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which sought the exact opposite outcomes on the resolution, had expressed hopes of obtaining India’s support.

Both sides appeared sympathetic to India’s abstention that effectively amounts to support for neither party. However, in an indication that Sri Lanka had construed abstentions as support, Mr. Gunawardena in a tweet thanked the 14 countries, including India, Japan and Nepal, that abstained from voting, while extending a “warm thank you” for the “solid support” shown by the 11 countries, including China, Pakistan, Russia and Bangladesh, that voted against the resolution, and in support of the Sri Lanka.

“We are, however, greatly encouraged by India’s statement ahead of the vote pointing to India’s reference to “two fundamental considerations” — of supporting the Tamils for equality, justice, dignity and peace, and ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Amid strained bilateral ties over the Rajapaksa government’s recent decisions on strategic projects involving India and China, India pledged support for the international community’s call for the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its commitments on the “devolution of political authority” — which the resolution mentions — including through conduct of early polls to the country’s Provincial Councils and ensuring their effective operation, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution that followed the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.

Foreigners can apply under CAA after rules are notified: Centre #GS2 #Governance

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the Lok Sabha that “foreigners” covered under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, “may submit applications for grant of Indian citizenship after appropriate rules are notified by the Central government”.

The foreigners covered under this Amendment Act may submit applications for grant of Indian citizenship after appropriate rules are notified by the Central government. The Committees on Subordinate Legislation, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have granted time up to April 9, 2021, and July 9, 2021, respectively to frame these rules. Without the rules being notified, the Act remains ineffective.

The CAA is one of the major issues in poll-bound West Bengal and Assam. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had earlier said the CAA rules will be framed after the COVID-19 vaccination drive was concluded. The election manifesto of the BJP in West Bengal said it will be implemented in the first State Cabinet meeting if the party came to power.

The CAA provides citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

Foreigners Tribunal

In a separate reply, the Minister said the final National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) in Assam had not been issued.

To a question by Congress member Abdul Khaleque in the Lok Sabha about the number of appeals made to the Foreigners Tribunal [FT] within the stipulated 120 days by those who were excluded from the Final NRC list, the Minister said, “Any person, not satisfied with the outcome of the decisions of claims and objections under paragraph 7 of the Schedule to the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Card) Rules, 2003 may prefer an appeal before the designated Foreigners Tribunal within 120 days from the date of such orders.

However, the final National Register of Indian Citizens in Assam has not been issued. Consequently, a certified copy of the rejection order has not been issued to the persons excluded. Hence, the number of appeals made to the Foreigners Tribunal by those excluded from the final NRC list is ‘Nil’ as on date.”

Indus water panel holds meeting #GS2 #IR

After a gap of more than two and half years Indian and Pakistani delegations on Monday began the 116th Meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission here. The meeting which coincided with the National Day of Pakistan is being viewed as part of the broader process of normalisation of bilateral ties between the two neighbours.

The two-day meeting of the Commission is being led on the Indian side by Indus Water Commissioner Pradeep Kumar Saxena. The Pakistani delegation is led by Pakistan’s Commissioner for Indus Waters Syed Mohammad Mehr Ali Shah. The last meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission was held on August 29, 2018.

Hours after the conclusion of the first day’s meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind greeted Pakistan on the occasion of its National Day which marks the March 23, 1940 Lahore Resolution which paved the way for the creation of Pakistan.

At an event to mark the National Day, organised in the Pakistan High Commission, Aftab Hasan Khan, Charge’d Affaires, said, “Pakistan wants to have friendly relations with all countries including India. To achieve peace between India and Pakistan both countries shall resolve all outstanding issues.”

The positive backdrop of the talks between the two delegation has indicated that the interaction is likely supported by the reported back channel talks that are taking place between India and Pakistan. The Hindu has reported earlier that the United Arab Emirates is playing a role in connecting India and Pakistan through back channel negotiations.

OTT case: SC stays all pleas in HCs #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the proceedings in High Courts in cases seeking regulation of content shown on over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

The Bench was informed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that despite the apex court’s earlier order issuing notice on the transfer plea filed by the Centre to club all such petitions filed in various High Courts, the Punjab and Haryana High Court is still proceeding in the matter pending there.

Counter affidavit

A counter-affidavit filed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in another case said Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021 provides a “comprehensive” mechanism to check content on OTT platforms.

The Ministry said the Rules was based on a globally recognised model and keeps a fine balance, considering the major audience these OTT platforms had while at the same time providing a healthy classification of content based on age groups.

Recently, another Supreme Court Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan had criticised the 2021 Rules as lacking teeth to punish violators or to screen offensive content.

Centre’s offer

In that case, Mr. Mehta, speaking on behalf of the Centre, had agreed to consider drafting new regulations or even legislation to address the concern raised by the court about OTT platforms.

The court had recorded in its order that the new Rules notified days back were “more in the nature of guidelines” and there was “no effective mechanism for screening or to take appropriate action” against violators.

Delhi should have a bigger role in peace process: Afghanistan #GS2 #IR

Afghanistan wants a larger role for India in the peace and reconciliation process, said visiting Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar, adding that he had discussed President Ghani’s new peace plan, the ongoing Intra-Afghan dialogue and “Extended Troika” talks in Moscow last week with the Indian leadership.

“India has legitimate interests in the peace and security of Afghanistan and we are seeking a greater role for India,” Mr. Atmar told journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps after his official meetings in Delhi.

We are negotiating to make sure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for international terrorists who are keen to turn it not just in their battlefield but into a safe haven including, unfortunately, against India as well. So, India has a role not just in Afghanistan but with other regional and international partners.

After his meeting with Mr. Doval, the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Mr. Atmar had discussed the Ghani government peace plan, which is understood to include fresh elections within the year if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire, and for Mr. Ghani to hand over power to the elected government.

The plan runs counter to the U.S. proposal, revealed in a leaked letter from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, that suggests Afghan-Taliban negotiations for a power sharing arrangement, and for an interim government to take over from President Ghani’s government.

“[Mr. Atmar] said the plan would pave the way for a lasting peace based on the will of the Afghan people and strengthen Afghanistan’s role as a bridge for connectivity and cooperation between regional countries and the international community, adding that Mr. Doval had said “the unity among Afghans and consensus at regional and international levels were essential factors for achieving sustainable peace”.

Ready to discuss GST on fuel if States want it: FM #GS3 #Economy

The Centre is ready to consider bringing fuel under the Goods and Services Tax regime if the States bring up the issue at the GST Council, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday, arguing that all decisions related to the indirect tax are driven by the Council and not the Ministry of Finance.

The Minister introduced 127 amendments to the Finance Bill, 2021, which was passed by the Lok Sabha. These included an income tax break for the proposed development finance institution to fund infrastructure and a tweak in the proposed tax provisions for employees’ provident fund (EPF) contributions.

Defending the decision to impose an Agriculture Infrastructure Development Fund Cess on several items including fuel in the Budget, Ms. Sitharaman said that the proceeds from the collections would be shared with the States as they were the ones in charge of farm infrastructure such as APMCs and marketing yards.

“The cess may not get devolved to States, but eventually it will be used for improving infrastructure in agriculture and the farm yards and the marketing yards, which are with the State governments and so the funds will have to go the States only,” the FM said.

The Minister also sought to assuage States’ concerns about a possible reduction in fund allocations owing to the Finance Commission’s recommendation to set up a non-lapsable Defence and Internal Security Modernisation Fund. “In principle, we have agreed to it. [But] the fear that it will be imposed on States is not well-founded at all. We have not yet taken a decision on this,” she said.

“In the Finance Bill, a few new proposals are being added of a minor nature,” the minister said.


The government has also introduced an amendment in the Budget proposal to tax income on employee contributions of more than Rs. 2.5 lakh a year into Provident Fund accounts.

“There is 1% of people who were going up to Rs. 5 crore contribution also. The Rs. 2.5 lakh [cap] covers 92%-93% of people,” the FM said. “Therefore, I don’t think this is going to affect most people for whom tax-free, assured income is provided under the scheme,” she added. “Through an amendment, I intend to raise this limit to Rs. 5 lakh in those cases, and only in those cases where there is no contribution by the employer in the EPF account,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

Taxing fuel

Responding to many MPs’ concerns about the high taxes on petrol and diesel and suggestions to bring them under the GST regime, Ms. Sitharaman said that both the Centre and States were taxing fuel and the Centre’s taxes had to be shared with the States.

“And if there is this concern, rightly, a concern about the fuel taxes. I would honestly think, many of the States would be watching this, and in the next GST Council, if that discussion comes up, I will be glad to have it on the agenda and discuss it. Let the States come and discuss it,” the minister said.

“Issues related to GST, being posed to Finance Minister, are not Finance Ministry matters,” she said. “They are GST Council matters in which all States are members. It’s a collective decision and without their clearance, things can’t happen,” Ms. Sitharaman pointed out.

Aadhaar intimation

Permanent Account Number (PAN) card holders failing to intimate their Aadhaar numbers to the Income Tax department on, or before a prescribed date, shall be liable to pay an Aadhaar intimation default fee of up to Rs. 1,000, as per amendments made to the Finance Bill.

What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project; which regions will benefit from it? #GS3 #Environment

On the occasion of World Water Day on April 22, a memorandum of agreement was signed between Union Minister of Jal Shakti and the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to implement the Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) on Monday. The agreement was signed through a video conference in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What is the Ken Betwa Link Project?

The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers. Under this project, water from the Ken river will be transferred to the Betwa river. Both these rivers are tributaries of river Yamuna.

The Ken-Betwa Link Project has two phases. Under Phase-I, one of the components — Daudhan dam complex and its appurtenances like Low Level Tunnel, High Level Tunnel, Ken-Betwa link canal and Power houses — will be completed. While in the Phase-II, three components — Lower Orr dam, Bina complex project and Kotha barrage — will be constructed.

According to the Union Jal Shakti Ministry, the project is expected to provide annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh hectares, drinking water supply to about 62 lakh people and also generate 103 MW of hydropower.

Two states, two rivers and a link

What is the estimated cost of the KBLP?

According to the Comprehensive Detailed Project Report, the cost of Ken-Betwa Link Project is estimated at Rs 35,111.24 crore at 2017-18 prices.

Which region will get the benefits of the KBLP?

The Ken-Betwa Link Project lies in Bundelkhand, a drought-prone region, which spreads across 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

According to the Jal Shakti Ministry, the project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved region of Bundelkhand, especially in the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Raisen of Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.

“It will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor for development in the country,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Will the project affect the Panna tiger reserve?

According to a written reply given by Minister of State for Jal Shakti Rattan Lal Kataria, out of the 6,017 ha of forest area coming under submergence of Daudhan dam of Ken Betwa Link Project, 4,206 ha of area lies within the core tiger habitat of Panna Tiger Reserve.

Are there previous examples of river-linking in India?

In the past, several river linking projects have been taken up. For instance, under the Periyar Project, transfer of water from Periyar basin to Vaigai basin was envisaged.

It was commissioned in 1895. Similarly, other projects such as Parambikulam Aliyar, Kurnool Cudappah Canal, Telugu Ganga Project, and Ravi-Beas-Sutlej were undertaken.

Recent developments on interlinking of rivers in India

In the 1970s, the idea of transferring surplus water from a river to water-deficit area was mooted by the then Union Irrigation Minister (earlier the Jal Shakti Ministry was known as Ministry of Irrigation) Dr K L Rao.

Dr. Rao, who himself was an engineer, suggested construction of a National Water Grid for transferring water from water-rich areas to water-deficit areas. Similarly, Captain Dinshaw J Dastur proposed the Garland Canal to redistribute water from one area to another.

However, the government did not pursue these two ideas further. It was in August, 1980 that the Ministry of Irrigation prepared a National Perspective Plan (NNP) for water resources development envisaging inter basin water transfer in the country.

The NPP comprised two components: (i) Himalayan Rivers Development; and (ii) Peninsular Rivers Development. Based on the NPP, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) identified 30 river links—16 under Peninsular component and 14 under Himalayan Component. Later, the river linking idea was revived under the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government. Ken Betwa Link Project is one of the 16 river linking projects under the Peninsular component.

Which are the clearances required for a river-linking project?

Generally, 4-5 types of clearances are required for the interlinking of river projects. These are: Techno-economic (given by the Central Water Commission); Forest Clearance and Environmental clearance (Ministry of Environment & Forests); Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) Plan of Tribal Population (Ministry of Tribal Affairs) and Wildlife clearance (Central Empowered Committee).