Current Affairs 19th July

Midday meals leave a long-lasting impact: study #GS2 #Governance

Girls who had access to free lunches provided at government schools had children with a higher height-to-age ratio than those who did not, said a new study on the inter-generational benefits of the midday meal scheme.

Using nationally representative data on cohorts of mothers and their children spanning 23 years, the paper showed that by 2016, the prevalence of stunting was significantly lower in areas where the scheme was implemented in 2005.

More than one in three Indian children are stunted, or too short for their age, which reflects chronic undernutrition. The fight against stunting has often focussed on boosting nutrition for young children, but nutritionists have long argued that maternal health and well-being is the key to reducing stunting in their offspring.

Noting that “interventions to improve maternal height and education must be implemented years before those girls and young women become mothers”, the study has attempted a first-of-its-kind inter-generational analysis of the impacts of a mass feeding programme.

The paper was authored by a researcher from the University of Washington and economists and nutrition experts at the International Food Policy Research Institute. It found that the midday meal scheme was associated with 13%-32% of the improvement in the height-for-age z-scores (HAZ) in India between 2006 and 2016.

The linkages between midday meals and lower stunting in the next generation were stronger in the lower socio-economic strata and likely work through women’s education, fertility, and the use of health services. The midday meal scheme was launched in 1995 to provide children in government schools with a free cooked meal with a minimum energy content of 450 kcal.

Pegasus spyware used to ‘snoop’ on journalists #GS3 #Security

Telephone numbers of some 40 Indian journalists figure in a “leaked list of potential targets for surveillance”, and forensic tests were said to have “confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus software”, The Wire , an independent news website.

Indian Ministers, government officials and Opposition leaders also figure in the list of people whose phones may have been compromised by the spyware, The Wire , which conducted the investigation along with international partners, claimed.

The leaked telephone numbers included correspondents and writers from the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, India Today, Indian Express and Network18. Vijaita Singh, who works for The Hindu ’s national bureau, also figures in the list, which includes journalists like Shishir Gupta, Siddharth Vardarajan, M.K. Venu, Sushant Singh, Rohini Singh, Muzamil Jaleel, Ritika Chopra and Swati Chaturvedi.

The spyware Pegasus is apparently sold to governments around the world by NSO group, an Israeli company. It can be used to snoop on phones that run on Android and iOS systems.

Seventeen international media groups, including The Guardian and The Washington Post , led the investigation into how Pegasus was used to allegedly extract messages and information from the phones of journalists, politicians and activists.

FATF review of India put off again #GS2 #IR

An evaluation by the global organisation Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to analyse the effectiveness of India’s anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing regime has been postponed for the second time in view of the pandemic and is now slated to be initiated next year. The scheduled assessment by the Paris-headquartered watchdog was slated for September-October, 2020.

These dates were postponed to February this year by the FATF secretariat. “The schedule for FATF mutual evaluation has again been postponed from February 2021 and it is tentatively expected to begin in September 2022 now,” an officer told PTI. As per this rescheduled calendar, the technical evaluation would begin in September next year.

Lokpal yet to get director of inquiry #GS2 #Governance

More than two years after the Lokpal came into being, the Centre is yet to appoint a director of inquiry for conducting preliminary inquiry into graft complaints sent by the anti-corruption ombudsman, according to a Right to Information reply. The Lokpal, the apex body to inquire and investigate graft complaints against public functionaries, came into being with the appointment of its chairperson and members in March 2019.

According to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, there shall be a director of inquiry, not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India, who shall be appointed by the Central government for conducting preliminary inquiries referred to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) by the Lokpal.

HAL plans medium lift chopper #GS3 #Defence

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), which is planning to indigenously design and develop a medium lift helicopter, the Indian multirole helicopter (IMRH), is hopeful of finalising the detailed project report in the next few months and approach the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) by year-end for project sanction.

“All the three services are on board the project. The Navy has already given their requirements, and we are discussing them right now. It will be a second platform with two different versions. The Army and the Air Force have promised to give the Preliminary Services Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) within two months. After that, it will take another two months to make a detailed project report (DPR).

Once the DPR is ready, the HAL will approach the CCS for project sanction after which funds will be released. The project is estimated at around Rs. 10,000 crore, including for the two different versions for the Navy, and will take seven years for design and development.

At a meeting two weeks ago with the Secretary, Defence Production, these issues were discussed with the three services and the Navy put across its requirements. The Army and the Air Force were earlier expected to share the PSQRs by June which got delayed due to the second wave of the pandemic and have now sought two more months.

Time for funds

A HAL official said that hoping to secure the CCS sanction for the project in 2022, HAL in the meantime has put in its money for preliminary works. But major funding has to now come in because prototypes have to be made, detailed designs are to be done, which takes lot of money, and needs CCS sanction, the official stated.

The HAL currently has a range of indigenous products in the light helicopter category — Advanced Light Helicopter, Light Combat Helicopter and Light Utility Helicopter.

The IMRH is envisaged as a medium lift helicopter with a maximum all-up weight of 13 tonnes to replace the Russian Mi-17 class of helicopters in service. Preliminary design of the IMRH has already been carried out and it will be powered by twin engines, suit the high altitude requirements of the Army and Air Force as well feature blade folding option for ship deck operations, HAL officials said.

Speaking at Aero India in February, a Chief Designer of the HAL said that the IMRH was intended to address India’s requirement to replace the Mi-17 helicopters due for replacement progressively from 2028.

Once the design phase is complete, the development process will see the manufacture of at least three prototypes, one structural test specimen and one ground test vehicle which will be put through ground and flight testing, followed by certification before it is cleared for series production.

The HAL also intends to target the global helicopter market by benchmarking the proposed IMRH against helicopters such as Russian Mi-17, Sikorsky S-92, AgustaWestland AW-101, NHIndustries NH-90 and Eurocopter EC-725. The intended roles of the IMRH are to support air assault, air transport, combat logistics, combat search and rescue and casualty evacuation as well as VVIP duties.

China denies politics behind UNESCO move on Barrier Reef #GS2 #IR #GS3 #Environment

A top Chinese official said on Sunday that political tensions between Beijing and Australia were not behind a UNESCO recommendation to place the Great Barrier Reef on its endangered list. Deputy Education Minister Tian Xuejun is chairing the meeting of the UN cultural agency’s heritage committee, which comes amid worsening relations between China and Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef has been put on a list of World Heritage sites that could be put on the in-danger list after losing half of its corals since 1995. Australia has assailed the move, blaming global warming for the loss, while UNESCO experts argued that pollution run-off has contributed to the loss.

When asked about “Australian government allegations” that Beijing pressed to have the Barrier Reef listed as endangered, Mr. Tian said the decision was based “on reports and data provided by Australia itself.” Australia should fulfil its obligations to protect world heritage sites instead of making baseless accusations against other members” of UNESCO. Both China and Australia are among the 21 nations on heritage committee, which is evaluating nearly 50 sites that could be added to its more than 1,100 World Heritage list.

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