Current Affairs 5th July

J&K administration bans drones in Srinagar #GS3 #Security

The Jammu and Kashmir administration banned the sale, use and possession of unmanned aerial vehicles in Srinagar, a week after two Indian Air Force personnel were injured in a drone attack on the Air Force Station in Jammu. Two explosives-laden drones had crashed into the air base, and there were other suspicious sightings of UAVs, triggering a security alert.

To secure the aerial space near vital installations and highly populated areas, it is imperative to discontinue the use of drones in all social and cultural gatherings to eliminate any risk of injury to life and damage to property.

‘Posing a threat’

The order, issued under Section 144 of the CrPC, said that access to decentralised airspace had to be regulated in view of the recent episodes of misuse of drones posing a threat to security infrastructure, as reported by the media and other reliable sources.

Keeping in view the security situation apart from concerns of breach of privacy, nuisance and trespass, it is extremely dangerous to let unmanned aerial vehicles to wander around in the skies within the territorial jurisdiction of Srinagar.

The District Magistrate imposed “restrictions/ban on the storage, sale/ possession, use and transport of drones/similar kinds of unmanned aerial vehicles in the city”. The order directed those possessing drone cameras or other similar kinds of unmanned aerial vehicles to deposit them at the local police stations.

The administration cautioned that any violation of the guidelines would attract punitive action, and directed the police to implement the restrictions in letter and spirit.

Some exemptions

The order, however, exempted government departments using drones for mapping, surveys and surveillance in agricultural, environment conservation and disaster mitigation sector, but directed them to “inform the local police station before undertaking any such activity in public interest”.

Srinagar is the second district in Jammu and Kashmir to ban the use and possession of drones. Earlier, the Rajouri administration had imposed a ban in the wake of the Jammu attack.

Taliban capture several districts in Afghanistan #GS2 #IR

The Taliban’s march through northern Afghanistan gained momentum overnight with the capture of several districts in Badakhshan province from fleeing Afghan forces, several hundred of whom escaped across the border into Tajikistan.

The insurgents also captured a key district in their former bastion of Kandahar after fierce fighting.

The fall of Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, comes just two days after the U.S. and NATO forces vacated their main Bagram Air Base near Kabul. The leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, hails from Panjwai.

Since mid-April, when U.S. President Joe Biden announced the end to Afghanistan’s “forever war”, the Taliban have made strides throughout the country. But their most significant gains have been in the northern half of the country, a traditional stronghold of the U.S.-allied warlords who helped defeat them in 2001. The Taliban now control roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centres in Afghanistan.

Four years on, delay derails Railways’ CCTV project #GS3 #Economy

More than four years after a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the Indian Railways and RailTel for the installation of surveillance cameras at 983 stations across the country, the project envisaged under the “Nirbhaya Fund” to enhance safety of women passengers has derailed.

With no progress in the national project for years and an investigation initiated by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) revealing serious irregularities in the tendering process, the Ministry of Railways has now asked its General Managers to go ahead and install Video Surveillance Systems (VSS) at the railway stations earmarked for the purpose in their respective zones.

The Nirbhaya Fund was created by the Union government after the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in 2012. The dedicated fund was meant for projects specifically designed for the safety and security of women.

As part of the scheme, RailTel was allotted the execution of VSS at 983 railway stations across the country at an estimated cost of Rs. 500 crore. It was described as one of the largest projects of its kind, involving the integration of Indian Railways and RailTel systems, with the collaboration of multiple agencies.

Though tenders were floated for four regions of RailTel in 2016, the project never took off due to alleged irregularities, which led to an investigation by the CVC. A detailed inquiry revealed that certain conditions in the tender document were “ambiguous”. Later, over 1,400 queries were received from prospective bidders, leading to more ambiguities in the document.

Inquiries also revealed that the tender notice was issued and documents uploaded even before the approval of the competent authority. The Tender Committee was not strictly as per the prescribed Schedule of Powers.

“The Tender Committee was found to be working beyond their jurisdiction on certain parameters like testing of some of the items like switches in the laboratory of the firm and that too without covering all parameters prescribed in the tender documents… The overall supervision and control on the process was found to be lacking on the part of the Board level officers.

When the technical bids were opened and taken up for scrutiny, the Finance Member of the Tender Committee recorded his dissent note. Even after the recommendations of the committee were changed, the Director (Finance) “recommended discharge of the tender on the ground that the Tender Committee got influenced and guided by the Independent External Monitor’s report”.

According to a Railway official, the zonal Railways were also asked to implement the VSS project even though an MoU for the same purpose was signed with RailTel. Some zones like the Central Railway even floated tenders and were on the verge of awarding the contract. “But it was later decided to ask RailTel to complete the work.

It is not just the 983 stations, but the installation of surveillance cameras in hundreds of other railway stations and thousands of coaches in premium trains. Only a detailed investigation by an independent agency can reveal why and how the whole project got derailed and at whose intervention,” the official

With no sign of the high-priority safety project taking off, the Ministry of Railways has asked Zonal Railways to install surveillance cameras on their own by floating tenders.

India-U.S. partnership has a truly global significance: PM #GS2 #IR

India’s strategic partnership with the U.S. has a “truly global significance”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on July 4. The message was part of Mr. Modi’s greetings to U.S. President Joe Biden on the occasion of the 245th Independence Day of the United States, which was celebrated on July 4.

“Warm felicitations and greetings to President of the United States Joe Biden and the people of the USA on their 245th Independence Day. As vibrant democracies, India and USA share values of freedom and liberty. Our strategic partnership has a truly global significance,” Mr. Modi said.

The message from the Indian leadership came as the United States began the process of withdrawing its troops from neighbouring Afghanistan, ending a nearly two-decades-long military operation that began in 2001. On July 2, the U.S. appointed Atul Keshap, a career diplomat, as the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

The greeting from the Indian side is in contrast to the silence that Delhi maintained during the centenary celebration of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on July 1. It is understood that top-level greetings to China were not sent as India views the celebration as a party affair. Neither the BJP nor the Congress greeted the CPC, though the Left parties congratulated China.

Prime Minister Modi and President Biden participated in the first-ever leadership summit of the ‘Quad’ arrangement on March 12. The U.S. leader had emphasised democratic values during his speech on that occasion.

Crocs relocated from Gujarat lake #GS3 #Environment

As many as 194 crocodiles have been relocated from a lake near the Statue of Unity in Narmada district, Gujarat, in the last two years for the safety of tourists who come to enjoy boat rides there. The Panchmuli lake, situated near the 182-metre tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Kevadia, a major tourist attraction, had a large number of crocodiles that posed a threat to visitors.

“In 2019-20 [October-March], we relocated 143 crocodiles. In 2020-21, another 51 crocodiles were shifted to two rescue centres in Gandhinagar and Godhra,” Kevadia Range Forest Officer Vikramsinh Gabhania said. There were still many crocodiles in the lake, he added.

The Panchmuli lake, also known as ‘Dyke-3’ of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, was developed for tourists visiting the Statue of Unity. Hence, the authorities decided to relocate crocodiles from the water body to prevent any harm to tourists, the official said.

In 2019-20, 73 rescued crocodiles were released into the Sardar Sarovar reservoir. The animals rescued later from the lake were shifted to the rescue centres at Godhra in Panchmahal district, and Gandhinagar.

Second wave hit young people significantly, says study #GS3 #SnT

The ongoing second COVID-19 wave presented itself with a lowered mean age of patients, higher percentage of hospitalisations despite fewer comorbidities and had patients with breathlessness in greater frequency, said a new government study — “Clinical profile of hospitalised COVID-19 patients in first and second wave of the pandemic: Insights from an Indian registry-based observational study”.

Recently published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research , the study was jointly conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), using data collected under the National Clinical Registry for COVID-19 (NCRC).

The study looked at data from patients enrolled in 40 hospitals between September 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021, and then February 1 and May 11, 2021. It took into account 18,961 individuals enrolled in NCRC, which included 12,059 hospitalised patients from the first and 6,903 second COVID wave.

Higher mortality

Doctors and researchers across the country have expressed concern about the fact that the study found a greater percentage of younger patients being more affected during the second wave and worse, mortality increased for all age groups except in the less-than-20 age group.

As per the study, mortality among hospitalised patients increased by 3.1% in the second wave. Also a higher proportion of patients complained of shortness of breath, developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and required oxygen support and ventilators in the second wave.

Sanjeev Dutta, head of the department and senior consultant, paediatrics, QRG Health City, Faridabad, speaking about the study which analyses the characteristics of the first wave (from April 2020 to January 2021) and the second wave (which started around February-March 2021), said, “In both the waves, people above 60 years were mostly affected, but the second wave also affected a significantly younger population under 40 years and many had no comorbid conditions like diabetes, hypertension and diminished immunity status.”

He explained that in both waves, most people had fever as the commonest symptom, but in the second wave, a greater number of affected people had chest problems such as difficulty in breathing, oxygen need and pneumonia.

“Fatalities have also been higher in the second wave. Higher usage of healthcare facilities ( ICU, oxygen beds) is hence projected in the anticipated third wave of the pandemic. Dr. Dutta added that COVID-appropriate behaviour will be an essential prevention for the third wave of the pandemic. Greater vaccination coverage is the global strategy of prevention.

“While we are awaiting vaccination approval for children (under 18 years), it is assumed that the adult vaccination campaign will result in lessened risk of infection to the children,” he said.

Third wave different

Gopi Krishna Yedlapati, consultant interventional pulmonologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad added that the second wave was worse in terms of outcomes of treatments with several young and middle-aged patients requiring high oxygen and ventilation support and with different symptoms.

“It is expected that the third wave will be different than the second wave, as a lot of the active working population has had exposure to the disease, thereby developing immunity to fight against the disease. As per scientific estimates, the third wave might be shorter and milder, in lieu of mortality and morbidity, just like the Spanish flu. With the advancements in treatments and preparedness of the healthcare sector, we can fight against the third wave effectively.

Speaking exclusively to The Hindu , Samiran Panda, head, Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases Division, ICMR, noted that this study presents a comparison of information collected during two different phases of the COVID-19 epidemic in India and these are the findings obtained from in-patient facilities.

He noted that the proportion of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic infections occurring in the community during these two waves should also be taken into consideration while discussing such issues.

“It is also important to appreciate that inferring about clinical severity that could be encountered in time to come — should there be a third wave — based on the data obtained from first and second wave will be inappropriate as any trend analysis requires data from at least three time points.

Dr. Panda further noted that multiple factors such as heterogeneity between patient groups, immunity developed at the community level from earlier two waves of SARS-CoV-2 infection in India, vaccination coverage as well as the characteristics of the infecting viral variant will be the determinants of clinical manifestation of COVID-19 disease in future.

“There is no scientific basis, as yet, to be alarmed and to think that the third wave is going to be presenting with clinically more severe diseases.

Literacy, numeracy mission deadline pushed to 2027 #GS3 #Economy

The Centre’s new mission to ensure that every Class 3 child has foundational literacy and numeracy within five years will be rolled out. Although the National Education Policy had included a 2025 deadline to achieve the goal, the Centre has pushed back the target date to 2026-27, given that COVID-19 has already disrupted two academic years.

The School Education Department says no additional funding is being allocated for the National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN Bharat). Instead, money is being allocated from the flagship Samagra Shiksha scheme, which actually saw a 20% drop in its budget this year.

“The vision of NIPUN Bharat Mission is to create an enabling environment to ensure universal acquisition of foundational literacy and numeracy, so that every child achieves the desired learning competencies in reading, writing and numeracy by the end of Grade 3, by 2026-27, adding that a five-tier implementation mechanism will be set up at the national, State, district, block and school levels. NIPUN Bharat is likely to emphasise goal setting and accountability for State governments, and provide guidelines for teacher training, assessment and the creation of printed resources, according to people who helped develop the mission.

“It will be funded through Samagra Shiksha itself,” said a senior official of the School Education Department, confirming that there is no additional allocation being made. “Samagra Shiksha is an umbrella scheme, and this year it has been revised. According to that revision, a provision has been kept for FLN (foundational literacy and numeracy).

For 2021-22, the budget estimate for Samagra Shiksha was Rs. 31,050 crore, a 20% drop from the previous year’s estimate of Rs. 38,750 crore, although the revised estimate for 2020-21 was just Rs. 27,957 crore, with poor utilisation due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Central Square Foundation, a non-governmental organisation with a focus on foundational literacy and numeracy, has provided inputs and technical support to the Centre in the development of this mission. “We estimated that achieving the goal would cost about Rs. 500 per child per year, amounting to an annual cost of about Rs. 2,200-2,300 crore nationwide,” said CSF’s co-managing director Bikkrama Daulet Singh.

Rukmini Banerji, CEO of the Pratham Education Foundation, also provided feedback on the Centre’s draft plan. She emphasised that money would not be the decisive factor, but rather a mindset change.

“So far, the goal has simply been to enrol children in school, and then to ensure that they finish Class 10. This mission specifies stage-wise learning goals to ensure that students are acquiring the necessary building blocks.

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