Current Affairs 21st August

Reign of terror is always temporary, says Modi #GS2 #Governance

At a time when the world is anxiously concerned about the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the occasion of launching new projects at the historic Somnath temple , reminded the world that the reign of terror is always temporary and cannot be permanent.

The Prime Minister, in a subtle message, said “destructive and terror forces” may become dominant temporarily but were not permanent, citing the example of Somnath temple, which was razed and plundered several times in the past and resurrected every time with greater glory.

“Forces that strive for destruction and those who follow the ideology of creating empires out of terrorism can dominate for some time, but their existence is never permanent as they cannot suppress humanity forever,” he stated. The Somnath temple was the best example and also an assurance to the world. The world is apprehensive of such ideologies. This temple was destroyed, its statues were broken but it was resurrected again as many times as it was razed because terrorism cannot suppress faith.

Zycov-D, first vaccine for those above 12, gets nod #GS3 #SnT

The Drug Controller General has granted emergency approval to the Zycov-D, a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadilla group, on Friday, making it the first vaccine in India that can be administered to adults as well as those 12 and above. It is also the only DNA-based vaccine in the world and can be administered without a needle, purportedly minimising chances of reactions.

Interim results from Phase-III Clinical Trials, in July, in over 28,000 volunteers, showed a primary efficacy of 66.6% for symptomatic RT-PCR positive cases.

Largest trial

“This has been the largest vaccine trial so far in India for COVID-19. This vaccine had already exhibited robust immunogenicity and tolerability and safety profile in the adaptive Phase I/II clinical trials carried out earlier. Both the Phase I/II and Phase III clinical trials have been monitored by an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB)

The vaccine has been developed in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology under the ‘Mission COVID Suraksha’. The three-dose vaccine once administered produces the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and elicits an immune response. “The plug-and-play technology on which the plasmid DNA platform is based can be easily adapted to deal with mutations in the virus, such as those already occurring.

Delta variant driving infections in India, says lab consortium #GS3 #SnT

The Delta variant remains most responsible for the continuing spread of infections in India, according to a weekly update from the India Sars Cov2 Genome Consortium (INSACOG), a repository of labs tasked with monitoring the coronavirus variants.

According to an August 16 report by the consortium, of the 49,867 coronavirus samples analysed, about two-thirds — 30,230 — were among the internationally classified variants of concern or variants of interest (VoC/VoI).

Of these, nearly 20,000 were the Delta variant (AY.2) and about 5,000 its associated lineages (AY.1 and AY.3). “The Delta variant is the major VoC in India now. Continuing outbreaks are attributable to Delta, a susceptible population, reduced vaccine effectiveness in blocking transmission, and opportunities for transmission. Vaccination continues to be very effective in reducing severe disease and death.

“Continuing outbreaks are attributable to Delta, a susceptible population, reduced vaccine effectiveness and opportunities for transmission. Public health measures to reduce transmission and vaccination remain critical,” says the note.

Globally, there are believed to be 13 sublineages of Delta with characteristic genetic mutations. AY.1, AY.2 and AY.3 are the predominant ones and also found in India. AY.3.1 is a recently classified sublineage of AY.3 in the United States. AY.12 is a sublineage of delta recently classified from Israel. India is currently adding about 35,000 new cases a day, with about 75% coming from only two States: Kerala and Maharashtra.

“Vaccination breakthroughs are common during Delta outbreaks and are expected in India as well. Concern regarding appearance of new variants should be calibrated in the context of such data. As of now sequencing of vaccination breakthroughs in India is also showing a very high proportion of Delta variant. Investigations for any new variants are ongoing,”

Palm oil plan enthuses Kerala farmers #GS3 #Economy

National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP), a Rs. 11,040-crore project by the Union government to maximize cultivation and production, is expected to bring in remarkable growth prospects for the palm oil industry in the State.

While both farmers and refiners find the scheme extremely encouraging, it can also revitalise the estates run by Oil Palm India Limited and Plantation Corporation of Kerala. Since India is heavily dependent on imports when it comes to crude and refined palm oils, the industry stakeholders believe that the current development will be highly beneficial for the sector.

6.5 lakh ha more

The NMEO-OP proposes to extend cultivation of oil palm, considered a top oil crop, to an additional 6.5 lakh hectare so that the crude palm oil (CPO) production touches 11.20 lakh tonnes by the 2025-26 financial year.

In the total financial outlay of Rs. 11,040 crore, the share of the Centre will be Rs. 8,844 crore while the State share of Rs. 2,196 crore includes the viability gap funding as well. Reportedly, the State government was considering some projects to expand cultivation even before the scheme was announced.

Wayanad, Palakkad

Potential sites for cultivation were identified in Wayanad and Palakkad districts while projects to rope in more farmers are also being discussed.

“COVID-19 had affected the industry like any other sector, but even before that the situation was not good. But now rubber farmers seem interested in switching to oil palm and the new scheme will attract more. I think all these new developments will definitely revive the sector by 2022,” says Vijayan Kunissery, former chairman, Oil Palm India Limited.

Oil Palm India Limited maintains a 3,500 ha plantation in the State while Plantation Corporation of Kerala has a 705-ha estate. While NMEO-OP offers a special assistance for the rejuvenation of old gardens, it is also expected generate more employment in the sector.

First State

“Kerala is the first State in India to start oil palm cultivation and later it spread to 12 more States. But our domestic production is very limited and we import huge quantities from countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. In Kerala, we have plantations, factories, seed farms and research facilities, but so far the Centre had opted to neglect the State.

We need a strong strategy to attain self-reliance and if we can exploit all the possibilities, the State will be able to produce a considerable volume of oil. With adequate support from Centre we can produce oil required for at least four States.

Arrest is not always a must, says Supreme Court #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court has held that merely because law allows arrest does not mean the State can use the power indiscriminately to crush personal liberty.

“We may note that personal liberty is an important aspect of our constitutional mandate. The occasion to arrest an accused during investigation arises when custodial investigation becomes necessary or it is a heinous crime or where there is a possibility of influencing the witnesses or accused may abscond. Merely because an arrest can be made because it is lawful does not mandate that arrest must be made.

A distinction must be made between the existence of the power to arrest and the justification for exercise of it, it noted.

“If arrest is made routine, it can cause incalculable harm to the reputation and self-esteem of a person. If the Investigating Officer has no reason to believe that the accused will abscond or disobey summons and has, in fact, throughout cooperated with the investigation we fail to appreciate why there should be a compulsion on the officer to arrest the accused,” the court observed in its recent order.

The order was passed in a plea for anticipatory bail filed by businessman Siddharth, represented by senior advocate Pramod Kumar Dubey and advocates Ravi Sharma and Rahul Shyam Bhandari. The Allahabad High Court had rejected his bail application in July.

The case concerns an FIR registered against him for allegedly entering into a conspiracy and criminal breach of trust involving former ministers and high-ranking officials in relation to a project initiated by the Uttar Pradesh government in 2007 to build parks and museums, including the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Asthal, Kashiram Smarak Asthal Gautambudh Nagar Upvan Echo Park and Noida Ambedkar Park. The FIR alleges a loss of Rs. 14,000 crore to the public exchequer.

‘Wrongly interpreted’

Mr. Dubey argued that his client had joined the seven-year-old investigation. There was no need for his custodial interrogation. There was no apprehension that he would abscond or tamper with evidence. Mr. Dubey said Section 170 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has been wrongly interpreted by the police and trial courts to make arrest of the accused mandatory at the time of filing of the charge sheet. He argued that the word “custody” in Section 170 had been wrongly interpreted as ‘arrest’.

Agreeing with the senior lawyer, the Supreme Court clarified that “the word ‘custody’ appearing in Section 170 does not contemplate either police or judicial custody but it merely connotes the presentation of the accused by the Investigating Officer before the court while filing the charge sheet”.

“The trial courts are stated to be insisting on the arrest of an accused as a pre-requisite formality to take the charge sheet on record in view of the provisions of Section 170 of the CrPC. We consider such a course misplaced and contrary to the very intent of Section 170 of the CrPC,” the court laid down the law.

Quota benefit can’t be availed simultaneously in 2 States: SC #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court has ruled that a person belonging to a reserved category is entitled to claim the benefit of reservation in either of the successor States of Bihar or Jharkhand, but cannot claim benefit of the quota simultaneously in both the successor States upon their reorganisation in November, 2000.

The top court also held that members of the reserved category, who are residents of the successor State of Bihar, while participating in open selection in Jharkhand, shall be treated to be migrants, and they can participate in the general category without claiming the benefit of reservation and vice versa .

A Bench of Justices U.U. Lalit and Ajay Rastogi decided the “peculiar question” after a resident of Jharkhand, Pankaj Kumar, a member of a Scheduled Caste, filed an appeal against the 2:1 majority High Court order, denying him appointment in the State Civil Service examination of 2007, on the ground that his address proof showed that he was a permanent resident of Patna, Bihar.

“It is made clear that person is entitled to claim benefit of reservation in either of the successor State of Bihar or State of Jharkhand, but will not be entitled to claim benefit of reservation simultaneously in both the successor States and those who are members of the reserved category and are resident of the successor State of Bihar, while participating in open selection in State of Jharkhand shall be treated to be migrants and it will be open to participate in general category without claiming the benefit of reservation and vice-versa.

Elopements most prosecuted under child marriage law: study #GS2 #SocialIssues

Legal proceedings against child marriages are commonly undertaken against elopements whereas forced child marriages often go unpunished, finds a new study.

The report — “Child Marriage Prosecutions in India” — brought out by Partners for Law in Development (PLD), a Delhi-based legal resource group, analysed 83 high court and district court verdicts in cases relating to child marriage from 2008 and 2017.

It selected for analysis judgments and orders in which child marriage was specifically mentioned. These included cases filed under the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006, as well as legal action initiated under other laws in relation to child marriage such as Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The study found that legal prosecution of child marriages was twice as much against elopement or self-arranged marriages by girls with such cases accounting for 65% ( 54 out of a total 83 cases) of the total cases studied.

Only 30% of the cases were those of arranged child marriages, and a mere 5% were forced child marriages (such as those that involved kidnapping, enticement or forcible marriage by parents).

An analysis of who initiated the legal proceedings shows that it was primarily the parents of girls who approached the legal system with a complaint. A total of 56 of the 83 cases, or 67.4%, were initiated by parents or relatives. These included cases where parents sought custody of their daughter who had eloped or to prosecute the husband.

States reluctant

Only 7% of the cases were initiated by a child marriage prohibition officer — the State functionary designated for implementing the law. Another 7% of the cases were filed by a third party, including an NGO, or suo moto action by the court.

Girls accessed the law on their own the least, with only 3.5% of the cases filed to seek the nullification of their arranged marriage or to initiate criminal legal action against their parents for arranging an underage marriage. Further, the punishment for elopement versus forced and arranged child marriages were hugely disproportionate.

The former could invite a punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment if convicted for rape under the IPC or a jail of 20 years to a maximum punishment of death under the POCSO Act, whereas the latter under the PCMA comes with no minimum sentence and a maximum sentence of imprisonment for two years and/or a fine. The study terms this “weaponisation of the law to settle family dishonour”.

That the law is tilted against older adolescents is also borne out by national crime data. In 2019, 525 cases were registered under the PCMA, compared with 6,590 children who were “deemed” to have been kidnapped on account of an elopement or love relationship and 12,724 cases of children who were kidnapped for the purpose of marriage.

Corrective action

“The unintended harm of the law needs to be corrected. Law reform in this area must aim to shield the young in self-arranged marriages, while activating the frontline workers and child protection system against forced marriages. The empowerment of the girl, recognition of her voice and affirmative action to secure girls at risk with educational and livelihood opportunities must be at the heart of responses to child marriage,” says Madhu Mehra, the lead author of the study and Head, Research and Training, at PLD.

She adds that the POCSO must be amended to de-criminalise non-coercive consensual sexual relations between peers, by recognising consent under these conditions between 16-18 years.

GSI lists geo-tourism sites in NE to visit after ‘unlock’ #GS1 #Culture

The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has identified certain geological sites across the Northeast for promotion of geo-tourism as some States in the region prepare to ‘unlock’ from September.

Sikkim has already opened for tourists while Assam and Nagaland are planning to withdraw COVID-19 restrictions from September in view of the dip in the positivity rate and an increase in the number of vaccinated people.

“Twelve locations in the Northeast are included in the 32 approved geo-tourism or geo-heritage sites in the country. These are scenic places that can be top attractions,” a GSI official said, declining to be quoted. Of the 12 sites, three are in Meghalaya, two each in Assam and Tripura, and one each in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.

MPC’s Varma flags risks of policy stance #GS3 #Economy

Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Jayanth Varma has expressed serious reservations about the RBI’s protracted “accommodative” policy stance in light of uncertainty about the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, contending that the forward guidance and stance were becoming “counter productive”.

“By creating the erroneous perception that the MPC is no longer concerned about inflation and is focused exclusively on growth, the MPC may be inadvertently aggravating the risk that inflationary expectations will be disanchored,” he was cited as having said at the August 4-6 meeting of the central bank’s rate-setting panel, the minutes released by RBI on Friday show.

The MPC decided unanimously to hold the policy repo rate and by a 5-1 majority voted to continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary to revive and sustain growth, with Mr. Varma the sole dissenter.

“As the pandemic continues to mutate, it appears to me that the balance of risk and reward is gradually shifting” meriting a hard look at the stance, Mr. Varma said.

‘Neutron bomb’

Contending that COVID-19 was beginning to look more and more like tuberculosis which kills a large number of people every year without inflicting major damage to the economy, and thus resembling a ‘neutron bomb’, he said the ability of monetary policy to mitigate a human tragedy of this nature was very limited as compared to its ability to contain an economic crisis.

“The possibility that COVID-19 will haunt us (though with lower mortality) for the next 3-5 years can no longer be ruled out. Keeping monetary policy highly accommodative for such a long horizon is very different from doing so for what was earlier expected to be a relatively short crisis,” he said.

Arguing that monetary policy was much less effective than fiscal policy for providing targeted relief to the worst affected segments of the economy, he said: “monetary accommodation appears to be stimulating asset price inflation to a greater extent than it is mitigating the distress in the economy”.

Emphasising that inflationary pressures were beginning to show signs of greater persistence than anticipated earlier he said, “There are indications that inflationary expectations may be becoming more widely entrenched. Most worrying of all, there is now a reduced degree of confidence that demand side inflationary pressures would remain quiescent.”

Mr. Varma also argued that the reverse repo needed to be raised from 3.35% so as to allow the MPC room to keep the policy repo rate at 4% for a longer period. “At a time when the economic recovery is still nascent, it is extremely important that monetary policy serves as an anchor of macroeconomic stability. That would reduce the inflation risk premium” and stabilise long-term rates.

RBI, IRDAI nod must for FDI in bank-led insurance #GS3 #Economy

Applications for foreign direct investment in an insurance company promoted by a private bank would be cleared by the RBI and IRDAI to ensure that the 74% limit of overseas investment is not breached. The changes took effect following amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt Instruments) Rules, 2019, as per the gazette notification issued by the Finance Ministry on August 19.

“These rules may be called the Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt Instruments) (Second Amendment) Rules, 2021,” it said.

In March, Parliament passed a bill to raise the foreign direct investment (FDI) limit in the insurance sector from 49% to 74%. The Insurance Act, 1938 was last amended in 2015, raising the limit to 49%, resulting in foreign capital inflow of Rs. 26,000 crore over 5 years.

“Applications for foreign direct investment in private banks having joint venture or subsidiary in insurance may be addressed to the Reserve Bank for consideration in consultation with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI),” to ensure that the foreign investment limit is not breached.