Current Affairs 31st March

Surge in cases a cause for concern: Centre #GS3 #SnT

The surge in the number of COVID-19 cases has gone “from bad to worse”, said V.K. Paul, member (health) of the NITI Aayog, on Tuesday, as India registered 56,211 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Dr. Paul said 10 districts across India, including Pune (59,475), Mumbai (46,248), Nagpur (45,322), Thane (35,264), and Bengaluru Urban (16,259), currently have the highest active COVID-19 case load. The cases include 855 from virus variants.

‘Urgent action needed’

Also addressing the press conference, Union Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan stressed the need to take urgent action to curb the surge. He said the States had been asked to ramp up testing with focus on RT-PCR tests, ensure effective and prompt isolation of those infected and tracing their close contacts while strengthening public and private health care resources.

“Ensuring COVID-appropriate behaviour and saturation of vaccination for priority age groups” in districts reporting surge in cases is also a priority. “India is currently showing a weekly national average positivity rate of 5.65%.

Mr. Bhushan said, as per a government survey, 97% people were satisfied with the overall vaccination experience. The Ministry had not received any specific request from the Maharashtra government to carry out door-to-door vaccination, he added.

Six States — Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat — reported 78.56% of the new cases reported on Tuesday, a statement from the Health Ministry said.

Manipur retracts letter on refugees #GS2 #Governance

The Manipur government has withdrawn a letter issued last week directing officials to not set up any camps for Myanmar nationals crossing the border into India and to “politely turn away” those seeking refuge.

Meanwhile, even though the Union Home Ministry asserted that the refugees should be identified and deported, the Mizoram government is planning to provide them employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

“It appears that the contents of the letter have been misconstrued and interpreted differently. The State government has been taking all humanitarian steps had recently taken all steps, including taking them to Imphal, to treat the injured Myanmarese nationals. The State government continues to provide all aid.

In the March 26 letter to the Deputy Commissioners of five districts bordering Myanmar, Mr. Prakash had said that in case of grievous injuries, medical attention may be provided on “humanitarian considerations” and also directed that Aadhaar enrolment “should be stopped immediately and Aadhaar enrolment kits taken into safe custody.

A State government official said the government was now supporting those seeking refuge.

Rajya Sabha member from the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) M. Vanlalvena told The Hindu that the refugees living in Mizoram will have to work to earn a living till the situation improved.

“More than thousand refugees have come; they are living in villages across the State. Work will be allocated to them under NREGS,” Mr. Vanlalvena said. The MGNREGS is a central government scheme meant only for Indian citizens but the rules are notified by the State government.

When asked if providing work will violate the norms, Mr. Vanlalvena said, “the State government can decide the projects and the people who can be employed through the scheme. We do not know for how long they [refugees] will have to stay here. They cannot live here for free so this decision has been taken.”

He added that Chief Minister Zoramthanga has granted Rs. 1 lakh from the CM relief fund to provide for food and relief to the refugees fleeing military crackdown in Myanmar. “The civil society groups, with the help of local television channels have so far raised more than Rs. 16 lakh to help the people. India is a good country, we cannot let them down. If they go back they will be killed,

SC to study if POCSO Act can be used against minors #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court has decided to examine whether the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act can be employed to punish teenagers for “consensual” physical relationships which later turn “sour.”

A Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee admitted the case of a man accused of rape while he was 18 years old by a girl who was 17. The duo were in a “relationship” in school. He, however, refused to marry her, following which a complaint was filed against him in 2015. The case is based in Tamil Nadu.

The trial court found the man guilty and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment under the POCSO Act in 2019. This was despite the fact that the girl had changed her stance during the trial and stated in court that they were in a consensual relationship.

The man, represented by advocate Rahul Shyam Bhandari, approached the Supreme Court after the Madras High Court too refused to accept the girl’s stand that they were in a consensual relationship. Mr. Bhandari argued that his client and the girl were both “less than 18 years of age at the time of relationship”.

“The boy was a juvenile at the time. Now, the girl and the boy want to settle in life,” Mr. Bhandari submitted before Justice Banerjee’s Bench in the apex court.

Notice to T.N. govt.

The Bench has issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government. The man’s appeal in the apex court has sought clarity on the law for punishing minors under the POCSO Act for consensual sex. It said the objective of the Act was not to punish adolescents who are in a live-in or physical relationship.

The apex court ordered the State police not to take any coercive action against the appellant.

Researchers find new butterfly species #GS3 #Environment

A group of lepidopterists have added a species to the expanding list of butterflies in India. The discovery of the species Nacaduba sinhala ramaswamii Sadasivan, 2021 in the Agasthyamalais in the Western Ghats a decade ago has now found place in the Journal of Threatened Taxa .

The new taxon of Lycaenid butterflies belonging to the Nacaduba genus had been first sighted by a team comprising Kalesh Sadasivan and Baiju K. representing the Travancore Nature History Society, Rahul Khot of the Bombay Natural History Society, and Ramasamy Naicker from Theni.

Line Blues are small butterflies belonging to the subfamily Lycaenidae and their distribution ranges from India and Sri Lanka to the whole of southeastern Asia, Australia and Samoa. It is the first time that a butterfly species was discovered by an all-Indian research team from the Western Ghats.

Covishield shelf life extended to 9 months, shows document #GS3 #SnT

India’s drug regulator has allowed the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to be used for up to nine months from its manufacture date, as opposed to the prescribed six months.

The approval, given to a licensed version of the drug made by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and exported to dozens of countries, could help health authorities minimise vaccine wastage and better plan their inoculation programmes.

Some African countries have only until the middle of next month to use up more than a million doses of the vaccine — branded Covishield by SII — if the shelf life is not extended.

AstraZeneca said in a statement last week that its product could be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions for at least six months. The World Health Organization website also gives the shelf life of Covishield and the South Korean-made AstraZeneca shot as six months.

Reuters has reviewed Mr. Somani’s approval, which has been communicated to some African countries, but could not determine if his recommendation applied to unused vials. Each vial typically contains five millilitre of vaccine, or 10 doses.

A source, with direct knowledge of the matter but not authorised to discuss it publicly, said the approval was given based on data submitted by the SII. The source did not specify what kind of data was shared by the company, the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

India has so far administered 55 million Covishield doses at home and exported nearly 64 million. The country is also using Covaxin, a vaccine developed domestically by Bharat Biotech.

Jaishankar says India backs Afghan-Taliban dialogue #GS2 #IR

Calling for a “double peace” both inside Afghanistan and in the region, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said India supports the Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN), in a rare direct reference to the Taliban at the 9th Heart of Asia conference in Tajikistan.

Mr. Jaishankar attended the meet along with Foreign Ministers of 15 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian states. India has been supportive of all the efforts being made to accelerate the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations.

‘Engage in good faith’

“If the peace process is to be successful, then it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution. India has not in the past referred directly to the Taliban, and the government has not opened any public engagement with the militant group.

Mr. Jaishankar said India views the escalation in violence against civilians in and the “continued involvement of foreign fighters” in Afghanistan with “grave concern” and pushed for Heart of Asia members to ensure a permanent ceasefire.

Speaking at the same conference, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan “fears that any space gained by ISIS and Al-Qaeda could accentuate the threat of terrorism,” and cautioned against the role of “spoilers”, both “within and outside Afghanistan”.

In a departure from the recent past, however, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Qureshi were present for each other’s speeches during the conference, unlike previous boycotts by the two sides at a number of conferences since 2019.

However, despite speculation over an ongoing India-Pakistan peace process and a back-channel dialogue, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Qureshi did not make any public contact during the day-long conference, and were seen avoiding eye contact during the joint photo opportunity they both participated in.

Speaking at the conference in Dushanbe, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to both foreign ministers in separate meetings, thanked neighbouring countries for their support. He also lauded a number of regional connectivity initiatives including India’s air corridor programme and Chabahar port project, as well as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

OCI card holders need not carry old passports #GS2 #Governance

People of Indian origin and the Indian diaspora having Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards will not have to carry their old, expired passports for travel to India, as was required earlier, according to a government notification.

The OCI card issued to people of Indian origin globally gives them almost all the privileges available to an Indian national, except for the right to vote, employment in government service and buying agricultural land.

The OCI card gives them a visa free travel to India. In a March 26 press release, the Indian missions in the U.S. said the “timeline for re-issuance of OCI cards… has been extended until 31 December, 2021.

‘Inflation at worrisome levels, oil prices will keep up pressure’ #GS3 #Economy

Inflation has breached comfort levels and assumed ‘worrisome’ proportions in India, Moody’s Analytics on Tuesday said in a note on Asia’s inflation worries driven by rising oil prices.

Stressing that India’s retail inflation has been breaching the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) 4% inflation target for the past eight months, the financial intelligence firm said India and Philippines are the two notable exceptions — in Asia — where inflation is beyond the comfort level.

“Volatile food prices and rising oil prices led India’s CPI (consumer price inflation) to exceed the upper band of 6% several times in 2020, inhibiting the RBI’s ability to keep accommodative monetary settings in place during the height of the pandemic.

Higher fuel prices will keep upward pressure on headline CPI and keep the RBI from offering further rate cuts,” said the firm, which operates independently of Moody’s Investors Service, the credit rating agency.

The firm said that India is expected to retain its current retail inflation targeting framework for monetary policy, with a target of 4% and a margin of 2% above and below that. The framework is due to be revised from April 1 this year. “The government is reportedly mulling small amendments, including increasing flexibility in exceptional times.”

Terming the rise in India’s retail inflation worrisome, the firm said India’s core CPI (excluding food, fuel and light prices) rose to 5.6% in February from 5.3% in January, even as food and beverage price inflation quickened to 4.3% from 2.7%. “Food is a key driver of inflation, representing 46% of the CPI basket

Work with India on funding infra, Sitharaman urges NDB #GS3 #Economy

Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman urged the New Development Bank (NDB) to consider working closely with India’s new development financing institution for funding infrastructure.

Set up by the BRICS nations in 2014, the NDB has so far approved 18 projects in India, including emergency loans of $2 billion to support health spending and economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asserting that India’s quick response to limit the impact of the pandemic and to undertake massive vaccination drives are resulting in a V-shaped recovery, Ms. Sitharaman said that India had supplied 63.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 80 countries, including 10.4 million doses of the vaccine as a grant.

Ms. Sitharaman, who is India’s Governor on the NDB board, was speaking at the sixth annual meeting of the NDB with the theme ‘New Development Paradigms: The Evolution of Infrastructure”

She advised the NDB to effectively meet the evolving development needs of member countries and encouraged it to develop a synergistic relationship with various other multilateral development banks and DFIs, including the new DFI being set up by India, the Finance Ministry said in a statement after the NDB board meet.