Current Affairs 25th January, 2019

Paper - 2

Topics Covered

  • Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

  • Mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections.

SC/ST Act amendment

What to read?

Prelims: Features of SC/AT act and amendments, Article 338A.

Mains: SC’s guidelines and rationale behind, need for amendment and need for a permanent solution over the issue.

Supreme Court has refused to stay amendments to SC/ST Act.

What’s the issue?

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  • In March 2018, Supreme Court diluted the stringent provisions of SC/ST Act (Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra).

  • The verdict saw a huge backlash across the country. The government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back to its original form.

  • Following this, several petitions were filed challenging the amendments.

 Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and rationale behind it:

  • Supreme Court gave the judgement on the pretext that Innocents cannot be terrorised by the provisions of the SC/ST Act and their fundamental rights need to be protected.

  • The court said that public servants could be arrested only with the written permission of their appointing authority, while in the case of private employees, the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it.

  • A preliminary inquiry should be conducted before the FIR was registered to check if the case fell within the ambit of the Act, and whether it was frivolous or motivated, the court ruled.

 Why this decision?

The court referred to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2015, which said that closure reports had been filed in 15-16 percent of the complaints under the Act. Over 75% of such cases taken up by the courts had resulted in acquittals/ withdrawal or compounding of the cases.

Therefore, there was a need to safeguard innocent citizens against false implication and unnecessary arrest for which there is no sanction under the law.

 What the Court missed?

Article 338 stipulates that governments should consult the “National Commission for SC” on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Castes.

Similarly, article 338 A mandates all major policy decision affecting STs to be taken in consultation with “National Commission for Scheduled Tribes”.

  • Considering this, Supreme Court is also bound to hear these commissions before pronouncements that are likely to impact SC/STs on a whole. However, while issuing guidelines, the court has not taken views of these stakeholders.

 The government decided to retain original provisions because of the following reasons:

  • There had been no decrease in the atrocities committed on SC/ST people despite the laws meant to protect their civil rights.

  • The sad state of affairs was despite the existence of 195 special courts across 14 States to exclusively try Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) cases.

Image result for SC/ST Act amendment

 Figures and facts:

Cases registered: As per National Crime Records Bureau statistics, there is no decrease in the crimes against SC/ST people. The number of cases registered under the PoA in 2014 was 47,124; 44839 in 2015 and 47,338 in 2016.

Conviction rate: In 2014, 28.8% of the cases were convicted. The acquittal was 71.2% and pendency of cases 85.3%. The next year saw 25.8% convictions, 74.2% acquittal and 87.3% pendency. In 2016, the convictions was 24.9%, acquittal 75.1% and pendency 89.3%.

 The Amendment Bill seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act:

  • The first stipulates that for the purposes of the Act, “preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.”

  • The second stipulates that the arrest of a person accused of having committed an offence under the Act would not require any approval.

  • The third says that the provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act, “notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court.”

 

Way ahead

The amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2018 is a move in the right direction. However, no matter how strong a piece of legislation is, all will depend on how well it is implemented.

If the implementing agency does not do its bit then the legislative effort would not be successful in the long run. The administrative set up, which includes police machinery, investigating agencies and judiciary, has to work together to effectively implement such a law.


Paper 2

Topics Covered:

  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources, issues relating to poverty and hunger.

Neglected diseases

What to read?

Prelims: What are neglected tropical diseases?

Mains: Neglected diseases- spread, vulnerable sections, concerns, measures and the need for international cooperation.

A new report has found that the Indian government is the fourth largest funder for research and development into neglected tropical diseases.

Image result for Indian government is the fourth largest funder for research and development into neglected tropical diseases.

  • The findings come from an analysis of global investment into research and development (R&D) on new products for neglected diseases in developing countries, as part of the eleventh annual G-Finder survey.

  • The survey looks at funding for a number of diseases like trachoma, buruli ulcer, rheumatic fever, meningitis, leptospirosis and also for HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, dengue, hepatitis C and leprosy.

  • It examines funding from government sources, philanthropies, private sector funding and other types of organisations.

 Key findings of the report:

  • With USD 1,595 million, the US government is the largest funder.

  • The Indian government, which contributes USD 72 million, comes 4th.

  • Among other low and middle income countries (LMICs), India is credited with being responsible for the “lion’s share” of public funding.

  • India also records the strongest global growth in public funding for R&D on neglected diseases since 2009.

Need for and significance of R&D into neglected tropical diseases:

Image result for Indian government is the fourth largest funder for research and development into neglected tropical diseases.

The need for drugs for neglected diseases and also for drug R&D is high in India. The country tops the number of cases for 11 different neglected tropical diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis, trachoma, tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, dengue and leprosy.

In 2017, there were around 2.8 million new cases of TB, which brought down the global decline of TB. One third of all TB deaths worldwide happen in India.

Recent policies on neglected diseases research in India:

The National Health Policy (2017) sets an ambition to stimulate innovation to meet health needs and ensure that new drugs are affordable for those who need them most, but it does not specifically tackle neglected diseases.

The National Policy on Treatment of Rare Diseases (2018) includes infectious tropical diseases and identifies a need to support research on treatments for rare diseases. It has not yet prioritised diseases and areas for research funding or how innovation would be supported.

What’s missing?

  • A comprehensive policy to foster research and innovation in drug discovery, diagnostics, and vaccine development in neglected tropical diseases is lacking.

  • While political intent and will are expressed in a few, clear operational plans and funding mechanisms are not specified. Consequently, follow-up action is patchy or absent.

  • No institutional mechanism exists at a national level to identify gaps in neglected diseases research, set priorities, liaise with research institutions, or monitor research output. There is often no coordination between the various funding and research bodies to prioritise the research agenda and minimise duplication.

Way ahead:

A unified programme on neglected diseases encompassing research and elimination measures is likely to have a greater impact in prioritising the matter in the health agenda and streamlining efforts towards disease elimination. Creating an enabling environment for research and innovation will be crucial if India is to achieve the target set in sustainable development goal 3.3 to end epidemics of neglected tropical diseases by 2030.

Why are some tropical diseases called “neglected”?

The people who are most affected by these diseases are often the poorest populations, living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones. Neglected tropical diseases persist under conditions of poverty and are concentrated almost exclusively in impoverished populations in the developing world.

Challenges and concerns:

  • Lacking a strong political voice, people affected by these tropical diseases have a low profile and status in public health priorities.

  • Lack of reliable statistics and unpronounceable names of diseases have all hampered efforts to bring them out of the shadows.

  • Neglected tropical diseases affect more than 1 billion people, primarily poor populations living in tropical and subtropical climates.

  • They are frequently clustered together geographically and individuals are often afflicted with more than one parasite or infection. More than 70% of countries and territories that report the presence of neglected tropical diseases are low-income or lower middle-income economies.

 Spread and control:

  • Infections are caused by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation. Children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, which kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year, often resulting in life-long physical pain and social stigmatization.

  • Many neglected tropical diseases can be prevented, eliminated or even eradicated with improved access to existing safe and cost-effective tools. Control relies on simple interventions that can be carried out by non-specialists — for example schoolteachers, village heads and local volunteers — in community-based preventive action.

 

Paper 3

Topics Covered

  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Nitrogen pollution

What to read?

Prelims and Mains: Nitrogen- natural cycle, pollution and ways to prevent it, South Asian Nitrogen Hub.

 A major international research programme is being carried out to tackle the challenge that nitrogen pollution poses for environment, food security, human health and the economy in South Asia. The research programme will be carried out by South Asian Nitrogen Hub.

South Asian Nitrogen Hub:

Image result for South Asian Nitrogen Hub:

  • The South Asian Nitrogen Hub, a partnership led by the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and comprising around 50 organisations from across the UK and South Asia, will be established with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under its Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

  • The Hub is one of 12 GCRF hubs announced by the UKRI to address intractable challenges in sustainable development. The interdisciplinary hubs will work across 85 countries with governments, international agencies, partners and NGOs.

  • India is a major partner with 18 Indian institutions in this project. India is the only country in South Asia that has completed its nitrogen assessment over a year ago and is already co-leading the South Asian nitrogen assessment with CEH, UK, for the UN Environment.

 Nitrogen as an essential nutrient:

Nitrogen, which is a vital macronutrient for most plants, is the most abundant element in the atmosphere.

A little over 78% of dry air on Earth is nitrogen. But atmospheric nitrogen, or dinitrogen, is unreactive and cannot be utilised by plants directly.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, farmers depended on a natural process called nitrogen fixation for the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into reactive nitrogen in the soil: nitrogen-fixing bacteria like rhizobia live symbiotically with leguminous plants, providing nitrogen to the plant and soil in the form of reactive compounds like ammonia and nitrate.

But the natural nitrogen cycle was inadequate to feed the growing population. Scientists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch solved this problem by producing ammonia by combining atmospheric nitrogen with hydrogen gas at high temperature and pressure—known as the Haber-Bosch process. The Green Revolution, which was instrumental in establishing food security in the developing countries in the 1960s, was driven by artificial nitrogen-fixation. Today, about half of the world’s population depends on this process for its nutrition.

 How Nitrogen turned into pollutant from nutrient how it is affecting health and environment?

Nitrogen is an inert gas that’s necessary for life. But we’re changing it into forms that are harmful, overloading the environment with it, and throwing the natural nitrogen cycle out of whack.

Nitrogen compounds running off farmland have led to water pollution problems around the world, while nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles make a big contribution to air pollution.

Over 80% of the nitrogen in soil is not utilised by humans. While over four-fifths of the nitrogen is used to feed livestock, only about six per cent reaches humans in case of non-vegetarian diet, as compared to the 20% that reaches the plate of a vegetarian.

Nitrogen becomes a pollutant when it escapes into the environment and reacts with other organic compounds. It is either released into the atmosphere, gets dissolved in water sources such as rivers, lakes or groundwater, or remains in the soil. While it might lead to favourable growth of species that can utilise this nutrient, nitrogen as a pollutant is often detrimental to the environment and health.

According to the World Health Organization, nitrate-contaminated drinking water can cause reduced blood function, cancer and endemic goiters. Surplus inputs of nitrogen compounds have been found to cause soil acidification. The lowering pH, as a result of the acidification, can lead to nutrient disorders and increased toxicity in plants. It may also affect natural soil decomposition.

 Nitrogen pollution has a significant impact on the environment:

Image result for Nitrogen pollution has a significant impact on the environment:

  • It creates of harmful algal blooms and dead zones in our waterways and oceans; the algae produce toxins which are harmful to human and aquatic organisms (and indirectly affects fisheries and biodiversity in coastal areas).

  • Contamination of drinking water. 10 million people in Europe are potentially exposed to drinking water with nitrate concentrations above recommended levels. This can have an adverse effect on human health.

  • Food Security: Excessive nitrogen fertiliser application contributes to soil nutrient depletion. As the world needs to feed an ever growing population loss of arable land is major global problem.

  • The release of Nitrous Oxide is essentially a greenhouse gas which is harmful to the environment.