Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 3
India and China recently decided to establish “sister-state relations” between Tamil Nadu and the Fujian province. This followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming up with a number of ideas on the connect between the State and the Chinese province during his discussions with President Xi Jinping at the second India-China “informal summit,” now called “Chennai Connect”.
- The two leaders also agreed to explore the possibility of establishing an academy to study links between Mamallapuram and the Fujian province on the lines of the experience between Ajanta and Dunhuang, besides conducting research on maritime links.
- Asked about the agreement reached by the two countries in 2015 to have a Chinese consulate opened in Chennai, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told presspersons that the specifics were being worked out.
- Pointing out that Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi emphasised the importance of building public opinion in broadbasing the relationship, Mr. Gokhale said a number of events had been planned to deepen the exchange between the people of the two countries.
- He said 2020 would be designated the Year of India-China Cultural and People to People Exchanges. To mark the completion of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations, 70 activities would be held, including a conference on a ship voyage that would trace the historical connect between the two civilisations.
- They would be equally divided between the two countries and the plan is to have at least one event every week in either India or China, Mr. Gokhale said.
‘Foreign’ plastic invades Great Nicobar Island
- The pristine beaches of the Great Nicobar Island, India’s southernmost territory, are under threat from plastic. A survey of five beaches in the islands recorded the presence of plastic bottles.
- Sixty of these were analysed and found to be of ‘non-Indian origin,’ according to researchers, whose findings appear in the latest edition of Current Science.
- Major portion of the litter (40.5%) was of Malaysian origin. It was followed by Indonesia (23.9%) and Thailand (16.3%). Other countries contributed a minor portion.
- The litter of Indian origin only amounted to 2.2%, they said.
- About 10 countries including India contributed to the plastic litter in the island.
- They were Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Myanmar, China and Japan.
Proximity to island
- The overwhelming contribution from Indonesia and Thailand was likely due to its proximity to the island; the plastic is likely to have made its way to the island because of water currents via the Malacca Strait, which is a major shipping route.
- “The huge quantities of marine debris observed on this island might be due to improper handling of the solid waste from fishing/mariculture activity and ship traffic,” the researchers note.
Strain of tourism
- However, the researchers also point out that litter of Indian origin on beaches and mangroves of the Andaman Islands is continuously increasing.
- This is probably due to lack of proper guidelines and inadequate staff to monitor these islands, they said.
- The Great Nicobar Island of Andaman has an area of about 1044 sq. km.
- According to the 2011 census, has a population of about 8,069.
- The island is home to one of the most primitive tribes of India — the Shompens.
- The island includes the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (GNBR) comprising of the Galathea National Park and the Campbell Bay National Park.
- The island harbours a wide spectrum of ecosystems from tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges and coastal plains.
- The island is also home to giant robber crabs, crab-eating macaques, the rare megapode as well as leatherback turtles.
- Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the severest threats to ocean ecosystems and its concentration has 0reached 5,80,000 pieces per square kilometre.
- Plastic represents 83% of the marine litter found.
- The remaining 17% is mainly textiles, paper, metal and wood.
‘Education of mothers directly linked to better nutrition for children’
- The first pan-India survey on nutrition levels among children conducted by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry shows a direct correlation between mothers’ education and the well-being of children.
- The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey studied 1.2 lakh children between 2016 and 2018 and measured food consumption, anthropometric data, micronutrient levels, anaemia, iron deficiency and markers of non-communicable diseases.
- These were charted against population characteristics such as religion, caste, place of residence and the mothers’ levels of schooling.
- The data recorded show 31% of the mothers of children aged up to four years, 42% of those having children aged five to nine and 53% of those with adolescents aged 10-19 never attended school. Only 20% of the mothers of pre-schoolers, 12% of those of schoolchildren, and 7% of those of adolescents had completed 12 or more years of schooling.
- Diet diversity, meal frequency and minimum acceptable diet are the three core indicators of nutrition deficiency among infants and young children.
- Data from the study show that with higher levels of schooling in a mother, children received better diets. Only 11.4% of the children of mothers with no schooling received adequately diverse meals, while 31.8% whose mothers finished Class XII received diverse meals.
- The study found 3.9% of the children whose mothers had zero schooling got minimum acceptable diets, whereas this was at 9.6% for those whose mothers finished schooling. Moreover, 7.2% of the children in the former category consumed iron-rich food, whereas this was at 10.3% for those in the latter category.
- The proportion of children aged two to four consuming dairy products, eggs and other fruits and vegetables increased with the mothers’ education level and household wealth status. For example, only 49.8% of the children in that age group whose mothers did not go to school consumed dairy products, while 80.5% of the children of mothers who completed their schooling did so.
- These trends also show among older children and adolescents — only 25.4% of the children in the 5-9 age group with uneducated mothers received eggs, but 45.3% of the children whose mothers studied till Class XII had eggs.
- Levels of stunting, wasting and low weight were higher in children whose mothers received no schooling as opposed to those who studied till Class XII. Stunting among children aged up to four was nearly three times for the former category (19.3% versus 5.9%), and the number of underweight children was nearly double among them (14.8% versus 5.1%) as compared with the latter category.
- Also, 5.7% of the children were wasted in the former category, while this was at 4.3% in the latter category.
- Anaemia saw a much higher prevalence of 44.1% among children up to four years old with mothers who never went to school, versus 34.6% among those who completed their schooling.
- But on the flip side, a higher level of education among mothers meant that their children received meals less frequently, perhaps because the chances of the women being employed and travelling long distances to work went up — 50.4% of children in the age group of 6-23 months born to illiterate mothers versus 36.2% among those who had finished schooling.
- Such children were also at a higher risk of diabetes and high cholesterol as relative prosperity could lead to a higher consumption of sugary drinks and foods high in cholesterol.
- Children in the age group of 10-19 showed a higher prevalence of pre-diabetes if their mother had finished schooling (15.1% versus 9.6%). The prevalence of high cholesterol levels was at 6.2% in these children as opposed to 4.8% among those whose mothers never attended school.
Index of Industrial Production
- The fall in the IIP number is in line with the contraction in the August core sector, as reflected in data released earlier this month by the industry department.
- According to the data for the “Quick Estimates of Index of Industrial Production” released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) on Friday, India’s industrial sector production contracted by 1.1 per cent in August when compared to the production in the same month in 2018.
- As far as such year-on-year comparisons go, the last time a reduction in the IIP happened was in June 2017. But this time, the fall was sharper — the index has fallen to an 81-month low, leading back to November 2012.
What is the IIP?
- As the name suggests, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) maps the change in the volume of production in Indian industries. More formally, it chooses a basket of industrial products — ranging from the manufacturing sector to mining to energy, creates an index by giving different weight to each sector and then tracks the production every month.
- Finally, the index value is compared to the value it had in the same month last year to figure out the economy’s industrial health.
Which sectors are lagging in production?
- There are two ways in which IIP data can be viewed. The first is to look at sectoral performance. In this the whole industrial economy is divided into three sectors; the first is manufacturing with a weight of 77.6 per cent in the index, the second is mining with a weight of 14.4 per cent and third is electricity with a weight of 8 per cent.
- The second way to look at the same production is to look at the way such industrial products are used; this is called the use-based classification. Table 1 gives the data on both the type of classification.
- From a sectoral point of view, it can be seen how the growth rate in the manufacturing production, which has the biggest weight in the index, has been negative — that is, it shrank by 1.2 per cent. In fact, 15 out of the 23 sub-groups in the manufacturing sector showed negative growth in August 2019.
- The worst were motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers, where production declined by over 23 per cent, and machinery and equipment, where production fell by close to 22 per cent.
- Electricity production, too, shrank while mining production barely managed to be what it was in August 2018.
- If one looks at the use-based classification in the same table, one can see the sustained shrinkage in two key groups — capital goods and consumer durables. This contraction is at the heart of what is wrong with the Indian economy at present.
- The decline in the production of capital goods, which is the machinery used to produce other goods, shows that there is little desire/demand in the market to invest in existing or new capacity.
- The decline in consumer durables such a refrigerator or a car shows that existing inventories are not yet being cleared because consumers continue to avoid buying these products.
How useful are monthly IIP figures to draw a conclusion about India’s growth?
- IIP figures are monthly data and as such it keeps going up and down. In fact, the release calls them “quick e0stimates” because they tend to get revised after a month or two. As such, it is true that one should not take just one month’s IIP data and project it for the whole year or indeed use it to conclude that the full year’s economic growth will be low.
- However, as brought out in Table 1, some key sectors are showing sustained weakness within IIP. Moreover, even though it is a lead indicator of overall economic growth, IIP is just one of the markers.
- But Figure 2 from Nomura’s Monthly Activity Index (MAI) — a weighted average of 19 high-frequency indicators — tends to map the overall (non-agricultural) economic growth pretty closely.
- As such, a dip in IIP, especially the sustained weakness in manufacturing industries, does not bode well for India’s economic growth in the near term.
Land Acquisition Case
- A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is set to hear a case on the interpretation of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation Act (LAAR).
- The Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra will specifically interpret a provision of the law, Section 24(2), which states that when a developer fails to take possession of the land acquired under the 1894 Act for five years, or if compensation is not paid to the owner, the land acquisition process would fail and will have to initiated afresh under the LAAR.
Background of the case
- In February 2018, then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had referred the case to a Constitution Bench as two Benches of the court had delivered conflicting judgments on the issue.
- The referral came after a three-judge Bench comprising Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, Arun Mishra and Mohan Shantanagoudar, while interpreting Section 24(2), ruled by a 2-1 majority that if a landowner refuses the compensation offered by the developer, he cannot take advantage of his own wrongdoing, and have the acquisition proceedings lapse under the old law.
- If the proceedings lapse under the old law, the acquisition process would be initiated again under the new law, allowing the owner to get higher compensation.
- In doing so, the court also invalidated a 2014 judgment by another three-judge Bench on the same issue, and declared it “per incuriam”, or lacking in regard for the law and facts.
- Justice Shantanagoudar had dissented with the two senior judges in the 2018 verdict.
- The 2014 verdict by a Bench also comprising three judges, Justices R M Lodha, Madan Lokur, and Kurian Joseph, had said that acquisition proceedings initiated under the 1894 Act would automatically lapse, and would have to be initiated again if the state has not taken control of the land for five years, or if compensation was not paid to displaced farmers.
- While the 2014 ruling is considered to be in favour of the landowners, the 2018 ruling gave fresh hope for developers.
Why was a referral to a larger Bench made?
- Days after the 2018 verdict was pronounced, another three-judge Bench comprising Justices Lokur, Joseph, and Deepak Gupta stayed all cases relating to this provision of the land acquisition Act in all High Courts till the question of law was settled.
- The Bench also asked “other Benches of the Supreme Court” to not take up the issue until it was decided by a larger Bench.
- Two of the judges on this Bench, Justices Lokur and Joseph, were also part of the Bench that delivered the 2014 verdict that was invalidated.
- Justice Joseph in oral observations made in the court strongly criticised the 2018 ruling and said that the 2018 verdict had deviated from “virgin principles” of the institution in declaring a verdict of equal Bench strength ‘per incuriam’.
- Subsequently, separate Benches headed by Justices Goel and Mishra referred the matter to the CJI, requesting that a larger Bench be set up.
What does it mean when a court ruling is declared ‘per incuriam’?
- A judgment that is declared per incuriam has no legal force or validity, and does not count as a precedent.
- In common law, a case decided by Benches of larger or equal strength is binding on other Benches, and since the Supreme Court sits in Benches of two or three, this practice ensures consistency and certainty in law.
- A three-judge Bench cannot hold a decision by another three-judge Bench to be per incuriam; it can only ask for the matter to be considered by a larger Bench if it disagrees with the precedent.
- Similarly, a Bench cannot ask other Benches to not follow a judgment.
Clearances that CMs need to go abroad
Recently Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed a conference in Denmark through videoconferencing, with the Centre having denied clearance to a trip abroad.
- For a foreign trip, public servants need political clearance from the External Affairs Ministry. Amid the controversy around Kejriwal’s visit, Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said, “We get hundreds of requests for political clearances every month from ministries, secretaries and bureaucrats. A decision is taken based on multiple inputs… It takes into account the nature of the event… It takes into account the level of participation from other countries and also the kind of invitation that is extended.”
- Since 2016, applications for political clearance can be made online, on a portal opened by the Ministry. These are processed and clearance issued through coordination among various Ministry divisions.
Previous CMs denied
- During the previous UPA regime, the External Affairs Ministry denied political clearance for trips by then Chief Ministers Tarun Gogoi (Assam, Congress) to the US and Israel, and to Arjun Munda (Jharkhand, BJP) to Thailand.
- Gogoi had wanted to visit New York for a “high level meeting” on April 2, 2012; a note from the Ministry said “..direct correspondence by a diplomatic Mission with a State Government being inappropriate”.
- About his proposed trip to Israel for an event on water and environment technology, the Ministry had said, “Concerned agencies would be hard put to provide special consideration for CM, Assam, both from the substantive and protocol angles.”
Debate over protocol
- On June 14, 2014, then Civil Aviation Secretary Ashok Lavasa (now Election Commissioner) wrote to then Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth that the “dilatory system” of the External Affairs Ministry clearing all proposals for travel abroad by officials should be changed.
- Seth forwarded the letter to the Ministry; then Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh wrote back on August 13, 2014. She stressed it was the Ministry’s prerogative to decide on the suitability, desirability and level of participation of Indian officials in engagements abroad.
- While all public servants need political clearance for foreign trips, different officers need different additional clearances. Chief Ministers, state ministers and other state officials also need clearance from the Department of Economic Affairs.
- For Union ministers, after getting political clearance from the External Affairs Ministry, additional clearance is needed from the Prime Minister, whether the trip is official or personal. Lok Sabha MPs need clearance from the Speaker, and Rajya Sabha members from the Chairperson (Vice President of India).
- For various ministry officers up to Joint Secretary level, clearance is given by the minister concerned, after political clearance.
- For those above that rank, the proposal needs approval of a screening committee of secretaries. Rules vary according to the duration of the visit, the country to be visited, and the number of members in a delegation.
- If the foreign trip involves the hospitality of organisations other than those of the UN, then FCRA clearance is needed from the Home Ministry.
‘India’s Got Colour’
- Standardisaion of beauty, celebrating every skin tone and how skin colour bias or “colourism” is just another form of bigotry were some of the issues underlining the launch of the campaign “India’s Got Colour”, in the Capital recently.
- The event hosted by UNESCO saw the launch of a 2 minute music video produced by the Nandita Das Initiatives, with the same name – “India’s Got Colour”- and was followed by a panel discussion on the need to trigger conversations around the stigma and bias associated with skin tones and colourism is the country.
- Actor and filmmaker Nandita Das, who has also directed the music video along with filmmaker Mahesh Mathai, said, “Every skin colour needs to be celebrated. This is something which affects women right from the time they are born, especially because of the standardisation of beauty that has taken place. Why are princesses and angels always light skinned? Where have these notions come from? It is important to trigger conversations around the issue.”
One Nation One FASTag
Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari recently inaugurated the “One Nation One FASTag” scheme at the Indian Mobile Congress in New Delhi. The plan aims to integrate the collection of toll digitally and ensure seamless mobility of vehicles across India. The scheme will be implemented from December 1, 2019, and can be availed upon activation by new cars having Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on national and state highways throughout the country.
What is ‘FASTag’?
- FASTags are stickers that are affixed to the windscreen of vehicles and use RFID technology to enable digital, contactless payment of tolls without having to stop at toll gates.
- The tags are linked to bank accounts and other payment methods. As a car crosses a toll plaza, the amount is automatically deducted, and a notification is sent to the registered mobile phone number. Sensors are placed on toll barriers, and the barriers open for vehicles having valid FASTags.
- A FASTag is valid for five years and needs to be recharged only as per requirement.
- At present, 60 lakh vehicles in India have FASTags. According to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), these devices will make passing through tolls considerably smoother since drivers will no longer have to carry cash or stop to make a transaction.
‘One Nation One FASTag’ scheme
- At the conference recently, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) were signed between state departments and other agencies for bringing in a unified electronic tolling solution across the country. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana signed MoUs with the Indian Highways Management Company Limited, an arm of NHAI, to accept FASTags on their state highway tolls.
- The existing FASTags under various jurisdictions of states and agencies would be enabled under this scheme, thus integrating the collection of toll digitally so that seamless services can be provided to consumers all over India.
- The move is significant given that the Centre has decided that from December 1, all national highway toll plazas will accept tolls only through FASTags.
New access measures at airports
- The Ministry of Civil Aviation has rolled out new access control measures across all airports in the country.
- It has withdrawn commercial Airport Entry Pass (AEP) and restricted protocol or facilitation extended to a section of passengers to ‘Meet and Greet’ service.
- Putting an end to commercial AEPs would affect a large number of major business establishments, luxury hotels and tour operators who utilise the passes to extend facilitation at arrival/departure terminals at airports for their guests in the process of check-in and baggage collection.
- Under the new guidelines that take immediate effect, the Ministry urged States to ensure that access to aerodrome is controlled.
- Entry should be restricted to bonafide passengers and persons, including employees, having legitimate functions and issued with an AEP or Admission Ticket.
- Among those who were exempted from requiring AEP to enter airports were passengers with a valid ticket, operating crew of an aircraft that has landed at the airport, MPs with a valid identity card issued by Parliament with access restricted to check-in and baggage claim area and any government servant authorised by the Director-General, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, to carry out legitimate duties in an emergency situation.
- Under the protocol category, two passes would be issued to two persons recommended by MPs, including one at India Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.
- Each Union Cabinet Minister, Minister of State with Independent Charge, Minister of State in the Council of Ministers, Government of India, and Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Leaders of Opposition in both Houses of Parliament could recommend passes to two persons of their choice.
- All government ministries, departments, subordinate offices, PSUs, national/Multi-State cooperative societies, etc. would be entitled to two AEPs for official purposes.
- While the Supreme Court was granted 15 AEPs, High Courts would be eligible for four passes with access to Security Hold Area.
- Among senior functionaries of the civil administration and police of State governments, it was decided that the Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, Director-General of Police, Secretary to Governor, Secretary to Chief Minister, Secretary in-charge of Protocol Department, ADGP, Chief of Intelligence, Zonal Inspector-General of Police, Range Deputy-Inspector General of Police and Superintendent of Police would be eligible for one pass each.
- Withdrawing issue of Commercial AEPs for protocol purposes, the Ministry introduced ‘Meet & Greet’ Service for providing required assistance for those seeking the facility on the payment of a nominal fee
Indigenous breeds record marginal rise
- The Centre’s drive to increase indigenous breeds of cattle seems to have had little impact among cows kept for dairy purposes, according to data from the 20th Livestock Census released recently.
- There are 4.85 crore desi (native) milch cows in the country, less than 1% higher than the 4.81 crore population in the last census in 2012.
- On the other hand, the milch population of exotic and crossbred cattle — including varieties such as Jersey or Holsteins which have much higher milk yields — saw a whopping growth of 32% over the last seven years, growing from 1.9 crore to 2.5 crore animals.
- Milch cattle are cows kept for the purpose of milk production. Among this category, therefore, foreign breeds now have a population that is more than half the population of desi breeds.
- The Rashtriya Gokul Mission, launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government in 2014, aimed to promote indigenous desi breeds.
- However, the total population of such cattle — male and female together, milk-producing or not — actually dropped 6% to 14.2 crore animals, while exotic and crossbred cattle saw an overall growth of almost 27% to 5 crore animals.
Global Hunger Index
The latest Global Hunger Index (GHI) has ranked India a lowly 102 among the 117 countries it has mapped. In 2018, India was pegged at 103 but last year 119 countries were mapped. So while the rank is one better this year, in reality, India is not better off in comparison to the other countries. The GHI slots countries on a scale ranging from “low” hunger to “moderate”, “serious”, “alarming”, and “extremely alarming”. India is one of the 47 countries that have “serious” levels of hunger.
On the whole, the 2019 GHI report has found that the number of hungry people has risen from 785 million in 2015 to 822 million. It further states that “multiple countries have higher hunger levels now than in 2010, and approximately 45 countries are set to fail to achieve ‘low’ levels of hunger by 2030”.
What is the Global Hunger Index?
- The GHI has been brought out almost every year by Welthungerhilfe (lately in partnerships with Concern Worldwide) since 2000; this year’s report is the 14th one. A low score gets a country a higher ranking and implies a better performance.
- The reason for mapping hunger is to ensure that the world achieves “Zero Hunger by 2030” — one of the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the United Nations. It is for this reason that GHI scores are not calculated for certain high-income countries.
- While in common parlance hunger is understood in terms of food deprivation, in a formal sense it is calculated by mapping the level of calorie intake.
But the GHI does not limit itself to this narrow definition of hunger. Instead, it tracks the performance of different countries on four key parameters because, taken together, these parameters capture multiple dimensions — such a deficiency of micronutrients — of hunger, thus providing a far more comprehensive measure of hunger.
How does GHI measure hunger?
- For each country in the list, the GHI looks at four indicators:
- Undernourishment (which reflects inadequate food availability): calculated by the share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient);
- Child Wasting (which reflects acute undernutrition): calculated by the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, those who have low weight for their height);
- Child Stunting (which reflects chronic undernutrition): calculated by the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, those who have low height for their age);
- Child Mortality (which reflects both inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environment): calculated by the mortality rate of children under the age of five (in part, a reflection of the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition.
- Each country’s data are standardised on a 100-point scale and a final score is calculated after giving 33.33% weight each to components 1 and 4, and giving 16.66% weight each to components 2 and 3.
- Countries scoring less than or equal to 9.9 are slotted in the “low” category of hunger, while those scoring between 20 and 34.9 are in the “serious” category and those scoring above 50 are in the “extremely alarming” category.
What is India’s score relative to those of the others?
- Among the BRICS grouping, India is ranked the worst, with China at 25 and a score of just 6.5.
- Within South Asia, too, India is behind every other country. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan (in that order) are all ahead of India.
- Some of the other countries ahead of India are Saudi Arabia (rank 34), Venezuela (rank 65, even as its score has doubled from just over 8 to over 16, because of the socio-economic and political crisis), Lesotho (rank 79), Burkina Faso (rank 88), and North Korea (rank 92).
- In stark contrast to India, which has the world’s largest democracy and one of the biggest economies, most of the countries below India on the GHI — Afghanistan, Haiti or Yemen etc — are either poorly governed or war-torn or ravaged by natural calamities.
Reasons for low ranking of India
- With an overall score of 30.3, India finds itself sandwiched between Niger (score 30.2, rank 101) and Sierra Leone (score 30.4, rank 103). In 2000, India’s score was 38.8 and its hunger level was in the “alarming” category. Since then, India has steadily improved on most counts to reduce its score and is now slotted in th” “serious” category.
- But the pace of India’s improvement has been relatively slow. Nothing illustrates this better than the trajectory of Niger and Sierra Leone, which in 2000 had scores of 52.1 and 53.6, respectively, and found themselves in the “extremely alarming” category of hunger — and were much worse off than India.
- So, even though India has improved its score, many others have done more and that explains why despite achieving relatively fast economic growth since 2000, India has not been able to make commensurate strides in reducing hunger.
Reasons for which India’s improvements have been slow
- For one, notwithstanding the broader improvements, there is one category — Child Wasting, that is, children with low weight for their age — where India has worsened.
- In other words, the percentage of children under the age of 5 years suffering from wasting has gone up from 16.5 in 2010 to 20.8 now. Wasting is indicative of acute undernutrition and India is the worst among all countries on this parameter.
- “India’s child wasting rate is extremely high at 20.8 percent — the highest wasting rate of any country in this report for which data or estimates were available. Its child stunting rate, 37.9 percent, is also categorized as very high in terms of its public health significance… In India, just 9.6 percent of all children between 6 and 23 months of age are fed a minimum acceptable diet,” states the report.
Legislative Council abolished in J&K
- Once dominating the news for setting debates and settling sticky discourses for 70 years, the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Council, the upper house of the Assembly, was abolished on Thursday as per Section 57 of the J&K Reorganisation Bill, 2019, which reduced the State to the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
- A spokesman of the General Administration Department (GAD) said all the staff members of the Council shall report to the GAD by October 22. There are 116 employees working with the Council since the first Constituent Assembly came into being in 1957.
- The Council, which had a strength of 36 members, also used to be a part of the electoral college for the Rajya Sabha elections.
- The Secretary of the Council has been directed to transfer all records pertaining to the Council Secretariat, including related legislative business, to the Department of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.
TB cases see decrease in India
- The tuberculosis incidence rate in India has decreased by almost 50,000 patients over the past one year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)-2019 edition of the Global Tuberculosis (TB) Report released recently.
- The report notes that in 2017, India had 27.4 lakh TB patients which came down to 26.9 lakh in 2018. Incidence per 1,00,000 population has decreased from 204 in 2017 to 199 in 2018. The number of patients being tested for rifampicin resistance has increased from 32% in 2017 to 46% in 2018.
- And the treatment success rate has increased to 81% for new and relapse cases (drug sensitive) in 2017, which was 69% in 2016.
- The report provides a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of the TB epidemic and progress in the response at global, regional and country levels for India.
Covering all cases
- Meanwhile, the India TB-Report 2019 notes that India is closest ever to covering all TB cases through the online notification system (NIKSHAY).
- In India, of the estimated 2.69 million TB cases emerging in 2018, 2.15 million were reported to the Government of India — leaving a gap of 5,40,000 patients who are going unreported.
India Innovation Index 2019
- NITI Aayog with Institute for Competitiveness as the knowledge partner released the India Innovation Index (III) 2019.
- Karnataka is the most innovative major state in India. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Telangana, Haryana, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh form the remaining top ten major states respectively.
- The top ten major states are majorly concentrated in southern and western India. Sikkim and Delhi take the top spots among the north- eastern & hill states, and union territories/city states/small states respectively.
- Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh are the most efficient states in translating inputs into output.
- The index attempts to create an extensive framework for the continual evaluation of the innovation environment of 29 states and seven union territories in India and intends to perform the following three functions-
- ranking of states and UTs based on their index scores,
- recognizing opportunities and challenges, and
- assisting in tailoring governmental policies to foster innovation.
- The India Innovation Index 2019 is calculated as the average of the scores of its two dimensions – Enablers and Performance.
- The Enablers are the factors that underpin innovative capacities, grouped in five pillars:
- Human Capital,
- Knowledge Workers,
- Business Environment, and
- Safety and Legal Environment.
- The Performance dimension captures benefits that a nation derives from the inputs, divided in two pillars:
- (6) Knowledge Output and
- (7) Knowledge Diffusion.
- The index shows that the innovation ecosystem of the country is strong in south and western parts of India.
- In fact, three of the top five major states are from southern India. Delhi and Haryana seem to be an exception to this rule and seem to be doing well on the Index. Thus, there seems to be a west-south and north-east divide across the country.
The Swedish Academy
The story so far: Recently, Austrian writer Peter Handke bagged the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was named the winner for 2018. Last year, the Swedish Academy, which awards the annual Nobel Prize for Literature, called off the ceremony after a sex scandal. The Swedish body called for reforms in the secretive organisation and said it wanted to move on from the scandal. But apart from the ‘Eurocentric’ choice for 2018 and 2019, picking Handke, who has played down Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims in the Balkan war, have left many writers and critics fuming.
Why was the prize shelved last year?
- The 233-year-old Swedish Academy was forced to cancel the 2018 prize when rape accusations emerged against the husband of an Academy member.
- The Academy has made changes to improve transparency. But the Nobel Foundation, which funds the $914,000 prize, said the organisation (its members are elected for life and statutes can be changed only with the approval of Sweden’s king) needed to do more.
- Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, told Reuters that the Academy should review the lifetime membership and test out ideas on limited terms of office.
Why is another dispute brewing?
- While announcing the 2019 prize, the Academy said it was awarding it to Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”
- According to critics, Handke’s choice is controversial because of his Serbia-as-victim stance in the Balkan war and for attending the funeral of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Under Milosevic’s regime, thousands of ethnic Albanians were killed and at least a million had to flee.
- The Serbian president was indicted for war crimes in 1999 but died in 2006 before a ruling was reached. At the funeral, Handke said: “I don’t know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. I remember. This is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milosevic,” Balkan Transitional Justice, a platform that looks at justice issues for the former Yugoslav countries, posted on its website.
- On Twitter, Kosovo’s Ambassador to Washington, Vlora Citaku, reacted strongly: “Have we become so numb to racism, so emotionally desensitized to violence, so comfortable with appeasement that we can overlook one’s subscription & service to the twisted agenda of a genocidal maniac?”
- The 76-year-old novelist, essayist, playwright’s works include Short Letter, Long Farewell, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, Till Day You Do Part or A Question of Light and Slow Homecoming. He co-scripted Wim Wenders’ critically acclaimed 1987 film “Wings of Desire”.
- Writer Hari Kunzru, who has taught the Austrian’s works, told The Guardian: “Handke is a troubling choice for a Nobel committee that is trying to put the prize on track after recent scandals. He is a fine writer, who combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness,” adding, “More than ever we need public intellectuals who are able to make a robust defence of human rights in the face of the indifference and cynicism of our political leaders. Handke is not such a person.”
What about Olga Tokarczuk?
- The 57-year-old Polish writer, one of the 15 women to win the Nobel Prize since 1901, bagged the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for translated fiction with her ambitious novel on border-crossing, Flights.
- In the opening pages, the narrator looks back at the first trip across the fields as a child and coming across a river which looked enormous: “Standing there on the embankment…I realised that — in spite of all the risks involved — a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence….” Tokarczuk is driven by the attempt to contain a multitude of often contradictory perspectives into one whole, says the Nobel citation, and she has “a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
- A trained psychologist, Tokarczuk made her debut as a fiction writer in 1993 with The Journey of the Book People, where the characters set off in search of a mysterious book in the Pyrenees.
- Tokarczuk has courted controversy too. In 2015, her historical novel The Books of Jacob, which tells the story of a Jewish-born religious leader who leads fellow Jews to forced conversions to Catholicism in the 18th century, won her Poland’s highest book prize. But statements she made soon after — that Poland had “committed horrendous acts as colonizers, as a national majority that suppressed the minority…” — angered nationalists.
- Tokarczuk was branded a “targowiczanin” or traitor in Polish, and she had to be under protection of bodyguards for a while because of death threats.
GM cottonseeds approved as food by U.S. regulators
- S. regulators recently gave the green light for genetically modified cotton to be used for human consumption, paving the way for a protein-packed new food source — edible cottonseed that tastes a bit like chickpeas — that its developers said could help tackle global malnutrition.
- The Food and Drug Administration’s decision on the cotton plant developed by Texas A&M University scientists means it is allowed as food for people and all types of animals.
- Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant biotechnologist Keerti Rathore said that scientists were holding discussions with companies and hope to have the plant commercially available within about five years.
- Ordinary cottonseed is unfit for humans and many animals to eat because it contains high levels of gossypol, a toxic chemical.
- Rathore’s team used so-called RNAi, or RNA interference, technology to “silence” a gene, virtually eliminating gossypol from the cottonseed. Gossypol was left at natural levels in the rest of the plant because it guards against insects and disease.
- The genetic modification does not affect the plant’s fiber for use in textiles, scientists said.
Typhoon Hagibis batters Japan
- Helicopters, boats and thousands of troops were deployed across Japan to rescue people stranded in flooded homes on Sunday, as the death toll from a ferocious typhoon climbed to as high as 33.
- Typhoon Hagibis made landfall south of Tokyo recently and battered central and northern Japan with torrents of rain and powerful gusts of wind.
- The typhoon was downgraded to a tropical storm later.
- Public broadcaster NHK said 14 rivers across the nation had flooded, some spilling out in more than one spot.
- The Tokyo Fire Department said a woman in her 70s fell to her death as she was being placed inside a rescue helicopter in Iwaki city in Fukushima prefecture.
- Kyodo News agency reported that 33 people died and 19 were missing.
- Several train services in the Tokyo area resumed early in the morning, while others restarted later.
- The Rugby World Cup match between Namibia and Canada was cancelled.
Indo-Japan Joint Military Exercise DHARMA GUARDIAN – 2019
- Joint Military Exercise DHARMA GUARDIAN-219 between India and Japan will be conducted at counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Vairengte from 19 Oct 2019 to 02 Nov 2019.
- Indian Army and Japanese Ground Self Defence Forces (JGSDF) comprising 25 soldiers each will participate in the exercise with an aim to share experience gained during various Counter Terrorism Operations in respective Countries.
- Exercise DHARMA GUARDIAN is an annual training event which is being conducted in India since 2018. Notably, in the series of military training exercises undertaken by India with various countries Exercise DHARMA GUARDIAN with Japan is crucial and significant in terms of security challenges faced by both the nations in the backdrop of global terrorism.
- The scope of this exercise covers platoon level joint training on counter terrorism operations in jungle and urban scenario.
- The joint military exercise will enhance the level of defence co-operation between Indian Army and Japanese Ground Self Defence Forces (JGSDF) which in turn will further foster the bilateral relations between the two nations.
Two-thirds of North American birds at risk of extinction due to climate change
- North America could lose two-thirds of its bird species because of climate change, a new report by a leading American conservation group has warned.
- Some 389 of the 604 bird species of the continent that have been studied could be lost due to rising temperatures, increased sea levels, more precipitation and urbanisation, according to the report from the Audubon Society.
- Among the birds that could go extinct are the wood thrush, the Baltimore oriole, the common loon and the mountain bluebird, a media report said.
- In September, a report by Cornell University had found that the United States and Canada had lost 3 billion birds since 1970.
H-1B approvals in 2019
- The US has approved a higher number of H-1B applications (both for initial visas and visa extensions for continued employment) this year, showing that the demand for these work visas continues unabated.
- This is a relief to Indians, who are the dominant holders of H-1B visas, especially after processing regulations got more stringent post-2015.
- While in 2015, 2.88 lakh applications were approved (95.7%) by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), for fiscal 2019, the figure touched 3.89 lakh (84.8%), up from last year’s 3.35 lakh (84.5%).
- The latest statistics for the fiscal 2019 (the 12-month period ended September 30) were recently released by USCIS.
- Country-wise data has not been released for fiscal years 2019 and 2018, but in past years, a significant portion (more than 70%) of the aggregate H-1B visa applications for new jobs and visa extensions has been given to those born in India.
- Local hiring in USA may have resulted only in a slight drop in this figure, say immigration experts.
- USCIS data for fiscal 2019 shows that the agency continued extreme scrutiny of H-1B applications. RFEs were sought in 40.2% of cases from sponsoring employers to justify the visa applications. This is up by 2 percentile points as compared to the previous fiscal ending September 30, 2018.
- In an earlier statement, USCIS had said that the top three reasons for an RFE are: to ascertain whether the job is a speciality occupation to warrant hiring of an H-1B worker; to ascertain a bona fide employer-employee relationship; and to ascertain availability of work at third party work sites, where the employee would be deputed during the H-1B visa tenure.
- Only 1.20 lakh applications were approved, as against the 1.84 lakh applications that were subject to the RFE procedure.
- The approval rate of H-1B applications, after obtaining additional information from the sponsoring employers, was 65.4% during fiscal 2019, a slight rise from the previous year’s 62.4%.
- The post-RFE approval ratio was as high as 83% in fiscal 2015, but it has been steadily dropping. It was down to 74% in fiscal 2017, dropping still further to 62.4% in fiscal 2018, only to pick up slightly by 3 percentile points in fiscal 2019.
China leases an entire Pacific island for 75 years
- The island of Tulagi served as a South Pacific headquarters for Britain and then Japan. During Second World War, its natural deepwater harbour across from Guadalcanal made it a military gem soldiers fought and died for.
- Now Tulagi, part of the Solomon Islands, is about to move into Chinese hands.
- Under a secretive deal signed last month with a provincial government in the South Pacific nation, a Beijing-based company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party has secured exclusive development rights for the entire island of over 1,000 people and its surroundings.
- The lease agreement has shocked Tulagi residents and alarmed U.S. officials who see the island chains of the South Pacific as crucial to keeping China in check and protecting important sea routes.
- The South Pacific region is rich in natural resources, and China’s investments have provoked worries in the U.S. and Australia that the projects could give Beijing an opening to establish a military foothold for everything from ships and planes to its own version of the GPS.
- The Solomons cut ties to Taipei and allied with Beijing just a few days before the Tulagi deal. A second Pacific nation, Kiribati, followed suit the same week.
- The renewable 75-year lease was granted to the China Sam Enterprise Group, a conglomerate founded in 1985 as a state-owned enterprise, according to corporate records.
- Signed on September 22, the agreement includes provisions for a fishery base, an operations centre, and “the building or enhancement of the airport.” Though there are no confirmed oil or gas reserves in the Solomons, the agreement also notes that China Sam is interested in building an oil and gas terminal.
- These are just the explicit possibilities. The document also states that the government will lease all of Tulagi and the surrounding islands in the province for the development of “a special economic zone or any other industry that is suitable for any development.”
- The provincial governor who signed the deal, Stanley Maniteva, could not be reached for comment. Noting that laws and landowner rights would be respected, he told local reporters this week that the agreement had not been completed.
- A military installation would carry strategic and symbolic significance. Some U.S. officials believe China’s efforts in the region echo the period before and during the Second World War, when Japan wrested control of island assets, which were won back in turn by American and Australian troops in bloody battles.
- But it is also a matter of feasibility: China goes where there is value and interest. With the U.S. pulling back in much of the world under President Donald Trump’s America First policy, Beijing is often knocking on doors left open. NY Times
Britain clinches Brexit deal with EU
Britain secured a Brexit deal with the European Union recently, more than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson must still win a knife-edge vote in Parliament to get the agreement approved.
Talks to begin
- At a news conference with Mr. Johnson, Mr. Juncker said the deal meant there would be no need for a further delay to Britain’s departure, and negotiations on the future relationship between Britain and the EU would begin as soon as the deal was approved by the U.K. and European Parliaments.
- Johnson must now secure approval for the agreement in an extraordinary session of Parliament on Saturday, which would pave the way for an orderly departure on October 31. But getting the votes is uncertain.
- The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU’s single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the province.
- The agreement will keep Northern Ireland in the U.K. customs area, but tariffs will apply to goods crossing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland if they are headed to Ireland and into the bloc’s single market.
- The agreement scraps the “backstop”, a mechanism envisaged earlier to prevent a hard border being introduced on the island of Ireland, and would have bound Britain to some EU rules.
PERSON IN NEWS
- Mariam Thresia, who in a relatively short life combined intense contemplation with acts of charity among poor and suffering people, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at a ceremony in Vatican City’s St Peter’s Square recently.
- She is the fourth Keralite, and 12th Indian, to make it to the holy pantheon of the Catholic Church.
- The Kerala nun, founder of Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Family, was canonised along with England’s Cardinal John Henry Newman, Brazilian nun Dulce Lopes, Italian nun Giuseppina Vannini and Swiss laywoman Marguerite Bays.
- An estimated three lakh people gathered at St Peter’s Square, among them hundreds of Indians, including believers from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,who were seen waving placards of Mariam Thresia.
- As the Vatican ceremony unfolded, thousands of people saw it live on a big screen, erected for the occasion close to the tomb of Mariam Thresia at Puthenchira, Thrissur.
- Mariam Thresia died in 1926, at the age of 50. In early 2019, the Vatican recognized a miracle through her intercession, a mandatory step for canonisation, thus clearing her for sainthood.
- A special prayer session was held at Thresia’s home parish of St Mary’s Church, while the ceremony at the Vatican was shown live in the church. A fourth generation family member of Thresia said 70 members of their family are in Rome to attend the canonisation ceremony.
Abhijeet Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer
- The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, popularly called the Nobel Prize in Economics, to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”.
- While Dr. Banerjee and Dr. Duflo are both affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Kremer is with Harvard University. The three will equally share the prize money of 9 million Swedish krona (about $916,798/₹6.53 crore).
- The laureates have, since the mid-1990s, sought to introduce a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the most effective ways to combat global poverty. Rather than focussing on big-picture questions, they divided the issue into smaller, more manageable and measurable questions.
- They then showed that these smaller questions could be best answered through carefully designed experiments among the people who are the most affected.
- This thought process has resulted in what are called randomised control trials, previously used in the pure sciences and in clinical drug trials, to be deployed in the social sciences.
- Banerjee and Dr. Duflo, who are married to each other, have had a long history of conducting research together, often collaborating with Dr. Kremer as well.
- One of the major findings of Dr. Banerjee and Dr. Duflo was that in developing countries, there is often a stark difference between the technology and practices used by companies in the same economy and sector.
- That is, in developing economies, some companies use the latest technology and practices, while others use outdated production methods.
- As Pranjal Patil took her seat, it marked a giant step for India’s bureaucracy.
- Patil, the country’s first blind woman IAS officer, took charge as sub-collector of Thiruvananthapuram on the eve of the White Cane Awareness Day.
- The 2017 batch Kerala cadre officer had served as assistant collector of Ernakulam during her training period.
- Patil, who hails from Ulhasnagar, lost her eyesight at the age of eight due to retinal detachment. Using software that converts text to speech, she graduated in political science from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and did masters in international relations from JNU.
- Pranjal Patil, who has roots in Ulhasnagar, assumed office as a sub-collector in Kerala’s capital
Breaking glass ceiling was doubly hard
- Breaking the glass ceiling as a blind woman has been doubly hard for Patil. In 2016, she was denied a posting in the Indian Railway Accounts Service despite a UPSC rank of 773. Although it was a violation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, Patil did not waste time fretting over it.
- In her next attempt, Patil cleared UPSC again with a rank of 124, becoming the first blind woman to achieve the feat.
- Married to a businessman, Patil carries forward the legacy of Krishna Gopal Tiwari, a 2008 batch officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre who became the first visually challenged person to crack IAS. Rajesh Singh, another visually challenged candidate, cleared the civil services exam in 2007 but had to wait three years to get a posting.
- Singh joined the Assam-Meghalaya cadre in 2010 after a legal battle in the Supreme Court to get his appointment cleared.
Members of the Indian cricket board had recently unanimously nominated the former India captain to the post. Monday is the last day to file nominations for posts of officebearers ahead of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) scheduled for October 23.
Who are BCCI’s office-bearers?
- The BCCI’s five office-bearers are the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Joint Secretary, and Treasurer. According to the Memorandum of Association and Rules and Regulations of the BCCI, they are elected by the Full Members of the Board from among their representatives at the AGM.
- The BCCI’s Full Members are the associations who are the controlling bodies for cricket in 29 Indian states and the Union Territory of Delhi.
- Each state (and Delhi) is a single Full Member, with the exceptions of Gujarat and Maharashtra, which have three Full Members each — Baroda Cricket Association, Gujarat Cricket Association, and Saurashtra Cricket Association in Gujarat, and Maharashtra Cricket Association, Mumbai Cricket Association, and Vidarbha Cricket Association in Maharashtra.
- The Indian Railways, Armed Forces/Services, and the Association of Indian Universities have a vote each at the BCCI’s AGM. The BCCI also has some Associate Members, who do not have the right to vote.
- The elections are generally a formality. The loyalties of members are well known, and even where there is a contest, the outcome is often all but decided beforehand.
What is the role of the BCCI president?
- As per the “powers and duties of officebearers” in the BCCI’s Memorandum of Association and Rules and Regulations, the president presides at the meetings of the general body and the apex council, and is one of the three persons who sign the audited annual accounts and other financial statements of the BCCI, the world’s richest cricket board.
- The president of the BCCI is the country’s most powerful cricket official, and the post the most prestigious among sports bodies in the country.
- It has long been dominated by politicians, businessmen and erstwhile royalty. Given the turmoil in Indian cricket administration, there has been some instability at the top in recent years: Shashank Manohar, who became president after Jagmohan Dalmiya died in office in 2015, resigned in 2016, and his successor, Anurag Thakur, was removed from the post in 2017.
- C K Khanna has been the interim president ever since.
What is the president’s term of office?
- All BCCI office-bearers’ posts are honorary. According to the Memorandum of Association and Rules and Regulations, “the term of office of an office bearer shall be three years”, and “no person shall be an office-bearer for more than three terms in all”.
- Again, “an office-bearer who has held any post for two consecutive terms either in a state association or in the BCCI (or a combination of both) shall not be eligible to contest any further election without completing a cooling-off period of three years”.
- Sourav Ganguly was last month elected president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for a second term. He had been elected president for the first time in 2015 after Dalmiya passed away.
- Before that, he became joint secretary of the CAB in 2014. He will, thus complete six years as an office-bearer in July 2020.
Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo
- Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other jointly won the Booker Prize recently.
- The authors will split the £50,000 ($62,800) annual prize, the judging panel said.
- Atwood, 79, previously won the prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin. The Testaments, published last month, is the sequel to the Canadian author’s best-selling 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.
- Evaristo, the first black woman to win the prize, tells the stories of 12 characters, mainly female and black aged 19 to 93, living in Britain in Girl, Woman, Other.
- While the prize has been jointly awarded twice previously, the rules changed in 1993 limiting the award to one author. The judges defied those rules as they could not agree on a winner between the two books, which were on a shortlist of six.
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