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Communicable and Non-communicable diseases – HIV, Malaria, Cancer, Mental Health, etc.

Positive responseop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India's handling of coronavirus pandemic.


Context

Cooperation between the Centre and the States in dealing with the threat of the virus is commendable.

Hope in dealing with the pandemic and India’s response to the pandemic

  • What is the best response?  World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic, Secretary-General offered hope: “If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilise their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.”
  • The advantage with India: India, with 70-odd cases, has the advantage, and commendably, the central and state governments have reacted rapidly to the developing pandemic
  • Equally importantly, they have set aside the acrimony over the CAA-NRC question and pulled together, without the need for external urging.
    • Because everyone realises that COVID-19 is everyone’s problem.
  • Steps taken by the government: No visas are being issued, screening is in progress, health education messaging is visible, public gatherings are sharply reduced and there is no sign of the wearying political blame game which generally besets such challenges.

No room for complacency

  • Display of political will: The secretary-general has also cautioned that while many nations can avoid the pandemic, the operative verb is not “can” but “will”. The Indian response has displayed political will, but there is no room for complacency.
  • Fear of the unknown: This is the first coronavirus to reach pandemic levels. For at least 18 months, no vaccine can be market-ready. At least until the summer, there will be insufficient information about the behaviour of the organism in the wild. Wisely, Homo sapiens fears the unknown.
  • Caution is the best prescription: Until we learn more about the nature of the beast, abundant caution is the only credible prescription.
    • Isolation at the focus of the response: At present, the focus of the response is isolation (including self-isolation) and the maintenance of sanitation barriers. Schools have been closing down, some workplaces are screening staff, and people are discouraged from leaving home without a compelling reason.
    • However, outside the controlled conditions in homes and hospitals, maintaining the patency of the sanitation barrier requires extraordinary vigilance and self-control.

Status of healthcare infrastructure

  • The readiness of healthcare facilities: In the case of breaches — a few oversights or accidents are inevitable — the readiness of healthcare facilities would become a serious factor in controlling mortality.
  • Variation in states’ preparedness: The quality of the states’ level of preparedness and the quality of health services varies. While Kerala efficiently controlled the Nipa virus, Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, has failed to contain annual outbreaks of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome for over a decade.
    • And the capital’s initial failure in the face of seasonal waves of lethal mosquito-borne diseases cannot be forgotten.
  • Rural cluster-most vulnerable: How much less protected would a rural cluster be, serviced by a poorly equipped primary health centre?

Conclusion

If community transmission becomes commonplace, it would become a difficult battle. Hence, the sanitation barrier remains the most reliable epidemiological response. If the government has to resurrect primordial provisions from the era of bubonic plagues to keep it patent, so be it.

Issues related to Economic growth

Is the worst really over for the country’s agricultural sector?op-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level : Paper 3- Performance of agriculture sector, is the worst over for it?


Context

Estimates of gross domestic product (GDP) released on 28 February confirmed that India’s economy is decelerating. The silver lining was growth in agriculture, which accelerated for the third quarter in a row to 3.5%.

How agriculture sector has performed in the last few years?

  • Robust growth in the last 5 years: A look at the national accounts for a longer period shows robust agricultural growth during the first five years.
    • With agriculture growing at 3.17% per annum between 2013-14 and 2019-20.
    • This is remarkable, given that the broader economy is witnessing a slowdown.
  • Rural economy seen from the other indicators: A variety of other indicators show that the rural economy has been going through possibly its worst phase, with declining wage growth and farmer incomes causing serious distress.

Crop sector growth rate at lowest

  • A clue to this disconnect between the national accounts and other indicators lies in a breakdown of the national accounts.
  • Crop sector growing at lowest in two decades: The GDP data for the agricultural sector shows that the crop sector, which accounts for 56% of total agricultural output and employs a majority of the farmers, has been growing at only 0.3%, the lowest in two decades.
    • By comparison, the sector grew 3.3% per annum during the 10 years under United Progressive Alliance governments.
  • Which sector of agri. is growing at a high rate? The agricultural sub-sectors that showed high growth between 2013-14 and 2018-19 were livestock (8.1%), forestry (3.1%) and fisheries (10.9%).
    • It is a puzzle what drove the high growth of livestock at a time when the crop sector was experiencing negligible growth.
    • The trend defies the logic: This defies past trends and is also difficult to believe, given contrasting trends in other indicators of livestock
  • The declining income of farmers and a decline in wages: The poor performance of the crop sector confirms the declining income of farmers, the majority of whom depend on crops for subsistence. Not surprisingly, even real rural wages are declining.
  • Inflationary pressure and hopes of growth in income of farmers: Hopes were kindled in the last three months as agricultural commodities showed signs of inflationary pressures, with food inflation hitting double-digit rates.
    • Increase in rural demand not the cause of inflation: A careful analysis of the data rules out rising rural demand as the cause of that inflationary trend.
    • Many price pressures were due to the mismanagement of cereal supplies by the government and supply shocks in vegetables.
    • In such circumstances, farmer income could not have risen. Some of this was also a result of food prices rising internationally.

Trend pointing to the fall in agri. prices

  • Softening of food prices: Recent trends in international markets suggest a softening of food prices led by an overproduction of cereals and easing edible oil inflation. Following 3 factors may contribute to its fall.
  • Impact of fall in crude oil price: This trend will gain strength in the wake of the recent slide in crude oil prices.
    • With the global economy displaying signs of a slowdown, prices of agricultural commodities are likely to fall sharply.
    • Relation of food prices with oil prices: They tend to follow movements in crude oil prices, as was seen during the latter’s collapse in August 2014. In all likelihood, a similar decline in agricultural prices is upon us.
  • Food-grain stock with FCI: A second factor that may exacerbate the income troubles in agriculture is the presence of massive food-grain stocks with the Food Corporation of India.
    • This may slow the procurement of farm produce and lower price realizations, particularly cereals but also other crops.
  • The coronavirus outbreak: Lastly, the global slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak is likely to dampen demand in the economy, and in turn hurt the agricultural sector.

Conclusion

  • Limited room to improve the situation: These factors are likely to worsen agricultural incomes, and domestic policy has limited room to manoeuvre.
  • Opportunity to revive the demand: This situation is also an opportune time to revive rural demand The government could pass on some of the windfalls from the drop in oil prices to rural consumers. This could help lift rural incomes.
    • The government could also increase spending in rural areas to help boost demand and prevent a collapse in agricultural prices.
  • Worst for agriculture is not yet over: Whether the government uses the opportunity or fritters it away again will be known in the coming months. What appears certain for now, though, is that the worst of the rural slowdown is far from over.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Fighting COVID-19 together for a shared futureop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- International cooperation on dealing with the epidemic.


Context

The Chinese government has mobilised the whole nation with confidence, unity, a science-based approach and targeted response.

Aspects that were focused by China to deal with COVID-19

  • Formulated timely strategies for epidemic prevention and control.
  • Strengthened a unified command and response in Wuhan and Hubei.
  • Coordinated the prevention and control work in other regions.
  • Strengthened scientific research, emergency medical and daily necessity supplies.
  • Effectively maintained social stability.
  • Strengthened public education.
  • Actively engaged in international cooperation.

Mutual support between India and China

  • China and India have maintained close communication and cooperation on epidemic prevention and control. In a letter to President Xi, India’s Prime Minister has expressed support for China.
  • China appreciates the medical supplies provided by India and have helped facilitate the safe return of Indian nationals in Hubei.
  • The global footprint of COVID-19: China has been closely following the global footprint of COVID-19.

Cooperation on a global level for disease control:

  • Chines govt. will stay in close communication with WHO.
  • Share its epidemic control experience with other countries.
  • Seek closer international cooperation on medicine and vaccine development.
  • Provide assistance to the best of its capabilities to countries and regions that are affected by the spread of the virus in keeping with its role as a responsible major
  • The Chinese reach-out: China has provided various kinds of assistance including testing reagents, remote assistance and medical supplies to countries with a severe outbreak.
  • Sharing of experience and protocol for treatment: China have shared diagnosis and treatment experience and protocols with many countries including India.
    • China is ready to maintain communication with India, share experience in a timely manner, render assistance and make joint efforts to overcome the epidemic.

Impact and recovery of China

  • Robust economy: The impact on the Chinese economy will be short-lived and generally manageable. China has a resilient economy with robust domestic demand and a strong industrial base. We will definitely sustain the good momentum of economic and social development and meet the goal of achieving moderate prosperity in our society and eradicating extreme poverty in China.
  • Strengthen coordination and communication: China will also strengthen coordination and communication with economic and trading partners and give priority to the resumption of production and supply of leading enterprises and key sectors that have a major impact on the stability of global supply chains.
    • The fundamentals of China’s economy will remain strong in the long run, and China will remain an important engine for global economic growth.

Conclusion

The history of civilisation is also one of a history of fighting diseases and a great journey of ceaseless global integration. To prevail over a disease that threatens all, unity and cooperation is the most powerful weapon.

 

 

 

New environment impact norm cuts time for public hearingBills/Act/Laws

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EIA in India

Mains level : Read the attached story


A set of key updates to India’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Act has been proposed to reduce the time given to people to air objections.

Features proposed by the amendment

  • The draft EIA notification proposes to be an update to the EIA of 2006, which specifies a “minimum of 30 days” for people to respond.
  • The current version of the update, which will likely become law in 60 days, gives a “minimum of 20 days” of notice period.
  • The public hearing process is considered a key component of the EIA. An organisation has to submit a detailed plan, as part of the EIA process that details the nature, need, potential impact and remedial measures, if their proposed infrastructure project threatens to significantly impact a region.
  • It also requires that the public-hearing process be wrapped up in 40 days, as opposed to the existing norm of 45 days.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in India

  • EIA is a management tool to minimize adverse impacts of developmental projects on the environment and to achieve sustainable development through timely, adequate, corrective and protective mitigation measures.
  • The MoEFCC uses EIA Notification 2006 as a major tool for minimizing the adverse impact of rapid industrialization on the environment and for reversing those trends which may lead to climate change in long run.
  • EIA has now been made mandatory under the Environmental (Protection Act, 1986 for 29 categories of developmental activities involving investments of Rs. 50 crores and above.

EIA stages

  1. Screening: This stage decides which projects a full or partial assessment need study.
  2. Scoping: This stage decides which impacts are necessary to be assessed. This is done based on legal requirements, international conventions, expert knowledge and public engagement. This stage also finds out alternate solutions that avoid or at least reduce the adverse impacts of the project.
  3. Assessment & evaluation of impacts and development of alternatives: This stage predicts and identifies the environmental impacts of the proposed project and also elaborates on the alternatives.
  4. EIA Report: In this reporting stage, an environmental management plan (EMP) and also a non-technical summary of the project’s impact is prepared for the general public. This report is also called the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  5. Decision making: The decision on whether the project is to be given approval or not and if it is to be given, under what conditions.
  6. Monitoring, compliance, enforcement and environmental auditing: This stage monitors whether the predicted impacts and the mitigation efforts happen as per the EMP.

Scope of Environmental Clearance (EC)

  • Environmental clearance is required in respect of all new projects or activities listed in the Schedule to the 2006 notification and their expansion and modernization, including any change in product –mix.
  • Since EIA 2006 the various developmental projects have been re-categorised into category ‘A’ and category ‘B’ depending on their threshold capacity and likely pollution potential.
  • They require prior EC respectively from MOEFCC or the concerned State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs).
  • Where state level authorities have not been constituted, the clearance would be provided by the MOEFCC.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

What is a Pandemic?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak


The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

What is a pandemic?

  • Simply put, a pandemic is a measure of the spread of a disease.
  • When a new disease spreads over a vast geographical area covering several countries and continents, and most people do not have immunity against it, the outbreak is termed a pandemic.
  • It implies a higher level of concern than an epidemic, which the US Centers of Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) define as the spread of a disease in a localised area or country.
  • There is no fixed number of cases or deaths that determine when an outbreak becomes a pandemic.
  • The Ebola virus, which killed thousands in West Africa, is an epidemic as it is yet to mark its presence on other continents.
  • Other outbreaks caused by coronaviruses such as MERS (2012) and SARS (2002), which spread to 27 and 26 countries respectively, were not labelled pandemics because they were eventually contained.

Which outbreaks have been declared pandemics in the past?

  • A major example is the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, which killed between 20-50 million.
  • Cholera pandemics have been declared multiple times between 1817 and 1975.
  • In 1968, an pandemic was declared for H3N2 that caused about a million deaths.
  • The last pandemic declared by the WHO was in 2009, for H1N1.

Does the declaration change the approach to the disease?

  • Describing the situation as pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the risk posed by the virus. However the categorization as a pandemic can lead to more government attention.
  • The categorization by WHO indicates the risk of disease for countries to take preventive measures.
  • It will help improve funding by international organisations to combat coronavirus.
Air Pollution

[pib] Methanotrophs: the methane-oxidizing bacteriaPIBPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Methanotrophs

Mains level : Methane emission


 

Scientists at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Pune have isolated 45 different strains of methanotrophic bacteria which have been found to be capable of reducing methane emissions from rice plants.

What are Methanotrophs?

  • They are bacteria that metabolize and convert methane into carbon-di-oxide.
  • They can effectively reduce the emission of methane, which is the second most important greenhouse gas (GHG) and 26 times more potent as compared to carbon-di-oxide.
  • In rice fields, Methanotrophs are active near the roots or soil-water interfaces.
  • Besides methane mitigation studies, Methanotrophs can also be used in methane value addition (valorization) studies.
  • Bio-methane generated from waste can be used by the Methanotrophs and can be converted to value-added products such as single-cell proteins, carotenoids, biodiesel, and so on.

Why rice fields?

  • Rice fields are human-made wetlands and are waterlogged for a considerable period. Anaerobic degradation of organic matter results in the generation of methane.
  • Rice fields contribute to nearly 10% of global methane emissions.
  • Very few studies in the world have focused on Methanotrophs from tropical wetlands or tropical rice fields.
  • Practically no cultures of indigenously isolated Methanotrophs from India were available.
  • Native and relevant Methanotrophs isolated from rice fields can be excellent models to understand the effect of various factors on methane mitigation.

Must read:

Greenhouse gas emissions from Indian paddy fields Very High: NY based Study

 

Coal and Mining Sector

[pib] The Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020PIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Mining regulations in India


Parliament has passed The Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020 for amendments in Mines & Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 and The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015. The bill will transform the mining sector in the country boosting coal production and reducing dependence on imports.

Acts to be amended

  • The MMDR Act regulates the overall mining sector in India.
  • The CMSP Act provides for the auction and allocation of mines whose allocation was cancelled by the Supreme Court in 2014.
  • Schedule I of the Act provides a list of all such mines; Schedule II and III are sub-classes of the mines listed in the Schedule I.
  • Schedule II mines are those where production had already started then, and Schedule III mines are ones that had been earmarked for a specified end-use.

Features of the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020 

Removal of restriction on end-use of coal

  • Currently, companies acquiring Schedule II and Schedule III coal mines through auctions can use the coal produced only for specified end-uses such as power generation and steel production.
  • The Bill removes this restriction on the use of coal mined by such companies.
  • Companies will be allowed to carry on coal mining operation for own consumption, sale or for any other purposes, as may be specified by the central government.

Eligibility for auction of coal and lignite blocks

  • The Bill clarifies that the companies need not possess any prior coal mining experience in India in order to participate in the auction of coal and lignite blocks.
  • Further, the competitive bidding process for auction of coal and lignite blocks will not apply to mines considered for allotment to:
  1. a government company or its joint venture for own consumption, sale or any other specified purpose; and
  2. a company that has been awarded a power project on the basis of a competitive bid for tariff.

Composite license for prospecting and mining

  • Currently, separate licenses are provided for prospecting and mining of coal and lignite, called prospecting license, and mining lease, respectively.
  • Prospecting includes exploring, locating, or finding mineral deposit.  The Bill adds a new type of license, called prospecting license-cum-mining lease.
  • This will be a composite license providing for both prospecting and mining activities.

Non-exclusive reconnaissance permits holders to get other licenses

  • Currently, the holders of non-exclusive reconnaissance permit for exploration of certain specified minerals are not entitled to obtain a prospecting license or mining lease.
  • Reconnaissance means preliminary prospecting of a mineral through certain surveys.
  • The Bill provides that the holders of such permits may apply for a prospecting license-cum-mining lease or mining lease.   This will apply to certain licensees as prescribed in the Bill.

Transfer of statutory clearances to new bidders

  • Currently,upon expiry, mining leases for specified minerals (minerals other than coal, lignite, and atomic minerals) can be transferred to new persons through auction.
  • This new lessee is required to obtain statutory clearances before starting mining operations.
  • The Bill provides that the various approvals, licenses, and clearances given to the previous lessee will be extended to the successful bidder for a period of two years.

Reallocation after termination of the allocations

  • The CMSP Act provides for the termination of allotment orders of coal mines in certain cases.
  • The Bill adds that such mines may be reallocated through auction or allotment as may be determined by the central government.
  • The central government will appoint a designated custodian to manage these mines until they are reallocated.

Prior approval from the central government

  • Under the MMDR Act, state governments require prior approval of the central government for granting reconnaissance permit, prospecting license, or mining lease for coal and lignite.
  • The Bill provides that prior approval of the central government will not be required in granting these licenses for coal and lignite, in certain cases.
  • These include cases where: (i) the allocation has been done by the central government, and (ii) the mining block has been reserved to conserve a mineral.

Advance action for auction

  • Under the MMDR Act, mining leases for specified minerals (minerals other than coal, lignite, and atomic minerals) are auctioned on the expiry of the lease period.
  • The Bill provides that state governments can take advance action for auction of a mining lease before its expiry.

With inputs from PRS India

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Sahyadri MeghaPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sahyadri Megha

Mains level : Not Much


The University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences (UAHS), Shivamogga (K’taka) has developed ‘Sahyadri Megha’, a new red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast (a fungal disease) and rich in nutrients.

Sahyadri Megha

  • It is a red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast disease and rich in nutrients.
  • It was developed under the hybridization breeding method by cross-breeding the best among the ‘Jyothi’ variety with that of ‘Akkalu’, a disease-resistant and protein-rich paddy variety.
  • The new variety will be notified under the Indian Seed Act 1966 shortly after which it will become part of the seed chain.

Key features

  • The protein content in it is 12.48%, higher than the other red rice varieties grown.
  • The yield per hectare from ‘Sahyadri Megha’ is around 65 quintals, substantially higher than other red paddy varieties.
  • It is a medium-term paddy that can be grown when there is a delay in the onset of monsoon. It can be harvested after 120 days of sowing.