- A new concern: Early Locusts
- Lockdown air: less NO2, same PM 2.5, Urban Ozone
- Difference: PM CARES Fund and PM’s National Relief Fund
- How can inter-State workers be protected?
A NEW CONCERN: EARLY LOCUSTS
Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology, Agriculture
Why in news?
- On April 11-12, scientists at the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) observed groups of desert locusts — the same destructive migratory pests currently devouring acres of maize, sorghum and wheat crops in East Africa.
- While locusts are seen in India as well, that is normally only during July-October and mostly as solitary insects or in small isolated groups.
- Their being spotted along the India-Pakistan border before mid-April this time has raised the alarm bells, and comes at a time when the country is battling the more high-profile novel coronavirus pandemic.
What exactly are locusts?
- The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a short-horned grasshopper that is innocuous while it is in a “solitary phase” and moving about independently.
- These winged insects differ from normal hoppers, and become dangerous only when their populations build up rapidly and the close physical contact in crowded conditions triggers behavioural changes.
- They, then, enter the “gregarious phase”, by grouping into bands and forming swarms that can travel great distances (up to 150 km daily), while eating up every bit of vegetation on the way.
- If not controlled at the right time, these insect swarms can threaten the food security of countries.
- Kenya is already reporting its worst locust outbreak in 70 years, while Ethiopia and Somalia haven’t seen one this bad in quarter of a century.
How serious is this sighting of the locusts by the LWO?
- The rabi crop has already been harvested and farmers are yet to commence plantings for the new kharif season. Therefore, it is not very serious.
- The timing, though, is cause for concern. The normal breeding season for locusts in India is July-October. But this time, they have been sighted by mid-April.
- The longer time to breed is more conducive for build-up of gregarious insect swarms, as opposed to solitary, innocuous hoppers.
What kind of damage can they cause?
- Locusts are polyphagous, i.e. they can feed on a wide variety of crops.
- Secondly, they have an ability to multiply rapidly. A single female desert locust lays 60-80 eggs thrice during its roughly 90-day life cycle.
- The damage potential of locusts has been limited in India only because of the country hosting a single breeding season — unlike Pakistan, Iran and East Africa, where they also multiply during January-June.
Along with spraying organophosphate insecticides which are effective against Locusts – Control operations also require procurement of equipment, training of field teams, prepositioning of supplies in key breeding areas and updating contingency plans.
-Source: Indian Express
LOCKDOWN AIR: LESS NO2, SAME PM 2.5, URBAN OZONE
Focus: GS-II Environment and Ecology
While traffic pollution has been falling, the lockdown may be leading to the generation of a dangerous pollutant, urban ozone, which can cause airway inflammation in humans.
Results of a research done in UK:
- The level of decline ranges from 20% to 80%. Levels of nitrogen oxides fall less in rural areas than urban areas; and they are higher in the morning than compared to later in the day.
- There was no evidence of a decrease in PM2.5. While these particle are produced by vehicles, they are also known to originate from domestic wood burning and chemical reactions involving emissions from industry and agriculture, so there has been no significant improvement in air quality in that regard.
- As nitrogen oxides reduce, photochemical production may become more efficient and can lead to higher ozone concentrations in the summertime as higher temperatures increase emissions of biogenic hydrocarbon from natural sources such as trees.
- These biogenic hydrocarbons significantly affect urban ozone levels.
- While ozone is important for screening harmful solar UV radiation when present higher up in the atmosphere, it can be a dangerous at the Earth’s surface, and can react to destroy or alter many biological molecules.
-Source: Indian Express
DIFFERENCE: PM CARES FUND AND PM’S NATIONAL RELIEF FUND
Focus: GS-II Social Justice
Why in news?
On March 28 2020, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or the PM CARES Fund, was set up to tackle distress situations such as that posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who may contribute to the fund?
- The fund receives voluntary contributions from individuals and organisations and does not get any budgetary support.
- Donations have been made tax-exempt, and can be counted against a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations.
- It is also exempt from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, and accepts foreign contributions.
Who controls the fund?
- The Prime Minister chairs the fund in his official capacity, and can nominate three eminent persons in relevant fields to the Board of Trustees.
- The Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
What about Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)?
- The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was set up in January 1948, originally to accept public contributions for the assistance of Partition refugees.
- It is now used to provide immediate relief to the families of those killed in natural calamities and the victims of major accidents and riots and support medical expenses for acid attack victims and others.
- In 1985, the committee entrusted the entire management of the fund to the Prime Minister, who currently has sole discretion for fund disbursal. A joint secretary in the PMO administers the fund on an honorary basis.
What are some of the Concerns around it?
- As of December 2019, the PMNRF had an unspent balance of ₹3,800 crore in its corpus. Opposition leaders have questioned the need for a new PM CARES Fund, given that the PMNRF has similar objectives.
- It is not clear whether the fund comes under the ambit of the RTI Act or oversight by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, although independent auditors will audit the fund.
- The PM CARES web page is opaque regarding the amount of money collected, names of donors, the expenditure of the fund so far, or names of beneficiaries.
- The PMNRF provides annual donation and expenditure information without any detailed break-up.
- The PM CARES Fund’s trust deed is not available for public scrutiny.
- The decision to allow uncapped corporate donations to the fund to count as CSR expenditure — a facility not provided to PMNRF or the CM’s Relief Funds — goes against previous guidelines stating that CSR should not be used to fund government schemes.
- A government panel had previously advised against allowing CSR contributions to the PMNRF on the grounds that the double benefit of tax exemption would be a regressive incentive.
-Source: The Hindu
HOW CAN INTER-STATE WORKERS BE PROTECTED?
Focus: GS-II Social Justice
Why in news?
- On Friday, May 8, 16 migrant labourers who were trying to return to Madhya Pradesh, their home State, on foot were killed when a goods train ran over them between Jalna and Aurangabad districts in Maharashtra.
- Hundreds of inter-state workers have been seen trying to walk home to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha from their places of work in Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat and so forth, amidst the lockdown.
- Questions are being raised about their welfare and the lack of legal protection for their rights.
Recent Labour Reform
- A Bill had been introduced in Parliament called the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019.
- The proposed code seeks to merge 13 labour laws into a single piece of legislation.
- The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, is one of them.
- There is a concern that specific safeguards given to migrant workers may be lost as a result of this consolidation.
What does the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979 regulate?
- The Act seeks to regulate the employment of inter-State migrants and their conditions of service.
- It is applicable to every establishment that employs five or more migrant workmen from other States; or if it had employed five or more such workmen on any day in the preceding 12 months.
- It is also applicable to contractors who employed a similar number of inter-State workmen.
- The Act would apply regardless of whether the five or more workmen were in addition to others employed in the establishment or by the contractors.
What does the 1979 law envisage?
- It envisages a system of registration of such establishments.
- The principal employer is prohibited from employing inter-State workmen without a certificate of registration from the relevant authority.
- The law also lays down that every contractor who recruits workmen from one State for deployment in another State should obtain a licence to do so.
What are the beneficial provisions for inter-State migrants in it?
- The provision for registration of establishments employing inter-State workers creates a system of accountability and acts as the first layer of formalising the utilisation of their labour.
- It helps the government keep track of the number of workers employed and provides a legal basis for regulating their conditions of service.
- In no case, shall the wages be lower than what is prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act.
What does the proposed Code say on migrant workers?
- The attempt to consolidate laws relating to occupational safety, health and working conditions means that many separate laws concerning various kinds of workers and labourers will have to be repealed.
- The proposed law seeks to repeal 13 Acts such as the Factories Act, Mines Act, Dock Workers’ Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, and other enactments relating to those working in plantations, construction, cinema, beedi and cigarette manufacture, motor transport, and the media.
- Regarding inter-State migrant workers, the Act includes them in the definition of ‘contract labour’. At the same time, an inter-State migrant worker is also separately defined as a person recruited either by an employer or a contractor for an establishment situated in another State.
- The Code contains provisions similar to the 1979 Act regarding registration of establishments, licensing of contractors and the inclusion of terms and conditions on hours of work, wages and amenities.
- Further, both the old Act and the proposed Code envisage the payment of a displacement allowance and a journey allowance to inter-State migrant workers.
Is there a loss of benefits for inter-State workers if the Code comes into force?
- Even though the Code seeks to preserve many of the protections and rights given to inter-State workers, trade unions feel that it is always better to have a separate enactment.
- The unprecedented distress and misery faced by migrant workers due to the current lockdown has drawn attention to a beneficial legislation dedicated to their welfare.
- The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has highlighted the fact that both the States where they work and home States have obligations cast upon them in the existing law.
- Despite the fact that it has been poorly implemented, if at all, labour unions feel that preserving the separate enactment and enforcing it well is a better option than subsuming it under a larger code.
-Source: The Hindu