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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 14 March 2020


  1. PM calls for SAARC strategy, Masks and sanitisers now essential commodities, Coronavirus strain isolated
  2. Madhya Pradesh Governor to hold a floor test in the Assembly
  3. Centre announces Common Eligibility Test


Focus: GS-II International Relations, GS-III Science and Technology, Disaster Management, Prelims

Why in news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 14th March 2020 called for a videoconference summit of leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to discuss a common strategy to tackle COVID-19.
  • Masks and hand sanitisers have been declared as essential commodities due to shortage in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • India is only the fifth country in the world besides — Japan, Thailand, U.S. and China — to have successfully isolated the COVID-19 virus strain, helping it take the first step towards expediting the development of drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in the country.

SAARC Videoconference proposal

  • All leaders in the 8-nation regional grouping welcomed the PM’s suggestion and agreed to join the conference, except Pakistan PM Imran Khan, who deputed his special advisor on health to participate.
  • Mr. Modi’s suggestion was also received with some surprise, since SAARC has had no summit level meeting since 2014, and has been shelved since then due to India-Pakistan tensions, and PM Modi’s decision not to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016.


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  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia
  • Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2015.
  • SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration.
  • It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006.
  • SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

About Masks and Hand Sanitizers as Essential Commodities

  • On March 13, the Centre notified an order under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to declare 2 ply and 3 ply surgical masks, N95 masks and hand sanitisers as essential commodities till June 30, 2020.
  • It has also issued an advisory under the Legal Metrology Act, so that States can ensure these items are not sold for more than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP).
  • States can now notify the Central order in their own official gazettes, and ask manufacturers to enhance production capacity of these products, said the statement.
  • The decision would also empower the State and Central governments to regulate production, quality, distribution and sales of these items and carry out operations against those involved in speculation, overpricing and black marketing.

N95 Masks

  • The NIOSH air filtration rating is the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)’s classification of filtering respirators.
  • N95 filtering facepieces that have been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration as surgical masks are labeled “Surgical N95”, and these provide respiratory protection to the wearer as well.
  • Typical surgical masks do not provide the same level of filtration as a NIOSH approved respirator as they are neither tight-fitting nor capable of providing sufficient filtration over a wide range of particle sizes.

Essential Commodities Act, 1955

  • The Essential Commodities Act is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which if obstructed owing to hoarding or blackmarketing would affect the normal life of the people.
  • The ECA was enacted in 1955. It has since been used by the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.
  • The list of items under the Act include drugs, fertilisers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products.
  • The Centre can include new commodities as and when the need arises, and take them off the list once the situation improves.

How does addition of Essential Commodities work?

  • If the Centre finds that a certain commodity is in short supply and its price is spiking, it can notify stock-holding limits on it for a specified period.
  • The States act on this notification to specify limits and take steps to ensure that these are adhered to.
  • Anybody trading or dealing in the commodity, be it wholesalers, retailers or even importers are prevented from stockpiling it beyond a certain quantity.
  • A State can, however, choose not to impose any restrictions. But once it does, traders have to immediately sell into the market any stocks held beyond the mandated quantity. This improves supplies and brings down prices.
  • As not all shopkeepers and traders comply, State agencies conduct raids to get everyone to toe the line and the errant are punished. The excess stocks are auctioned or sold through fair price shops.

Legal Metrology Act

  • “Legal metrology” means that part of metrology which treats units of weighment and measurement, methods of weighment and measurement and weighing and measuring instruments, in relation to the mandatory technical and legal requirements which have the objects of ensuring public guarantee from the point of view of security and accuracy of the weighments and measurements.
  • Legal Metrology Act is an act to establish and enforce standards of weights and measures, regulate trade and commerce in weights, measures and other goods which are sold or distributed by weights, measure or number and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto

About India Isolating the Coronavirus Strain

  • Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has said that India has managed to isolate the strain from a very small batch of positive cases which is a remarkable achievement.
  • The strain that we have is 99.99% similar to the Wuhan strain.
  • These steps will enable India to expedite detection of the virus and will help in effective management.

How can Indians handle the spread of Coronavirus?

  • India is currently in the second stage of transmission — local transmission — and scientists here are speaking about why they are not recommending asymptomatic testing for all noted that they are taking measures to detect the first signs of community transmission.
  • Strong systems and processes are in place to deal with COVID-19 and the Health Ministry is constantly monitoring the situation.
  • We have to be prepared for community transmission stage but we would like to highlight the fact that if we all work together and follow the guidelines we can improve the outcome.

About ICMR

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest and largest medical research bodies in the world.
  • The ICMR is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • The governing body of the council is presided over by the Union Health Minister.
  • It is assisted in scientific and technical matters by a scientific advisory board comprising eminent experts in different biomedical disciplines.
  • The board, in its turn, is assisted by a series of scientific advisory groups, scientific advisory committees, expert groups, task forces, steering committees etc. which evaluate and monitor different research activities of the council.
  • The council promotes biomedical research in the country through intramural as well as extramural research. Over the decades, the base of extramural research and also its strategies have been expanded by the council.


Focus: GS-II Governance, Prelims

Why in news?

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister on 13th March 2020, requested Governor to hold a floor test in the Assembly session that starts from March 16 on a date fixed by the Speaker.

What is a Floor Test?

  • A floor test can be explained as a motion initiated by the government in position seeking to know if it enjoys the confidence of the legislature.
  • As part of this procedure, the chief minister appointed by the governor will be asked to prove majority on the Legislative Assembly’s floor.
  • When a floor test is called for in the assembly of a state, the chief minister will move a vote of confidence and prove that he has the majority support.
  • If the floor test fails, the chief minister will have to resign.
  • The whole idea of a floor test is incorporated in the constitution of India to ensure transparency in the constitutional process.

Motion of No-Confidence

  • No-confidence Motion or Motion of No-confidence is one of different types of motions in Indian Parliament. The constitutional provision behind this motion is Article 75, which says that “Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha”.
  • Thus, a council of ministers stays in office as long as it enjoys the confidence of majority of the members of Lok Sabha. Lok Sabha can remove the ministry from office by passing motion of no-confidence by simple majority.
  • Process of no-confidence motion is mentioned under Rule 198 of the Rules of Procedure and conduct of Lok Sabha.
  • Motion of No-confidence can be moved  only in Lok Sabha (Or State Legislative Assembly).
  • Rajya Sabha (Or state Legislative Council) does not have power to entertain such motion since it decides the fate of a popularly elected government.

Passing of No-Confidence Motion in Lok Sabha

  • Such a motion can be moved by any member of the house.
  • The member moving such motion is generally a member of opposition.
  • The motion need support of at least 50 members to be admitted.
  • Once admitted, it has to be passed within 10 days in the house.
  • The motion has to be passed by simple majority.
  • If passed, the Union Council of Ministers has to resign and government at centre falls. There is no impact on health of the government if such motion is not passed.


Focus: GS-II Governance, Prelims

Why in news?

  • Applicants for jobs in railways, banks and lower levels of Central government will now write a common eligibility test (CET) from 2021 says: Minister for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.
  • The CET will replace the first level tests conducted by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) and the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS).
  • In a bid to streamline the hiring process for government agencies as well as the 2.5 crore candidates who apply each year, the Centre will set up an autonomous National Recruitment Agency (NRA) to conduct this online test.

Advantages of CET

  • This is not merely an administrative reform, but a huge socio-economic reform as well.
  • It aims at providing a level playing field for all candidates by removing the obstacles involved in appearing for multiple examinations.
  • For the recruiting agencies, the savings in terms of logistics are huge.

Common Eligibility Test (CET) and National Recruitment Agency (NRA)

  • For the Recruitment of Non-Gazetted Posts by Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) and Staff Selection Commission (SSC) in Government Organization & Departments, Finance Minister made a major announcement in Union Budget 2020 covering the major exams like RRB NTPC, RRB Group-D, RRB Ministerial & Isolated Categories (MI), SSC CGL, SSC CHSL, SSC JE, SSC MTS, SSC CPO, SSC GD Constable, SSC JHT & SSC Stenographer. 
  • It has been proposed that a National recruitment Agency (NRA) will be set up to conduct the Common Eligibility Test (CET) for the recruitment of Non-Gazetted Posts.
  • Till now various government bodies like Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) or Cell (RRC), Staff Selection Commission (SSC) and Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and National Testing Agency (NTA) conducts the major government exams at Pan India level.
  • National Recruitment Agency (NRA) will perform the same role of conducting government exams for Non-Gazetted Posts across the different states, cities, and districts of India.
  • Common Eligibility Test (CET) by National Recruitment Agency (NRA) Proposed in Budget 2020.
April 2024