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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 24 March 2020

Contents:

  1. ‘Curfew-like’ restrictions enforced across State
  2. Lok Sabha passes Finance Bill without debate
  3. Rajya Sabha passes six Bills on last day of session
  4. Pandemic is accelerating, says WHO
  5. Scientists identify drug candidates against virus
  6. Centre amends law to enable excise duty increase on fuel
  7. RBI advances second tranche of OMO

‘CURFEW-LIKE’ RESTRICTIONS ENFORCED ACROSS STATE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

Scaling up the precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Karnataka government on 23rd March 2020, enforced “curfew-like” restrictions across the State from 24th March 2020, and will be in force till March 31 2020.

What is allowed and what isn't 
WHAT IS ON 
• Food, ration shops, milk, 
vegetables, groceries, 
meat, fish, fruit, 
wholesale and retail 
markets 
• Petrol stations, gas, LPG, 
oil agencies and related 
godowns 
• Banks, ATMs, telecom, 
Internet, cable services 
• E-commerce/ home 
delivery of goods and 
serwces 
• Take away/ home delivery 
from restaurants 
• Drinking water 
production, supply and 
distribution in bulk and in 
containers 
• Hospitals, clinics, 
pharmacies, optical 
stores, diagnostic centres, 
other health, medical- 
related shops, factories 
• Private vehicles for 
procuring essential 
commodities 
• Canteens run by 
government and local 
bodies 
• Electricity, water, 
municipal services 
• Print, electronic media 
• Transport of all goods 
• Police and fire services 
• Urban local bodies and 
panchayat raj institution 
offices, postal services 
• Government offices 
dealing with essential 
services 
• Security services, 
including private security 
servlces 
WHAT •S OFF 
• Gathering of more than five people in 
public places 
• Prayer gatherings, festival gatherings 
of all religions 
• Shops, businesses, offices, workshops 
• Government, private bus services — 
inter-State, inter-district and 
intra-district. 
Ola, Uber, taxis and autorickshaws, 
Other hired services, except for 
procuring essential commodities, 
medical emergencies 
Industries, factories, except those 
dealing with essential goods, 
services, food, medical equipment, 
drugs, fuel, agricultural inputs 
• All IT & BT units to ensure work from 
home 
• Government offices dealing with 
non-essential services

Details

  • All public and private transport including Uber, Ola and autos will be off the road, while only essential services will be available across the State.
  • The government, which had initially announced restrictions only in nine districts that had reported COVID-19 cases, later revised the order to cover the entire State.
  • The government has enforced this under Epidemic Disease Act, 1981, making more stringent the guidelines put in place earlier.

Concerns in the State of Karnataka

  • Karnataka State Government Medical Education Minister had expressed concern that despite declaration of lockdown, people were not completely confining themselves indoors.
  • This would increase the chances of the spread of the virus, he observed, while pointing out that so far the State had reported 33 positive cases of COVID-19.

Measures taken by the Karnataka Government to control the COVID-19 Spread

  • Only services and activities related to health, medicine, agriculture, and grocery would be allowed to operate in these districts, the Minister said.
  • Similarly, industries would be asked to ensure that only 50% of their workforce were deployed for work.
  • Government and private offices would be classified as “essential” and “non-essential” services depending upon the nature of operation and only those in the essential sector would be allowed to operate.
  • The government had decided to strictly quarantine and test all those who had come in contact with the COVID-19 patients.
  • It had been decided to test at least 200 people for a population of 10 lakh, he said.
  • To facilitate this, licences would be granted to more number of government and private labs.
  • The government would obtain the services of police in keeping a vigil on the C-category international travellers who have been home quarantined.
  • The family members of such persons would also be quarantined and the police would be instructed to paste notices on their houses and also inform locals about it.
  • A vigilance team comprising senior IAS officers had been formed to monitor the situation.
Nearly 36% of all COVID•19 cases in India have emerged from just Kerala and 
COVID-19 
Maharashtra. These two States, which have lately seen an exponential rise in cases, 
states has recorded the most no. of cases among districts. By Sumant Sen and Vignesh R 
Case progression in States I Of 36 States/U.T.s, 23 have 
registered at least one case. The chart shows the day-wise 
progression of COVID•19 cases since the first case in each State 
District-wise cases I According to the latest 
but undated data available with the Union Health 
Min•stry, 87 districts recorded at least one case. 
The map shows the cases recorded in these districts. 
The darker the shade, the higher the no. Of cases. 
The district data are unclear, however. For instance, 
under the IJ.T. of J&K, a district named "Kashmir" has 
been listed. However, Kashm•r region has 10 different 
districts. In Karnataka, a district named "Bangalore" 
is listed. It is unclear whether the numbers pertain 
to Bengaluru city or to the rural parts (Bengaluru 
Urban is a separate district). Also there is no time 
stamp for the data 
CASES 
0 CZIii— 26 
90 Gujarat 
recorded its 
first case 
later than 
70 
many States 
but has 
seen a sharp 
50 
Increase 
30 
Karnat 
10 
T e num r cases In Kera 
before a surge 
middling 
Maharashtra is 
on a steeper curve 
Telangana 
Delhi 
Ladakh 
38 
46 
30 
54 
Gurugram 
18 
Hyderabad 
18 
Source: 
Health 
Min •stries 
of States 
22 
6 
14 
Days since 1st case 
Mumbai 
20 
Pune 
26 
Kasatagod 
15 
Testing rates I The data for samples tested were available for 
only some States. Among them, Kerala leads by a huge margin, 
while West Bengal has tested the least number Of samples 
Kerala 
Karnataka 
Maharashtra 
Tamil Nadu 
Gujarat 
Andhra Pradesh 
West Bengal 
4,035 
1,387 
1,666 
552 
422 
178 
128 
Test data 
March 22 
March 22 
March 22 
March 23 
March 23 
March 23 
March 22 
Tests per lakh 
population 
11.38 
2.08 
1.37 
0.72 
0.65 
0.33 
0.13

A Colonial Era Legislation: Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

  • One of India’s primary weapons against the Covid-19 pandemic is a 123-year-old colonial legislation, once used to imprison freedom fighters.
  • The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 gives special powers to state governments.
  • This law enables states to ban public gatherings, ask schools and large institutions to stop functioning, and issue advisories to companies to explore work-from-home models.
  • It also gives the state a right to penalise media organisations spreading misinformation.
  • The law is one of India’s last colonial-era legislations.
  • The Act of 1897 was enacted on Feb. 4, 1897, to stop the spread of the bubonic plague outbreak in Bombay (now Mumbai).
  • It gave the British government in India powers to restrict people from gathering in large numbers.
  • The legislation simply states its objective as “better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic disease.”
  • It also allows the central government to “take measures and prescribe regulations for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port in (the territories to which this Act extends).”

Has the Act been use Recently?

  • The law was last used in 2018 to prevent the spread of cholera in a Gujarat village.
  • It has also been invoked in cases of dengue and malaria in 2015 in Chandigarh and H1N1 influenza in 2009 in Pune.

Can the Act be Misused?

  • While it helps contain epidemics, the Act can also be misused.
  • In 1897, for instance, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was imprisoned for 18 months under this Act for his newspaper Kesari‘s anti-establishment coverage of the plague, according to The Indian Express newspaper.
  • In a 2013 paper, medical scholars Binod K Patro, Jaya Prasad Tripathy, and Rashmi Kashyap questioned the efficacy of the Act, given its vague language and non-specific definitions.
  • “Epidemic Act 1897 is silent on the definition of dangerous epidemic disease. Apart from isolation or quarantine measures, the Act is mum on the legal framework of availability and distribution of vaccine and drugs and implementation of response measures.
  • There is no explicit reference pertaining to the ethical aspects or human rights principles during a response to an epidemic,” they observed.

LOK SABHA PASSES FINANCE BILL WITHOUT DEBATE

Focus: GS-II Governance, Indian Polity ,Prelims

Why in news?

The Finance bill was hurriedly passed in the Lok Sabha without the customary discussion or reply by the Union finance minister and duly returned by the Rajya Sabha as the country headed for a lockdown to fight the coronavirus crisis.

What to expect from the Finance Bill?

  • The government created room to raise the excise duty on petrol and diesel by as much as ₹8 each to take advantage of the low oil price regime.
  • The Government also relaxed controversial tax residence proposals in the Finance Bill 2020 approved by Parliament on 23rd March 2020, in a modified form.
  • The bill also gave tax relief to shareholders who receive dividends. The earlier version of the bill had abolished dividend distribution tax on companies and made dividends taxable in the hands of the recipient. The amendments now clarify that dividends received by the shareholders after 1 April shall not be taxed if DDT has been paid as per the earlier law.
  • The Finance Bill also widens the ambit of the “equalisation levy” introduced in 2016 on payments made to non-resident service providers for online advertisements or digital advertising space or facilities.
  • The Finance Bill also proposed a more progressive personal income tax rate for people who do not avail of any tax incentives.

What is a Finance Bill? How does it become an Act?

  • As per Article 110 of the Constitution of India, the Finance Bill is a Money Bill.
  • The Finance Bill is a part of the Union Budget, stipulating all the legal amendments required for the changes in taxation proposed by the Finance Minister.
  • Keep in mind that the Finance Bill is an umbrella legislation.
  • This Bill encompasses all amendments required in various laws pertaining to tax, in accordance with the tax proposals made in the Union Budget.
  • The Finance Bill, as a Money Bill, needs to be passed by the Lok Sabha — the lower house of the Parliament.
  • Post the Lok Sabha’s approval, the Finance Bill becomes Finance Act.

Difference between a Money Bill and the Finance Bill

A Money Bill has to be introduced in the Lok Sabha as per Section 110 of the Constitution. Then, it is transmitted to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations. The Rajya Sabha has to return the Bill with recommendations in 14 days. However, the Lok Sabha can reject all or some of the recommendations. In the case of a Finance Bill, Article 117 of the Constitution categorically lays down that a Bill pertaining to sub-clauses (a) to (f) of clause (1) shall not be introduced or moved except with the President’s recommendation. Also, a Bill that makes such provisions shall not be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Who decides the Bill is a Finance Bill?

  • The Speaker of the Lok Sabha is authorised to decide whether the Bill is a Money Bill or not.
  • The Speaker’s decision shall be deemed to be final.

Why Finance Bill is needed?

  • The Union Budget proposes many tax changes for the upcoming financial year, even if not all of those proposed changes find a mention in the Finance Minister’s Budget speech. These proposed changes pertain to several existing laws dealing with various taxes in the country.
  • The Finance Bill seeks to insert amendments into all those laws concerned, without having to bring out a separate amendment law for each of those Acts.
  • For instance, a Union Budget’s proposed tax changes may require amending the various sections of the Income Tax law, Stamp Act, Money Laundering law, etc. The Finance Bill overrides and makes changes in the existing laws wherever required.
Finance Bill presented by Finance Minister 
Recommendations/Suggestions considered and changes made to Finance Bill 
Parliament Apprwal 
President's Approval 
Finance Act

RAJYA SABHA PASSES SIX BILLS ON LAST DAY OF SESSION

Focus: GS-II Governance, Indian Polity, Prelims

Why in news?

  • The Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die on 23rd March 2020, ahead of the schedule, owing to the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.
  • In the Budget session that began on January 31, the Upper House passed only 12 Bills, six of which were passed on 23rd March 2020, the last day of the curtailed session.
  • The six Bills include Finance Bill, 2020 which was passed without any discussion in both Houses of Parliament.

Details of the Session

  • The Rajya Sabha clocked 76% productivity. Full and proper exercise of the right to discuss and debate would have resulted in 100% productivity as against the 76% that it turned out to be for this important Budget session -said the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
  • The Upper House also commemorated the Martyrdom Day of freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru for their supreme sacrifice for the country on 23rd March 1931.

Summoning and Termination of Parliament sessions

Summoning is the process of calling all members of the Parliament to meet and a sitting of Parliament can be terminated by adjournment, adjournment sine die, prorogation or dissolution.

Summoning

  • It is the process of calling all members of the Parliament to meet.
  • It is the duty of the Indian President to summon each House of the Parliament such that the maximum gap between two sessions of Parliament is NOT more than six months.

Adjournment

  • An adjournment suspends the work in a sitting for a specified time, which may be hours, days or weeks.
  • Remember the time of reassembly is specified.
  • Also, it only terminates a sitting and not a session of the House.
  • This Power lies with the presiding officer of the House, i.e., Speaker / Chairman.

Adjournment Sine Die

  • Adjournment sine die means terminating a sitting of Parliament for an indefinite period.
  • This means, house is adjourned WITHOUT SPECIFYING a day for reassembly.
  • The power of adjournment sine die also lies with the presiding officer.

Note: The presiding officer of a House can call a sitting of the House before the date or time to which it has been adjourned or at any time after the House has been adjourned sine die.

Prorogation

  • Prorogation means the termination of a session of the House by an order made by the President under article 85(2)(a) of the Constitution.
  • Prorogation terminates both the sitting and session of the House.
  • Usually, within a few days after the House is adjourned sine die by the presiding officer, the President issues a notification for the prorogation of the session.
  • However, the President can also prorogue the House while in session.

Note: All pending notices (other than those for introducing bills) lapse on prorogation and fresh notices have to be given for the next session.

Dissolution

  • A dissolution ends the life of the existing House, and a new House is constituted after general elections are held.
  • Rajya Sabha is NOT subject to dissolution, as it is a permanent house.
  • Only the Lok Sabha is subject to dissolution.
  • The dissolution of the Lok Sabha may take place in either of two ways:
  1. Automatic dissolution: On the expiry of its tenure –  five years or the terms as extended during a national emergency.
  2. Order of President: If President is authorized by CoM, he can dissolve Lok Sabha, even before the end of the term. He may also dissolve Lok Sabha if CoM loses confidence and no party is able to form the government. Once the Lok Sabha is dissolved before the completio

PANDEMIC IS ACCELERATING, SAYS WHO

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

The new COVID-19 pandemic is clearly “accelerating”, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on 23rd March 2020, but said it was still possible to change its trajectory by going on the attack.

What the WHO had to say?

  • The number of officially recorded cases is believed to represent only a fraction of the true number of infections, with many countries only testing the most severe cases in need of hospitalization.
  • We are not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.
  • Physical distancing could buy time by slowing down the spread.
  • But they are defensive measures that will not help us to win. To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics.
  • Testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case and tracing and quarantining every close contact should be done.

How the World has been trying to control?

  • Some 1.7 billion people have been asked to stay home in over 50 countries and territories around the world, according to an AFP tally.
  • Some countries have imposed mandatory lockdown measures, while others have issued stay-at-home recommendations to stem the spread of the virus.
  • Lockdowns in parts of India alone have kept some 700 million people hemmed in.
  • At least 34 more countries and territories have also established mandatory lockdown measures ordering people to stay in their homes, accounting for some 659 million people.
  • France, Italy, Argentina, the U.S. State of California, Iraq and Rwanda have also rolled out enforced lockdowns.

SCIENTISTS IDENTIFY DRUG CANDIDATES AGAINST VIRUS

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • Nearly 70 drugs and experimental compounds may be effective in treating the coronavirus, a team of researchers reported on 22nd March 2020 night.
  • Some of the medications are already used to treat other diseases, and repurposing them to treat Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, may be faster than trying to invent a new antiviral from scratch, the scientists said.
  • Two dozen of the medicines are already under investigation. Also on the list: chloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria.
  • To come up with the list, hundreds of researchers embarked on an unusual study of the genes of the coronavirus, also called SARS-CoV-2.

How does it work?

  • To infect a lung cell, the coronavirus must insert its genes, co-opting the cell’s own genetic machinery.
  • The cell begins to produce viral proteins, which are used to produce millions of new viruses.
  • Each of those viral proteins must be able to latch onto the necessary human proteins for the process to work.
  • In the new study, the scientists investigated 26 of the coronavirus’s 29 genes, which direct production of the viral proteins. The researchers found 332 human proteins targeted by the coronavirus.
  • Some viral proteins seemed to target just one human protein; other viral proteins are capable of targeting a dozen human cellular proteins.

Chloroquine

  • Chloroquine has been much in the news this past week, thanks to speculation about its use against the coronavirus.
  • Chloroquine kills the single-celled parasite that causes malaria.
  • Scientists have long known that it can also attach to a human cellular protein called the sigma-1 receptor. And that receptor is also the target of the virus.

CENTRE AMENDS LAW TO ENABLE EXCISE DUTY INCREASE ON FUEL

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy,

Why in news?

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on 23rd March 2020 moved an amendment to the Finance Bill, 2020, to raise the limit up to which the government can raise special excise duty on petrol and diesel to ₹18 per litre and ₹12, respectively.

No hike planned for now

  • This is an enabling provision and no change in excise duty is being done as of now, an official said.
  • The amendment gives powers to the government to raise the duty by up to ₹8 per litre in petrol and diesel at any time it wishes.

Extra Information about the Session

  • Earlier on 23rd March, the Lok Sabha passed the Finance Bill, 2020, without any discussion as the House curtailed its sittings in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • More than 40 amendments were introduced by the government to the Finance Bill, which was moved for consideration and passing, by the Finance Minister.
  • The decision to pass the Bill without any discussion was taken at an all-party meeting convened by Speaker Om Birla.
  • Some amendments moved by the Opposition were negated.
  • The Bill gives effect to the financial proposals of the Central Government for fiscal 2020-21.

RBI ADVANCES SECOND TRANCHE OF OMO

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has advanced its liquidity infusion plan by purchasing government bonds following a review of ‘current liquidity and financial conditions’.
  • The RBI had announced open market operations (OMOs) of ₹30,000 crore in March 2020 — the first tranche was scheduled for March 24 and the second tranche for March 30.

Details

  • On a review of current liquidity and financial conditions, the Reserve Bank has decided to advance the second tranche of purchase of government securities under OMOs for ₹15,000 crore to March 26, 2020.
  • The RBI also said as a pre-emptive measure to tide over any frictional liquidity needs due to COVID-19, it had decided to conduct the variable rate repo auctions for ₹1,00,000 crore in two tranches.

Open market operations

  • Open market operations is the sale and purchase of government securities and treasury bills by RBI or the central bank of the country.
  • The objective of OMO is to regulate the money supply in the economy.
  • When the RBI wants to increase the money supply in the economy, it purchases the government securities from the market and it sells government securities to suck out liquidity from the system.
  • RBI carries out the OMO through commercial banks and does not directly deal with the public.
  • OMO is one of the tools that RBI uses to smoothen the liquidity conditions through the year and minimise its impact on the interest rate and inflation rate levels.
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