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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 25th August 2020

Contents

  1. DNA Bill can be misused, flags draft report
  2. Covid cases in Bondas tribal community
  3. Questions remain over success of PMUY
  4. Chinese advanced warship for Pakistan Navy
  5. DRDO identifies 108 subsystems for private sector
  6. ‘Agri profit growth may not aid rural demand’

DNA BILL CAN BE MISUSED, FLAGS DRAFT REPORT

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

The Bill that proposes DNA sampling and profiling of citizens accused of crime or reported missing and storing their unique genetic information for administrative purposes has some alarming provisions that could be misused for caste or community-based profiling, a draft report of the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology has flagged.

Introduction

  • The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Act, 2019, has been in the works for 15 years now.
  • Nearly 60 countries have enacted similar legislation with the U.S. bringing in a law as far back as in 1994.

What the committee said?

Sensitive info

  • The committee, in its draft report, pointed out that the DNA profiles can reveal extremely sensitive information of an individual such as pedigree, skin colour, behaviour, illness, health status and susceptibility to diseases.
  • Under the provisions of the Bill, access to such intrusive information can be misused to specifically target individuals and their families with their own genetic data.
  • This is particularly worrying as it could even be used to incorrectly link a particular caste/community to criminal activities.

DNA database

  • The report has red-flagged disregard to an individual’s privacy and other safeguards.
  • The Bill proposes to store DNA profiles of suspects, undertrials, victims and their relatives for future investigations.

While there is a good case for a DNA database of convicts, so that repeat offenders may be easily identified, there is no legal or moral justification for a database with DNA of the other categories as noted above, given the high potential for misuse.

‘Perfunctory consent’

  • In the Bill, if a person is arrested for an offence that carries punishment up to seven years, investigation authorities must take the person’s written consent before taking the DNA sample.
  • The Bill refers to consent in several provisions, but in each of those, a magistrate can easily override consent, thereby in effect, making consent perfunctory.
  • There is also no guidance in the Bill on the grounds and reasons of when the magistrate can override consent, which could become a fatal flaw.

DNA Information retention after acquittance

  • The Bill permits retention of DNA found at a crime scene in perpetuity, even if conviction of the offender has been overturned.
  • The committee has urged the government to amend the provisions to ensure that if the person has been found innocent his DNA profile has to be removed immediately from the data bank.

Independent scrutiny

  • The committee has recommended that independent scrutiny must be done of the proposals to destroy biological samples and remove DNA profiles from the database.
  • The Bill also provides that DNA profiles for civil matters will also be stored in the data banks, but without a clear and separate index.
  • The committee has questioned the necessity for storage of such DNA profiles, pointing out that this violates the fundamental right to privacy and does not serve any public purpose.

Why is the bill required?

  • The Bill is urgently required as its applications would be to enable identification of missing children.
  • As per the National Crime Records Bureau, annually 1,00,000 children go missing.
  • The Bill will also help in identifying unidentified deceased, including disaster victims and apprehend repeat offenders for heinous crimes such as rape and murder.
  • DNA testing is currently being done on an extremely limited scale in India
  • The standards of the laboratories are not monitored or regulated.

DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019

  • The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, also known as the DNA profiling bill, tries to check use of DNA technology to establish the identity of a person.
  • According to the government, the DNA technology bill aims to establish the identity of missing persons, victims, offenders, under trials and unknown deceased persons.

Provisions

  1. The Bill seeks to establish a national data bank and regional DNA data banks.
  2. It envisages that every databank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, suspects’ or undertrials’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and unknown deceased persons’ index.
  3. It also seeks to establish a DNA Regulatory Board. Every laboratory that analyses DNA samples to establish the identity of an individual, has to be accredited by the board.
  4. The bill also proposes a written consent by individuals be obtained before collection of their DNA samples. However, consent is not required for offences with punishment of more than seven years in jail or death.
  5. It also provides for the removal of DNA profiles of suspects on the filing of a police report or court order, and of undertrials on the basis of a court order. Profiles in the crime scene and missing persons’ index will be removed on a written request.

Background: DNA Profiling Bill and India – Timeline

  • DNA evidence was first accepted by the Indian courts in 1985, and the Department of Biotechnology established a committee known as the DNA Profiling Advisory Committee to make recommendations for the drafting of the DNA profiling bill 2006 (the draft bill was never introduced in the Parliament).
  • In 2016, the Use and Regulation of DNA based technology in Civil and Criminal Proceedings, Identification of Missing Persons and Human Remains Bill was listed for introduction, consideration and passing. Activists and experts raised concerns over the 2016 version of the bill.
  • In 2016, Andhra Pradesh became the first state in India to start DNA profiling to stop crimes.
  • In 2018, the Law Commission of India prepared the draft bill named the DNA Based Technology (Use and Regulation) Bill 2017.

The 2017 bill

  • The commission examined various judicial pronouncements and constitutional provisions and recorded that DNA profiling was indeed used for disaster victim identification, investigations of crime, identification of missing persons and human remains and also for medical research purposes.
  • However, it also flagged the privacy concerns and the ethics involved in this scientific collection of data were very high.
  • The commission said the procedure for DNA profiling if given statutory recognition should be done legitimately as per the constitutional provisions.

International Guidelines on DNA Profiling

  • On the international platform, in the case of DNA sampling and profiling, the privacy of an individual has not only been done through human rights but also through the guidelines issued for the use and maintenance of DNA.
  • The DNA Commission constituted by the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG) has issued strict guidelines in this regard.
  • In case of an emergency, the Forensic DNA laboratory is required to first inform the concerned officer.
  • Before taking the DNA sample of an injured or the deceased person, it is necessary to seek an opinion from the person or his family.
  • At the time when a person’s DNA is taken, the name of officer on duty should be clearly mentioned.
  • There should be a guarantee to keep the investigation and collection private. At the same time, proper maintenance should be ensured.
  • It is clearly mentioned in the ISFG’s report that to streamline the process of DNA collection, it is important to make an accurate system and report. If many agencies are collecting DNA sample, then the clarity of the number of people and correct data must be ensured.
  • Besides, there are strict provisions for getting the DNA test of a missing person done from a recognised laboratory. The laboratory should have long and authentic work experience. Apart from this, it is also necessary to have a centralised electronic database to collect all DNA samples.
  • All countries including India has been following these guidelines.

The Science of it: DNA Profiling

  • Deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA, is the hereditary complex molecule present in humans and almost all other organisms.
  • Nearly every cell in a multicellular organism possesses the full set of DNA required for that organism. Most DNA molecules consist of two bio polymer strands coiled around each other to form a double helix. The two strands are called polynucleotides since they are composed of simpler monomeric units called nucleotides.
  • Each nucleotide is composed of one of four chemical bases: cytosine (C), guanine (G), adenine (A), thymine (T).
  • It also has a sugar called deoxyribose and a phosphate group. These nucleotides create proteins that is needed for the cell.
  • DNA contains all of the information necessary to build and maintain an organism including biological information.
  • Although 99.9% of human DNA sequences are the same in every person, some of the DNA is unique that makes it possible to distinguish one individual from another.
  • DNA can be extracted from the saliva, hair, blood samples, any small amount of the muscles or tissues of a person, nail scraping.
  • DNA’s molecular structure was first identified by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. They won the nobel prize for the same in 1962.
  • With time, DNA technology evolved and in 1984, Bristish scientist Sir Alec John Jeffrey discovered the modern technology of DNA profiling.
  • DNA Profiling is the process of determining an individual characteristic and most commonly used as a forensic technology to identify a person.

Arguments Against the Bill

  • Many claim that the DNA profiling bill is a violation of human rights as it could compromise with the privacy of the individuals, that is because all the details of the person’s body and his DNA profile will be with the state. The Supreme Court has recognised the Right to Privacy as a fundamental right.
  • It will be used not only in the settlement of criminal cases but also in civil matters like using DNA profiling in matters such as surrogacy, maternity or paternity check, organ transplantation and immigration.
  • The International Human Rights Declaration and the 1964 Helsinki agreement are also being cited for the case against it.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly expresses concern about the rights of human beings against involuntary maltreatment.
  • The Declaration of Helsinki, 1964, set the guidelines adopted by the 18th World Medical Association General Assembly. It contains 32 principles, which stress on informed consent, confidentiality of data, vulnerable population and requirement of a protocol, including the scientific reasons of the study, to be reviewed by an Ethics Committee.

Arguments in favour of the Bill

  • Individual privacy is ensured as the custodian of the databank will not release any information without a formal requisition. The one who is need of the DNA process i.e. investigator has to go through a requisition process via police. Data will be accepted from the investigators which will be matched with the data available in the databank.
  • The DNA pattern will be kept in the DNA bank and that will be used whenever required for any purpose in national interest, police interest or forensic interest.
  • DNA profiles will be kept under a government regulatory body with certain terms and references, hence, there is a very low chance of misuse.

-Source: The Hindu


COVID CASES IN BONDAS TRIBAL COMMUNITY

Focus: GS-I Indian Society

Why in news?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached the Bondas, a tribal community residing in the hill ranges of Malkangiri district in Odisha.

Bonda people

  • The Bonda (also known as the Bondo, Bondo Poraja, Bhonda, or Remo) are a Munda ethnic group who live in the isolated hill regions of the Malkangiri district of southwestern Odisha, near the junction of the three states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh.
  • There are two different Bonda tribes: The Upper Bondas who are the most isolated from mainstream Indian society, and the Lower Bonda.
  • The Bonda are also known as the Remo, and is one of the oldest and most primitive in mainland India; their culture has changed little for more than a thousand years.
  • They are one of the 75 Primitive Tribal Groups identified by the Government of India.
  • Realizing that the Bonda people were in a cultural decline, the Government of Orissa brought to life the Bonda Development Agency (BDA) in 1977.
  • Bondas, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG), live in settlements comprising small hutments in the hills of the Khairaput block.

Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG)

  • Tribal communities are often identified by some specific signs such as primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness to contact with the community at large and backwardness.
  • Some tribal groups have some specific features such as dependency on hunting, gathering for food, having pre-agriculture level of technology, zero or negative growth of population and extremely low level of literacy, which are called Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups.
  • PVTGs are more vulnerable among the tribal groups.
  • Due to this factor, more developed and assertive tribal groups take a major chunk of the tribal development funds, because of which PVTGs need more funds directed for their development.
  • In 1973, the Dhebar Commission created Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) as a separate category, who are less developed among the tribal groups.
  • In 2006, the Government of India renamed the PTGs as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).
  • PVTGs have some basic characteristics -they are mostly homogenous, with a small population, relatively physically isolated, social institutes cast in a simple mould, absence of written language, relatively simple technology and a slower rate of change etc.

-Source: The Hindu


QUESTIONS REMAIN OVER SUCCESS OF PMUY

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, PMUY scheme was aimed at achieving a shift from polluting to cleaner methods of cooking, and it has overshot its target of giving 80 million free LPG connections.

Details

  • The data also shows that in the last four years (2016-2020), PMUY connections account for 71% of growth in total domestic LPG connections in the country.
  • This success however has not helped the PMUY achieve its stated goal.
  • A unit level analysis of data from the National Sample Survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO) shows that 43% of PMUY beneficiaries were not using LPG for cooking.
  • The share of beneficiaries not using LPG for cooking increases down the economic ladder.
  • The fact that almost 70% of PMUY beneficiaries are from the bottom 40% of the households, shows the scheme has been remarkably successful in reaching poor households.

Cost of refill problem

  • The 2018 NSO survey findings show that the average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of the poorest 20% households in India was Rs. 1,065 – which means a cylinder refill costing Rs. 500 would comprise nearly half of a household’s MPCE.
  • Even though PMUY and subsidised LPG consumers receive a subsidy on refill, they have to make the full payment upfront before the subsidy amount is transferred back to them.
  • The high cost of gas refills, the CAG report said, has become a constraint in ensuring sustained usage of LPG.
  • To be sure, beneficiaries under the PMUY scheme could also opt for a 5 kg cylinder in place of a routine 14.2 kg cylinder.
  • The government also allowed swapping the bigger cylinder with the smaller one to make it easier for consumers to get a refill.

Way Forward

In order to ensure 100% LPG coverage in India – not only by the number of households covered but also by the number of households actually using it – it is important to make it easier for the country’s poor to buy a refill. This will require spending more on LPG subsidies.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY)

  • The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) is a government scheme launched in 2016 which envisages the distribution of 50 million LPG connections to women below the poverty line.
  • PMUY is a scheme of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.
  • There are 27.87 Crore active LPG consumers in the country, with the PMUY beneficiaries accounting for over 8 crores.

Why was PMUY Necessary?

  • As per the estimates of the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 5 lakh deaths in India occurred due to unclean cooking fuel.
  • These deaths were caused mostly due to non-communicable diseases including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
  • Providing LPG connections to families below the poverty line will ensure universal coverage of cooking gas in the country.
  • The scheme can be a tool for women empowerment in that LPG connections and clean cooking fuel can reduce cooking time and effort, and in most of India, cooking is a responsibility shouldered solely by women.
  • The scheme also provides employment to the rural youth in the supply chain of cooking gas.

Advantages of PMUY

  • Providing LPG connections to BPL households will ensure universal coverage of cooking gas in the country.
  • This measure will empower women and protect their health.
  • It will reduce drudgery and the time spent on cooking.
  • It will also provide employment for rural youth in the supply chain of cooking gas.

-Source: Hindustan Times


CHINESE ADVANCED WARSHIP FOR PAKISTAN NAVY

Focus: GS-III International Relations

Why in news?

China has launched first of the four advanced naval warships it is building for Pakistan, amid deepening defence ties between the two all-weather allies.

Details

  • Pakistan-China defence ties turn a new chapter with the launch of the first ship of Type-054 class frigate.
  • The Type-054 class, equipped with the latest surface, subsurface, anti-air weapons, combat management system, and sensors will be one of the technologically advanced surface platforms of the Pakistan Navy fleet.
  • Pakistan signed a contract with the China Shipbuilding Trading Company Ltd. (CSTC) for the delivery of two Type-054 A/P frigates in 2017.

-Source: The Hindu


DRDO IDENTIFIES 108 SUBSYSTEMS FOR PRIVATE SECTOR

Focus: GS-III Internal Security Challenges

Why in news?

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) provided a list of 108 systems and sub-systems to Defence Minister which have been identified for indigenous development only.

Details

  • DRDO will also provide its support to industries in this development process.
  • This will pave the way for Indian Defence industry to develop many technologies towards building an AtmaNirbhar Bharat.
  • The systems and sub-systems in the list of 108 items include mini and micro UAVs, ROVs, uncooled NV-IR sights for weapons (short-range), mountain footbridge, floating bridge (both metallic), mines laying and marking equipment.

Recently in news

Recently Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) MK I A, Land-Attack Cruise Missiles (Long-Range),155 mm Artillery Ammunition were put among the list of the 101 items that have been put under an import embargo by the Ministry of Defence.

-Source: Livemint, The Hindu


‘AGRI PROFIT GROWTH MAY NOT AID RURAL DEMAND’

Focus: GS-III Agriculture, Indian Economy

Introduction

  • Agriculture is one of the few bright spots in an economy ravaged by COVID-19, with good rains expected to boost production and profits, especially in the paddy crop.
  • However, economists said individual farmers are unlikely to see any hike in their own income.

Arguments supporting why the income of farmers won’t increase

  • Reverse migration due to COVID-19 may have resulted in the number of people employed in the agriculture sector this summer rising by up to 16% over last year’s overall farm mployment, according to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.
  • As a result, despite a hike in overall profits, per capita income may see a dip
  • Because of the COVID lockdown, large numbers of people have gone back to rural areas, and apart from MGNREGA, there is not much work to be had apart from agriculture.
  • This means, even if there is an increase in farm profits, it will not help in reviving rural demand, as too many people are dependent on farm income this year.

CMIE data shows that 111.3 million people declared their occupation as farming in 2019-20, and by March 2020, this had increased to 117 million, shooting up to 130 million in June.

-Source: The Hindu

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