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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 6 & 7 September 2020

Contents

  1. Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)
  2. India, Iran exchange views on Afghanistan
  3. Turning waste into wealth by salvaging crop residue
  4. Inhaling polluted air can lead to brain damage
  5. Prison overcrowding in 2019 highest in 10 years
  6. No correlation between Ct values and COVID-19 severity

FOREIGN CONTRIBUTION REGULATION ACT (FCRA)

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

  • The license of six NGOs under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) were suspended by the Union Home Ministry and four of those were Christian association.
  • At least two U.S.-based Christian donors are also under the Ministry’s scanner for funding NGOs and groups here.

Details

  • Concerns have been raised regarding the impact of U.S.-based evangelical donors in regard to Indian associations; a probe is on.
  • The Evangelical Churches Association (ECA) was founded in 1950s in Manipur.
  • Any organization, association or NGO in India cannot receive foreign funds if they do not have a license under the FCRA, which is regulated by the Home Ministry.
  • Suspension of FCRA license means that the NGO can no longer receive fresh foreign funds from donors pending a probe by the ministry.

Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010

  • The Foreign Contribution (regulation) Act, 2010 is a consolidating act whose scope is to regulate the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by certain individuals or associations or companies and to prohibit acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for any activities detrimental to the national interest and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Key Points regarding FCRA

  • Foreign funding of voluntary organizations in India is regulated under FCRA act and is implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • The FCRA regulates the receipt of funding from sources outside of India to NGOs working in India. It prohibits the receipt of foreign contribution “for any activities detrimental to the national interest”.
  • The Act held that the government can refuse permission if it believes that the donation to the NGO will adversely affect “public interest” or the “economic interest of the state”. However, there is no clear guidance on what constitutes “public interest”.
  • The Acts ensures that the recipients of foreign contributions adhere to the stated purpose for which such contribution has been obtained.
  • Under the Act, organisations require to register themselves every five years.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in India

  • Worldwide, the term ‘NGO’ is used to describe a body that is neither part of a government nor a conventional for-profit business organisation.
  • NGOs are groups of ordinary citizens that are involved in a wide range of activities that may have charitable, social, political, religious or other interests.
  • In India, NGOs can be registered under a plethora of Acts such as the Indian Societies Registration Act, 1860, Religious Endowments Act,1863, Indian Trusts Act, etc.
  • India has possibly the largest number of active NGOs in the world.
  • Ministries such as Health and Family Welfare, Human Resource Department, etc., provide funding to NGOs, but only a handful of NGOs get hefty government funds.
  • NGOs also receive funds from abroad, if they are registered with the Home Ministry under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

Why have NGOs been controversial recently?

  • An Intelligence Bureau (IB) report, submitted to the PMO and National Security Adviser in 2019, alleged that several foreign-funded NGOs were stalling India’s economic growth by their obstructionist activism.
  • In 2015, the Home Ministry had cancelled the FCRA licences of 10,000 organisations.

How prohibiting International funding of NGOs lead to chilling effect?

  • The contribution of NGOs to human rights and public awareness is significant in India. For example, the recognition of the rights of homosexuals and transgender people, developments in the public provision of health and education are unlikely to come about without pressure by NGOs.
  • However, most NGOs are neither politically powerful nor have great financial capacity. That’s why International funding is crucial for NGOs to function.
  • The FCRA restrictions have serious consequences on both the rights to free speech and freedom of association under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(c) of the Constitution.

The right to free speech is affected in two ways:

  1. By allowing only some political groups to receive foreign donations and disallowing some others, can induce biases in favour of the government. NGOs need to tread carefully when they criticise the regime, knowing that too much criticism could cost their survival.
  2. Similar to this on unclear guidelines on public interest, in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015), the Supreme Court (SC) struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. The SC held that the Act could be used in a manner that has a chilling effect on free speech.

-Source: The Hindu


INDIA, IRAN EXCHANGE VIEWS ON AFGHANISTAN

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

Indian Defence Minister held a bilateral meeting with Iran’s Minister of Defence and armed forces at his request after the SCO Meeting

Details

  • Defence Ministers of India and Iran discussed ways to take forward bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on regional security issues, including peace and stability in Afghanistan during their meeting in Tehran.
  • In a departure from protocol for defence meetings, the Iranian side also raised the issue of recent reports citing the safety of minorities in India.
  • Both the leaders emphasised upon the age-old cultural, linguistic and civilisational ties between India and Iran.
  • It was also pointed out that India was one of the rare countries in the world where all sects of Islam were present, and that all sects and religions lived together in the country’s pluralistic culture.

India–Iran relations

  • Independent India and Iran established diplomatic relations in the 1950s.
  • During much of the Cold War period, relations between the Republic of India and the erstwhile Imperial State of Iran suffered due to their different political interests—non-aligned India fostered strong military links with the Soviet Union, while Iran enjoyed close ties with the United States.
  • Iran’s continued support for Pakistan and India’s close relations with Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War impeded further development of Indo–Iranian ties.
  • In the 1990s, India and Iran supported the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime.
  • India and Iran signed a defence cooperation agreement in 2002.
  • Iran is the second largest supplier of crude oil to India, and India is one of the largest foreign investors in Iran’s oil and gas industry.
  • Iran frequently objected to Pakistan’s attempts to draft anti-India resolutions at international organisations such as the OIC and the Human Rights Commission.

Chabahar Port

  • This port is Located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • With this, India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
  • It will also boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • It also helps India counter Chinese presence in the Arabian Seawhich China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
  • Trade benefits: With Chabahar port becoming functional, there will be a significant boost in the import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India. The import cost of oil to India will also see a considerable decline. India has already increased its crude purchase from Iran since the West imposed ban on Iran was lifted.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

-Source: The Hindu


RISE IN SHARE OF DAILY-WAGERS IN SUICIDES

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

  • The share of daily-wage earners among those who died by suicide has been steadily rising, doubling to 23.4 per cent in 2019 as compared to 2013.
  • The NCRB report divides suicides into nine categories — apart from daily wagers, housewives and persons engaged in the farming sector, the deaths are listed under professionals/salaried persons, students, self-employed persons, retired persons, unemployed and other persons.
  • This data depicts only the profession of persons who have committed suicide and has no linkage whatsoever regarding cause of suicide.

Details

  • The daily-wage earners comprised the largest chunk of such deaths recorded by the National Crime – at nearly a quarter of the total 1.4 lakh suicides that was recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2019.
  • Tamil Nadu saw the greatest number of suicides by daily-wage earners followed by Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
  • ‘House wives’ made up the second largest chunk among suicide deaths at more than 15% of the total.
  • However, the share of House-wives as well as that of those engaged in the farming sector in suicides has been declining.
  • Agricultural labourers are a separate sub-category under persons working in the farming sector and accounted for 3.1 per cent of the total suicides in 2019.
  • The proportion of the unemployed in suicides in 2019 stood at more than 10 per cent.

Concerns regarding the farmer suicides only reducing marginally

  • The fact that over 10,000 farmers and agricultural labourers committed suicide is a bigger concern than marginal increase on decrease in the various numbers.
  • Problem in data, such as efforts by states to downplay suicides and tinkering with the definition of farmers. This would present a watered-down version of the real picture.
  • Example, 66 suicides were rejected by authorities in Karnataka on the grounds that the suicides were for reasons other than the agrarian crisis in the state.
  • 2018 also saw a sharp increase in farmer protests across the country and triggered a wave of loan waivers.
  • Maharashtra had highest share in farm-related suicides (34.7%) and Karnataka had the second highest (23.2%).
  • West Bengal, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Goa and Union territories reported zero farmer suicides.

Farmer sector has been under presser due to:

  1. Recurring droughts and floods
  2. Declining income from agriculture
  3. Plummeting price of produce
  4. Lack of minimum support price mechanism
  5. Shrinking land holdings
  6. Other factors such as Falling Consumer Expenditure and Rural wages also have an impact on the agrarian distress.

-Source: Indian Express


TURNING WASTE INTO WEALTH BY SALVAGING CROP RESIDUE

Focus: GS-III Environment an Ecology

Why in news?

The Government of Andhra Pradesh, Government of the Netherlands, and Grameena Vikas Kendram Society for Rural Development have signed an MoU with the aim to initiate and strengthen collaboration among the parties to enable the establishment of agricultural biomass-based industries to generate income for farmers and agriculture labour in rural Andhra Pradesh, support industrial development, and reduce environmental pollution caused by agricultural biomass burning.

The name of the programme is ‘Waste to Worth’.

Details

  • Burning of paddy straw, or crop residue, has become a serious problem in the State.
  • Burning of paddy straw releases greenhouse gases, air pollutants, particulate matter like elemental carbon and smoke that strongly impacts human health.
  • Burning of crop residue leads to loss of nutrients and affects soil fertility.
  • At the same time, India is facing fiber deficiency and has to import fibers while there is a growing global demand for bio-based products such as packaging, flooring, furniture, energy, and much more.
  • Biomass from agricultural systems is the future for many product applications in the paper, furniture, and energy industry.

‘Waste to Worth’ Programme

  • ‘Waste to Worth’ strives to create a circular business model for paddy straw and other biomass-based upcycled products in India and prevent release of greenhouse gases emission caused by biomass burning.
  • Both governments opt for futuristic circular solutions, wherein agriculture waste is transformed into new products that create a positive social and ecological impact in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Through the Waste to Worth programme, initiated by the INDUS Forum, pulping and manufacturing units will be established that use paddy straw and other agricultural biomass, such as coconut, banana and pulses as the raw material and upcycle these into innovative, circular, and sustainable panels, furniture, building materials, packaging and more.

-Source: The Hindu


INHALING POLLUTED AIR CAN LEAD TO BRAIN DAMAGE

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

  • New research on mice shows that continually inhaling dirty air could be bad not just for the lungs but could also damage the brain tissue.
  • Mice that inhaled dirty air had developed amyloid deposits, neurofibrillary tangles and plaques, while those that had inhaled filtered air showed no such developments.

In the past – Studies regarding Pollution

  • Earlier studies have shown that ceramide is directly involved in the aggregation of amyloid beta and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Sulphated galactosyl ceramide, also known as sulphatides (ST), are found in abundance at the myelin sheath of brain cells.
  • Previous reports have shown that the expression levels of sulphatides are associated with the physiological activity of the blood-brain barrier, and increased concentration of sulphatide has impact on myelin sheath at early stages of HIV-1 infection.

Recently in news: Pollution levels in India reduces 5.2 years from the life expectancy of the average Indian

Highlights

  • India is the second most-polluted country globally after Bangladesh, while Nepal, Singapore and Pakistan are the other top countries with dirty air.
  • Pollution most acutely hits people living in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
  • Lucknow is the most polluted district in the country followed by 13 other districts, all in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The National Capital Territory of Delhi is the 15th most-polluted region in the country.
  • A quarter of India’s population is exposed to air pollution concentrations not recorded in any other country.
  • As the particulate pollution which is linked to diseases affecting the lungs and heart reduced from 2016 to 2018, the life expectancy increased improving the situation.

-Source: The Hindu


PRISON OVERCROWDING IN 2019 HIGHEST IN 10 YEARS

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

Indian prisons have been housing more inmates than their capacity for decades now and this problem of overcrowded prisons is only getting worse, according to a report on prison statistics for 2019 released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Details

  • The number of prisoners was 118.5% of the prison capacity, the highest since 2010.
  • A state-wise analysis shows that the number of states and union territories reporting overcrowded prisons has increased from 18 in 2018 to 21 in 2019.
  • Eleven states have reported overcrowded prisons for five consecutive years.
  • Overcrowded prisons are more of a concern at present as the Covid-19 infection continues to spread in the country.

Recently in news: NALSA working to decongest jails following the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has said that more than 11 thousand undertrials have been released from prisons nationwide as part of the mission to decongest jails following the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • NALSA said it had been providing assistance to prisoners who were eligible to be released on parole or interim bail under the relaxed norms, through its panel lawyers.
  • It said the local legal services authorities are actively assisting the high-powered committee, constituted in pursuant to the order of the Supreme Court, for identifying undertrials who could be released on bail during the present scenario.

National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)

  • National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) was formed on 9 November 1995 under the authority of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987.
  • Its purpose is to provide free legal services to eligible candidates defined in the Act, and to organize Lok Adalats for speedy resolution of cases.
  • The Chief Justice of India is patron-in-chief of NALSA while second senior most judge of Supreme Court of India is the Executive-Chairman.
  • There is a provision for similar mechanism at state and district level also headed by Chief Justice of High Courts and Chief Judges of District courts respectively.
  • The prime objective of NALSA is speedy disposal of cases and reducing the burden of judiciary.

Basis for formation

  • Article 39A of the Indian Constitution contains provisions for free legal aid to the weaker and poor sections of the society in order to ensure justice for all.
  • Also, articles 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity to all.
  • Therefore, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted for the provision of free legal services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for speedy and amicable resolution of cases.

-Source: Hindustan Times


NO CORRELATION BETWEEN CT VALUES AND COVID-19 SEVERITY

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Introduction

  • Currently in India, RT-PCR tests can tell if a person is infected with novel coronavirus or not.
  • It does not reveal the amount of virus (viral load in scientific parlance) present in the person.
  • But there is an indirect way of knowing the amount of virus that a person might be harbouring.

How replication can be used

  • The PCR test amplifies the genetic material from coronavirus through multiple cycles.
  • Since coronavirus has RNA, it is first converted into DNA, and each cycle of amplification doubles the amount of DNA. If there is just one DNA molecule to start with, the amount of DNA after 30 cycles of amplification will be 2 raised to 30 times (= one billion molecules).
  • If there is more genetic material to begin with, then fewer cycles of amplification would be sufficient to detect the DNA.
  • While the cycle threshold value can be suggestive of the amount of virus in an infected person, there is no reliable way of correlating the Ct value with COVID-19 disease severity or infectiousness.
  • A low Ct value indicates higher viral load, and this may be correlated to a person being more able to transmit the virus (infectious).
  • High Ct values may thus mean either low levels of virus or fragments of viral RNA.

What does Cycle Threshold (Ct) mean?

  • The Ct or threshold cycle value is the cycle number at which the fluorescence generated within a reaction crosses the fluorescence threshold, a fluorescent signal significantly above the background fluorescence.
  • At the threshold cycle, a detectable amount of amplicon product has been generated during the early exponential phase of the reaction.
  • The threshold cycle is inversely proportional to the original relative expression level of the gene of interest.

Concern with RT-PCR

The high sensitivity and the nature of PCR test that looks only at the genetic material and not the virus itself can produce false positives even when the person has fully recovered. But later studies found that PCR was detecting just the dead viral fragments.

-Source: The Hindu

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