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Current Affairs 02 November 2023

CONTENTS

  1. State Food Safety Index (SFSI) 2023
  2. Enhancing Food Accessibility with QR Codes for the Visually Impaired
  3. Working Conditions for India’s Gig Workers
  4. Apple Warns Opposition MPs of State-Sponsored Attacks on iPhones
  5. Akhaura-Agartala Rail Link
  6. Chhath Festival
  7. Tamil Lambadi Embroidery

State Food Safety Index (SFSI) 2023


Context:

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) introduced the State Food Safety Index (SFSI) four years ago to encourage enhancements in food safety. The latest data reveals that in 2023, 19 out of 20 major states have witnessed a decline in their SFSI scores compared to the scores from 2019. After considering a new parameter introduced in the 2023 index, 15 out of 20 states registered lower scores in 2023 when compared to 2019.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. State Food Safety Index (SFSI)
  2. Key Highlights of the SFSI 2023

State Food Safety Index (SFSI)

  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has the responsibility of ensuring public health and food safety at a national level, but food safety also needs to be upheld by individual state apex food safety authorities.
  • To motivate and incentivize states and union territories (UTs) to enhance food safety within their jurisdiction, the FSSAI releases the State Food Safety Index (SFSI) annually on World Food Safety Day, June 7th.
  • The SFSI is a dynamic assessment model that quantitatively and qualitatively evaluates food safety across all states and UTs in India.
  • The first SFSI was launched on June 7, 2019, based on information submitted by the states and UTs.
Parameters of the SFSI
  • SFSI scores, issued annually since 2019, are graded out of a maximum of 100 points. These scores are computed based on five parameters, each carrying a different weightage.
  • The five parameters include ‘Human Resources and Institutional Data,’ ‘Compliance,’ ‘Food Testing Infrastructure,’ ‘Training and Capacity Building,’ and ‘Consumer Empowerment.’
  • The 2023 SFSI introduced a new parameter, ‘Improvement in SFSI Rank,’ which evaluates the change in each state’s ranking compared to the previous year.

Key Highlights of the SFSI 2023:

Significant Decline in Scores:

  • Maharashtra witnessed the most substantial drop in SFSI scores over five years, falling from 74 out of 100 in 2019 to 45 out of 100 in 2023.
  • Bihar also experienced a significant decline, scoring 20.5 in 2023 compared to 46 in 2019.
  • Gujarat’s score dropped from 73 in 2019 to 48.5 in 2023.

Food Testing Infrastructure Parameter:

  • This parameter evaluates the availability of adequate testing infrastructure with trained personnel for food sample testing in each state.
  • The steepest decline was observed in this parameter, with a reduced weightage of 17% in 2023 (compared to 20% in previous years).
  • Maharashtra’s score plummeted to 4 points out of 17 in 2023 from 17 points out of 20 in 2019.
  • Gujarat and Kerala performed best in 2023 with 13.5 points out of 17, while Andhra Pradesh was the lowest performer.

Compliance Parameter:

  • Given the highest weightage of 28% in 2023 (compared to 30% in previous years), this parameter assesses aspects like licensing and registration of food businesses, inspections, and special initiatives.
  • Jharkhand scored the lowest in compliance with 4 points out of 28 in 2023, while Punjab and Himachal Pradesh achieved the highest score with 18 points each.

Consumer Empowerment Parameter:

  • Given the second-highest weightage of 19% in 2023 (compared to 20% in previous years), this parameter evaluates a state’s engagement in consumer empowering FSSAI initiatives.
  • Bihar’s score in this parameter decreased to 1 point out of 19 in 2023 from 7 points out of 20 in 2019.
  • Tamil Nadu was the top performer in this parameter in 2023, scoring 17 out of 19, followed by Kerala and Madhya Pradesh with 16 points each.

Human Resources and Institutional Data Parameter:

  • This parameter was assigned the third-highest weightage of 18% in 2023 (compared to 20% in previous years).
  • It assesses the availability of human resources such as Food Safety Officers, Designated Officers, and adjudication and appellate tribunals in each state.
  • States like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, which excelled in 2019 with 17 points out of 20, received significantly lower scores in 2023 (10.5 and 9.5 points, respectively).

Training and Capacity Building Parameter:

  • This parameter, with the lowest weightage of 8% in 2023 (compared to 10% in previous years), showed notable improvement.

Improvement in SFSI Rank Parameter:

  • With a weightage of 10% in 2023, 14 out of 20 large states received 0 points in this category.

-Source: Indian Express


Enhancing Food Accessibility with QR Codes for the Visually Impaired


Context:

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has proposed the incorporation of QR codes on food products to promote food accessibility among visually impaired individuals, emphasizing universal access to safe food.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. FSSAI’s Recommendations for QR Codes on Food Products for the Visually Impaired
  2. Current Concerns Regarding Access to Safe Food
  3. Importance of the Initiative
  4. What is a QR Code?

FSSAI’s Recommendations for QR Codes on Food Products for the Visually Impaired

The FSSAI has provided essential recommendations in line with its Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, to enhance food accessibility for the visually impaired. These recommendations ensure that crucial product information is accessible to all consumers, including those with visual impairments. The key points are:

  • Compliance with Regulations:
    • The FSSAI’s recommendations align with the Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020, to uphold food safety and protect consumer rights.
  • Inclusivity and Equal Access:
    • The introduction of QR codes on food products for visually impaired individuals adheres to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, emphasizing inclusivity and equal access to vital information.
  • Comprehensive Information:
    • QR codes will contain extensive product details, encompassing information such as ingredients, nutritional content, allergens, manufacturing date, best-before/expiry/use-by date, allergen warnings, and customer inquiry contact information.
  • Supplementary Information:
    • The incorporation of QR codes for accessibility does not eliminate or replace the necessity for mandatory information to be displayed on product labels, complying with relevant regulations.

Current Concerns Regarding Access to Safe Food

Rising Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs):

  • India is witnessing a significant surge in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular ailments.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has observed a global uptrend in NCDs in the past two decades.
  • NCDs are partly linked to the consumption of aggressively marketed, affordable, and readily available pre-packaged foods that are gaining popularity among consumers.

Importance of the Initiative

Enhanced Accessibility for the Visually Impaired:

  • QR codes are scannable using smartphone applications that can audibly convey product information to visually impaired consumers, ensuring they have equal access to crucial food product details.
  • This initiative promotes inclusivity and provides equal access to safe food for all consumers.

Empowering Consumers:

  • The detailed information contained within QR codes empowers all consumers, including those with dietary restrictions or allergies, enabling them to make informed choices and reducing the risk of adverse reactions or health concerns.
  • Consumers can verify manufacturer claims and select products that align with their health and dietary requirements.

Supporting Healthy Choices:

  • In a market filled with pre-packaged foods, consumers can distinguish between healthier and less healthy options using nutritional information and allergen warnings within QR codes.
  • This enables consumers to make informed choices that contribute to their overall well-being.

Global Alignment:

  • The utilization of QR codes on food products is not unique to India. Countries like the US, France, the UK, and India have adopted QR codes on food products.
  • This aligns with global trends where consumers worldwide use QR codes to access information about the products they purchase.

What is a QR Code?

A QR (Quick Response) code is a specialized type of two-dimensional matrix barcode that has the capability to store a wide range of data formats, including alphanumeric text, website URLs, contact details, and more. Key details about QR codes include:

Origins and Purpose:

  • QR codes were first developed in 1994 by the Japanese company Denso Wave. Initially, they were created for the primary purpose of tracking and labeling automotive components.

Distinctive Appearance:

  • QR codes are recognizable by their square shape and characteristic pattern of black squares arranged on a white background.

Scannable and Interpretation:

  • QR codes are designed to be read and interpreted through the use of a QR code reader or via a smartphone camera. These devices decode the information stored within the code, allowing users to access the associated data or content.

-Source: The Hindu


Working Conditions for India’s Gig Workers


Context:

The fifth annual study conducted across 12 e-commerce platforms by Fairwork India, presents a grim picture of working conditions for India’s gig workers.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Study
  2. Minimum Wage Policy in India
  3. Who is a ‘gig worker’?

Key Highlights of the Study:

The study on gig work and workers’ rights brings to light several significant findings and issues, including:

Minimum Wage Policies:

  • Only three gig platforms, namely Bigbasket, Flipkart, and Urban Company, have implemented minimum wage policies to guarantee that workers earn at least the local minimum wage.

Living Wage Concerns:

  • None of the platforms studied guarantee that their workers earn a living wage, indicating challenges in ensuring income adequacy for gig workers.

Alienation and Discrimination:

  • The study delves into how working conditions can lead to feelings of alienation, often stemming from various forms of discrimination.
  • These discriminatory factors include caste, class, gender, and religion, emphasizing the need for addressing and eliminating such biases in gig work.

Insurance and Compensation:

  • Some platforms provide accident insurance coverage and compensation for income loss caused by accidents or medical reasons, indicating efforts to support workers’ well-being.

Contract Clarity and Data Protection:

  • Companies have introduced measures to enhance contract clarity, protect worker data, and establish processes for addressing worker concerns, including procedures for appealing disciplinary actions.

Recognition of Worker Representation:

  • Notably, no platform received recognition for “Fair Representation,” suggesting a lack of acknowledgment for collective worker bodies, despite an increase in worker collectivization in recent years.
  • This points to a need for recognizing and respecting the collective voice of gig workers.

Minimum Wage Policy in India

The Minimum Wage Policy in India is governed by the Code of Wages Act 2019. Here are the key provisions and components of the Minimum Wage Policy in India:

Code of Wages Act 2019:
  • The Code of Wages Act 2019 aims to modernize and update the existing labor laws in India, making them more accountable and transparent.
  • It introduces provisions for minimum wages and labor reforms, ensuring uniformity in wage-related matters across sectors and wage ceilings.

Universalization of Provisions:

  • The Act universalizes the provisions related to minimum wages and timely payment of wages to all employees, regardless of their sector or income level.
  • This move is intended to guarantee the “Right to Sustenance” for every worker and strengthen the legal protection of minimum wages.

Floor Wages:

  • The Central Government is authorized to establish floor wages, considering the living standards of workers. Different floor wages may be set for various geographical areas.
  • It is important to note that the minimum wages fixed by either the central or state governments must be higher than the floor wage.

Fixation of Floor Wage:

  • The Code on Wages Rules, 2020 outlines the concept of a floor wage, which provides the central government with the authority to determine floor wages based on the minimum living standards of workers.
  • The floor wage serves as a baseline wage below which state governments cannot set minimum wages.

Geographical Variation:

  • The Wage Code permits the fixation of different floor-level wages for different geographical areas.
  • However, this has raised concerns about the potential relocation of capital and industries from areas with higher wages to regions with lower wage standards.

Who is a ‘gig worker’?

  • Gig workers are those who work outside the traditional employer-employee relationship.
  • There are two groups of gig workers – platform workers and non-platform workers.
  • Gig workers who use online platforms are called platform workers, while those who work outside of these platforms are non-platform workers.
  • Gig workers have characteristics of both employees and independent contractors and do not fit into any rigid categorization.
  • As a result, gig workers have limited recognition under current employment laws and fall outside the ambit of statutory benefits.
Concerns related to gig workers and the proposed labour codes in India:

Limited benefits and protections:

  • Gig workers are excluded from the benefits and protections offered by the other proposed labour codes, such as minimum wage and occupational safety.
  • They are also not allowed to create legally recognised unions.

Lack of effective remedy:

  • Gig workers are excluded from accessing the specialised redressal mechanism under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
  • This denies them an effective remedy for grievances against their employers.

No right to collective bargaining:

  • Gig workers do not have the right to collective bargaining, which is a fundamental principle of modern labour law crucial to safeguard the rights of workers.

Poor working conditions:

  • A 2022 report by Fairwork India highlighted the deplorable working conditions of digital platform workers in India.
  • There is a need for statutory affirmation of the rights of gig workers.

Delay in implementation:

  • The proposed labour codes have received the assent of the President, but are still awaiting implementation three years on.
  • The Centre has cited the delay in framing of rules by the States as the reason for the delay.

Measures to address the issues related to gig workers:

  • Evaluating scale of Gig economy: As of now there exists no authoritative estimate on the total number of gig workers in India, though the centralised nature of the platforms, and the larger platform labour market should make the collating of this data relatively straightforward for the Labour Ministry.
  • Making regulations related to Gig economy: A more viable strategy then would involve conditional government partnerships with platforms under some of its flagship schemes. Here, the successful pilot of Swiggy’s Street Food Vendors programme under the PM SVANidhi, or PM Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi scheme, may prove to be an illustrative example.

-Source: The Hindu


Apple Warns Opposition MPs of State-Sponsored Attacks on iPhones


Context:

At least seven Opposition Members of Parliament alerted by Apple about potential state-sponsored attacks targeting their iPhones, with warnings indicating the attackers’ likely motivations. The warning advises protective measures, including activating the ‘Lockdown Mode’ feature on their devices.

Relevance:

GS III: Security Challenges

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Characteristics of State-Sponsored Attackers According to Apple
  2. Apple’s Threat Notifications
  3. Apple’s Recommendations for Users When an Attack is Detected
  4. Government Response

Characteristics of State-Sponsored Attackers According to Apple:

  • Apple’s statement clarifies that it refrains from attributing its threat notifications to specific state-sponsored attackers.
  • State-sponsored attackers are known for their substantial financial backing and high level of sophistication.
  • Their attack methods continually evolve, making them challenging to detect.
  • Detecting such attacks relies on threat intelligence signals that can be imperfect and incomplete.
  • It’s possible that some of Apple’s threat notifications might be false alarms, or some attacks may go undetected.
  • Government-backed attackers specifically target individuals and their devices based on their identities and activities.
  • These state-sponsored attacks differ significantly from those carried out by typical cybercriminals who target a broader user base for financial gains.
  • State-sponsored attacks are often of short duration, designed to avoid detection, and take advantage of vulnerabilities that may not be publicly known.

Apple’s Threat Notifications:

  • Apple’s threat notifications serve as a means of alerting and assisting users who may have become targets of state-sponsored attackers.
  • The company has developed a system that identifies patterns of activity indicative of such attacks.
  • When the system detects an attack, it triggers a Threat Notification, which is sent through email and iMessage to the email addresses and phone numbers linked to the affected user’s Apple ID.
  • The notifications received by some politicians and others are likely a result of this system identifying suspicious patterns of activity.

Apple’s Recommendations for Users When an Attack is Detected:

  • Apple provides general security tips, including updating to the latest software versions, setting a passcode, enabling two-factor authentication, and using strong passwords for Apple IDs.
  • Users are advised to download apps exclusively from the App Store, use unique passwords for each online account, and avoid clicking on links or attachments from unknown sources.
  • Apple suggests the activation of Lockdown Mode.
Lockdown Mode:
  • Lockdown Mode is a feature introduced in Apple’s recent software updates designed to protect against rare and sophisticated cyberattacks.
  • When Lockdown Mode is enabled, the device enters a state of heightened security, which involves restricting or disabling many standard functions.
  • For instance, users won’t be able to send or receive attachments, links, or link previews in messages.
  • Apple emphasizes that anyone who receives a threat notification from the company should take it seriously and follow the recommended steps to secure their device and account.

Government Response:

  • The government has initiated an investigation into these alerts.
  • Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw downplays the alerts, referring to Apple’s claim that such alerts have been distributed to individuals in 150 countries.

-Source: The Hindu


Akhaura-Agartala Rail Link


Context:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina virtually inaugurated a rail link connecting Northeast India with Bangladesh.

Relevance:

GS III: Infrastructure

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Akhaura-Agartala Rail Link
  2. Significance

Akhaura-Agartala Rail Link

  • The Akhaura–Agartala rail line is a railway connection between India and Bangladesh.
  • In 2013, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the governments of India and Bangladesh to establish this rail link, and the project was initiated in 2016.
Route Details:
  • The rail line connects Akhaura in Bangladesh to the outskirts of Agartala, the capital of Tripura.
  • It features a 12.24 km length, with a 6.78 km Dual Gauge rail line in Bangladesh and a 5.46 km section in Tripura.
Transit Routes and Funding:
  • This rail link is part of the 16 transit routes declared, allowing the transportation of cargo from Chattogram or Mongla port in Bangladesh to various Indian states.
  • The project is entirely funded by the Government of India, with the Ministry for Development of North East Region (DoNER) funding the work on the Indian side and the Ministry of External Affairs covering the expenses on the Bangladesh side.

Significance:

  • Tripura shares an 856 km-long international border with Bangladesh and relies on limited road connectivity through Assam and a narrow strip of land in West Bengal’s Siliguri.
  • The Akhaura–Agartala rail link will substantially reduce travel time between Agartala and Kolkata via Dhaka.
  • Currently, the rail journey from Agartala to Kolkata, approximately 1600 km, takes 38 hours as it passes through Guwahati, Assam.
  • With the completion of this rail line, the travel time will be cut down to approximately 10 hours.
  • The distance between Agartala and Kolkata will effectively shrink from 1,600 km to 500 km.
  • This rail link will enable cost-effective transportation of goods trains to the northeastern region through Bangladesh.
  • It will also establish a direct connection between landlocked northeastern India and the Chittagong port in Bangladesh.

-Source: Times of India


Chhath Festival


Context:

The Patna district administration is set to deploy drones to manage the four-day-long mass gatherings for the annual Chhath festival.

Relevance:

GS I: Festivals

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Chhath Festival: A Hindu Vedic Celebration
  2. Rituals of Chhath Festival

Chhath Festival: A Hindu Vedic Celebration

  • The Chhath Festival is a prominent Hindu Vedic festival celebrated in the Indian Subcontinent, with a strong presence in regions like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, some parts of Madhya Pradesh in India, and certain areas of Nepal.
  • This festival is dedicated to the worship of the Sun God, known as Lord Surya, and Chhathi Maiya, an alternative name for Goddess Usha, who is considered the sister of Lord Surya.
  • Chhath Festival is observed twice a year, during the months of Chaitra (March-April) and Kartika (October-November).

Rituals of Chhath Festival:

  • Chhath Puja is celebrated over a span of four days and is renowned for its eco-friendly practices.
  • The rituals associated with Chhath Puja are considered more rigorous compared to many other Hindu festivals. They involve fasting, including abstaining from water, taking ritualistic dips in rivers or water bodies, standing in water while offering prayers, facing the sun for extended periods, and presenting offerings (prasad) to the Sun during sunrise and sunset.
  • All food prepared during the festival adheres to specific dietary restrictions and typically excludes salt, onions, and garlic.
  • While in recent times, both men and women have been observed fasting during Chhath, the main worshippers of this festival are primarily women. Those who observe the fast during Chhath are known as parvaitin.

-Source: The Hindu


Tamil Lambadi Embroidery


Context:

Porgai Artisan Association Society, with 60+ women, has been making and selling embroidered clothes to ensure that there is awareness about the art form and that it is passed on to the next generation

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Tamil Lambadi Embroidery: A Rich Tradition
  2. Key Facts about the Lambadi Community

Tamil Lambadi Embroidery: A Rich Tradition

  • The Lambadi community has a long-standing tradition of practicing Lambadi embroidery, which they have used to adorn their clothing and household items.
  • This art form has been an essential aspect of their cultural identity, and the Lambadi people have made continuous efforts to preserve it.
  • Lambadi embroidery is characterized by intricate work carried out by Lambadi women on cotton and silk fabrics, using vibrant cotton threads.
  • Traditional Lambadi embroidery designs feature geometric patterns, including squares, rectangles, and circles, influenced by local elements like forests, birds, fruits, and flowers.
  • The elder women of the Lambadi tribe continue to wear the Petia, a traditional five-piece dress crafted with Mushru silk sourced from Kutch.

Key Facts about the Lambadi Community

  • The Lambadis are also known as Banjaras and are primarily found in regions of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.
  • This community, which has settled in different parts of the country under various names, has transitioned from a nomadic lifestyle to permanent settlements known as Tandas.
  • The Lambadi people speak Gor Boli, also referred to as Lambadi, a language from the Indo-Aryan group. Notably, Lambadi lacks a script.

-Source: The Hindu


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