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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 31 July 2021

Contents

  1. Government’s denial of manual scavenging deaths
  2. Over 9 lakh severely malnourished children in India
  3. Innovative farming methods and social media
  4. BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan finalized
  5. Bill on insurance firms introduced

Government’s denial of manual scavenging deaths

Context:

India’s Social Justice Minister, in a writer reply in the Rajya Sabha, said that no deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging in the last five years.

Activists have refuted this statement as “inhuman and cruel”, saying that said 472 people had died in five years due to manual scavenging.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues related to Poverty, Minorities, Welfare Schemes, Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Manual Scavenging in India
  2. Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India
  3. Existing provisions regarding Manual Labour
  4. National Action Plan for elimination of Manual Scavenging

Manual Scavenging in India

  • Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers”.
  • In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers (The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993), however, the stigma and discrimination associated with it still linger on.

Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India

  • As per the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a total of 631 people have died in the country while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last 10 years.
  • 2019 saw the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years. 110 workers were killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
  • This is a 61% increase as compared to 2018, which saw 68 cases of such similar deaths.
  • Despite the introduction of several mechanised systems for sewage cleaning, human intervention in the process still continues.
  • As per data collected in 2018, 29,923 people are engaged in manual scavenging in Uttar Pradesh, making it the highest in any State in India.

Why is manual scavenging still a concern after so many years?

  • A number of independent surveys have talked about the continued reluctance on the part of state governments to admit that the practice prevails under their watch.
  • Many times, local bodies outsource sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors. However, many of them fly-by-night operators, do not maintain proper rolls of sanitation workers. In case after case of workers being asphyxiated to death, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.
  • The practice is also driven by caste, class and income divides. It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job. It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job.

Existing provisions regarding Manual Labour

  1. Prevention of Atrocities Act: In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers; more than 90% people employed as manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste. This became an important landmark to free manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations.
  2. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: Superseding the 1993 Act, the 2013 Act goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
  3. Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees ‘Right to Life’ and that also with dignity. This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.

National Action Plan for elimination of Manual Scavenging

The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry’s National Action Plan aims to modernise existing sewage system and coverage of non-sewered areas; setting up of faecal sludge and septage management system for mechanised cleaning of septic tanks, transportation and treatment of faecal sludge; equipping the municipalities, and setting up of Sanitation Response Units with help lines.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • As a part of the Ministry’s National Action Plan, this bill will amend the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • The bill proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning and provide better protection at work and compensation in case of accidents.
  • The Bill proposes to make the law banning manual scavenging more stringent by increasing the imprisonment term and the fine amount.
  • The funds will be provided directly to the sanitation workers and not to the municipalities or contractors to purchase the machinery.

Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge

  • Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge across 243 Cities to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of ‘hazardous cleaning’.
  • The Challenge was launched on the occasion of World Toilet Day.
  • Aims to prevent ‘hazardous cleaning’ of sewers and septic tanks and promoting their mechanized cleaning.
  • Representatives from 243 cities across the country took a pledge to mechanize all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by 30th April 2021.
  • The initiative is in line with the core of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U)
  • The actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results of the same will be declared on 15 August 2021.
  • Cities will be awarded in three sub-categories – with population of more than 10 lakhs, 3-10 lakhs and upto 3 lakhs, with a total prize money of ₹52 crores to be given to winning cities across all categories.

-Source: The Hindu


Over 9 lakh severely malnourished children in India

Context:

As per ICDS-RRS (Rapid Reporting System) Portal, as on November, 2020, there were 9.27 lakh severely acute malnourished children in the country.

It is also important to note that more than 40% of funds released to State governments since the launch of Poshan Abhiyaan in 2017 remains unutilised, government data shows.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues related to poverty and hunger, Welfare Schemes, Government Policies and Initiatives, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of schemes)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Status of Malnutrition in India
  2. Causes of Malnutrition in India

Status of Malnutrition in India

  • India is home to 46.6 million stunted children, a third of world’s total as per Global Nutrition Report 2018.
  • Nearly half of all under-5 child mortality in India is attributable to undernutrition.
  • Trend in Malnutrition: Despite decreasing stunting by one fifth during last decade, almost one in three Indian children under five years i.e. 31.4% of children will still remain stunted by the 2022.
  • Inter and Intra State Variations in Malnutrition is found in country with highest levels of stunting and underweight are being found in Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
  • Prevalence of Multiple Types of Malnutrition among Children: Multiple burden of malnutrition is the coexistence of any two or all three measures of malnutrition: stunting, wasting and underweight.
  • Women and Malnutrition: Children born to women with low BMI and low education level are more likely to be stunted, wasted, and underweight compared to children born to women with normal or high BMI.
  • Anaemia Prevalence: Iron deficiency anaemia remains a major public health concern in India where half of women 15- 49 years of age are anaemic, regardless of age, residence or pregnancy status.

Causes of Malnutrition in India

  • Poverty: It hinders the accessibility of adequate food.
  • Lack of Awareness: about nutritional needs of infants and young children.
  • Social strains on Women: Early marriages of girls leads to teenage pregnancies resulting in low birth weight of the new-borns, poor breastfeeding practices and poor complementary feeding practices.
  • Male domination: In most Indian families, women even take food after the male members where they get less nutritious food.
  • Lack of health infrastructure leads to poor access to health.
  • Lack of availability of safe drinking water hinders proper digestion and assimilation of food and also cause water and food borne diseases.
  • Poor sanitation and environmental conditions lead to spread of many diseases that sap children’s energy and stunts their growth.
  • Other causes: illiteracy in women and large household size.

Click Here to read more about ‘POSHAN’ Abhiyaan

Click Here to read more about Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine, The Hindu


Innovative farming methods and social media

Context:

Farmers make time for social media to network, share and solve problems by discovering innovative farming methods.

Relevance:

GS-III: Agriculture (Agricultural Resources, E-Technology in the Aid of Farmers), GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Penetration of Social Media and its impact
  2. Examples of Farmers using social media positively
  3. Other benefits of Social Media
  4. Disadvantages of Social Media

Penetration of Social Media and its impact

  • Social media is a computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities.
  • As per a UN report, 47 % of the global population is online and among them, the percentage of social media users is rising steadily.
  • India has almost 600 million active Internet users as of 2019 and it is the second-largest online market, behind China.
  • The phenomenal rise of Social Media (SM) platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and others is proving to be a double-edged sword in the functioning of democracies. On the one hand, it has democratised access to information but on the other hand, it has also posed new challenges which are now directly impacting our democracies and the people.

Examples of Farmers using social media positively

  • Clubhouse, the social audio app provides for a live conversation on the Indian Farmer’s Club where farmers share knowledge on agricultural practices, weather, marketing and crop management. Through the platform around 100 farmers, mostly from Maharashtra, discuss horticulture, vegetable harvesting, crop management, sowing time, marketing, innovations and more.
  • A Facebook post on farming beans spread knowledge on natural activation techniques of soil and the importance of weather.
  • On social media platforms, discussions are vibrant with farmers choosing the topic of discussion and presenting viewpoints rather than one way communication of information by other means like T.V. shows. Also, farmers can learn to do these things themselves on social media instead of calling experts.
  • Social networking and knowledge sharing on online platforms have opened up new avenues of opportunity for farmers while providing them tech-based solutions from knowing about different PVC pipes to discovering innovative farming methods such as using mulching paper in horticulture to control weeds in the farm.
  • A 2015 study by Meredith Agrimedia and a 2016 Farm Futures survey found that Facebook is the most popular social media platform used by farmers, followed by YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram.
  • Social media is also used to lend emotional support to farmers under stress.
  • Though not all farmers are educated or have access to devices, the digital divide is not colossal as the younger generation who know to use technology help their family members.

Other benefits of Social Media

  • Social media is allowing the democratisation of knowledge and broader communication as people are empowered to bypass traditional curators of information and also become creators and disseminators of content, not just consumers of it.
  • People are provided with unprecedented opportunities to communicate/express themselves and experience a sense of belongingness due to SM platforms.
  • Wider and more heterogeneous online communities (at least geographically) enable better expression of concerns, ideas, experiences, especially by many communities in India which were previously not allowed to participate in public discourses/organize themselves and advance their thoughts and ideas.
  • Creating content needs less investment and is more often soft-skill driven as with assistance of technology, anyone can create competent, authentic, effective and fresh online content and express their creations through SM platforms.
  • SM platforms have also provided an alternate source of Knowledge in a world where mainstream media has come under severe public criticism for fake news and propaganda.
  • Social Media has also empowered common people to directly interact with the government and avail government services directly. E.g., tagging police/municipal corporations on SM platforms in various cities like Bangalore and Mumbai for resolving issues.

Disadvantages of Social Media

  • Hate Speech on Social Media had a big role in the Delhi Riots of 2020 and there are numerous incidents of hate speech and rumors fueled by WhatsApp and other SM platforms, being responsible for acts of violence and deaths.
  • A 2019 Microsoft study found that over 64% of Indians encounter fake news online, the highest reported amongst the 22 countries surveyed. Fake news spreading through social media platforms and messaging services like WhatsApp makes it harder to distinguish between misinformation and credible facts.
  • Trolling is the new bi product of Social Media as there are countless incidents of internet bullies taking law in their own hand and trolling/threatening those who don’t agree with their views or narratives.
  • Women face cyber rape and threats that affect their dignity severely. Sometimes their pictures and videos are leaked with and are forced to cyber bullying.

-Source: The Hindu


BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan finalized

Context:

BRICS has unveiled a counter-terrorism strategy to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation among the member countries for effectively combating the threat.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Groupings, Foreign policies and agreements affecting India’s interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is BRICS?
  2. About BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy

What is BRICS?

  • BRICS is the international grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  • This was set up as a move towards greater multi­polarity; hence the spread across three continents and both hemispheres.
  • In terms of GDP, China occupies the second position; India the fifth; Brazil the ninth; Russia the 11th; and South Africa the 35th.
  • In terms of growth rates, China grew at 6%; India at 4.5%, Russia 1.7%, Brazil 1.2% and South Africa 0.1%.
  • BRICS does not exist in form of organization, but it is an annual summit between the supreme leaders of five nations.
  • The Chairmanship of the forum is rotated annually among the members, in accordance with the acronym B-R-I-C-S.
  • The BRICS seeks to deepen, broaden and intensify cooperation within the grouping and among the individual countries for more sustainable, equitable and mutually beneficial development.
  • BRICS takes into consideration each member’s growth, development and poverty objectives to ensure relations are built on the respective country’s economic strengths and to avoid competition where possible.
  • BRICS is emerging as a new and promising political-diplomatic entity with diverse objectives, far beyond the original objective of reforming global financial institutions.

About BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy

  • In 2020, a new counter-terrorism strategy was adopted at the BRICS annual summit to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation among the member countries for effectively combating the threat.

Overview of the Strategy:

  • The aim of the strategy is to improve the practical cooperation among security and law-enforcement authorities of the member nations to prevent and combat terrorism, including by sharing timely and accurate information.
  • The focus would be to “suppress” the facilitation of terrorist groups, entities and associated persons by not making available financial and material resources to them.
  • The BRICS also resolved to counter “extremist narratives” conducive to terrorism and vowed to take steps to ensure that the Internet and social media platforms are not used for recruitment and radicalisation by terror groups.
  • The BRICS high representatives for security shall be entrusted with leading the review of the implementation of this strategy, and the BRICS counter-terrorism working group (CTWG) shall be entrusted with its implementation.

Developments in the 2021 meeting

  • In the 6th meeting of the BRICS Counter Terrorism Working Group under the Chairship of India, finalized the BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan containing specific measures to implement the BRICS Counter Terrorism Strategy adopted by BRICS Leaders in 2020.
  • The Action Plan is aimed at further strengthening result oriented cooperation between BRICS countries in areas such as preventing and combating terrorism, radicalisation, financing of terrorism, misuse of internet by terrorists, and curbing travel of terrorists.
  • During the Working Group meeting, the BRICS countries also exchanged views on terrorism threat assessment at national, regional and global level and resolved to further enhance counter terrorism cooperation in line with the Action Plan.

-Source: The Hindu


Bill on insurance firms introduced

Context:

Amid the din, the government introduced the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Indian Economy (Growth and Development of Indian Economy, Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill

General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill

  • The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill will amend the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act, 1972.
  • The Bill proposes three amendments:
    1. The first aims to omit the proviso to Section 10B of the Act so as to remove the requirement that the Central government holds not less than 51 per cent of the equity capital in a specified insurer.
    2. The second amendment is to insert a new Section 24B, providing for cessation of application of the Act to such a specified insurer from the date on which the Centre ceases to have control over it.
    3. And, the third amendment is also to insert a new Section 31A, making a director, who is not a whole-time director, liable only for acts of omission or commission committed with his knowledge and connivance by the insurer.
  • Although the Bill has a provision that will allow the government to bring down its shareholding below 51 per cent, Sitharaman clarified that this is not a Bill for privatisation.

Opposition to the Bill

Primary opposition to the bill is that it would lead to total privatisation of the general insurance companies.

-Source: The Hindu

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