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04 July Current Affairs

NCCR’s plan of using ‘plastic rocks’ to grow corals in marine national park draws flak

In News:

The National Centre for Coastal Research’s (NCCR) proposal of dropping ‘melted plastic rocks or slabs’ on the seabed for growing coral reefs and address the problem of disposal of plastic waste drew flak from the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, which has been implementing coral rehabilitation programme since 2002.

Details:

Marine research expressed apprehensions that the NCCR’s ‘innovative idea’ for the growth of marine organisms like algae for coral reefs building would destroy the existing coral reef colonies, and opposed use of the GoM region for field tests.

The NCCR had also suggested that plastic waste materials could simply be wound around as hard substrates as a way of disposing of them and help build coral colonies. The research institute preferred the GoM region, one of the four coral reef areas in the country, for field testing the ideas.

Scientists, preferring anonymity, said worn out tyres were tried as artificial reefs in Florida and Costa Rica, but they turned out to be disastrous. The clustered old tyres initially attracted many marine organisms but they later collapsed and littered beaches.

Corals in the GoM were already stressed and bleached under climate change and the NCCR’s idea would turn the reefs into graveyards.

The structures might support proliferation of algae in the beginning, but would destroy corals eventually.

  1. Shanmugaraj, Scientist at NCCR’s Field Research Centre in Mandapam, which was monitoring the health of corals in the GoM region, said the idea was at the nascent stage and the NCCR would proceed only after consulting experts in the Central Institute of Plastics and Engineering and Technology. “The NCCR has no immediate plan for field tests in the GoM region”.

Cattle traders move SC against 2017 rules

In News:

An association of cattle traders and transporters has approached the Supreme Court against rules notified in 2017, which are being used to seize and forfeit their cattle.

Details:

A Bench led by Justice S.A. Bobde ordered the government to respond to a petition by the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association, represented by advocate Sanobar Ali Qureshi, on threats faced by them. They said they were being forcibly deprived of their cattle, which were then sent to gaushalas.

The traders told the court on Tuesday that the seizure and forfeiture of their livestock, a means of livelihood for many, was happening on the strength of the 2017 rules against animal cruelty and cattle slaughter.

Two years ago, the Centre promised the top court that it would amend and re-notify these rules. Its notification had led to a public furore. But nothing has been done so far, and the rules were being employed to seize cattle, the petition said.

The law had emboldened “anti-social elements” to take matters into their hands and loot cattle traders.

Soon, read SC verdicts in your language

In News:

In a novel measure, the Supreme Court will translate its judgments into all vernacular languages for the benefit of the public and litigants across the length and breadth of the country.

Details:

The software application is intended to be launched by mid-July.

In single phase:

The app, similar to Google’s text translation, is likely to be launched in a single phase and cover “all vernacular languages,” a source said.

The court was taking the help of the High Courts in making the move a success. Most likely, the new app would be launched in the inaugural function of the Supreme Court’s new office buildings at Appu Ghar.

President Ram Nath Kovind is expected to preside over it, the source said.

The move is the brainchild of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

CJI gave the idea:

The CJI, in an informal interaction with Supreme Court journalists in November last, where he was accompanied by the court’s number two judge Justice S.A. Bobde, mooted the idea of translating the court’s judgments into regional languages.

The CJI had said the project included not only translating the apex court judgments into Hindi and other vernacular languages but also to provide summaries of the apex court’s verdicts. This, he had said, was to benefit litigants, who after fighting their cases for years, were left unable to read the judgments in their own cases for the sole reason that they did not know English.

In the Constitution Day function last year, President Kovind took the opportunity to laud the CJI for proposing the initiative to provide certified copies of judgments, translated from English to regional languages, to litigants.

Red sanders roots seized

In News:

In a joint inspection, the Tiruvallur police and forest officials seized red sanders worth Rs. two lakh that was being smuggled into Chennai from Andhra Pradesh.

Details:

“We suspect that the roots are taken to Chennai and then shipped to China where it is being used for medicinal purposes andd also to make the butt of the gun. We are yet to interrogate Kalidas to gather more details”.

About Red sanders:

Red sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus), known for its rich hue and therapeutic properties, is high in demand across Asia, particularly in China and Japan, for use in cosmetics and medicinal products as well as for making furniture, woodcraft and musical instruments.

Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that a tonne of red sanders costs anything between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore in the international market.

Marginal hike in MSP for 14 kharif crops

In News:

The Centre has hiked the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy by less than 4% to Rs. 1,815 per quintal for the 2019-20 season. The Rs. 65 per quintal increase is much lower than last year’s hike of Rs. 200 per quintal, but it will ensure that the MSP remains exactly 50% above the cost of production, not including land costs.

Details:

The decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Tuesday. MSPs were hiked for 14 major crops of the kharif or summer season, to ensure they remain at a level that is 1.5 times the cost of production.

Lower returns:

The only commodities with MSP that will ensure a higher than 50% return over input costs are bajra (85%), urad (64%) and tur dal (60%). However, even for these crops, returns are lower than last year.

The MSP is the rate at which the Centre procures these crops from farmers. However, there is no guaranteed procurement mechanism for most crops. Just over a third of the paddy harvest is bought by the Food Corporation of India for use in the public distribution system. Procurement is even lower or absent for most other crops.

Farmers groups pointed out that MSPs do not actually help the farmer unless procurement can be increased.

“What is the rationale of symbolically increasing prices when paddy is being sold at 40% lower rates in the mandi?” asked V.M. Singh, convenor of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a platform of more than 200 farmers groups.

He noted that paddy was sold at Rs. 1,100-1,200 per quintal in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar last year when the official MSP was Rs. 1,750 per quintal.

“The government must guarantee buyback at that rate so that the benefits reach 100% of farmers, or it is useless”.

About MSP:

What is it?

In theory, an MSP is the minimum price set by the Government at which farmers can expect to sell their produce for the season. When market prices fall below the announced MSPs, procurement agencies step in to procure the crop and ‘support’ the prices.

Who announces?

The Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs announces MSP for various crops at the beginning of each sowing season based on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). The CACP takes into account demand and supply, the cost of production and price trends in the market among other things when fixing MSPs.

Why is it important?

Price volatility makes life difficult for farmers. Though prices of agri commodities may soar while in short supply, during years of bumper production, prices of the very same commodities plummet. MSPs ensure that farmers get a minimum price for their produce in adverse markets. MSPs have also been used as a tool by the Government to incentivise farmers to grow crops that are in short supply.

First investors’ summit to be held in J&K

In News:

Jammu and Kashmir will host its first ever investor summit in September-October of this year in Srinagar — with a chapter in Jammu — to attract investment and counter perceptions about the State.

Details:

Government officials said they are expecting participation from at least eight countries besides the rest of India.

Beyond tourism:

The State is presently under President’s Rule, which was extended by another six months last week after a vote in Parliament.

“The strong points of the State are, of course, tourism, horticulture and handicrafts, and the stress would be on some of these sectors, along with the power sector and manufacturing units,” said a government official.

Speaking to The Hindu , Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad said the image of the State as strife ridden has often come in the way of drumming up business, as well as negative perception by the national media.

“Whenever we have travelled out of the State on road shows to promote tourism, the perception of the State via the media has come in the way,” he said.

‘Blown up’:

“Every small incident of violence is blown up and shown on TV,” Mr. Ahmad added.

The investors summit, it is hoped, will change such perceptions about the State, which ranks third in the number of people holding government jobs due to a lack of other avenues.

Special status sought for Western Ghats districts

Eleven districts that harbour forests of the Western Ghats should get special status on the lines of Article 371(J) for Hyderabad-Karnataka, recommends the Western Ghats Task Force in a final report submitted to the State government on Wednesday. Special status would guarantee reservations in education and employment for those residing closeby.

Centre defends existing definition of rape

In News:

Defending India’s gender-specific rape law under which the perpetrator of the offence can only be a ‘man’, the Centre has told the Delhi High Court that “the existing definition of rape under Section 375 (rape) should be left untouched”.

Details:

In an affidavit filed before the High Court, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated: “These sections have been enacted to protect and keep a check on the rising level of sexual offences against women in the country”.

The MHA’s affidavit came in response to a public interest petition claiming that the existing law pertaining to rape was gender-specific and protects only females.

The High Court had previously asked the Centre to clarify its stand on the issue, particularly in view of the recommendation of the Law Commission of India, to make rape laws “gender neutral”.

The MHA admitted that the law panel, in its 172th report, had recommended changes for widening the scope of rape law to make it gender neutral, by substituting the definition of ‘rape’ with that of ‘sexual assault’.

December 16, 2012, case:

The Centre said that a process was initiated in 2012 to make rape law gender neutral through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill.

However, after the December 16, 2012, Delhi gang rape case, the process was suspended.

Subsequently, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, was enacted, which widened the definition of sexual offences and enhanced punishment, but did not go into the issue of making rape law gender neutral.

“After due deliberations at various levels, including various stakeholders and women groups, it was decided that Section 375 of the IPC would be kept gender-specific qua the perpetrator of the offence and the perpetrator is said to be a man”.

It added that the existing definition of rape under Section 375 should be left untouched as the “ambit of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which covers all forms of sexual offences against minors, and Section 377 of the IPC were adequate to cover all sexual offences”.

The petition filed by social activist Sanjjiiv Kkumaar has challenged the constitutionality of Sections 375 and 376 of the IPC as they were not “gender neutral”.

Protects only females:

“Gender neutrality is a simple recognition of reality — men sometimes fall victim to the same, or at least very similar, acts to those suffered by women,” the petition contended.

“Male rape is far too prevalent to be termed an anomaly or freak incident. By not having gender-neutral rape laws, we are denying a lot more men justice than is commonly thought,” the petition added.

No legal recourse:

The plea further stated that in India, sexual crimes against boys under 18 years are covered under the POCSO) Act, but once they become adults they do not have any legal recourse.

27% of children with disabilities have never been to school: UNESCO

In News:

More than one in four children with disabilities between ages 5 and 19 in India have never attended any educational institution, while three-fourths of five-year-olds with disabilities are not in school.

Details:

A report by UNESCO and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences released on Wednesday recommends structural, funding and attitudinal changes to ensure that no child is left out of the right to education.

Census data:

Citing 2011 census data, the report showed that there are more than 78 lakh children with disabilities in the country between 5-19 years. Only 61% of them were attending an educational institution. About 12% had dropped out, while 27% had never been to school at all.

“The number of children [with disabilities] enrolled in school drops significantly with each successive level of schooling. There are fewer girls with disabilities in school than boys,” says the report. In 2014-15, there were more than 15 lakh children with disabilities in primary school. Two years later, enrolment had dropped by more than two lakh, data shows. At the higher secondary school level, there were less than 63,000 such children in 2016-17.

Differences remain among various types of disabilities. Only 20% of children with visual and hearing impairments had never been in school. However, among children with multiple disabilities or mental illness, that figure rose to more than 50%.

Home-based education:

Experts say the situation is worse than what the statistics show as the government data on enrolment includes home-based education, which often exists only on paper for children with disabilities. “In many parts of rural India, if a parent opts for home-based education, the child may not be getting an education at all. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan teacher is supposed to visit and check, but how often does that happen? The number of excluded children is much higher than government data shows,” said Arman Ali, executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, who was part of the editorial board overseeing the report.

“The Right to Education Act mandates enrolment, but not the provision of resources needed for the actual education of a child with disabilities,” pointed out Susheela Jeliya, a disabilities specialist with World Vision India.

Amendments to the RTE Act, 2009 to make it align with the Right of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 are among the major recommendations of the report.

NASA tests launch-abort system for moon mission

In News:

NASA carried out a successful test on Tuesday of a launch-abort system for the Orion capsule designed to take U.S. astronauts to the Moon.

Details:

The three-minute exercise at Cape Canaveral in Florida aimed to test in almost real-life conditions the evacuation of astronauts from the capsule in the event of an explosion or rocket booster failure.

In the test, an unmanned Orion capsule was launched by a mini-rocket — a repurposed first stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Fifty-five seconds after the launch, at an altitude of 9,500 m, a rocket-powered tower on top of the crew module ignited its engines to quickly pull the Orion away from a hypothetical rocket experiencing problems.

In just 15 seconds, the capsule gained two miles of altitude. Then the tower reoriented the capsule to prepare it for descent and disengagement from the tower.

In real-life conditions, parachutes would open to ease the manned capsule’s fall toward the Atlantic Ocean.

South Americans marvel at solar eclipse

In News:

A rare total solar eclipse plunged a vast swath of Latin America’s southern cone into darkness late on Tuesday, briefly turning day into night and enthralling huge crowds in much of Chile and Argentina.

Details:

Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Chile’s northern Coquimbo region near the Atacama desert — festooned with some of the planet’s most powerful telescopes — which was situated directly on the eclipse’s 100-mile-wide “path of totality.”

Large crowds congregated in the town of La Higuera, some 2,400 m above sea level and near the landmark La Silla Observatory, operated by the European Southern Observatory.

“I don’t believe there’s a better place in the world to see an eclipse than La Silla,” said Australian tourist Betsy Clark.

Ms. Clark and her family were among thousands who flocked to the craggy peaks around the observatory on Tuesday.

They were not disappointed. The eclipse had its longest duration as it made to La Silla: 2.36 minutes. “It was an experience to last several lifetimes,” said Chilean tourist Rene Serey.

Solar eclipses happen when the Sun, the moon and earth line up, allowing the moon to cast its shadow on earth. The area where the observatory is located, with its dry weather, crystal-clear air and low light pollution, is the perfect spot for such spectacles.

In Argentina, people gathered to look into the sky in the western Cuyo, a wine-producing region, which had the country’s longest exposure to the eclipse.

‘U.S. waste driving global garbage glut’

The U.S. is driving a worldwide waste boom that poses a severe risk to human health, the environment and the economy, according to a new study of global garbage trends published Wednesday.

Data on the combined solid, plastic, food and hazardous waste of 194 countries showed that the world now produces an average of 2.1 billion tonnes of trash each year — enough to fill more than 820,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Analysis showed that U.S. citizens and businesses produce far more per capita than their fair share.

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