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04 May Current Affairs

Generalized System of Preference (GSP)

In News:

The U.S. should not terminate the GSP programme with India after the expiry of the 60-day notice period, a group of 25 influential American lawmakers urged the U.S. Trade Representative, warning that companies seeking to expand their exports to India could be hit.

Details:

The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) is a U.S. trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 4,800 products from 129 designated beneficiary countries and territories.

GSP was instituted on January 1, 1976, by the Trade Act of 1974.

GSP has been given on non-reciprocal basis yet the US has linked it with market access and tariff reduction which is against the basic tenets of GSP.

What is the objective of GSP?

The objective of GSP was to give development support to poor countries by promoting exports from them into the developed countries. GSP promotes sustainable development in beneficiary countries by helping these countries to increase and diversify their trade with the United States.

Benefits of GSP:

Indian exporters benefit indirectly – through the benefit that accrues to the importer by way of reduced tariff or duty free entry of eligible Indian products

Reduction or removal of import duty on an Indian product makes it more competitive to the importer – other things (e.g. quality) being equal.

This tariff preference helps new exporters to penetrate a market and established exporters to increase their market share and to improve upon the profit margins, in the donor country.

US Concern regarding GSP Continuation to developing countries:

President Donald Trump’s case on what he calls “unequal tariffs” from India rests on the trade relationship in favour of India: Indian exports to the U.S. in 2017-18 stood at $47.9 billion, while imports were $26.7 billion.

Trump Administration has criticized India for a range of unfair trading practices– decision on data localisation for all companies operating in India, and the more recent tightening norms for FDI in e-commerce have aggravated the situation.

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers in India limit U.S. agricultural exports.

What is the impact of GSP withdrawal on India?

India exports nearly 50 products of the 94 products on which GSP benefits are stopped. The GSP removal will leave a reasonable impact on India as the country enjoyed preferential tariff on exports worth of nearly $ 5. 6 billion under the GSP route out of the total exports of $48 bn in 2017-18.

Removal of GSP indicate a tough trade position by the US; especially for countries like India who benefited much from the scheme. India is the 11th largest trade surplus country for the US and India enjoyed an annual trade surplus of $ 21 bn in 2017-18.

Source: The Hindu

PCPNDT Act

In News:

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has upheld provisions in the anti-pre-natal sex determination law which ‘criminalises’ non-maintenance of medical records by obstetricians and gynaecologists and suspend their medical licence indefinitely.

Details:

The court held that these provisions in the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994 were necessary to prevent female foeticide in the country.

What’s the issue?

The main purpose of the Act is to ban the use of sex selection and misuse of pre-natal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortions and to regulate such techniques. However, there are only 586 convictions out of 4202 cases registered even after 24 years of existence. It reflects the challenges being faced in implementing this social legislation.

About PCPNDT Act:

The Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted in response to the decline in Sex ratio in India, which deteriorated from 972 in 1901 to 927 in 1991. The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.

Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

The act was amended in 2003 to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection. The Act was amended to bring the technique of pre conception sex selection and ultrasound technique within the ambit of the act.

The amendment also empowered the central supervisory board and state level supervisory board was constituted. In 1988, the State of Maharashtra became the first in the country to ban pre-natal sex determination through enacting the Maharashtra Regulation of Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

Main provisions in the act are:

The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.

It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect few cases.

No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.

No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.

Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.

The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection. The Act was amended to bring the technique of pre conception sex selection and ultrasound technique within the ambit of the act. The amendment also empowered the central supervisory board and state level supervisory board was constituted.

In 1988, the State of Maharashtra became the first in the country to ban pre-natal sex determination through enacting the Maharashtra Regulation of Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

Source: The Hindu

Namami Gange

In News:

10 of the 100 sewage infrastructure projects commissioned after 2015 under the Namami Gange mission, according to records.

Background:

Commissioning of sewage treatment plants (STP) and laying sewer lines are at the heart of the mission to clean the Ganga. Nearly Rs. 23,000 crore has been sanctioned of the Rs. 28,000 crore outlay for sewage management work. River-front development, cleaning ghats and removing trash from the river — the cosmetic side of the mission — make up about for Rs. 1,200 crore of the mission outlay.

About Namami Gange Programme:

Namami Gange Programme – is an umbrella programme which integrates previous and currently ongoing initiatives by enhancing efficiency, extracting synergies and supplementing them with more comprehensive & better coordinated interventions. Government of India is supplementing the efforts of the state governments in addressing the pollution of river Ganga by providing financial assistance to the states.

Need: Each day, more than 500 million liters of wastewater from industrial sources are dumped directly into Ganga. In many places, this wastewater entering the rivers is completely raw, completely untreated.

Main Pillars of the Namami Gange Programme are:

  • Sewerage Treatment Infrastructure
  • River-Surface Cleaning
  • Afforestation
  • Industrial Effluent Monitoring
  • River-Front Development
  • Bio-Diversity
  • Public Awareness
  • Ganga Gram

Its implementation has been divided into:

  • Entry-Level Activities (for immediate visible impact),
  • Medium-Term Activities (to be implemented within 5 years of time frame) and
  • Long-Term Activities (to be implemented within 10 years).

About NMCG: National Mission for Clean Ganga, endeavors to deploy best available knowledge and resources across the world for Ganga rejuvenation. Clean Ganga has been a perennial attraction for many international countries that have expertise in river rejuvenation.

Source: The Hindu

National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at the Workplace (NPSHEW)

In News:

It’s been a decade since the National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at the Workplace (NPSHEW) was announced. It called for a legislation on safety, health and environment at workplaces. Yet, only the manufacturing, mining, ports and construction sectors are covered by existing laws on Occcupational Safety and Health (OSH).

Need for a legislation on safety, health and environment at workplace:

Around 2.3 lakh workers were affected and 2,500 died in more than 81 industrial accidents in the past three-and-a-half decades. Yet sectors such as agriculture, services and transport remain unlegislated from the point of work-safety.

Present issues and challenges:

Factories Act not enforced: Under the Factories Act, 1948, the state governments are empowered to frame their respective state factories rules and enforce both the Act and the Rules in their states through their Inspectorates of Factories / Directorates of Industrial Safety and Health under the labour departments. But these Inspectorates / Directorates are not adequately staffed for enforcing the Act and the Rules.

Dock Workers Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1990 enforced in major ports only: The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1990 have been enforced only in major ports by the DGFASLI. In other ports, the state governments are required to frame respective state regulations and enforce the provisions of the both, the Act and the Regulations, in these ports. However, till date, none of the states have framed their regulations for enforcement in these ports.

Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act not being enforced in true spirit

Even though the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act, 1996, is being enforced by the Labour Commissioners at the centre and at the state Level, but the safety and health provisions under the Act are highly technical in nature and are not being enforced in true letter and spirit.

Limited research on occupational safety: Modern approaches for dealing with safety, health and environment at workplace demands research in the area. But the number of institutes in the country for research and development are limited and these too are not fully equipped for carrying out their activities effectively.

Capturing data related to occupational safety and health across all the sectors has also been an issue for a long time, which has not been taken seriously till date. The most recent facts and figures shared by the ministry in Parliament in February 2019 were up to 2016 only.

Each ministry (or the respective department) is supposed to have a detailed policy on the working environment according to the guidelines on the National Policy. But so far, the Ministries or Departments have not worked out their policy.

Lack of legislation on safety and health in agriculture is hindering the ratification of ILO convention 155. The agriculture sector is the largest sector of economic activity and needs to be regulated for safety and health aspects. But the sector is lacking on legislation on safety and health for workers in this sector.

It is also worrying that the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises too do not have any legislation to cover the safety and health of the workers.

Source: Down to Earth

Seismic activity triggered by human actions

In News:

Seismic activity triggered by human actions like construction of large reservoirs or injection of wastewater into the ground for oil and gas production can have far greater implications than previously thought, a new study has revealed.

Findings of the latest study:

While it is well known that injection of fluid into subsurface of the earth (one kilometer deep) can cause events like earthquakes, it was until now believed that such disturbances are limited to an area near the site of injection.

The new study has, however, found that subsurface disturbances due to fluid injection can result in earthquakes spread over larger regions, going far beyond the area invaded by the injected fluids. This means, earthquake-triggering stresses can travel far.

Oil and gas extraction using fluid injection, as well as wastewater disposal, is known to increase seismicity rate in surrounding regions. Tremblors attributed to these activities have been thought to occur as higher fluid pressures in surrounding rocks trigger instabilities in pre-existing networks of faults. However, injection may also cause aseismic slip — deformation caused along a fault line without any accompanying seismic waves — that may in turn trigger earthquakes.

Significance:

Understanding this science behind fluid-induced earthquakes could help in unraveling reservoir-induced earthquakes in Koyna. The ‘Deep Drilling at Koyna’ initiative led by Noida-based National Centre for Seismology and CSIR-National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad is studying detailed behaviour of fluid-induced earthquakes in the region.

These efforts are expected to yield data about fault behaviour at greater depths in the earth’s crust. Our study is a proof-of-concept of how such data can be used in practice to produce more reliable models of earthquake hazard.

Source: Down to Earth

Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001

In News:

PepsiCo India has agreed to withdraw its lawsuit against farmers in Gujarat whom it had accused of infringing its patent. Farmers’ rights activists have called it a major victory only if it’s unconditional.

Details:

Now, farmer groups have urged the Gujarat government to not opt for an out-of-court settlement with PepsiCo as the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act 2001 lets farmers cultivate any variety they like to, including the patented variety of potatoes, say activists.

What’s the issue?

The food and beverage multinational recently sued farmers in Gujarat for cultivating their proprietary FC5 variety of potatoes that are used to make Lay’s chips. This variety is designed to have less moisture and sugar content than other spuds.

PepsiCo had also proposed to settle in the last court hearing on April 26. The corporate giant’s offer had two terms. One, farmers should stop growing the registered potato variety and surrender their existing stocks. And if they wished to continue, they must enter PepsiCo’s collaborative farming programme where they buy seeds from the company and sell the produce back to it.

The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001:

Enacted by India in 2001 adopting sui generis system.

It is in conformity with International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), 1978.

The legislation recognizes the contributions of both commercial plant breeders and farmers in plant breeding activity and also provides to implement TRIPs in a way that supports the specific socio-economic interests of all the stakeholders including private, public sectors and research institutions, as well as resource-constrained farmers.

Objectives of the PPV & FR Act, 2001:

To establish an effective system for the protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders and to encourage the development of new varieties of plants.

To recognize and protect the rights of farmers in respect of their contributions made at any time in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources for the development of new plant varieties.

To accelerate agricultural development in the country, protect plant breeders’ rights; stimulate investment for research and development both in public & private sector for the development new of plant varieties.

Facilitate the growth of seed industry in the country which will ensure the availability of high quality seeds and planting material to the farmers.

Rights under the Act:

Breeders’ Rights : Breeders will have exclusive rights to produce, sell, market, distribute, import or export the protected variety. Breeder can appoint agent/ licensee and may exercise for civil remedy in case of infringement of rights.

Researchers’ Rights : Researcher can use any of the registered variety under the Act for conducting experiment or research. This includes the use of a variety as an initial source of variety for the purpose of developing another variety but repeated use needs prior permission of the registered breeder.

Farmers’ Rights:

A farmer who has evolved or developed a new variety is entitled for registration and protection in like manner as a breeder of a variety;

Farmers variety can also be registered as an extant variety;

A farmer can save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under the PPV&FR Act, 2001 in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act provided farmer shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under the PPV&FR Act, 2001;

Farmers are eligible for recognition and rewards for the conservation of Plant Genetic Resources of land races and wild relatives of economic plants;

There is also a provision for compensation to the farmers for non-performance of variety under Section 39 (2) of the Act, 2001 and

Farmer shall not be liable to pay any fee in any proceeding before the Authority or Registrar or the Tribunal or the High Court under the Act.

Source: Down to Earth

CRISPR Technology

In News:

CRISPR anti-venom: Antidote to world’s most venomous sting made with gene editing.

Details:

Chironex fleckeri is among the deadliest box jellyfish species, with an explosive sting that causes cardiac arrest in humans. Scientists are still unsure exactly how its venom works. But a team of researchers has managed to develop an antidote to block its venom using the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR. The drug, cyclodextrin, is already tested safe for humans, cheap and readily available.

What are Genes and what is gene- editing?

Genes contain the bio-information that defines any individual. Physical attributes like height, skin or hair colour, more subtle features and even behavioural traits can be attributed to information encoded in the genetic material.

An ability to alter this information gives scientists the power to control some of these features. Gene “editing” — sometimes expressed in related, but not always equivalent, terms like genetic modification, genetic manipulation or genetic engineering — is not new.

What is CRISPR-Cas9?

The clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) (CRISPR-Cas9) system has revolutionised genetic manipulations and made gene editing simpler, faster and easily accessible to most laboratories.

CRISPR technology is basically a gene-editing technology that can be used for the purpose of altering genetic expression or changing the genome of an organism.

The technology can be used for targeting specific stretches of an entire genetic code or editing the DNA at particular locations.

CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing genomes. It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.

Its many potential applications include correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops. However, its promise also raises ethical concerns.

How it works?

CRISPR-Cas9 technology behaves like a cut-and-paste mechanism on DNA strands that contain genetic information.

The specific location of the genetic codes that need to be changed, or “edited”, is identified on the DNA strand, and then, using the Cas9 protein, which acts like a pair of scissors, that location is cut off from the strand. A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself.

Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process, supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes that binds itself with the broken DNA strand.

Concerns:

Tampering with the genetic code in human beings is more contentious. Leading scientists in the field have for long been calling for a “global pause” on clinical applications of the technology in human beings, until internationally accepted protocols are developed.

Way ahead:

This CRISPR technology is indeed a path-breaking technology, to alter genes in order to tackle a number of conventional and unconventional problems, especially in the health sector. However, experiments and tests to validate its use must be subjected to appropriate scrutiny by the regulators, and their use must be controlled to prevent commercial misuse.

Source: The Hindu

World Press Freedom Prize

In News:

The World Press Freedom Prize also known as UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is formally conferred every year by Director-General of UNESCO, on occasion of World Press Freedom Day observed on 3 May.

UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize:

Created in 1997, the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize honours a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and, or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.

The Prize was established on the initiative of UNESCO’s Executive Board and is formally conferred by the Director-General of the Organization, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, on 3 May.

It is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia on 17 December 1986.

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