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07 April Current Affairs

Privacy Concern Over Aarogya Setu App

In News:

Recently, legal experts raised concerns over the privacy policy of Aarogya Setu app, launched by the government, to allow people to assess if they are at a risk of contracting Covid-19.

They are of the view that there is a need for clarity on how the data collected by the app be stored and used by the government.

Aarogya Setu App:

Aarogya Setu app has been launched by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

It will help people in identifying the risk of getting affected by the CoronaVirus.

It will calculate risk based on the user’s interaction with others, using cutting edge Bluetooth technology, algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Once installed in a smartphone, the app detects other nearby devices with Aarogya Setu installed.

The App will help the Government take necessary timely steps for assessing risk of spread of COVID-19 infection, and ensuring isolation where required.

Key Issues:

The key issue is there is not enough information available on what data will be collected, how long will it be stored and what uses it will be put to.

No specification on the issue of how the government will use data if the data gets shared with the government of India.

On the data retention part, the app’s privacy policy specifies only the data available on the app and does not specify for how long the Government of India will retain server side data.

Additionally, there was also a question of proportionality with the app and whether it will be as effective as envisaged in containing the Covid-19 outbreak.

India’s situation is different from countries like Singapore, where a good number of people have smartphones.

In India compared to its population, smartphone users are very less which means very few people will be able to download the app.

Way Forward:

The app privacy policy needs detailed clarification on data collection, its storage and uses.

The Government of India must specify how it will deal with the app’s data and how long it will retain the server side data.

According to the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy judgement (2017), the right to privacy is a fundamental right and it is necessary to protect personal data as an essential facet of informational privacy.

Grounding of Aircraft Affects Weather Forecasting

In News:

Beginning mid-March, India began restricting incoming international flights into the country and by March 24 had imposed a total shutdown on domestic air travel as well to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Details:

The grounding of India’s civilian aircraft has strangled a key source of weather data that the India Meteorological Department (IMD) uses for its forecasts.

Officials from the IMD, however,have clarified that India’s annual monsoon forecast system is on track, with the first forecast scheduled to be issued in mid-April.

A major factor for gauging the performance of the monsoon is the El Nino, a warming of the ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This data is measured by observational data buoys located in the sea and relayed via satellite. This data is not impacted so far.

Key Points:

  1. a) Aviation and Weather Data:

Aircraft relay data about temperature and wind speed in the upper atmosphere to meteorological agencies the world over and this is used in the dynamical models.

Input from aircraft is important for the dynamical models as it determines the initial conditions for these models.

Aviation-generated data is also helpful to warn of developing thunderstorms or swings in temperatures that often begin at the heights aircraft traverse.

  1. b) Dynamical model:

Dynamic models are generally models that contain or depend upon an element of time, especially allowing for interactions between variables over time.

These stimulate the state of the atmosphere and oceans at a particular time and then extrapolate into the future using standard laws of physics.

These models are run on supercomputers and are relied on to give weather forecasts three days, or even two weeks ahead.

Harvesting Season & Covid-19 Lockdown

In News:

Covid-19 lockdown has suspended the supply chain of India’s rice exports as well as badly impacted lakhs of Odisha’s tribals by hampering the sale of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) being collected during March-June.

Key Points:

  1. a) Sale of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) Hampered:

Covid-19 lockdown has coincided with the harvesting season of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP). This has made the sale of NTFP impossible.

Forest products are seasonal in nature and the tribals earn their major incomes (60%-80%) in the months of March to June.

The hard cash earned during these months are critical for their sustenance during the monsoon season when employments dry up.

Major NTFPs collected during the summer season include Wild honey, tamarind, mango, tendu leaves, sal leaves, sal seeds, mahua seeds, neem seeds, karanj (pongamia) seeds, mahua flowers and tejpatta (bay leaf).

As per conservative estimate, Odisha’s NTFP market pegs at ₹5000 crore.

  1. b) Rice exports suspended on supply chain disruption:

Indian traders have stopped offering quotes to overseas buyers as they are not sure when they would be able to ship their cargoes.

Shipments have stalled as transport has become very difficult because of the lockdown.

About 400,000 tonnes of non-basmati rice and 100,000 tonnes of basmati rice, meant for March-April delivery, are either stuck at ports or in the pipeline due to the lockdown.

India’s export volumes have fallen by four to five times.

The halt in Indian rice exports has allowed rival countries such as Thailand to raise shipments in the short term.

India mainly exports non-basmati rice to Bangladesh, Nepal, Benin and Senegal, and premium basmati rice to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Labour issue:

A severe shortage of labour, triggered by 21-day lockdown to deal with coronavirus pandemic, will impact harvesting of winter crops of India.

The northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh rely on farm labourers from eastern India for harvesting.

Most of the laborers returned home to their villages after the 21 day lockdown that began on March 25, fearing the virus and facing wage disruptions.

Farmers worry that the unprecedented labour shortage will make it tougher to get mechanical harvesters to fields or even pluck by hand crops.

Late harvests mean lower yields, reduced returns, and a smaller window to plant next season’s crops.

Farmers’ next problem is the struggle of taking produce to market, with few trucks available to carry large volumes.

Most farmers sell produce only at wholesale markets which, in turn, depend on armies of labourers to unload, weigh and pack vast amounts of grain.

This could also delay farmers’ payments for produce.

EIA Not Needed for Bulk Drug Makers

In News:

Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has exempted manufacturers of bulk drugs and intermediates from Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) till 30th September as an interim measure.

It was done to expedite clearances to such manufacturers and intermediaries which are making medicines related to Covid-19.

Key Points:

All proposals for projects or activities in respect of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API, also called Bulk Drugs), received up to the 30th September 2020, shall be appraised as Category B2 projects, provided that any subsequent amendment or expansion or change in product mix, after the 30th September 2020, shall be considered as per the provisions in force at that time.

Rules notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 classify projects into three categories:

  1. a) Category A Projects- These are appraised by the Union Ministry.
  2. b) Category B Projects- These are appraised by the states.
  3. c) Category B2 Projects- These are projects which are exempted from EIA and public hearings.

The drug production and availability to reduce the impact of the Novel CoronaVirus are to be ensured as part of a comprehensive and robust system to handle the outbreak.

Environment Impact Assessment:

It is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines EIA as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making.

It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.

Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on its methodology and process.

 

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