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14 March Current Affairs

COVID-19 Now Pandemic: WHO

In News:

According to the latest assessment of the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic now.

Details:

According to the WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.

On the other hand, an epidemic is a large outbreak, one that spreads among a population or region. It is less severe than pandemic due to a limited area of spread.

Key Points:

WHO noted with concern that 1,18,000 positive cases have been reported globally in 114 countries and more than 90% of cases are in just four countries.

81 countries had not reported any cases and 57 countries had reported 10 cases or less.

Preventive Measures by India:

The Indian government has issued a new travel advisory stating that all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, U.N./International Organisations, employment, project visas, stand suspended till 15th April, beginning from 13th March.

Visa-free travel facility granted to OCI cardholders is also suspended for the same duration.

Any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reason may contact the nearest Indian Mission.

All incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15th Feb shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.

International traffic through land borders will be restricted as well.

The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has issued an advisory to take all necessary steps in public transport vehicles to ensure sanitation of seats, handles and bars.

India will send a team of doctors to Italy for testing its nationals for coronavirus to bring them back, while samples of 529 more people have been brought from Iran.

The Union Home Ministry has transferred some of its power to the Union Health Ministry for tackling the COVID-19 if the outbreak turns out to be a disaster of national proportions.

Divya Kala Shakti: Witnessing the Abilities in Disabilities

In News:

The first ever regional event “Divya Kala Shakti: Witnessing the Abilities in Disabilities” is being organized in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) on 12th March, 2020.

Key Points:

Divya Kala Shakti is a cultural event which provides a wider and unique platform to showcase the potential of Persons with Differently Abled in the field of performing art, music, dance, acrobatics etc.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had organized the event at national level on 18th April and 23rd July 2019.

In Chennai, the event is being organized by the National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities (Divyangjan), Chennai in collaboration with Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India.

About 98 children and youth with different disabilities from the Southern region will participate in the event. They will perform dance, music, etc. in classical, folk and modern style.

This event also includes for the first time Yoga and Acrobatics.

National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities (NIEPMD) was established in the year 2005 in Chennai under the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. It serves as a national resource center for empowerment of persons with Multiple Disabilities.

Zero Accident Mission of Railways

Mission Zero Accident was one of the Missions announced in the Railway Budget 2016-17. It comprises the following two sub-missions.

1) Elimination of Unmanned Level Crossings (UMLC): All unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge were eliminated in January 2019.

2) Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS): Train Collision Avoidance System is an indigenous Automatic Train protection (ATP) system developed in association with Indian manufacturers. The system is under implementation South Central Railway.

In the Budget 2017-18, an exclusive fund called “Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh” (RRSK) was created with a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore over a period of 5 years for giving a major boost to safety related works.

Safety category staff is given training in Disaster Management with emphasis on Relief, Rescue and Rehabilitation (three ‘R’s), Threat Perception and Emergency Response, Fighting and use of fire Extinguishers and First Aid.

Railway Training Institutes are allocated funds on an annual basis for development of infrastructure, development of training modules/training materials, conduct of training programmes etc.

Further, in compliance with orders of the Supreme Court of India and as recommended by a committee of experts constituted at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), instructions have been issued to provide a Medical Box containing life saving medicines, equipments, oxygen cylinder etc. at all Railway stations and passenger carrying trains.

White Giraffe

In News:

Poachers have killed two extremely rare white giraffes in northeast Kenya, leaving just one such animal in the world.

Key Points:

The white giraffes were first spotted in 2016.

The white appearance of the giraffe is due to leucism, a genetic condition that causes skin cells to have no pigmentation.

Leucism is different from albinism where no melanin is produced at all.

Melanin is a dark biological pigment found in skin, hair, feathers, scales, eyes, and some internal membranes.

Giraffe:

Giraffes are most often found in savanna/woodland habitats and range widely throughout Africa.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had classified giraffes as vulnerable in the Red List in December 2016, when it noted that their population had dropped by over 40% since 1985.

According to IUCN, the four principal factors that have led to a population decline among giraffes are habitat loss, civil unrest, poaching and ecological issues.

Giraffes are listed under Appendix II of the CITES.

Sahyadri Megha: New Paddy Variety

In News:

The University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences (UAHS), Shivamogga (Karnataka), has developed a new variety of paddy, ‘Sahyadri Megha’.

The University has developed the new variety to prevent decline in the area under paddy cultivation.

Sahyadri Megha:

Sahyadri Megha is a red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast disease and rich in nutrients.

It was developed under the hybridization breeding method by cross-breeding the best among the ‘Jyothi’ variety with that of ‘Akkalu’, a disease-resistant and protein-rich paddy variety.

The new variety will be notified under the Indian Seed Act 1966 shortly after which it will become part of the seed chain.

Key Attributes:

The protein content in it is 12.48%, higher than the other red rice varieties grown.

The yield per hectare from ‘Sahyadri Megha’ is around 65 quintals, substantially higher than other red paddy varieties.

It is a medium-term paddy that can be grown when there is a delay in the onset of monsoon. It can be harvested after 120 days of sowing.

Blast Disease:

It is caused by fungus Pyricularia grisea (P. oryzae).

Also known as rotten neck or rice fever.

First recorded in India during 1918.

Expected grain loss : 70 to 80%.

Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020

In News:

Major Port Authorities Bill 2020 Introduced in The Loksabha.

Aims and objectives:

Decentralise decision making and infuse professionalism in governance of major ports.

Impart faster and transparent decision making benefiting the stakeholders and better project execution capability.

Reorient the governance model in central ports to landlord port model in line with the successful global practice.

Implications:

The bill will replace the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963.

This will empower the Major Ports to perform with greater efficiency on account of full autonomy in decision making and by modernizing the institutional framework of Major Ports.

The salient features of the Major Port Authorities Bill 2020 are:

Compared to the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963 the bill reduces the number of sections to 76 from 134 by eliminating overlapping and obsolete Sections.

Simplified composition of the Board of Port Authority which will comprise of 11 to 13 Members from the present 17 to 19 Members representing various interests.

Provision has been made for inclusion of representative of State Government in which the Major Port is situated, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Defence and Customs, Department of Revenue as Members in the Board apart from a Government Nominee Member and a Member representing the employees of the Major Port Authority.

Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) has now been given powers to fix tariff which will act as a reference tariff for purposes of bidding for PPP projects.  PPP operators will be free to fix tariff based on market conditions.

An Adjudicatory Board has been proposed to be created to carry out the residual function of the erstwhile TAMP for Major Ports, to look into disputes between ports and PPP concessionaires, to review stressed PPP projects and suggest measures to review stressed PPP projects.

The Boards of Port Authority have been delegated full powers to enter into contracts, planning and development, fixing of tariff except in national interest, security and emergency arising out of inaction and default.

The Board of each Major Port shall be entitled to create specific master plan in respect of any development or infrastructure established or proposed to be established within the port limits and the land appurtenant thereto and such master plan shall be independent of any local or State Government regulations of any authority whatsoever.

Provision has been made for safeguarding the pay & allowances and service conditions including pensionary benefits of the employees of major ports and Tariff of Major Ports.

What is landlord model?

In the landlord port model, the publicly governed port authority acts as a regulatory body and as landlord while private companies carry out port operations—mainly cargo-handling activities.

Here, the port authority maintains ownership of the port while the infrastructure is leased to private firms that provide and maintain their own superstructure and install own equipment to handle cargo.

In return, the landlord port gets a share of the revenue from the private entity.

The role of the landlord port authority would be to carry out all public sector services and operations such as the award of bids for cargo terminals and dredging.

Need:

Currently, most major port trusts in India carry out terminal operations as well, resulting in a hybrid model of port governance.

The involvement of the port authorities in terminal operations leads to a conflict of interest and works against objectivity.

The neutrality of the landlord port authority is a basic requirement for fair competition between port service providers, particularly the terminal operators.

Amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act

In News:

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is in the process of amending the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, to make the social media platforms more responsive and accountable. The rules are being finalised.

The government had first released the draft for proposed amendments to the IT Act in December 2018, inviting public comments.

Background:

In December 2018, to crack down on spread of fake news and rumours circulated on online platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and other online platforms, the central government has proposed stringent changes under the draft of Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) that govern online content.

Implications:

The proposed amendments in the draft of the Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018, Rule 3(9) is bound to force social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to remain vigil and keep users on their toes before posting or sharing anything that is deemed as “unlawful information or content”.

The changes proposed by the central government is aimed at curbing fake news or rumours being spread on social media and check mob violence ahead.

What the new rules propose?

The changes will require online platforms to break end-to-end encryption in order to ascertain the origin of messages.

The social media platforms to “deploy technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls, for proactively identifying or removing or disabling access to unlawful information or content”.

As per the amendment, the social media platforms will need to comply with the central government “within 72 hours” of a query.

There should be a ‘Nodal person of Contact for 24X7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance.

The social media platforms will be keeping a vigil on “unlawful activity” for a period of “180 days”.

What necessitated this?

With concerns over “rising incidents of violence and lynching in the country due to misuse of social media platforms”, there is now need for online platforms to shoulder the “responsibility, accountability and larger commitment to ensure that its platform is not misused on a large scale to spread incorrect facts projected as news and designed to instigate people to commit crime”.

Criticisms:

The proposed changes have once again given rise to a debate on whether the government is intruding into the privacy of individuals, evoking sharp response from opposition parties. Similar apprehensions were raised with the Section 66A of the IT Act that enabled authorities to arrest users for posting content which was termed as offensive. However, the Supreme Court on March 24, 2015, struck down the law.

Need for stringent measures:

India has the second highest number of internet users in the world after China, an estimated 462.12 million. Among them, 258.27 million were likely to be social network users in the country in 2019.