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15 October Current Affairs

Justice Verma Committee

In News:

The Centre recently announced its plan to set up a panel of judges to look into the legal and institutional framework to curb sexual harassment at workplaces following the #MeToo campaign on social media.

Details:

However, as early as 2013, the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, in its landmark report on gender laws, had recommended setting up of an employment tribunal instead of an internal complaints committee (ICC) in sweeping changes to the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill.

The panel was formed in the aftermath of the December 16 Nirbhaya gangrape in 2012 and the ensuing nationwide protests, and submitted its report on January 23, 2013.

Background:

At that time of the submission of the report, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill had already been passed by the Lok Sabha and was awaiting the Rajya Sabha’s nod. The Bill was passed unchanged by the Upper House a month later.

The Committee, chaired by Justice Verma and including Justice Leila Seth and senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium, termed the Sexual Harassment Bill “unsatisfactory” and said it did not reflect the spirit of the Vishakha guidelines — framed by the Supreme Court in 1997 to curb sexual harassment at the workplace.

Major recommendations made by the panel:

Punishment for Rape: The panel has not recommended the death penalty for rapists. It suggests that the punishment for rape should be rigorous imprisonment or RI for seven years to

Punishment for other sexual offences: The panel recognised the need to curb all forms of sexual offences and recommended  – Voyeurism be punished with upto seven years in jail; stalking or attempts to contact a person repeatedly through any means by  up to three years. Acid attacks would be punished by up to seven years if imprisonment; trafficking will be punished with RI for seven  to ten years.

Registering complaints and medical examination: Every complaint of rape must be registered by the police and civil society should perform its duty to report any case of rape coming to its knowledge. Any officer, who fails to register a case of rape reported to him, or attempts to abort its investigation, commits an offence which shall be punishable as prescribed.

Marriages to be registered: As a primary recommendation, all marriages in India (irrespective of the personal laws under which such marriages are solemnised) should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate. The magistrate will ensure that the marriage has been solemnised without any demand for dowry having been made and that it has taken place with the full and free consent of both partners.

Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure: The panel observed, “The manner in which the rights of women can be recognised can only be manifested when they have full access to justice and when the rule of law can be upheld in their favour.” The proposed Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2012, should be modified, suggests the panel.

Bill of Rights for women: A separate Bill of Rights for women that entitles a woman a life of dignity and security and will ensure that a woman shall have the right to have complete sexual autonomy including with respect to her relationships.

Review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act: The panel has observed that the “impunity of systematic sexual violence is being legitimised by the armed forces special powers act.” It has said there is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA in areas as soon as possible. It has also recommended posting special commissioners for women’s safety in conflict areas.

Police reforms: To inspire public confidence, the panel said, “police officers with reputations of outstanding ability and character must be placed at the higher levels of the police force.” All existing appointments need to be reviewed to ensure that the police force has the requisite moral vision.

Role of the judiciary: The judiciary has the primary responsibility of enforcing fundamental rights, through constitutional remedies. The judiciary can take suo motu cognizance of such issues being deeply concerned with them both in the Supreme Court and the High Court. An all India strategy to deal with this issue would be advisable. The Chief Justice of India could be approached to commence appropriate proceedings on the judicial side. The Chief Justice may consider making appropriate orders relating to the issue of missing children to curb the illegal trade of their trafficking etc.

Political Reforms: The Justice Verma committee observed that reforms are needed to deal with criminalisation of politics. The panel has suggest that, in the event cognizance has been taken by a magistrate of an criminal offence, the candidate ought to be disqualified from participating in the electoral process. Any candidate who fails to disclose a charge should be disqualified subsequently.  It suggested lawmakers facing criminal charges, who have already been elected to Parliament and state legislatures, should voluntarily vacate their seats.

Source: The Hindu

Data Localisation

In News:

A last-minute effort to dilute the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) directive on data localisation by American global payment companies has triggered direct intervention by US lawmakers urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to soften tough stand taken by the country’s monetary authority.

Details:

The US companies want Donald Trump administration to put pressure on Indian authorities in a bid to seek relaxation on the RBI order of ensuring implementation of data localisation by 15 October. US companies have been lobbying with the Finance Ministry and the RBI over the issue.

Background:

U.S trade groups, representing companies such as Amazon, American Express and Microsoft, have opposed India’s push to store data locally. That push comes amid rising global efforts to protect user data but is one that could hit planned investments by the firms in the Indian market, where the companies currently have limited data storage.

What does Data Localization mean?

Data localization is the act of storing data on any device that is physically present within the borders of a specific country where the data was generated. Free flow of digital data, especially data which could impact government operations or operations in a region, is restricted by some governments. Many attempt to protect and promote security across borders, and therefore encourage data localization.

Policy goals:

Goals set in the Draft National Digital Communications Policy 2018, along with various government notifications and guidelines such as Reserve Bank of India’s notification on Payment Data Storage 2018, and the Guidelines for Government Departments for Contractual Terms related to Cloud Storage 2017, show signs of data localisation.

The rationale behind such mandates has been attributed to various factors, such as: securing citizen’s data, data privacy, data sovereignty, national security, and economic development of the country. The extensive data collection by technology companies, due to their unfettered access and control of user data, has allowed them to freely process and monetise Indian users’ data outside the country.

Why technology firms are worried?

Stricter localisation norms would help India get easier access to data when conducting investigations, but critics say it could lead to increased government demands for data access. Technology firms worry the mandate would hurt their planned investments by raising costs related to setting up new local data centres.

Why government is in favour of data localisation?

Greater use of digital platforms in India for shopping or social networking have made it a lucrative market for technology companies, but a rising number of data breaches have pushed New Delhi to develop strong data protection rules.

Also, minimal or deregulated governance on critical data, due to absence of localisation requirements, could be detrimental to India’s national security as data would be outside the purview of existing data protection legislation. The ineffectiveness of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) in this realm aggravates such government fears.

In addition to these, India also aspires to become a global hub for, among others, cloud computing, data hosting and international data centres, all of which are prompting the government to enact data localisation requirements for accelerating the nation’s economic growth, especially in the sphere of digital technologies.

Is data localisation the solution to physical data access and decryption of enciphered data? Can data localisation be conflated with access?

The proposed law by Srikrishna Committee cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to some events; it has to be in line with the SC judgement, which supports the march of technology, innovations, growth of knowledge, and big data analytics for the growth of economies, and for better services to citizens. It recognizes the role of data driven innovation (DDI) for the growth of economies, and for job creation. But it emphasises that the data so collected be utilised for legitimate purposes.

Way ahead:

Though these policy goals are justifiable, a deeper analysis is required to determine the possible adverse spill-over effects on relevant stakeholders in case a faulty roadmap is adopted to achieve them.

Adequate attention needs to be given to the interests of India’s Information Technology Enabled Services (ITeS) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries, which are thriving on cross-border data flow.

Source: The Hindu

Sikkim wins FAO’s Future Policy Award 2018

In News:

Sikkim has been awarded UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Future Policy Gold Award (Gold Prize) for its achievement in becoming the world’s first totally organic agriculture state.

Background:

Sikkim became the first fully organic state of India in 2016. Over the years around 75000 hectares of land in the state has been converted into certified organic farms following the guidelines as prescribed by National Programme for Organic Production.

Within 1.24 million tonnes of organic production in the country around 80000 million is supplied by Sikkim alone.

Organic farming and its significance:

Organic cultivation doesn’t involve the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and thus helps to maintain a harmonious balance among the various complex ecosystems. Also it improves the quality of the soil which further improves the standards of the crops produced there. In the long term, organic farming leads in subsistence of agriculture, bio-diversity conservation and environmental protection. It will also help in building the soil health resulting in sustainable increased crop production.

The first steps towards an Organic State:

The first step towards making Sikkim an organic state was to recognise its natural factors that made it an ideal location for organic farming. These included its topography, the local use of traditional farming systems, the diversity of its climatic conditions and the fact the local soil is rich in organic carbon.

Then, in 2003, the ‘Going for Organic Farming in Sikkim’ programme was prepared, along with the Sikkim State Organic Board, which prioritised the creation of new infrastructures and the mobilising of resources. From here, a seven-year plan was introduced to ban chemical fertilisers – gradually replacing them with organic plant nutrients.

The initiatives that propelled Sikkim’s progress:

  • In 2004, the production of organic manure began, replacing other compost.
  • Between 2004 and 2006, two seed testing and processing units were introduced, as well as soil testing laboratories for studying soil health.
  • The Centre of Excellence for Organic Farming was created.
  • Starting in 2008, several organic certification programmes took place, with much of the land being certified by organisations such as the Department of Science and Technology and the Food Security and Agriculture Department.
  • In 2010, a bio fertiliser production unit was put together, and the National Level Workshop was introduced in Sikkim’s villages.
  • Later that year, a plan for the adoption of fully organic farming was put into place, known as the Sikkim Organic Mission.

Maintaining the state for the future- To ensure Sikkim stays green in the long term, there are a few additional initiatives that have been introduced to the state:

Firstly, animals are no longer allowed to graze in the reserve forest in order to conserve natural resources. There are still plenty of other spaces for animals to graze, while protecting this land.

Plastic bags have been banned, encouraging shoppers to take their own bags to the store to cut down on plastic manufacturing and waste.

The State Green Mission was launched, which includes planting fruit bearing trees, plantation drives and more.

Future Policy Gold Award:

The prizes, nicknamed the “Oscar for best policies”, honour exceptional policies adopted by political leaders who have decided to act, no longer accepting widespread hunger, poverty or environmental degradation.

Previously it was honoured for policies combating desertification, violence against women and girls, nuclear weapons and pollution of the oceans.

Source: The Hindu

BepiColombo

In News:

European Space Agency’s (Esa) first mission to Mercury- BepiColombo, is all set for launch.

Details:

The four-tonne spacecraft will be launched into orbit by Esa’s rocket Ariane 5 from the European spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, on 20 October.

It will then make a 5.2bn mile (8.5bn km) journey over seven years to reach its destination by 2025.

About BepiColombo:

BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), executed under ESA leadership.

The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The MPO will study the surface and internal composition of the planet, and the MMO will study Mercury’s magnetosphere, that is, the region of space around the planet that is influenced by its magnetic field.

Need: The scientific interest in going to Mercury lies in the valuable information that such a mission can provide to enhance our understanding of the planet itself as well as the formation of our Solar System; information which cannot be obtained with observations made from Earth.

Challenges: Europe’s space scientists have identified the mission as one of the most challenging long-term planetary projects, because Mercury’s proximity to the Sun makes it difficult for a spacecraft to reach the planet and to survive in the harsh environment found there.

Significance: Mercury is a poorly explored planet. So far, only two spacecraft have visited the planet: NASA’s Mariner 10, which flew past three times in 1974–5 and returned the first close-up images of the planet, and NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which performed three flybys (two in 2008 and one in 2009) before entering orbit around the planet in March 2011. The information obtained when BepiColombo arrives will throw light not only on the composition and history of Mercury, but also on the history and formation of the inner planets in general, including Earth.

Source: ToI

Delhi To Enforce Emergency Plan

In News:

With the Air Quality Index or AQI moving to the “poor” category, the Central Pollution Control Board has decided to implement an emergency action plan in the National Capital.

Key facts:

An AQI in the range of 0-50 is considered ‘good’, 51-100 ‘satisfactory’, 101-200 ‘moderate’, 201-300 ‘poor’, 301-400 ‘very poor’ and 401-500 ‘severe’.

The Supreme Court has empowered the Environment Pollution Control Authority(EPCA) to take various measures to tackle pollution. Under the order, the EPCA has mandated enforcement of Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in the city.

Graded Action plan:

An emergency protocol under the Graded Response Action Plan which involve a series of measures on basis of the Air Quality Index are set to be implemented. When the mark is between moderate and poor category, the burning of garbage will be stopped and pollution control regulations will be enforced.

If the air quality drops to very poor category, additional measures will be taken including stopping of diesel gensets, enhancing parking fees and increasing frequency of metro and buses.

For severe and very severe category air quality, additional measures would include frequent mechanised cleaning of roads and sprinkling of water, stopping entry of trucks, stopping construction activities and appointment of task force to take decisions like shutting of schools.

Background:

Over the last several years, air quality in Delhi begins sliding from October-November as winds slow down and temperature drops. Pollutants like sand particles and smoke get trapped, turning the national capital virtually into a gas chamber.

The particulate matter in Delhi’s air went off charts last year, pushing up the level of pollutants to 10 times more than Chinese capital Beijing, known as the world’s most polluted city.

About Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA):

EPCA was constituted with the objective of ‘protecting and improving’ the quality of the environment and ‘controlling environmental pollution’ in the National Capital Region. The EPCA also assists the apex court in various environment-related matters in the region.

EPCA is Supreme Court mandated body tasked with taking various measures to tackle air pollution in the National Capital Region. It was notified in 1998 by Environment Ministry under Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Composition:

Besides the chairman, the EPCA has 14 members, some of whom are the environment secretary of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT), chairperson of the New Delhi Municipal Council, transport commissioner of the NCT, the commissioners of various municipal corporations of Delhi and professors at IIT Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Functions:

  • To protect and improve quality of environment and prevent and control environmental pollution in National Capital Region.
  • To enforce Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in NCR as per the pollution levels.

Source: The Hindu

Mount Etna

In News:

The southeast flank of Mount Etna in Sicily is sliding towards the sea at a rate of several centimetres a year.

Details:

It’s likely caused by gravity pulling on Etna’s lower underwater slopes, far from the summit.

Concerns: The kind of stress that this movement creates inside volcanoes can cause devastating landslides. This means Etna is more susceptible to catastrophic collapse than had previously been realised.

About Mt. Etna:

  • Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and one of the world’s most frequently erupting volcanoes. It is also the volcano with the longest record of continuous eruption.
  • Located near the east coast of the island of Sicily in Italy, Mount Etna is 10,900 feet (3,329 meters) tall with a base circumference of about 93 miles (150 kilometers).
  • The mountain’s largest feature is the Valle del Bove (Valley of the Ox), a large horseshoe-shaped caldera on the eastern slope.
  • Etna sits on the active fault between the African plate and the Ionian microplate, which are both being subducted together beneath the Eurasian plate.
  • In June 2013, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  • Due to its history of recent activity and nearby population, Mount Etna has been designated a Decade Volcano by the United Nations.

Einstein Prize

In News:

Indian American Professor Abhay Ashtekar has been conferred with prestigious Einstein Prize for numerous and seminal contributions to general relativity, including the theory of black holes, canonical quantum gravity, and quantum cosmology.

About Einstein Prize:

  • The Einstein Prize is a biennial prize awarded by the American Physical Society.
  • The recipients are chosen for their outstanding accomplishments in the field of gravitational physics.
  • The prize carries an award of $10,000.
  • The prize is special because is it the highest honour bestowed by APS in the broad area of gravitational science.
  • The first Einstein prize was awarded jointly to Peter Bergmann and John Wheeler, who introduced general relativity to American universities by creating research groups.

National Health Profile-2018

  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released an Analytical Report of the National Health Profile-2018.
  • The profile has been prepared by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI), CBHI has been publishing National Health Profile every year since 2005.
  • The National Health Profile covers demographic, socio-economic, health status and health finance indicators, along with comprehensive information on health infrastructure and human resources in health.
  • The Analytical Report of National Health Profile 2018 indicates that significant progress has been made in the country for various health outcomes, which is an encouraging sign.

National Health Resource Repository (NHRR)

  • NHRR is the country’s first ever national healthcare facility registry of authentic, standardized and updated geo-spatial data of all public & private healthcare establishments.
  • This web based database of healthcare resources with visualization will immensely support the healthcare policy makers to enable evidence based decision making to strengthen the Indian health system.
  • NHRR will cohesively work with Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM) and Central TB Division (CTD) on an integrated plan for the larger benefit of ensuing Hospital empanelment and private sector engagement.

Bombay Blood Group

  • The general types of blood group are A, B, AB and O, Matching of the blood types of the donor and the recipient is vital, else it could lead to serious life-threatening complications.
  • Apart from the general blood group types like O, A, B, or AB, there is a special type called (hh)-, a rare one first discovered in Bombay in 1952, and hence christened as Bombay Blood.
  • People who carry this rare blood type, about 1 in 10, 000 Indians, can accept blood only from another Bombay Blood type individual, and not from anyone who is O, A, B or AB type.

Turbidity Currents

  • Turbidity currents are fast-moving currents that sweep down submarine canyons, carrying sand and mud into the deep sea.
  • However, there is more to them than just sediment-laden seawater flowing over the sea floor, and they also involve large-scale movements of the sea floor itself.
  • This discovery could help ocean engineers avoid damage to pipelines, communications cables, and other sea floor structures.
  • Turbidity currents are threat, as people place more and more cables, pipelines, and other structures on the sea floor.
  • Turbidity currents are also important to petroleum geologists because they leave behind layers of sediment that comprise some of the world’s largest oil reserves.

National Health Profile-2018

  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released an Analytical Report of the National Health Profile-2018.
  • The profile has been prepared by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI), CBHI has been publishing National Health Profile every year since 2005.
  • The National Health Profile covers demographic, socio-economic, health status and health finance indicators, along with comprehensive information on health infrastructure and human resources in health.
  • The Analytical Report of National Health Profile 2018 indicates that significant progress has been made in the country for various health outcomes, which is an encouraging sign.

National Health Resource Repository (NHRR)

  • NHRR is the country’s first ever national healthcare facility registry of authentic, standardized and updated geo-spatial data of all public & private healthcare establishments.
  • This web based database of healthcare resources with visualization will immensely support the healthcare policy makers to enable evidence based decision making to strengthen the Indian health system.
  • NHRR will cohesively work with Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM) and Central TB Division (CTD) on an integrated plan for the larger benefit of ensuing Hospital empanelment and private sector engagement.

Bombay Blood Group

  • The general types of blood group are A, B, AB and O, Matching of the blood types of the donor and the recipient is vital, else it could lead to serious life-threatening complications.
  • Apart from the general blood group types like O, A, B, or AB, there is a special type called (hh)-, a rare one first discovered in Bombay in 1952, and hence christened as Bombay Blood.
  • People who carry this rare blood type, about 1 in 10, 000 Indians, can accept blood only from another Bombay Blood type individual, and not from anyone who is O, A, B or AB type.

Turbidity Currents

  • Turbidity currents are fast-moving currents that sweep down submarine canyons, carrying sand and mud into the deep sea.
  • However, there is more to them than just sediment-laden seawater flowing over the sea floor, and they also involve large-scale movements of the sea floor itself.
  • This discovery could help ocean engineers avoid damage to pipelines, communications cables, and other sea floor structures.
  • Turbidity currents are threat, as people place more and more cables, pipelines, and other structures on the sea floor.
  • Turbidity currents are also important to petroleum geologists because they leave behind layers of sediment that comprise some of the world’s largest oil reserves.

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