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24 June Current Affairs

MEA rejects U.S. report on state of religious freedom in India

In News:

Foreign governments do not have the right to criticise India’s vibrant democracy and dedication to rule of law, said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), after the U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom pointed out India’s failure to protect minority communities.

Details:

“We see no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights”.

Pompeo visit:

The Hindu reported earlier that the report was released by Mr. Pompeo himself, and he referred to the issue of religious freedom as a “deeply personal” priority.

Background:

The 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom referred to multiple instances of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and various State governments of the Bharatiya Janata Party having taken steps that hurt the Muslim community.

The official spokesperson, however, maintained that India was proud of its “secular credentials”, saying, “it is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect the fundamental rights.” Apart from the murders and lynching by cow vigilante groups, the report pointed out that there were several attempts to undermine minority institutions and change the names of cities that reminded one of the pluralistic nature of India. In this regard, the report highlighted the change of the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj.

Vulnerable Ranganathittu bird sanctuary to get a solid makeover

In News:

The revamping and strengthening work at Ranganathittu bird sanctuary is expected to commence shortly, with the Forest Department — the custodian of the sanctuary — finalising plans for it.

Background:

The bird sanctuary on the banks of the Cauvery, near Srirangapatna, comprises a group of islands and is spread over an area of around 40 acres. It was formed when Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar of the then Mysuru royal family constructed an embankment across the Cauvery in 1648. Ranganathittu became a “bird sanctuary” in 1940 owing to the initiatives/interest of noted ornithologist Salim Ali.

Details:

Over 200 species of migratory and Indian birds, at least 60,000 in number, arrive here every year for nesting and breeding.

The turbulence in the river and subsequent submergence of islands had severely disturbed the avians in 2018 during rainy season.

Incessant turbulence in the Cauvery for nearly two weeks in July last, owing to heavy water release from the upstream Krishnaraja Sagar, had caused massive damage. Many trees were uprooted and nests were washed away.

An island-to-island inspection was conducted in August last year to assess the damage inflicted by the deluge. Later, it was decided to initiate measures to strengthen the islands, they added.

The soil stabilisation [strengthening the island] measures have already been conducted at seven islands. Similar works would be initiated at eight more major islands.

The department has named each island after the bird variety and tree species for easy identification.

Prevent Measures:

To prevent soil erosion during increased flow in the Cauvery, the department will widen the islands and strengthen the boundaries with boulders. It will also keep mud bags as they act as a protective layer, besides improving the thickness of the islands by dumping mud.

After taking these preventive steps, plants of different species will be planted to increase the tree count. The protective layer will stop the soil from eroding and will lead to the growth of necessary shrubs in every island so that sufficient vegetation is available for birds for nesting.

Southwest monsoon’s current rainfall deficit is 38%, says IMD

In News:

With the Southwest monsoon running late, the country faces a 38% current rainfall deficit, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

Details:

The IMD said the country as a whole received 70.9 mm rainfall so far this monsoon season, whereas the long period average is 114.2 mm. This leaves a shortfall of 38%.

The rain deficit has depleted reservoirs, besides delaying sowing of summer foodgrain crops. Parts of central and peninsular India are staring at a drought for the second successive year.

Farmers’ plea:

Farmers’ groups are demanding that the government declare drought in affected areas without waiting till the end of the monsoon, so that relief measures can begin this month. “There must not be any delay in the declaration of drought. Instead of waiting for the end of the monsoon, drought must be declared in all those districts where sowing has been severely affected owing to 50% or greater deficit in June”.

According to the latest report from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the country has only received 43% of the normal monsoon rainfall so far.

Worst hit areas:

Out of 36 meteorological divisions, only six divisions have received normal rainfall or more. In terms of districts; 47% face large deficiencies (at least 60% below normal) or no rainfall at all. In total, almost 80% of districts face a rainfall deficit of at least 20% below normal. The Vidarbha region, with an 89% monsoon deficit, is worst affected. Regions like Marathwada and Madhya Maharashtra are also facing drought-like situations, especially as they faced deficits in pre-monsoon rainfall as well.

According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), 80% of the country’s 91 major reservoirs have below-normal storage. In fact, 11 reservoirs have no water at all.

Summer or kharif sowing is lagging behind as a result of the tardy monsoon, with just over half of the area usually sown with foodgrain crops covered so far. Out of almost 32 lakh hectares that have usually been sown by foodgrains by this time, farmers have only planted 17 lakh hectares so far. Since this is early in the season, the gap is expected to close if the monsoon picks up steam.

Biggest delays:

The biggest delays are in pulses and oilseeds, which are dryland crops completely dependent on monsoon rains. Rice, which is usually sown in irrigated land, is only slightly slower than usual. Sugarcane, a water-guzzling cash crop, has actually been sown on a larger amount of land than usual.

The AIKSCC has also demanded that the Central norms for crop loss compensation (input subsidy) must be revised to at least Rs. 10,000 per acre for un-irrigated land and proportionately higher amounts for irrigated land and horticultural crops. Crop insurance must be paid in full and in a timely manner, while the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) must ensure that farmers are not denied credit due to impending drought.

‘Guarantee work’:

The farmers’ groups called on the government to extend the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) from 100 to 150 days of work in drought-affected areas, and offer the job guarantee to every adult, not every household.

Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology to go paperless from Oct.

In News:

Patients need not go the medical records section for their file, but can head directly to the doctor, who will have access to the patients medical history and records online. “From October, Kidwai will become paperless. It will be the first government hospital in Karnataka to execute the Union government’s e-hospital project”.

Aim:

The project aims to integrate and manage all aspects of a hospital’s operations, such as health records, financial, administrative, and legal.

Details:

How does it work?

“On entering, the e-hospital portal will register the patient in the hospital system at the OPD (out-patient department). A patient’s identification number will be generated, after which the patient will be given a health card. At the electronic queue management centre, they will be issued a token, which will tell them where to go and which doctor to see”.

With all patient records online, all that the doctor needs to do is enter the patient’s identification number to access all prior information, such as medical history, allergies, and demographic data. “After the consultation, the doctor will enter the diagnosis, prescription, and any further tests that need to be done into the system. If the patient needs to undergo a blood test, he/she will be directed to the lab where the technician would have already received information about the patient. The blood sample will then be labelled with a bar code, enabling the technician to retrieve vital information before recording the test results”.

Appointments:

The e-hospital project will also facilitate booking of online appointments, and patients who are unable to book online can also walk in directly. There will be separate counters for walk-in patients.

“If the patient asks for a prescription, medical record or discharge summary, they will give them a print out”.

Five new OTs:

The hospital has added five new state-of-the-art operation theatres to its existing eight theatres.

Funded by Infosys Foundation, the operation theatres will help take up more cases of robotic surgery and considerably reduce the three to four-week waiting period.

The theatres are equipped with high-end beds, sensor-based doors that can restrict unauthorised entry into the operating area, and high-end lighting system.

Ex-HC judge questions ministers’ appointment

In News:

Justice Abhay Thipsay, a retired judge of the Bombay High Court, has raised questions over the appointment of Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Jaydutt Kshirsagar as ministers in the Maharashtra government.

Details:

Their appointment is in violation of principles of democracy and constitutional provisions.

“Mr. Vikhe-Patil was elected MLA on a Congress ticket from Shirdi in 2014. He then became the Leader of Opposition. Mr. Kshirsagar was elected a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA from Beed in 2014.”

He said Mr. Vikhe-Patil and Mr. Kshirsagar were MLAs till they resigned from their original parties and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, respectively.

“Since they resigned from the parties from which they were elected to the Assembly, they also resigned as MLAs. But on joining the new parties, they were inducted as ministers in the State Cabinet. This is patently illegal.”

Paragraph 2 of the 10th Schedule provides for ‘disqualification on the ground of defection.

Project to beautify Taj Mahal stalled

In News:

A proposal by the Uttar Pradesh government to construct a barrage across the Yamuna, a kilometre and a half away from the Taj Mahal, is stuck between two expert committees of the Union Environment Ministry.

Details:

Each committee, consisting of eminent experts, thinks that it’s the other panel that should be taking a call on the future of the project, a perusal of the public records of meetings and discussions in the Ministry shows.

The project of the Irrigation Department envisages construction of a barrage for “securing the foundation of the Taj Mahal, improving the water level at Agra, beautifying and navigating the Yamuna at 1.50 km downstream of the Taj Mahal.”

Water all through year:

Such a storage, generally used in irrigation and hydro-electricity projects, would ensure a minimum quantity of water all through the year.

It would help to recharge the ground water and facilitate navigation through river routes. That stretch of the Yamuna is a National Waterway (Delhi to Allahabad) and the barrage would serve as an alternative to motorised transport and would also help to develop a green belt around the pond which would “improve the environment around the Taj Mahal”.

A discussion on the scheme first began at the Union Environment Ministry on October 11 last year. A committee led by Satish Wate, former Director of the CSIR-National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, ruled that the project ought to be evaluated by the Environment Appraisal Committee (River Valley and Hydro Electric Projects). This committee, on February 27, held that the project did not involve hydropower generation or irrigation and therefore was better suited for another Environment Ministry committee — the one on infrastructure projects — and known as the EAC (Infrastructure Projects-2).

On May 27, as minutes of a meeting held by the EAC (Infrastructure Projects) show, committee members concluded that the project involved the development of a “conventional” barrage and “…the components in the proposal primarily fall under the jurisdiction of EAC looking after construction of dams/barrages/river valley projects, since they have experts from the relevant fields who can better appraise the proposal and suggests suitable environmental safeguards/mitigation measures.”

Therefore, the committee recommended passing it back to the EAC (River Valley and HEP).

Activists plant saplings in Arasinamakki

In a continuous drive for planting saplings of fruit-bearing trees in reserve forest areas, environmental activists and enthusiasts planted 450 such saplings in the Arasinamakki area near Shishila in Dakshina Kannada. A joint initiative by the National Environment Care Foundation (NECF), Mangaluru, the Department of Forests and Sahaya Group of St. Aloysius College, Mangaluru, the enthusiasts planted saplings of local fruits such as mango, jackfruit, jamun, wild jack, kokum and guava.

ILS develops antibodies against Chikungunya infection

In News:

The Institute of Life Sciences (ILS), which functions under the Department of Biotechnology, has entered into a non-exclusive license for product commercialisation after having successfully developed antibodies against the Chikungunya viral (CHIKV) infection.

Details:

The antibodies were developed following decade-long research on the CHIKV infection at the ILS laboratory headed by Dr. Soma Chattopadhyay, a senior molecular virologist. In fact, Dr. Chattopadhyay has been selected for the Biotech Product, Process Development and Commercialisation Award 2019 by the Department of Biotechnology.

The ILS will partner with a biotechnology-based company for product commercialisation and marketing of antibodies in a 60:40 profit sharing basis.

Significant impact:

“Generation of antibodies has had significant impact on the progress of CHIKV-based research. It will help researchers unravel myriad aspects of virus pathogenesis. Moreover, with greater light shed upon the CHIKV infection biology using these antibodies, research communities are now a step closer to developing efficacious antivirals and other control strategies against the Chikungunya virus”.

“With no prior antibodies reported against CHIKV, Dr. Chattopadhyay’s group was the first to develop and characterize novel, highly sensitive and specific polyclonal antibodies against the non-structural proteins – nsP1, nsP3 and nsP4 of CHIKV. Furthermore, her laboratory has also developed and characterized a monoclonal antibody against nsP2 of CHIKV”.

Lack of information:

The molecular virologist, who has 20 years of experience in the field, and her team, started working on this aspect as there was hardly any information on the basic mechanisms underlying CHIKV virus infection and pathogenesis.

“These CHIKV proteins were chosen as targets specifically for their critical role in virus survival as they largely govern the overall process of replication and infection in host cells. Development of these antibodies [nsP2 monoclonal, nsP1, nsP3 and nsP4 polyclonals] was therefore crucial to perform experiments pertaining to CHIKV infection, and thereby advance our basic knowledge”.

India searched for Pak. Submarine

Soon after the Pulwama terror attack, India pulled out its Navy from an exercise and deployed a major part of its fleet, including nuclear and conventional submarines, close to Pakistani territorial waters. During the aggressive deployment of the naval assets by the Indian side, the Pakistanis were getting an impression that New Delhi might use its maritime force to avenge the killing of 40 CRPF personnel in a suicide bombing by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

India was continuously keeping an eye on the movement of the Pakistani military but after the Indian Air Force hit the Jaish terrorist factory in Balakot, one of the most advanced Pakistani Agosta-class submarines — PNS Saad — vanished from the Pakistani waters.

Having accounted for all other surface warships and all the submarines, the vanishing act done by the PNS Saad fitted with air-independent propulsion (a technology which allows the submarines to stay for a longer period under water than normal submarines) swung the entire Indian Navy into action.

“The location near Karachi from where the PNS Saad vanished, it could reach the Gujarat coast in three days and the headquarters of the western fleet in Mumbai within five days and was seen as a major threat to the security of the country”.

The anti-submarine warfare specialist warships and aircraft were positioned to help in the hunt for the missing Pakistani submarine.

“In all the areas where it could have gone in the given time frame, extensive searches were carried out by the Indian Navy,” the sources said. After 21 days of an extensive search, the Indian Navy located the PNS Saad on the western side of Pakistan. It was sent there for hiding, to ensure a covert capability in case of extension of hostilities in the aftermath of the Balakot air strikes.

Plea in SC seeks protection for non-Nagas in Dimapur

In News:

A petition filed before the Supreme Court has sought a direction to the Centre and the Nagaland government to take appropriate steps for the protection of life and liberty, properties and other fundamental rights of non-Nagas living in the commercial hub of Dimapur following the imposition of the Inner Line Permit (ILP).

Details:

BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition, has challenged certain sections of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 which gives unbridled power to a State to prescribe ILP.

Section 2 of the Regulation empowers a State government to prescribe ‘Inner Line’ to prohibit citizens of India or any class of such citizens going beyond the prescribed line without a pass.

Mr. Upadhyay said the colonial-era regulation was passed by the then British government to prohibit Indian citizens to move in selects districts to create monopoly in business.

He said the State Cabinet had taken a decision to extend the operation of the 1873 Regulation in Dimapur.

“Therefore, many non-Nagas who have landed properties with commercial shops, godowns, etc. and who are staying in as tenants, and many locals who earn their income by means of collecting house rent from tenants would be adversely affected,” he said.

The plea said that “Gujaratis, Rajasthanis, Biharis, Jharkhandis, Bengalis, Gorkhas, Bodos, Dimasas, Karbis, Garos, etc. have been regarded as outsiders by the government of Nagaland, which is a racial discrimination.”

“Many traders/businessmen have to close down their business and leave Dimapur, a cosmopolitan town. Dimapur cannot be converted exclusively for hills tribes on racial ground when it was never an integral part of the Naga hills,” the petition said.

The petition contended that the imposition of the ILP would “create a country within a country … and create a monopoly of trade, commerce, business only for new settlers who have come down to Dimapur from the Naga Hills and bar perpetual residency and right to free moment to others”.

7-year jail for killing mongoose, birds

In News:

A court in western Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Council has set a precedent by wielding a hitherto unused law related to wildlife crime to hand out the maximum punishment to five poachers for killing birds and lesser animals such as mongoose.

Details:

Additional sessions judge at Bijni, N.U. Ahmed, referred to the 2009 Assam Amendment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 to pronounce his judgments. It warrants at least seven years in prison, extendable to 10 years, and a minimum fine of Rs. 50,000.

The five persons, Jay Ram Ray, Shibu Ram Ray and Rohen Boro, and Somnath Kisku and Dhojen Tudu, were sentenced for poaching deer, mongoose, hare and birds inside the Manas National Park.

In the case of Shibu Ram Ray and Rohen Boro, the judge, while declining to let them off under the Probation of Offender section of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, said poaching had made some species extinct and called for protecting wild animals.

Plants may be spreading superbugs to humans

Plant-based foods can transmit antibiotic resistance to the microbes living in our gut, a study has found.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are a threat to global public health, food safety and an economic burden.

To prevent these infections, it is critical to understand how these bacteria are transmitted.

“Findings highlight the importance of tackling food-borne antibiotic-resistance from a food chain perspective, including plant-foods and meat”.

Spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs from plants to humans is different from outbreaks of diarrheal illnesses caused immediately after eating contaminated vegetables. Superbugs can asymptomatically hide in (colonise) the intestines for months or even years, and while escaping, cause an infection.

The researchers developed a novel, lettuce-mouse model system that does not cause immediate illness to mimic consumption of superbugs with plant-foods.

They grew lettuce, exposed it to antibiotic-resistant E. coli, and fed it to mice. Later, they analysed their faecal samples over a period of time.

“We found differences in the ability of bacteria to silently colonise the gut after ingestion, depending on a variety of host and bacterial factors”.

Device to trap ocean plastic relaunches

A floating device designed to catch plastic waste has been redeployed in a second attempt to clean up an island of trash swirling in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.

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