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24th February Current Affairs

Data Accessibility Policy

(GS-III: Cybersecurity related issues)

In News:

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has come out with a draft Data Accessibility and Use policy.

Highlights of the policy:

The policy proposes to improve data availability, quality and use in line with the decade’s current and emerging technology demands.

Any data sharing shall happen within the legal framework of India, its national policies and legislation as well as the recognized international guidelines.

All data and information generated, created, collected, or stored by the central government and authorised agencies shall be covered by the policy.

Applicability: All government data will be open and shareable unless it falls under a negative list of data sets, categorised under the negative list of datasets that won’t be shared; and restricted access and shared only with trusted users, as defined by the respective ministry or department, under the controlled environment.

Important bodies proposed to be created:

It proposes the establishment of an India Data Office (IDO) to streamline and unify data access and sharing among government and other stakeholders.

In case of the institutional framework, the draft noted that every ministry or department should have Data Management Units, headed by Chief Data Officers, which will work closely with the IDO to ensure the implementation of this policy.

India Data Council — comprising IDO and chief data officers — shall be constituted with the objective of undertaking tasks that require deliberation across ministries, departments and state governments.

Expected policy outcomes:

  • Unlocking high-value data across the economy.
  • Facilitating a congruent and robust governance strategy.
  • Realising an interoperable digital infrastructure.
  • Data skills and data-driven culture.

Concerns:

Lack of transparency in the consultation and drafting process: The process of consultation has not been transparent.

Perverse revenue objective: The ‘Preamble’ of the policy states that “India’s ambition of becoming a 5 trillion-dollar digital economy depends on its ability to harness the value of data”. With this, it appears that revenue generation through sale of citizen data emerges is the primary objective of the Policy.

Harmful effects on informational privacy of citizens: In the absence of a personal data protection law, the envisaged interdepartmental sharing of data across the government departments may lead to a massive violation of the privacy of citizens.

Lack of clear & concise definitions for key concepts: New concepts introduced by the Policy have been defined in a vague and ambiguous manner which opens them up to misinterpretation.

For example, the Policy creates a separate category of ‘High-Value Data Sets’ which it deems essential for governance and innovation, access to which will be accelerated. However, nowhere in the Background Note or the Policy has the category been concisely defined.

India risks being left out of TRIPS waiver

(GS-III: IP related issues)

In News:

India runs the risk of being excluded from a proposal it co-authored at WTO negotiations, in 2020, to “temporarily waive” IPR held, by primarily Western countries, on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for covid-19.

What are the shortcomings that impacted India’s global campaign?

During the entire pandemic, India rarely made use of the existing flexibilities under the Indian Patent Act, such as compulsory licences (CL), which are consistent with the TRIPS agreement, to increase the supply of Covid-19 medical products despite being nudged by the judiciary to do so.

TRIPS waiver at the WTO is only an enabling framework. Member countries need to amend their domestic IP laws to implement the waiver. Yet, India did not proactively develop a national strategy to implement the TRIPS waiver as and when it was adopted. This would have not only fortified India’s position internationally but would have also acted as a pressure point to influence the negotiations.

The government failed to get the Indian pharmaceutical industry on board. Many Indian pharmaceutical bodies are not in the favor of the waiver, thus denting India’s global campaign.

Background:

India and South Africa had jointly sponsored a proposal in October 2020 and this was updated, with representation from several low– and middle–income countries — though with the notable omission of China — to expand the scope of the waiver to “all health products and technologies” and to have the waiver in place for at least a year.

What’s the issue?

A small group of WTO members are “discussing suggestions” to exclude drug manufacturers in India and China — two major, global suppliers of medicine — from prospective waivers to IPR obligations that result from the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which WTO members are committed to uphold.

Also, Manufacturers want to “limit” any benefits of the waiver only to African countries, and not pave the way for Indian manufacturers who, with their large production capacities, would easily undercut Western competitors.

Why is there an opposition to the waiver? What are the arguments against it?

Waiving of intellectual property rights will neither lead to increased production of vaccines or increased deployment nor practical solutions to fight the virus of COVID-19 vaccines since IP is not the barrier.

Waiving of intellectual property rights could impact patient safety by opening doors for counterfeit vaccines to enter the supply chain.

Need of the hour:

Our top most priority should be to address the supply side constraints, including IP barriers, to augment the manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, essential for treatment, prevention and control of the ongoing pandemic.

What does the intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines mean?

The IP waiver might open up space for production of Covid vaccines with emergency use authorisations (EUA) — such as those developed by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Bharat Biotech — on a larger scale in middle-income countries.

Most production is currently concentrated in high-income countries; production by middle-income countries has been happening through licensing or technology transfer agreements.

What are patents and IP rights?

A patent represents a powerful intellectual property right, and is an exclusive monopoly granted by a government to an inventor for a limited, pre-specified time. It provides an enforceable legal right to prevent others from copying the invention.

Patents can be either process patents or product patents:

A product patent ensures that the rights to the final product is protected, and anyone other than the patent holder can be restrained from manufacturing it during a specified period, even if they were to use a different process.

A process patent enables any person other than the patent holder to manufacture the patented product by modifying certain processes in the manufacturing exercise.

Patent regime in India:

India moved from product patenting to process patenting in the 1970s, which enabled India to become a significant producer of generic drugs at global scale, and allowed companies like Cipla to provide Africa with anti-HIV drugs in the 1990s.

But due to obligations arising out of the TRIPS Agreement, India had to amend the Patents Act in 2005, and switch to a product patents regime across the pharma, chemicals, and biotech sectors.

What is the TRIPS Agreement?

The TRIPS agreement was negotiated in 1995 at the WTO, it requires all its signatory countries to enact domestic law.

It guarantees minimum standards of IP protection. Such legal consistency enables innovators to monetise their intellectual property in multiple countries.

In 2001, the WTO signed the Doha Declaration, which clarified that in a public health emergency, governments could compel companies to license their patents to manufacturers, even if they did not think the offered price was acceptable.

This provision, commonly referred to as “compulsory licensing”, was already built into the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha declaration only clarified its usage.

PM CARES for Children scheme

(GS-II: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes)

In News:

PM Cares for Children Scheme has been extended till February 28, 2022. The scheme was earlier valid till December 31, 2021.

About the scheme:

Launched in May 2021.

The scheme has been launched for support & empowerment of Covid affected children.

Eligibility: All children who have lost both parents or surviving parent or legal guardian/adoptive parents due to Covid 19 will be supported under the scheme.

Children must not have completed 18 years of age at the time of the death of their parents in order to be eligible for the scheme.

Features of the scheme:

Fixed Deposit in the name of the child: A corpus of Rs 10 lakh for each child when he or she reaches 18 years of age.

School Education: For children under 10 years: Admission will be given in the nearest Kendriya Vidyalaya or in a private school as a day scholar.

School Education: for children between 11-18 years: The child will be given admission in any Central Government residential school such as Sainik School, Navodaya Vidyalaya etc.

Support for Higher Education: The child will be assisted in obtaining an education loan for Professional courses / Higher Education in India as per the existing Education Loan norms.

Health Insurance: All children will be enrolled as a beneficiary under Ayushman Bharat Scheme (PM-JAY) with a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakhs.

Need for these measures:

  • As India battles a raging second wave, cases of children losing their parents to Covid-19 are also mounting.
  • Also the apprehension of child trafficking in the garb of adoption has increased.
  • Child Marriages have also increased in the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Fundamental duties must be enforced, says plea in Supreme Court

(GS-II: Indian Constitution)

In News:

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the enforcement of Fundamental Duties under the Indian constitution through comprehensive and well-defined laws.

The court has asked the centre and states to respond on this matter.

Need for:

The need to enforce fundamental duties arises due to a new illegal trend of protest by protestors in the garb of freedom of speech and expression, by way of blocking of road and rail routes in order to compel the government to meet their demands.

This is also necessary to remind citizens that fundamental duties were as important as fundamental rights under the Constitution.

Supreme Court’s judgment in the Ranganath Mishra case: The Court observed that fundamental duties should not only be enforced by legal sanctions but also by social sanctions. After all, rights and duties were co-relative.

Rationale behind the demand:

The petition referred to the Bhagwad Gita on the importance of duty. Lord Krishna guides Arjuna and educates him with the importance of duties in all spheres/ stages of one’s life.

It also referred to the erstwhile Soviet Constitution where the rights and duties were placed in the same footing.

Fundamental duties instill a “profound sense of social responsibility towards the nation”. Hence, they have to be enforced.

Impacts:

Enforcement of Fundamental Duties upholds and protects sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

It also prepares citizens to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so.

It seeks to disseminate a sense of nationalism and to promote the spirit of patriotism to uphold the unity of India after the emergence of China as a superpower.

Fundamental Duties:

Original constitution did not contain any provisions related to Fundamental Duties (FD).

This section was added through 42nd amendment act to the constitution of India based on the recommendations of Swaran Singh Committee. In 2002, another Fundamental duty was added to this list.

The idea of this section was borrowed from USSR constitution.

Japanese constitution is one of the other democratic nations which have a provision dealing with the duties of its citizens.

Fundamental duties like DPSP are non-justiciable.

Significance of FD:

They serve as a reminder to the citizens that while enjoying their rights, they should also be conscious of duties they owe to their country, their society and to their fellow citizens.

They serve as a warning against the anti-national and antisocial activitieslike burning the national flag, destroying public property and so on.

They serve as a source of inspiration for the citizens and promote a sense of discipline and commitment among them.

They create a feeling that the citizens are no mere spectators but active participants in the realization of national goals.

Criticism of FD:

They are made non-justiciable in nature.

Important duties such tax-paying, family planning etc are not covered.

Vague and ambiguous provisions which are difficult to be understood by a common man.

Superfluous provisions since they would generally be followed even if they were not included.

Inclusion as an appendage to the constitution reduces the value and intent behind FD.