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27 April Current Affairs

Exit Visa system and Kafala

In News:

Qatar is set to abolish its controversial exit visa system for all foreign workers by the end of 2019. The new law allows most workers to leave the country without exit permits from their employers.

Background:

Qatar has introduced a series of labour reforms since its selection as the 2022 World Cup host, with the event setting in motion a huge construction programme employing foreign workers.

In September 2018, Qatar approved legislation to scrap the “kafala”, or sponsorship, system which required that foreign workers obtain permission from their employers to leave the country.

As part of its pledge to reform the labour section, Qatar has also introduced a monthly minimum wage of 750 riyals ($206) and agreed to work closely with the ILO, which now has an office in the capital.

What is kafala?

The ‘kafala’ system is a system that lays down obligations in the treatment and protection of foreign ‘guests’. Kafala means ‘to guarantee’ or ‘to take care of’ in Arabic.

Under the system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (‘kafeel’) during the contract period. The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.

When did the kafala system start?

The kafala system began in the 1950s when several Middle East countries started hiring foreign workers to accelerate development following the discovery of oil.

Where is the kafala system practiced?

It is being practiced in the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and also in the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon.

Why it should be abolished?

Human rights groups say the migration management system enables exploitation and forced labor—labor extracted by under the threat of penalty, and not offered voluntarily by the worker.

The media have likened employment conditions under kafala to “modern-day slavery.”

Some migrant workers end up absconding from their employers to seek refuge elsewhere. In the Gulf states, absconding is considered a crime and that leads to indefinite detention and deportation.

Complaining puts them in conflict with their sponsor, who has the power to cancel their residence visa and have them deported.

The kafala directly contradicts the labour law. The employer can dictate the recruitment process and working conditions.

It restricts labour mobility. It prohibits any mobility on part of the worker unless approved by the kafeel. If the kafeels are unwilling to let them go, workers cannot leave them for better employment.

Source: The Hindu

ICMR launches ‘MERA India’ to eliminate malaria by 2030

In News:

The Indian Council of Medical Research has launched the ‘Malaria Elimination Research Alliance (MERA) India’ – a conglomeration of partners working on malaria control – in order to prioritise, plan and scale up research to eliminate the disease from India by 2030.

Key facts:

The principal activity of the alliance is to prioritise, plan, conduct, scale up and translate relevant research in a coordinated and combinatorial way in order to have a tangible impact on the population who are at risk of malaria.

The alliance will facilitate trans-institutional coordination and collaboration around a shared research agenda which responds not only to programmatic challenges and addresses gaps in available tools, but also proactively contributes to targeted research.

It aims to harness and reinforce research in coordinated and combinatorial ways in order to achieve a tangible impact on malaria elimination.

Various efforts by government:

Over the past two decades, India has made impressive progress in malaria control. The malaria burden has declined by over 80 per cent, 2.03 million cases in 2000 to 0.39 million in 2018, and malaria deaths by over 90 per cent, 932 deaths in 2000 to 85 in 2018.

This success has provided a strong foundation for the commitment from the leadership of the government of India to eliminate malaria from India by 2030.

National Vector Borne Diseases Control Program (NVBDCP) of India has developed a comprehensive framework to achieve the overarching vision of “Malaria free India by 2030“.

NVBDCP’s National Strategic Plan clearly recognises the critical role of research to support and guide malaria elimination efforts.

About Malaria:

caused by a Plasmodium Parasites that is transmitted from one human to another by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes.

In humans, the parasites (called sporozoites) migrate to the liver where they mature and release another form, the merozoites.

The majority of Malaria symptoms are caused by the massive release of merozoites into the bloodstream such as anaemia is caused by the destruction of the red blood cells.

There are five parasites that can cause Malaria in humans and the deadliest of all is Plasmodium Falciparum.

Children under the age of 5 and pregnant women are most susceptible to the disease.

Source: The Hindu

Khasi ‘kingdoms’ to revisit 1947 agreements

In News:

A federation of 25 Himas or Khasi kingdoms that have a cosmetic existence today, plan to revisit the 1948 agreements that made present-day Meghalaya a part of India.

Need:

The revisiting is aimed at safeguarding tribal customs and traditions from Central laws in force or could be enacted, such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

Background:

During the British rule, the Khasi domain was divided into the Khasi states and British territories. At that time, the British government had no territorial right on the Khasi states and they had to approach the chiefs of these states if they needed land for any purpose.

After independence, the British territories became part of the Indian dominion but the Khasi states had to sign documents beginning with the Standstill Agreement that provided a few rights to the states.

The 25 Khasi states had signed the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement with the Dominion of India between December 15, 1947, and March 19, 1948. The conditional treaty with these states was signed by Governor General Chakravarty Rajagopalachari on August 17, 1948.

The Khasi states, though, did not sign the Instrument of Merger unlike most other states in India.

Demand:

Though the Constitution has provided self-rule to a considerable extent through tribal councils, there has been an increasing demand for giving more teeth to the Khasi states.

Source: The Hindu

US places India on ‘Priority Watch List’

In News:

The United States has again placed India on its ‘Priority Watch List’.

Details

India has been on the priority watch list reportedly for over 25 years, for “lack of sufficient measurable improvements to its IP framework that have negatively affected US right holders”.

The office of the US Trade Representative identified 11 countries, including India, in its ‘Priority Watch List’. The list topped by China also includes Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Besides this, the US Trade body has placed 25 countries, including Pakistan, Turkey and the UAE, on the watchlist.

What is priority watch list?

“Priority Watch List” and “Watch List” countries are identified by the annual Special 301 Report. “Priority Watchlist countries” are judged by the USTR as having “serious intellectual property rights deficiencies” that require increased USTR attention. “Watch List” countries have been identified by the USTR as having “serious intellectual property rights deficiencies” but are not yet placed on the “Priority Watchlist”. The USTR can move countries from one list to the other, or remove them from the lists, throughout the year.

Why India is placed under this?

Lack of sufficient measurable improvements to its Intellectual Property (IP) framework on long-standing and new challenges, which has negatively affected American right holders over the past year. India remains one of the world’s most challenging major economies with respect to protection and enforcement of IP.

Long-standing IP challenges facing US businesses in India include those which make it difficult for innovators to receive and maintain patents in that country, particularly for pharmaceuticals, insufficient enforcement actions, copyright policies that do not properly incentivise the creation and commercialisation of content, and an outdated and insufficient trade secrets legal framework.

India also further restricted the transparency of information provided on state-issued pharmaceutical manufacturing licenses, and expanded the application of patentability exceptions to reject pharmaceutical patents.

India also missed an opportunity to establish an effective system for protecting against the unfair commercial use, as well as the unauthorised disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for certain agricultural chemical products.

Last year it engaged with India to secure meaningful IP reforms on long-standing issues, including patentability criteria, criteria for compulsory licensing and protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorised disclosure, or test of other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.

Implications:

Countries under priority watch list will be the subject of increased bilateral engagement with the USTR to address Intellectual Property (IP) concerns.

USTR would be reviewing the developments against the benchmarks established in the Special 301 action plans for countries that have been on the ‘Priority Watch List’ for multiple years.

For countries that fail to address US’ concerns, the USTR will take appropriate actions, such as enforcement actions under Section 301 of the Trade Act or pursuant to World Trade Organisation or other trade agreement dispute settlement procedures, necessary to combat unfair trade practices and to ensure that trading partners follow through with their international commitments.

What needs to be done- demands by USTR?

To maintain the integrity and predictability of IP systems, governments should use compulsory licenses only in extremely limited circumstances and after making every effort to obtain authorisation from the patent owner on reasonable commercial terms and conditions.

Such licenses should not be used as a tool to implement industrial policy, including providing advantages to domestic companies, or as undue leverage in pricing negotiations between governments and right holders.

It is also critical that foreign governments ensure transparency and due process in any actions related to compulsory licenses.

India has yet to take steps to address long-standing patent issues that affect innovative industries.

Source: The Hindu

Ombudsman Scheme for Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs)

In News:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has extended the coverage of Ombudsman Scheme for Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs), 2018 to eligible Non Deposit Taking Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFC-NDs).

Details:

The coverage will be extended to Non Deposit Taking Non Banking Financial Companies having asset size of Rs 100 crore or above with customer interface.

However, Non Banking Financial Company-Infrastructure Finance Company (NBFC-IFC), Core Investment Company (CIC), Infrastructure Debt Fund-Non-banking Financial Company (IDF-NBFC) and NBFCs under liquidation are excluded from the ambit of the Scheme.

Background:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in February 2018, issued an ombudsman scheme for non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), offering a grievance redressal mechanism for their customers.

Who will be the ombudsman?

An officer at the RBI not below the rank of general manager will be appointed by the regulator as the ombudsman with territorial jurisdiction being specified by the central bank. The tenure of each ombudsman cannot exceed three years and can be reduced by the regulator if needed.

Who can file the complaint?

Any customer or person can file a compliant with the ombudsman on various grounds like non-payment or inordinate delay in payment of interest, non-repayment of deposits, lack of transparency in loan agreement, non-compliance with RBI directives on fair practices code for NBFCs, levying of charges without sufficient notice to the customers and failure or delay in returning the securities documents despite repayment of dues among others. Only written complaints or those in electronic format will be accepted.

Appeal:

If a complaint is not settled by agreement within a specified period as the ombudsman may allow the parties, he may, after affording the parties a “reasonable opportunity to present their case, either in writing or in a meeting, pass an award either allowing or rejecting the complaint”. The scheme also allows a person to appeal in case of dissatisfaction with any award by the ombudsman.

Compensation:

The ombudsman may also award compensation not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees to the complainant, taking into account the loss of time, expenses incurred, harassment and mental anguish suffered by the complainant.

Report:

The ombudsman will be required to send a report to the RBI governor annually on 30 June containing general review of the activities of his office during the preceding financial year and other information required by the central bank.

Source: The Hindu

UN Arms Trade Treaty

In News:

US President Donald Trump has rejected the United Nations’ 2013 Arms Trade Treaty aimed at regulating the global arms trade.

Details:

Trump described the UN arms trade treaty as misguided and an intrusion on US sovereignty.

By pulling out of the ATT, the US joins India, which has not signed the treaty.

Why is India against this treaty?

One of the arguments made by India in 2013 against the treaty was that New Delhi had “strong and effective national export controls” on military hardware to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

What does the Arms Trade Treaty seek to do?

The UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has the ambitious aim of responding to international concern that the $70 billion a year trade in conventional weapons leaves a trail of atrocities in its wake.

The treaty calls for the international sale of weapons to be linked to the human rights records of buyers.

It requires countries to establish regulations for selling conventional weapons.

It calls for potential arms deals to be evaluated in order to determine whether they might enable buyers to carry out genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

The treaty also seeks to prevent conventional military weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists or organized criminal groups, and to stop deals that would violate UN arms embargos.

What types of conventional weapons deals does the Arms Trade Treaty seek to regulate?

Conventional weapons covered by the UN Arms Trade Treaty include tanks and other armored combat vehicles, artillery, attack helicopters, naval warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms.

It also establishes common international standards for the regulation of the international trade in ammunition, weapons parts, and arms components.

The treaty does not regulate the domestic sale or use of weapons in any country. It also recognizes the legitimacy of the arms trade to enable states to provide for their own security.

Source: The Hindu

UK Modern Slavery Innovation Fund

Britain has pledged £4 million to support the fund. The funding will also be used to run workshops on modern slavery in South Africa, improve support for survivors in India, and develop an online data hub to boost anti-slavery policies.

Modern Slavery Innovation Fund (MSIF): It aims to tackle the root causes of modern slavery, strengthening efforts to combat slavery and reduce vulnerability, and build an evidence base to better understand what works in the future. Proposals should set out how they support at least one of the 6 objectives of the fund:

  • Reduce Vulnerability to Exploitation
  • Victim Support and Recovery
  • Improve Global Co-ordination
  • Improve Law, Legislation and Policy
  • Encourage responsible business and slavery-free supply chains
  • Improve the Evidence Base

 

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