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GS: 1


Society related issues:

Don’t discount WaSH(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The recent article “Can sanitation reduce stunting?” (The Hindu, February 15) touched upon many dimensions and possible reasons to explain why Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) trials in countries like Kenya and Bangladesh ended, disappointingly, with no significant reduction in stunting among children.

More in news:

  • When the effect of poor sanitation is obviously passing on from one generation to the other, it might take at least a generation to adopt WaSH interventions before their outcomes can be seen.
  • Therefore, short-term trials like the ones in Kenya and Bangladesh are bound to show little or no effect.
  • In addition, in India, where the baseline, unlike in those countries, is so large (over 50% of open defecation against 1% in Bangladesh) even small improvements can demonstrate significant and palpable changes.

Stunning:

  • Stunting is driven by multiple factors, one of which is inflammation.
  • Inflammation is normal biological responses of body tissues to stimuli such as disease-causing bacteria (pathogens), but ironically repeated exposure to high doses of bacteria that are not linked with diseases or diarrhoea also cause inflammation.
  • Inflammation down regulates growth factors, and thus impairs normal growth in children.
  • Mothers with inflammation in the gestation tissues had smaller babies in our study.

India needs to learn from Bangladesh:

  • It is indeed true that mere building of toilets cannot prompt people to use them as there are a lot of social, cultural and behavioural aspects attached to it.
  • What India needs to learn from Bangladesh is how they have managed to bring down open defecation to less than 1% by 2016, from a whopping 42%, in a little over a decade.
  • A huge chunk of public and charity money was spent on building toilets, and campaign volunteers slogged to change public attitudes and habits.
  • Children were used literally as whistle-blowers and agents of change while door-to-door campaigns were carried out.
  • It was done in a dogged campaign in mission mode supported by 25% of the country’s overall development budget.

Way ahead:

  • The very fact that over half (about 52%) of rural India still defecates in the open is still a reason why it may be too early to quash or discount  Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA).
  • The importance SBA which accords to cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation can go a long way in India’s fight against not only stunting (low height for age) but also many other forms of malnutrition.

GS: 2


Indian Constitution and Polity:

HC: Do not deny cover for genetic defect(The  Hindu)

Context:

  • In a ruling that will benefit hapless claimants, Delhi high court has said that companies cannot deny health insurance to those suffering from genetic disorders.

Introduction:

  • The ill-defined and “all-encompassing” clause about genetic disorders that health insurers regularly cite to deny mediclaim is unconstitutional and arbitrary, Delhi High Court ruled on Monday.
  • The verdict came on an insurance claim by one Jai Prakash Tayal against United India Insurance Company Limited. Tayal, who was suffering from hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, was suddenly denied his insurance claim on the ground that the said condition was genetic, and genetic diseases were not payable as per the policy.
  • The verdict could open up a large number of ailments as claimable under medical insurance.
  • The court directed the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India to re-look at the exclusionary clauses in insurance contracts and ensure that insurance companies do not reject claims on the basis of exclusions relating to genetic disorders.
  • The court  highlighted that there are different types of genetic disorders and even common diseases like diabetes and cardiac diseases could be included in the broad definition.

Court’s ruling:

  • Most health insurance policies have a clause excluding “genetic disorders” as grounds for reimbursement, but the court said this blanket exemption covered several “speculatively genetic” conditions and gave “too much freedom and arbitrary power to the insurance companies to reject genuine claims”.
  • It asked the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority to have a “re-look” at such exclusionary clauses and nudged lawmakers to amend the law, saying the right to health care was a fundamental right under Article 21 (life and liberty).
  •  “The exclusionary clause of ‘genetic disorders,’ in the insurance policy, is too broad, ambiguous and discriminatory — hence violative of Article 14 of the Constitution,” Justice Singh said.
  •  “In effect, it would mean that large swathes of population would be excluded from availing health insurance which could have a negative impact on the health of a country,” .

What is genetic disorder?

  • A genetic disorder is a genetic problem caused by one or more abnormalities in the genome, especially a condition that is present from birth.

Assam-Arunachal can resolve border dispute’(The Hindu)

Context:

  •  Nyokum Yullo festival in Itanagar.

Why in news?

  • Assam Minister Ranjit Dutta, who was in Itanagar to attend a tribal festival, exuded confidence that the decades-old boundary dispute between the two States, can be resolved through “meaningful” dialogue.

Permanent solution:

  • Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has been initiating measures with his Arunachal counterpart Pema Khandu to hammer out a permanent solution to the border issue.
  • “Divisive forces” were trying to “destabilise peace” in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

About Nyokum Yullo festival:

  • The festival is celebrated by the Nyishi community of Arunachal Pradesh every year to invoke God’s blessings for good harvest and communal harmony.

Cordial relations’

  • Till 1978 both the States (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) were under one administrative unit of ‘bor Axom’ (Greater Assam).
  • The people of both States since time immemorial have been maintaining cordial relations.
  •  Nyokum Yullo Celebration Committee chairman Ha Tatu, on his part, said the presence of a Minister from neighbouring Assam will cement the ties between the people of the two States.

‘No time frame for Cauvery Board’(The Hindu)

Context:

Recently, Union Minister for Water Resources Nitin Gadkari was non-committal on a possible time frame for the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB), as mandated by the Supreme Court.

Details:

  • He said that the panel has been in process
  • However, he refused to be drawn into specifics when asked if the Centre had a time frame for establishing the CMB.

Pet projects:

The Centre has been keen on implementing two major projects:

  1. Diverting water from the Godavari to the Cauvery– About 3,000 tmc ft of water in the Godavari was going to the sea and the aim was to save at least 700 tmc ft by diverting it to the Cauvery through two dams at a cost of about Rs. 1 lakh crore.
  2. The Polavaram project, in its attempt to cater to the water needs of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
  • The Detailed Project Reports (DPR) for both the projects would be prepared by next month and the suggestions from the Chief Ministers concerned would be taken.
  • The Centre has also been looking at low-interest loans from lenders such as the Asian Development Bank

SC seeks details on over-crowded prisons(The Hindu)

Context:

  •   Court to hear issues on abject conditions in jail

Why in news?

  • The Supreme Court has asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to provide details and figures of prisons where the occupancy rate is over 150% as on December 31, 2017.
  • The three-judge Bench has also asked NALSA to provide the number of posts lying vacant in major prisons across the country.
  •  The top court is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country.

Under Trial Review Committees (UTRCs):

  • The apex court further agreed to hear issues related to standard operating procedure for Under Trial Review Committees (UTRCs) and responses received from States and Union Territories on open jails on March 27.
  • The UTRCs, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have completed their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail due to bail or remission granted to them.
  • Semi-open prisons or open prisons allow convicts to work outside the jail premises and earn a livelihood and return in the evening.
  • The concept was brought in to assimilate the convicts with society and reduce the psychological pressure and lack of confidence they faced lack of confidence in returning to lives outside prison.

Open prisons

  • Last year, a Supreme Court judgment had encouraged the need for open prisons.
  • It had urged for steps like the appointment of counsellors and support persons for prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.
  • The apex court had suggested steps like more family visits for prisoners and use of phones and video-conferencing not only between a prisoner and family, but also his lawyers.

Board of Visitors:

  • The court had directed the State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) to conduct a study and performance audit of prisons.
  • It wanted the government to constitute a Board of Visitors which includes eminent members of society to initiate prison reforms.

The power of persuasion(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The Indian Constitution is unique in listing, among fundamental duties, the duty of each citizen “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” (Article 51A).

“Scientific temper”

  •  Jawaharlal Nehru was the first to use the expression “scientific temper”, which he described with his usual lucidity in The Discovery of India

Superstition exists

  • India may be unusual in the degree and variety of superstitious practices, even among the educated, but superstition exists everywhere.
  • People hesitate to discuss superstitions in public.

Superstitious in India:

  •    In India, Practices such as sati.

Why is it so hard to remove superstitions?

  • Such beliefs are strengthened by a confirmation bias (giving importance to facts that agree with our preconceptions and ignoring others) and other logical holes.
  •  Recent research even shows how seeing the same evidence can simultaneously strengthen oppositely-held beliefs (a phenomenon called Bayesian belief polarisation).

Disagreement in science

  •  Scientific theories have limitations.
  • Newton’s theories of mechanics and gravitation were superseded by Einstein’s. Einstein’s theory of gravity has no known limitations at the cosmological scale, but is incompatible with quantum mechanics.

Darwinism is a theory to explain how it occurs.

  • Today’s version is a combination of Darwin’s original ideas, Mendelian genetics and population biology, with much empirical validation and no known failures.
  • For example, epigenetic inheritance is not well understood and remains an active area of research.
  • Darwin’s book was after all titled The Origin of Species, and the origin of life would seem beyond its scope.

How then does one eradicate superstition?

  • By preaching or legislating against it.
  • Awareness campaigns against dangerous superstitions along with better education and scientific outreach may have some impact but will be a slow process.
  • The topic of “persuasion” is popular in the psychology, social science and marketing communities.
  •  The  first step is to see the matter from the other person’s point of view and acknowledge the validity of their perception, and then bring in its limitations.
  • Such a strategy may be more successful than the aggressive campaigns of rationalists such as Richard Dawkins.
  • Nevertheless, “harmless” superstitions are likely to remain with humanity forever.

GS: 3


Economy:

‘Hard to steal, destroy or tamper with Aadhaar’(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Aadhaar cannot be tampered with or destroyed since it is nearly impossible to duplicate or match the biometrics of the 10 fingers and the iris (eye) scan of the person concerned.

More in news:

  • UIDAI programme is unprecedented in the scale of operations anywhere in the world with two crore authentications being used everyday.
  • Direct benefit transfers, zero leakages, hassle-fre opening of bank accounts, foolproof delivery of ration goods, proper attendance in the social welfare hostels, arresting impersonation in examinations, etc. have become possible due to Aadhaar.
  • 1.5 crore bank accounts have been linked, 1.62 crore bogus ration cards have been unearthed, two crore LPG gas connections checked with overall savings for the Government being 50,000 crore.

Way ahead:

  • The government is working on the data privacy framework to address privacy concerns and can also deliver all kinds of government services.
  • Even though Information Technology has come a long way, much more needs to be done to integrate different platforms.
  • Humongous data obtained from GST platform and high UPI financial transactions of upto 50 lakh a day will help build a base to provide better financial services.
  • The Centre, States and local bodies should come together to innovate on e-governance, and that the road map for Digital India 2.0 is getting ready too.
  • A mobile app folio offering 180 services would be launched soon.
  • In six months, households would be given drinking water connection and 15 Mpbs net connectivity through Mission Bhagiratha and TS Fibre Net combine.

NHPS a gimmick, says Chidambaram(The Hindu)

Context:

Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has dubbed the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) as a gimmick alleging that it was introduced without any proper planning

Details:

  • Criticising the Centre for the scheme, P. Chidambaram wondered how it will provide funds for it.
  • He also mocked at the Centre’s move to ask the States to bear 40% of the expenditure on NHPS
  • He has asked why the State governments should bear it when they have healthcare programmes of their own.
  • Further, he has argued that the NDA government has been unable to reduce the fiscal deficit “significantly” since coming to power in 2014.

About NHPS:

The NHPS aims to provide health insurance coverage to 10 crore families with an insurance ceiling of up to Rs. 5 lakh per family.

ICAI favours existing audit mechanism(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Institute of Charted Accountants of India (ICAI) supports efforts to strengthen its existing disciplinary and oversight mechanism through amendments to the CA Act.

Why is it in news?

  • This comes in the backdrop of allegations about the role of Chartered Accountants (CAs) in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointing fingers at auditors and regulators for failing to detect such frauds.
  • On strengthening its disciplinary and oversight mechanism, the ICAI said it had already submitted its comments for the recommendation of the Central Government-appointed High Level Committee (HLC), which had also already drafted amendments to the CA Act.
  • However, ICAI has indirectly opposed the setting up of a super regulator National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) to regulate the CA profession.

There’s time to draw conclusion:

  • The CA regulator said till the time disciplinary inquiry was concluded in the PNB matter and the role of all those who acted in fiduciary responsibility was established, it would not be wise to draw any conclusion against the profession.
  • The ICAI remained committed to ensure accelerated inquiry and conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings in the PNB matter.

Internal security:

A royal salute to India’s religious plurality(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Jordanian King Abdullah II will deliver a special address at Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi on Tuesday on his three-day visit to India.

More in news:

  • Jordanian King will speak on “Islamic heritage: promoting understanding and moderation”, to an audience including academics, Islamic scholars and representatives of all denominations of the Muslim community.
  • After talks with Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, the two sides are expected to announce a number of agreements, including one to set up a “centre of excellence” in Amman
  • One pending issue not yet resolved is on the resumption of direct flights between Delhi and Amman, which were shut down when Royal Jordanian Airlines ended its service in 2014.
  • King Abdullah will also visit the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to “explore collaborations with Jordanian technical institutes”
  • Bilateral trade, which is mainly dependent on fertilizer imports, dropped drastically from about $2.2 billion in 2014 to $1.3 billion in 2017, and both sides will discuss how to improve business ties.
  • While the visit will focus on bilateral issues, the two leaders are expected to discuss the Palestinian peace process.

Jordanian King Abdullah II:

  • Mr. Abdullah is himself a 41st generation descendant of Prophet Muhammad and the Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem.
  • He has taken a leadership role in countering extremism and radicalisation in the Arab world through what is known as the “Aqaba Process” initiative.

Q3 GDP growth likely 6.9%, best in 2017, says poll

Context:

According to a Reuters poll, India’s economy grew at its fastest pace in a year in the October-December quarter as consumers, businesses and the government stepped up spending.

Details:

  • Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 6.9% in the October-December quarter from a year earlier
  • In July-September, the economy grew 6.3% annually
  • Rupee strengthened 6.5% against the dollar in 2017
  • India’s gross value-added (GVA)increased 6.6% from a year earlier in October-December from a year earlier, compared to 6.1% in the prior three months.

What does this imply?

This suggests that disruptions from a shock ban on high-value currency notes in November 2016 and the chaotic launch of a goods and services tax (GST) in July are fading.

Concerns over banking:

  • There are concerns about the increase in non-performing assets of state-run banks
  • Punjab National Bank, in February has revealed a loan fraud that’s the biggest in India’s banking history. The fraud has cast a shadow over the workings of state-run lenders, already reeling from accumulated bad loans

Environment:

In a record, more than 4 lakh olive ridleys nest at Rushikulya(The Hindu)

Context:

  • With 4,28,083 mother olive ridley turtles, the endangered species has created an all-time record of mass nesting at the Rushikulya rookery coast in the Ganjam district of Odisha this year.

Background:

  • With 3,65,000 nests, olive ridley turtles had created a record of mass nesting at Rushikulya in 2017.
  • They have already broken the record this year, indicating that the environment of this coast continues to be conducive for their mass nesting.

More in news:

  • The mass nesting is expected to continue for another two to three days.
  • Mass nesting of olive ridley turtles also takes place on the coasts along the Gahirmatha beach and the mouth of the Debi river, two other major nesting sites in Odisha.
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