Insights Daily Current Events, 09 March 2016
Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Cap profits, cut drug prices: Panel
An inter-ministerial committee, which was set up to study steep hike in trade margins and suggest ways to increase affordability of expensive medicines and medical devices across the country, has submitted its report to the government.
- Among others, it has recommended capping of trade margins for costly drugs at 35% of MRP (maximum retail price). This move could significantly bring down prices of expensive medicines.
Highlights of the report:
- While acknowledging that trade margins fall under the domain of industry, the report highlights “consumer protection” as an area where government interventions and regulations are required, mainly in sectors like drugs or pharmaceuticals, where consumer has little choice.
- Though the report suggests capping trade margins on expensive drugs at 35% of MRP, it also recommended a different slab for lesser priced medicines. For products priced at Rs 2 per unit, the margin may be capped at 50%.
Under the previous price regime, trade margins were capped at 16% and 8% for drug retailers and wholesalers, respectively. However, this was only on scheduled drugs, prices of which were directly capped and monitored by the government. On other drugs, retailers were allowed a margin of 20%, whereas wholesalers were entitled to a margin of 10%.
- However, since the new drug pricing policy came into place in 2013, there is no ceiling on the trade margin. Instead, the regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) caps prices based on the average price of all medicines in a particular segment with more than 1% market share.
- It is estimated that this gap has allowed trade margins of up to 400-500% on certain medicines which are already exorbitantly priced.
Need for capping:
While medicines constitute around 60% of the total out-of-pocket expenditure incurred by individuals on healthcare, trade margins contribute to almost 20-25% of a medicine’s price. Experts say trade margins also create a huge disparity in prices of medicine brands available in the market. Pharmaceutical companies often use this window to push their brands through retailers as well as doctors.
The government is now trying to narrow the trade margin gap and pass on the price benefit to consumers. After incorporating suggestions, the proposal will take the shape of a Cabinet note and a final decision will be taken after that.
- Once trade margins are regulated, medicine prices of different brands are likely to come at par largely.
The Indian drug retail market is currently pegged at over Rs 1 lakh crore annually.
Paper 2 Topic: statutory bodies.
MCI has failed, rejig it, says Parliament panel
The Parliamentary standing committee on health has called for a complete restructuring of the Medical Council of India (MCI), arguing that it has failed in its mandate as a regulator of medical education and profession.
- The panel recommended that the Act under which MCI was set up be scrapped and a new legislation be drafted at the earliest.
Important observations and recommendations made by the committee:
- The committee observed that the whole focus of the MCI has been on licensing of medical colleges and ethics was completely lost out in this process.
- It recommended the immediate bifurcation of the two major areas – medical education and practice of ethical conduct by medical professionals – so that they receive full attention.
- The report also said, “If the medical education system has to be saved from total collapse, the government can no longer look the other way and has to exercise its constitutional authority and take decisive and exemplary action to restructure and revamp India’s regulatory system of medical education and practice.”
- The report noted that the MCI cannot be remedied according to the existing provisions of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, which is certainly outdated.
- The committee also observed that “the much needed reforms will have to be led by the central government” as “the MCI can no longer be entrusted with that responsibility in view of its massive failures”.
The Medical Council of India (MCI) is the statutory body for establishing uniform and high standards of medical education in India.
- The Council grants recognition of medical qualifications, gives accreditation to medical schools, grants registration to medical practitioners, and monitors medical practice in India.
- The Medical Council of India was first established in 1934 under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933. The Council was later reconstituted under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 that replaced the earlier Act.
Important functions performed by the council:
- Establishment and maintenance of uniform standards for undergraduate medical education.
- Regulation of postgraduate medical education in medical colleges accredited by it..
- Recognition of medical qualifications granted by medical institutions in India.
- Recognition of foreign medical qualifications in India.
- Accreditation of medical colleges.
- Registration of doctors with recognized medical qualifications.
- Keeping a directory of all registered doctors (called the Indian Medical Register).
Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
Scientists use micro-organisms to produce ‘green’ plastic
Korean researchers have developed a unique biorefinery system to create non-natural polymers from natural sources, allowing various plastics to be made in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable manner.
- Researchers have developed metabolically engineered Escherichia coli strains to synthesise non-natural, biomedically important polymers including PLGA or poly (lactic-co-glycolic acid) – previously considered impossible to obtain from bio-based materials.
Significance of this development:
As climate change technology becomes more important, this research on the biological production of non-natural, high value polymers has a great impact on science and industry.
In recent years, biorefineries which transform non-edible biomass into fuel, heat, power, chemicals and materials have received a great deal of attention as a sustainable alternative to decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels.
- Renewable non-food biomass can potentially replace petrochemical raw materials to produce energy sources, useful chemicals or products such as plastics, lubricants, paints, fertilisers and vitamin capsules.
Paper 3 Topic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
With IRNSS almost up in orbit, ground centres get into place
With IRNSS-1G slated to be launched in March this year, the national space agency ISRO is quickly putting across cities the last pieces of ground-based support infrastructure of the system. The sixth spacecraft, IRNSS-1F, is slated to be launched on 11th March from Sriharikota.
- ISRO is getting closer to completing the seven-spacecraft regional navigation system in space by April as planned.
- The nerve centre of IRNSS, the ISRO Navigation Centre, is at Byalalu on the outskirts of Bengaluru and is part of the 21 ground locations.
What is being done?
ISRO is adding a back-up for it at Lucknow. Four more centres providing different vital services are also coming up.
- Among them are data receiving and processing centres; units that have instruments such as atomic clocks for keeping accurate time, which is essential in navigation; and those that generate and transmit navigation parameters and maintain the spacecraft in position all the time.
About Ground Segment of IRNSS:
The ground segment, estimated to cost Rs. 300 crore, is part of the Rs. 1,420-crore IRNSS scheme, which was approved in May 2006.
- Currently, the IRNSS ground segment is operational on a 24/7 basis through 13 IRIMS (Indian Range and Integrity Monitoring Stations; 1 IRNSS Network Timing Centre; one ISRO Navigation Centre and one Spacecraft Control Facility with its data communication network.
- The range monitoring IRIMS, which could eventually total 15 to 17, will be spread across Gaggal, Dehradun, Lucknow, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bhopal, Shillong, Kolkata, Goa, Pune, Kavaratti, Mahendragiri and Port Blair, besides Bengaluru and Hassan.
- A Space Control Facility each will be in Hassan Karnataka— where the Master Control Facility for communication satellites functions since many decades — and its alternative centre in Bhopal.
Navigation satellites provide three main data, namely PNT: information on position, navigation and time. The data is important for a host of users, from the military to managers of air land and sea transport up to the man on the street looking to reach somewhere.
What is it?
IRNSS is an independent regional navigation satellite system designed to provide position information in the Indian region and 1500 km around the Indian mainland.
What all services are provided?
IRNSS would provide two types of services, namely Standard Positioning Services available to all users and Restricted Services provided to authorised users.
How many more satellites to be launched?
As of now, 5 satellites are launched out of total 7. Two more satellites will be launched by April 2016.
Significance of IRNSS:
Once fully operational, the National Space Agency is aiming to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign navigational systems such as the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian GLONASS.
Applications of IRNSS:
- Terrestrial, Aerial and Marine Navigation.
- Disaster Management.
- Vehicle tracking and fleet management.
- Integration with mobile phones.
- Precise Timing.
- Mapping and Geodetic data capture.
- Terrestrial navigation aid for hikers and travelers.
- Visual and voice navigation for drivers.
Other Global Navigational Systems:
- As of now, only the United States NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian GLONASS are global operational GNSSs.
- China is in the process of expanding its regional Beidou navigation system into the global Compass navigation system by 2020.
- The European Union’s Galileo positioning system is a GNSS in initial deployment phase, scheduled to be fully operational by 2020 at the earliest.
- France (DORIS), India, and Japan are in the process of developing regional navigation systems.
Sources: the hindu.
Paper 2 Topic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
No legal obligation to NPT, says India
Ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit, the government recently reminded the world that India does not have any legal obligation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Government believes that given the country’s consistent and principled position on the NPT, to which India is not a party, its provisions cannot be extended to India as a legal obligation.
This was in response to a question on the case that Marshall Islands from the Pacific Ocean region has lodged at the International Court of Justice against all the major nuclear states, including India, for possessing nuclear weapons and for not supporting a global test ban pact.
- The case from the Marshall Islands has been on the agenda of the ICJ since the tiny archipelago in the Pacific Ocean lodged the case in 2014 seeking greater international attention to the issue of comprehensive test ban treaty.
- Ever since, Marshall Islands’ campaign has acquired stronger support, especially since it suffered due to the nuclear tests conducted in its territory by the U.S.
India has sent a legal team to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where Marshall Islands has at present instituted proceedings against India, contending breach of customary law obligations following from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- India had already made a written presentation to the ICJ reiterating that Marshall Islands’ argument regarding the obligations flowing from Article VI of the NPT is not valid before India which is not a signatory to the NPT.
What the NPT says?
Article VI of the NPT demands that each member state of the NPT undertake “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
What is it?
It is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
When it entered into force?
The Treaty entered into force in 1970.
A total of 190 states have joined the Treaty.
Who has not joined?
Four UN member states have never joined the NPT: India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan. North Korea, which acceded to the NPT in 1985 but never came into compliance, announced its withdrawal in 2003.
Recognized nuclear-weapon states:
The treaty recognizes five states as nuclear-weapon states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
- The NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
- The treaty is reviewed every five years in meetings called Review Conferences of the Parties to the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Even though the treaty was originally conceived with a limited duration of 25 years, the signing parties decided, by consensus, to extend the treaty indefinitely and without conditions.
- Several additional measures have been adopted to strengthen the NPT and the broader nuclear non-proliferation regime and make it difficult for states to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons, including the export controls of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the enhanced verification measures of the IAEA Additional Protocol.
The NPT is interpreted as a three-pillar system, with an implicit balance among them: the three pillars are:
- The right to peacefully use nuclear technology.
Sources: the hindu.
Paper 2 Topic: RPA.
Constitution Bench to decide if MPs, MLAs can be disqualified upon framing of charges
The Supreme Court has decided to lay down the law on whether the country should even wait until a corrupt legislator is convicted to have him disqualified from Parliament or Assembly.
- A three-judge Bench has referred to a Constitution Bench the question whether a legislator facing criminal trial should be disqualified at the very stage of framing of charges against him by the trial court. Should his disqualification be kept in abeyance till he is convicted?
The court has been tightening its grip on corruption in politics from 2013 when it first held that legislators, on conviction, would be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. Before this verdict, convicted lawmakers would file an appeal in the higher court and continue in the House.
- In March 2014, the Supreme Court passed an interim order that criminal trials, especially those dealing with corruption and heinous offences, involving elected representatives should be completed in a year. This order prevented lawmakers from sitting in the House as their cases dragged on.
Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act deals with disqualification on conviction for certain offences: A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for varying terms under Sections 8 (1) (2) and (3) shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
- In 2013, the court found it unconstitutional that convicted persons could be disqualified from contesting elections but could continue to be Members of Parliament and State Legislatures once elected.
Sources: the hindu.
Paper 2 Topic: RPA.
SC asks Centre to explore e-voting for defence personnel
The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to explore ways, including e-voting facility, to enable defence and paramilitary personnel to cast their ballot.
- Right to vote is a statutory right granted to all citizens but many defence and paramilitary personnel posted in far-flung and border areas are not able to exercise it.
- The Court has directed the Centre to come out with concrete suggestions within three months on how to improve the existing system of postal ballot available with defence personnel and whether e-voting could be introduced to them.
Sources: the hindu.