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Insights Daily Current Events, 10 March 2016

Insights Daily Current Events, 10 March 2016

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Paper 2 Topic: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

Opposition sees amendment through in Rajya Sabha, again

The opposition has successfully moved amendment to the “Motion of Thanks” to the President for his address.

  • The opposition’s amendment was against the minimum educational qualification fixed for aspirants in local and panchayat elections in Haryana and Rajasthan polls, which was also a part of the President’s address.
  • It should be noted here that such amendment has been moved for the 5th time in Parliamentary history and 2nd time in the tenure of this government.

What next?

Now, the motion of thanks on the President’s address will be sent back to the President with a mention of the amendment passed.

Criticisms:

However, the government has argued that the amendment was not right since it referred to an issue which was a state subject

What is “Motion of Thanks” and what it contains?

The President makes an address to a joint sitting of Parliament at the start of the Budget session, which is prepared by the government and lists its achievements. The President’s speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead. The address is followed by a motion of thanks moved in each House by ruling party MPs. During the session, political parties discuss the motion of thanks also suggesting amendments.

Amendments to the “Motion of Thanks”:

Notices of amendments to Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address can be tabled after the President has delivered his Address. Amendments may refer to matters contained in the Address as well as to matters, in the opinion of the member, the Address has failed to mention. Amendments can be moved to the Motion of Thanks in such form as may be considered appropriate by the Speaker.

Limitation:

The only limitations are that members cannot refer to matters which are not the direct responsibility of the Central Government and that the name of the President cannot be brought in during the debate since the Government and not the President is responsible for the contents of the Address.

Provisions governing them:

President’s Address and Motion of Thanks are governed by Articles 86 (1) and 87 (1) of the Constitution and Rules 16 to 24 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: IPR related issues.

U.S. industry body says India agreed to not issue ‘compulsory’ drug licences

The U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) recently revealed that India has given private assurances to the US that it will not grant licences allowing local firms to override patents and make cheap copies of drugs by big Western drug makers.

  • USIBC is reviewing global intellectual property laws for an annual report identifying trade barriers to U.S. companies.

Background:

It should be noted here that the USTR has placed India on its “priority watch” list for two years in a row saying the country’s patent laws unfairly favour local drug makers.

  • A bone of contention has been a legal provision that allows the overriding of patents on original drugs and granting of ‘compulsory licences’ to local firms to make cheaper copycat medicines.
  • India can grant such licences under certain conditions, such as public health emergencies, to ensure access to affordable medicines.
  • It granted the first such licence in 2012, allowing local firm Natco Ltd. to sell a copy of German drugmaker Bayer’s cancer medicine Nexavar at a tenth of the price. Since that ruling, big Western pharmaceutical companies have criticised India’s patent law and lobbied for it to be changed.

All about Compulsory licenses:

Compulsory licenses are generally defined as “authorizations permitting a third party to make, use, or sell a patented invention without the patent owner’s consent.”

  • Under Indian Patent Act, 1970, the provision with regard to compulsory licensing is specifically given under Chapter XVI. The conditions which need to be fulfilled in order for a compulsory licence to be granted are also laid down under Sections 84 and 92 of the Act.
  • Under Section 84 (1) of the Indian Patent Act, any person may request a compulsory license if, after three years from the date of the grant of a patent, the needs of the public to be covered by the invention have not been satisfied; the invention is not available to the public at an affordable price; or the patented invention is not “worked in,” or manufactured in the country, to the fullest extent possible.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: India and its neighbors.

Sharp drop in aid to SAARC nations

The budget tabled in parliament has slashed India’s development assistance to all SAARC neighbours. Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal are worst hit by cuts.

  • The slashing of the assistance to SAARC countries is in line with the cut in Budget to the Ministry of External Affairs this year that has fallen by about Rs. 500 crore, if one counts the allocation for the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) that was merged with the MEA this year.
  • Allocation to Nepal has seen a drop of 28.6%. Sri Lanka and the Maldives have seen cuts of 54% and 78.1% compared with the previous year. And even the countries with the lowest GDP, Afghanistan and Bhutan, saw cuts this year of 23% and 10.8% respectively.
  • The one exception to the Budget proposals is Myanmar (not a SAARC nation), and saw a major 48% increase in development aid, due to the government’s focus on the Kaladan multi-mode transport corridor project, as well as the ‘Trilateral Highway’ project.
  • This cut is also likely to affect Bhutan, where hydel projects such as Punatsangchhu I and II or the massive 720 MW Mangdechu are at the preliminary stages of progress.
  • However, according to SAARC officials, the Salma hydel power project in Afghanistan which was nearing completion, might be the least affected.

Way ahead:

MEA has clarified that it will continue with all its aid programmes for all the neighbouring countries, and if the need arises for additional funds, then at the revised estimates stage, it will seek the additional funds.

SAARC- Key facts:

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and geopolitical organisation of eight countries that are primarily located in South Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

  • The SAARC Secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The combined economy of SAARC is the third largest in the world in the terms of GDP (PPP) after the United States and China and fifth largest in the terms of nominal GDP.
  • SAARC nations comprise 3% of the world’s area and contain 21% (around 1.7 billion) of the world’s total population and around 9.12% of the global economy as of 2015.
  • India makes up over 70% of the area and population among these eight nations.
  • The SAARC policies aim to promote welfare economics, collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia, and to accelerate socio-cultural development in the region.
  • The SAARC has also developed external relations by establishing permanent diplomatic relations with the EU, the UN (as an observer), and other multilateral entities.
  • The member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
  • States with observer status include Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea and the United States.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Kodaikanal mercury poisoning: HUL, ex-staff sign settlement

Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has finally entered into a settlement to provide “undisclosed” ex-gratia amount to the victims consisting of future health care benefits.

  • According to a joint statement issued by the HUL and the employees association, the settlement has been entered into on humanitarian considerations to put an end to the long-standing matter pending before the court for several years, in view of the suggestion of the Madras High Court.

Background:

  • The company was facing a ‘class action litigation’ moved by the former workers of its thermometer factory at Kodaikanal who were allegedly exposed to toxic mercury vapour during their employment.
  • This is the first ever class action litigation moved by industrial workers against occupational health exposure.

What happened- timeline:

Timeline:

  • 2001- TNPCB shuts down the HUL thermometer factory after sale of mercury contaminated glass to scrap dealers is detected. Health study of workers done.
  • 2003- Large amount of mercury scrap sent back to the U.S.
  • 2006- Ex-employees move Madras High Court against Unilever. Health effects such as miscarriages, kidney and nervous system damages, mental disability in children etc. stated
  • 2011- Committee constituted by Ministry of Labour concludes there was prima facie evidence of mercury-related ailments in workers.

Mercury- basic facts:

  • Mercury is a chemical element with symbol Hg and atomic number 80.
  • It is commonly known as quicksilver and was formerly named hydrargyrum.
  • Mercury is the only metallic element that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure. The only other element that is liquid under these conditions is bromine.
  • Mercury occurs in deposits throughout the world mostly as cinnabar (mercuric sulfide).
  • Mercury poisoning can result from exposure to water-soluble forms of mercury (such as mercuric chloride or methylmercury), inhalation of mercury vapor, or eating seafood contaminated with mercury.
  • Mercury is used in thermometers, barometers, manometers, sphygmomanometers, float valves, mercury switches, mercury relays, fluorescent lamps and other devices. It is also used in lighting: electricity passed through mercury vapor in a fluorescent lamp produces short-wave ultraviolet light which then causes the phosphor in the tube to fluoresce, making visible light.
  • Mercury is a very rare element in the Earth’s crust. It accounts for only about only 0.08 parts per million (ppm).
  • It is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Most metals are excellent thermal conductors.

Effects of Mercury on Health:

  • Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.
  • Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
  • Mercury is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.
  • People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: conservation.

Government signs MoU on conservation of birds of prey

The Government has signed ‘Raptor MoU’ – a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on conservation of birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia.

  • The MoU was signed recently at the Convention on Migratory Species Office in Abu Dhabi by the Ambassador of India to the UAE, Shri T.P Seetharam.
  • With this, India has become the 56th signatory State to sign the ‘Raptor MoU’ that was concluded on October 22, 2008 and came into effect on November 1, 2008.

Background:

The Union Cabinet in December 2015 had approved the proposal of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to sign the ‘Raptor MoU’, on Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia, with the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), or Bonn Convention, under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

  • The CMS aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range. India had become a party to the CMS since November 1, 1983.

About Raptor MoU:

The Raptor MOU is an agreement under the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) and is not legally binding.

  • The MOU seeks willingness of the signatory Range States for working for conservation of the raptor species and their habitats. Under this, an action plan has been formulated which primarily envisages the conservation action for Raptor species.
  • The Raptors MoU extends its coverage to 76 species of birds of prey out of which 46 species including vultures, falcons, eagles, owls, hawks, kites, harriers, etc. also occur in India.
  • India’s neighbours Pakistan and Nepal are also signatories to this MOU.

Benefits for India:

Considering that the Raptor MOU is also in conformity with the provisions of the existing Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, wherein the birds have been accorded protection, India would gain domain knowledge which would be helpful in effectively managing the habitats of these Raptors, including concerted trans-boundary efforts for conservation through interaction with other range countries by signing of the MOU with the CMS.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday.

New mini fuel cell powers drones for over an hour

Scientists have developed a miniaturised fuel cell that can power drones for more than one hour and may lead to smartphone batteries that require charge only once a week.

About the Cell:

The solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC), developed by researchers in South Korea, may replace lithium-ion batteries in smartphones, laptops, drones, and other small electronic devices.

  • The SOFC, referred to as a third-generation fuel cell, has been intensively studied since it has a simple structure and no problems with corrosion or loss of the electrolyte.
  • This fuel cell converts hydrogen into electricity by oxygen-ion migration to fuel electrode through an oxide electrolyte.
  • Typically, silicon has been used after lithography and etching as a supporting component of small oxide fuel cells. This design, however, has shown rapid degradation or poor durability due to thermal-expansion mismatch with the electrolyte, and thus, it cannot be used in actual devices that require fast On/Off.
  • The research team developed, for the first time in the world, a new technology that combines porous stainless steel, which is thermally and mechanically strong and highly stable to oxidation/reduction reactions, with thin-film electrolyte and electrodes of minimal heat capacity.
  • Performance and durability were increased simultaneously. In addition, the fuel cells are made by a combination of tape casting-lamination-cofiring (TLC) techniques that are commercially viable for large scale SOFC.

The research team expects this fuel cell may be suitable for portable electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and drones that require high power-density and quick on/off. They also expect to develop large and inexpensive fuel cells for a power source of next-generation automotive.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Facts for Prelims from “The Hindu”:

  1. The Department of Science and Technology has decided to invest up to 1 crore in every fresh start-up that will seed from the next financial year. Previously, the maximum permissible investment was 50 lakh. The government has also decided to exempt start-ups from inspection from labour inspectors for up to three years if they give a self-declaration that they are complying with nine labour laws.
  2. A recent survey by Karnataka Forest Department has revealed that the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve has a density of 8.6 tigers per 100 sqkm. The national standard for a good density of the big cat is between 8 and 10 per 100 sqkm. Survey results also indicate that the park has 93 tigers. The national tiger census, however, puts the number at 101. Forest officials say it’s common to find such differences between tiger estimates. The Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, officially known as the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, covers an area of 643sqkm and is spread over Kodagu and Mysuru districts in Karnataka. It is home to one of the country’s largest number of tigers.