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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (19th June)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. Why this week’s Opec meeting matters for India

Opec members are discussing a deal that could see oil production rise between 300,000 and 600,000 barrels a day over the next few months. Graphic: Mint

  1. With OPEC accounting for around 40% of global production, any decision will have a wide-ranging impact on energy markets.
  2. The meeting is also significant as it comes in the backdrop of a supply cut by OPEC and Russia, which triggered a rally in global crude oil prices.
  3. Prices have fallen since then. Also, there are growing fears of a trade war escalation, which may impact global growth.

How do international crude oil prices affect India?

  1. Retail prices of petrol and diesel in India track global prices of these fuels, not crude, but they are broadly linked to crude oil price trends.
  2. Crude oil prices impact India’s oil import bill and trade deficit. Lower oil prices had dramatically improved India’s terms of trade in 2015-16.
  3. A rally in global oil prices had pushed up the average cost of the Indian basket of crude

How did the Indian government respond to high prices?

The government has so far refused to roll back its decision to link domestic and international fuel prices and has said that it is working toward a ‘long-term solution’.

Why is this meeting particularly important for India?

  1. India’s energy needs are mainly met through imports, and OPEC accounts for around 83% of the country’s total crude oil imports.
  2. Oil minister who is scheduled to participate in the 7th OPEC seminar has maintained that India is a price-sensitive customer and will seek reasonable rates as its energy demand grows.
  3. He has also said market fundamentals do not support such high prices

Is Opec alone responsible for the oil market uncertainty?

  1. There have been both internal and external pressures on the grouping.
  2. There has been a rally in oil prices due to factors such as US President Donald Trump pulling his country out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and Opec and Russia cutting supplies.
  3. In addition, Venezuela’s oil output has collapsed to the lowest since the 1950s and geopolitical tensions have also played a part.

Back2Basics

Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)

  1. OPEC  is an intergovernmental organization of 14 nations
  2. The 14 countries accounted for an estimated 44 percent of global oil production and 73 percent of the world’s “proven” oil reserves
  3. OPEC’s stated mission is “to coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its member countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets, in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers, and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry
  4. The OPEC Conference is the supreme authority of the organization and consists of delegations normally headed by the oil ministers of member countries
  5. The Conference ordinarily meets at the Vienna headquarters, at least twice a year and in additional extraordinary sessions when necessary

2. Aadhaar virtual IDs becoming a real problem for NBFCs

NBFCs point out that using Aadhaar virtual IDs will give them access to limited details about the customers, which may make lending more difficult.

Image result for aadhar virtual id

  1. The Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI’s) plan to make non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) use Aadhaar Virtual IDs to authenticate customers from 1 July has put these firms in a fix.
  2. The government introduced 16-digit virtual IDs in a bid to address privacy concerns around sharing Aadhaar numbers at the time of authentication.
  3. Earlier, the Aadhaar data of all customers were synced with credit bureaus, which allowed NBFCs to do eKYC without the need for physical verification, said a digital strategy officer of a top NBFC.

Lending is difficult due to Virtual IDs

  1. NBFCs pointed out that using virtual IDs will give them access to limited details about the customers, which may make lending more difficult.
  2. Since virtual IDs mask the Aadhaar number, NBFCs believe the cost of customer acquisition will rise as they have to do additional physical checks.
  3. NBFCs also point out that many customers are not fully aware of Aadhaar virtual IDs as UIDAI is yet to publicize this new system.
  4. These firms are concerned that it would be left to them to push customers to register for virtual IDs, increasing the cost of customer acquisition.

Problem with UIDAI’s AUA Classification

  1. UIDAI has recently classified entities as global AUAs (authentication user agencies)and local AUAs, depending on their access to Aadhaar data for customer verification.
  2. Banks and life insurers have been categorized as global AUAs and allowed to use Aadhaar numbers to do an eKYC verification.
  3. On the other hand, NBFCs, home financiers, prepaid instrument issuers and telecom companies have been classified as local AUAs and must use Aadhaar virtual ID to perform a one-time-password-based customer authentication.

3. In a first, WHO recommends quadrivalent influenza vaccine

The quadrivalent vaccine will have two A virus strains — H1N1 and H3N2 — and two B virus strains — Victoria and Yamagata

Image result for influenza

Quadrivalent vaccine approved

  1. Sanofi Pasteur’s injectable influenza vaccine (FluQuadri) containing two A virus strains — H1N1 and H3N2 — and two B virus strains — Victoria and Yamagata — for active immunisation of adults of age 18 to 64 years was approved in May last year by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI).
  2. The application for the paediatric indication is under review by the DCGI and final approval is expected by the end of this month.
  3. Sanofi’s quadrivalent influenza vaccine was licensed for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013; it is licensed in 26 countries.

Why Quadrivalent vaccine?

  1. While a trivalent influenza vaccine contains both A subtype viruses, it has only one of the B subtype virus, the quadrivalent vaccine offers a greater breadth of protection as it includes both B subtype viruses.
  2. It is because of a greater breadth of protection that a few other companies too have shifted from a trivalent to a quadrivalent vaccine.
  3. Since the vast majority of influenza vaccines manufactured were trivalent till recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) used to recommend two A subtypes and one B subtype, plus an optional fourth strain (the other B virus strain).

Benefits of Quadrivalent Vaccine

  1. The quadrivalent vaccine will contain four influenza virus strains (two A subtypes and two B subtypes — H1N1 and H3N2, and Victoria and Yamagata respectively).
  2. The viruses used in the vaccine are killed and this eliminates the possibility of the virus in the vaccine itself causing infection.
  3. In India, the vaccine will be available as a single dose pre-filled syringe
  4. Eventually, it will be available in a vial for public health use.

Incidences of different Strains

  1. In the case of H1N1, there are two strains — California and Michigan — that cause influenza. In India, the Michigan strain was earlier circulating and has been replaced by the California strain.
  2. For 2018, the WHO has recommended the Michigan strain for the southern hemisphere, including India.
  3. Each year, the vaccine changes to reflect the different strains in circulation.
  4. Year-round, scientists across the globe track, analyze and classify the viral strains causing illness.

 Indian context

  1. Despite the high number of infections and mortality each year, India does not have in place a national policy for influenza immunization.
  2. Pregnant mothers, children aged below five and young people with asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are at a greater risk of infection and death.
  3. The Ministry of Health issues only H1N1 vaccination guidelines for different vulnerable groups including healthcare workers.
  4. If we want to reduce the influenza burden in adults, then we must target children as they act as reservoirs.

Influenza

Influenza is a virus that actually has hundreds of different strains. The virus mutates frequently, but the strains are classified into one of three main categories—A, B, or C.

Influenza A is the group that most commonly causes illness in humans.

  1. All influenza A viruses are further broken down into H and N subtypes. So, any influenza virus that is described as “H#N#” (such as H1N1) is an influenza A virus.
  2. There are 16 H subtypes and nine N subtypes, but only three combinations have actually caused highly contagious illness in humans.
  3. Other combinations have been found to infect other species (such as birds and pigs), but they have not caused widespread human infections.
  4. The three combinations that cause almost all outbreaks of the flu in humans are H1N1, H2N2 and H3N2.
  5. Even in these subtypes, the influenza virus can mutate and change each year. For this reason, influenza viruses are also named using:
  • The host of origin (swine, chicken, etc., or no host if it is of human origin)
  • The geographical location of origin (Hong Kong, Alberta, etc.)
  • Strain number
  • Year of discovery (or isolation)

Influenza B

  1. Influenza B is less common but still causes outbreaks of seasonal flu.
  2. One or two strains of influenza B are included in the seasonal flu vaccine every year to protect people from the strain(s) that researchers believe are most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.
  3. The quadrivalent flu vaccine contains two strains of influenza B but the traditional trivalent flu vaccine only contains one.
  4. Influenza B is not broken down into subtypes like influenza A is, but it is broken down into individual strains.
  5. Typically, two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B are included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Quadrivalent flu vaccines contain two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B.
  6. Influenza B can cause outbreaks of seasonal flu but they occur less frequently than outbreaks of influenza A.

4. Knee-jerk Justice

What is POSCO Act?

  • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
  • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 received the President’s assent on 19th June 2012 and was notified in the Gazette of India on 20th June, 2012.
  • For POCSO Act to effectively protect children, it should go beyond death penalty.

Why in news?

  • In April, India made world news with the introduction of the death penalty for child rapists.
  • It is unfortunate how it takes tragic incidents such as the rape of minors to remind us that the laws of the country need serious reconsideration.
  • The last time a major overhaul in the rape law was thought of was as a consequence of the Delhi 2012 rape and murder case. Before that, the Vishaka incident was a catalyst for the law on sexual harassment.

Arguments against the Act

  • The ineffectiveness of reactionary lawmaking can be seen in the recently proposed amendments in the Criminal Law and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, that were a result of the Unnao and the Kathua cases which shook the country’s conscience.

The new reforms proposed to the POSCO Act

  • The new reforms that have been proposed to the Indian Penal Code, which shall further apply to the POCSO are: One, if a person rapes a minor girl below the age of 12 years then the punishment shall be rigorous imprisonment of at least 20 years which, shall be extendable to life imprisonment or death.
  • Previously the punishment for the same was rigorous imprisonment for at 10 years or life imprisonment, along with fine. Two, if a person rapes a girl who is below 16 years, then the punishment is rigorous imprisonment of at least 20 years, extendable to life imprisonment. The punishment for this as per the 2013 criminal amendment is rigorous imprisonment, not less than 10 years and which may extend to life imprisonment.
  • The ordinance has suggested a few more changes, such as time-bound investigations, appeals and prior sanction from the courts for prosecution of government servants.
  • However, the main change it suggests is in introducing the death penalty for the rape of a minor below the age of 12.

What steps has to be taken?

  • A major provision in the POCSO is that of setting up a Special Juvenile Police unit in-charge of investigating cases of child abuse. This was conceived of as a protection against the police intimidating children, either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Yet, no mention of a special juvenile police unit can be found in many cases. Similarly, with various provisions for the security and the care of the victim under the POCSO — such as the statement of a child should be taken at the residence of a child or a place where he or she is comfortable, by a lady police officer — there’s massive oversight when it comes to enforcement.
  • In the Kathua case, for instance, the name of the victim was highlighted and essentially advertised on all the media channels even though this is strictly prohibited both under the POCSO Act as well as the IPC under section 228 A.

Challenges

  • The prospect of harsh punishments, such as the death penalty, can, in fact, be a threat to the victim. NCRB data reveals that in more than 96 per cent of child sex abuse cases, the perpetrator is a close relative or a member of the family.
  • This is why children often find it difficult to confess. Parents often try to resolve matters of abuse themselves due to the stigma that is associated with such crimes. Harsher punishments for the perpetrator can quickly become harsher threats for the victim, as the accused may go to any extent to protect themselves. Worried for their own safety, children may choose not to provide testimony.

Conclusion

  • For the POCSO Act to be effective in protecting children who are sexually abused, it should go beyond relying on the death penalty as a deterrent. It should focus on stricter enforcement of protections for the abused children, punish half-hearted investigations, do away with intimidating procedures and improve the overall sluggishness in the legal system.
  • Justice is more than a punitive, knee-jerk reaction to the perpetrator of injustice. The child abuse law as it stands has multiple problems, mostly stemming from its focus on the abuser. It’s important to look at the systemic failures that allow child abuse to happen, prevent children who are abused from speaking up. Punishment alone is not a complete solution by any means.

5. Water for thought

Why in news?

  • A new Niti Aayog report should occasion reflection and reform of systems of water governance in the country.
  • In recent years, there has been a growing awareness in policy circles of the over-exploitation of the country’s water resources.

About Issues?

  • The Atlas of India’s Aquifer Systems, released by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) in 2012, highlighted the falling levels of groundwater in the country.
  • Four years later, the Mihir Shah Committee argued that there is little “understanding of river systems or their interconnections with the health of catchment areas or groundwater”.
  • Now, a Niti Aayog report, Composite Water Management Index, released last week, flags factoids which show how grim the situation isSeventy per cent of the water resources in the country is polluted, 75 per cent households do not have drinking water and more than 600 million people in the country face high to extreme water distress.

Analysis

  • The report should occasion debate on a major policy omission in independent India. Since 1947, more than 4,000 major and medium-sized dams have been constructed in the country, about 250 billion cubic metres of groundwater is extracted annually, but very little attention has been paid to the health of aquifer systems.
  • Since 1971, the CGWB has mounted an aggressive search for groundwater without always recognising the limits posed by the country’s geology: Hard rock aquifers constitute nearly 65 percent of India’s overall aquifer surface area.
  • These aquifers have poor permeability that constrains their recharge by rainfall. In other words, the water in these aquifers is likely to dry out with continuous exploitation. Falling water tables render these underground storage systems vulnerable to pollutants. Last week, a Duke University study revealed uranium contamination in aquifers in 16 Indian states.

Way forward

  • The Mihir Shah Committee had pointed out that “focus of water policy in independent India had been on augmenting supplies with little attention being paid to the demand-side management of water”.
  • This policy direction played a major role in meeting the imperatives of food security, but as the Shah Committee pointed out, there has been little emphasis on institutional innovations in the water sector.
  • That is why returns to public investments in the country’s water infrastructure have been poor. The Shah Committee had talked of a paradigm shift in the country’s water governance: From a predominantly engineer-centred approach of the CWGB to one involving hydrologists, geologists, agronomists, and ecologists.
  • Two years after the committee submitted its report, there has been little action on its recommendations. The report needs to be pulled out of the shelves, especially after the grim figures thrown up by Niti Aayog’s survey.

6. RBI alters ‘relative’ definition to check outward remittances

RBI alters ‘relative’ definition to check outward remittances

  • Concerned over funds sent abroad under the ‘maintenance of close relative’ category of the Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has narrowed the definition of relatives to check the flow of funds.
  • Hence, funds under the ‘maintenance of close relative’ category can be sent only to immediate relatives such as parents, spouses, children and their spouses.
  • This has been brought about by defining ‘relatives’ under the Companies Act, 2013 instead of the same act of 1956.

Concerns

  • Outward remittances under maintenance of close relatives shot up to almost $3 billion in 2017-18 from a mere $174 million in 2013-14.
  • In fact, funds sent under this category have more than doubled since 2015-16.
  • It is possible that the facility [maintenance of relatives] under the Liberalised Remittances Scheme is used for commercial purposes which is not its objective.

The new system

  • RBI has introduced a system for daily reporting of individual transactions under the LRS by banks.
  • This enables banks to view remittances already made by an individual during the fiscal, thus improving monitoring and ensuring compliance.
  • Since the system uses the Permanent Account Number of the remitter to aggregate remitter-wise data, the central bank has made furnishing of PAN mandatory for such transactions.

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