Battle against measles
Topic: GS–II: Health
Sri Lanka has made health history after spending three years free of any new measles cases and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that the deadly childhood infection has been eliminated in the island nation. In contrast, India has a long road ahead, particularly because vaccine-resistant voices are sometimes being heard.
- Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease that can cause debilitating or fatal complications, including encephalitis, severe diarrhoea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections and permanent vision loss.
- The disease is preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. India currently gives a measles rubella vaccine in its universal immunisation programme to tackle both measles and rubella.
- Rubella, more commonly known as German measles, can have severe consequences during pregnancy. An infection just before conception and in early pregnancy may result in miscarriage, foetal death or congenital defects known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). A woman infected with the rubella virus early in pregnancy has a 90% chance of passing the virus to the foetus.
Status in India
- The latest Global Measles and Rubella Update, which lists provisional data received in June and covering the period between May 2018 and April 2019, says India reported 47,056 measles cases and 1,263 rubella cases during these 12 months.
- India, as part of the global initiative, has targeted elimination of measles and control of rubella by 2020. Rubella control is achieved when a country reduces the number of rubella cases by 95% as compared to cases in 2008.
- India has initiated the world’s largest Measles-Rubella (MR) Campaign targeting vaccination of 410 million children and adolescents aged between 9 months and 15 years. The MR campaign began in February 2017, and as of November 2018, 135 million children have been vaccinated in 28 states/UTs. Under the programme, two doses of measles and rubella vaccines are to be given at ages 9-12 months and 16-24 months.
The Sri Lanka milestone
- Sri Lanka is the fifth country in WHO’s Southeast Asia region to eliminate measles. The other four countries are Bhutan, Maldives, DPR Korea and Timor-Leste. Sri Lanka’s success follows its persistent efforts to ensure maximum coverage with two doses of measles and rubella vaccines being provided in the childhood immunisation programme.
- The vaccination coverage in the country has been consistently high – over 95% with both the first and second doses provided to children under the routine immunisation programme. Additionally, mass vaccination campaigns with a measles-rubella vaccine have been held periodically to plug immunisation gaps, the last one in 2014.
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- The country has a strong surveillance system and all vaccine-preventable diseases are an integral part of the communicable disease surveillance system. Measles is a notifiable disease in the country.
- Last year, Sri Lanka achieved rubella control, along with five other countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Timor-Leste.
- Globally, there are concerns about vaccination gaps that are allowing the disease to resurface in areas where it is not very common. In 2019, a large number of American states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri have reported measles cases to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) Atlanta.
- In 2017, over 109,000 deaths occurred from measles all around the world. A global report by WHO and CDC Atlanta, released last year, said that since 2000, over 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunisation.
- However, reported cases increased by more than 30 per cent worldwide from 2016. The maximum upsurge in such cases in 2017 was reported from the two Americas, Eastern Mediterranean region and Europe, while Western Pacific was the only WHO region where measles incidence fell.
- For several years, the global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85 per cent. This is far short of the 95 per cent needed to prevent outbreaks, and leaves many people, in many communities, susceptible to the disease. Second dose coverage stands at 67 per cent.
Single tribunal to hear water disputes
Topic: GS –II: Governance
The Union Cabinet has approved the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that will help adjudicate disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valleys.
More in news:
- The Bill seeks to amend the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to streamline the adjudication of inter-State river water disputes.
- A key feature of the Bill is the constitution of a single tribunal with different Benches, and the setting of strict timelines for adjudication.
- When any request under the Act is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute on the inter-State rivers and the Central Government is of the opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government constitutes a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute.
- There are about a dozen tribunals that now exist to resolve disputes among States on sharing water from rivers common to them. The standalone tribunal so envisaged will have a permanent establishment, office space and infrastructure so as to obviate with the need to set up a separate tribunal for each water dispute – a time consuming process.
- The Bill also proposes a Dispute Resolution Committee set up by the Central Government for amicably resolving inter-State water disputes within 18 months. Any dispute that cannot be settled by negotiations would be referred to the tribunal for its adjudication. The dispute so referred to the tribunal shall be assigned by the chairperson of the tribunal to a Bench of the tribunal for adjudication.
- The Bill can also affect the composition of the members of various tribunals, and has a provision to have a technical expert as the head of the tribunal.
- Currently all tribunals are staffed by members of the judiciary, nominated by the Chief Justice.
Dessert locusts in Rajasthan and Gujarat
Topic: GS -III: Economic Development
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told Parliament that since May 21, there has been an incursion of desert locusts in Rajasthan and Gujarat from areas bordering Pakistan. He also said that neither the desert locust control teams nor any state agriculture functionaries have reported any damage to the crops.
- India has a Locust Control and Research scheme that is being implemented through the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), established in 1939 and amalgamated in 1946 with the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage (PPQS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the PPQS.
- The LWO’s responsibility is monitoring and control of the locust situation in Scheduled Desert Areas mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and partly in Punjab and Haryana.
- The LWO publishes a fortnightly bulletin on the locust situation. The latest bulletin on the PPQS website, for the second fortnight of June, said control operations had covered 5,551 hectares by June 30. By July 3, this had risen to 8,051 hectares, according to the minister’s written reply in Parliament.
· The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a species of locust, a swarming short-horned grasshopper in the family Acrididae.
· Plagues of desert locusts have threatened agricultural production in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia for centuries. The livelihood of at least one-tenth of the world’s human population can be affected by this voracious insect.
· The desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests because of the ability of swarms to fly rapidly across great distances. It has two to five generations per year. The last major desert locust upsurge in 2004–05 caused significant crop losses in West Africa and had a negative impact on food security in the region. While the desert locust alone is not responsible for famines, it can be an important contributing factor.
The gap between high and low earners, in India and world
Topic: GS -III: Economic Development
The top 10 per cent earners in India made over 69 per cent of the country’s labour income in 2017, in contrast to 0.25 per cent made by the bottom 10 per cent earners, according to a global report by the UN arm International Labour Organisation (ILO).
- This gap has been consistent in India since 2004, when the top decile had earned about 70 per cent of the total income and the poorest 10 per cent had earned 0.30 per cent.
- Globally, the top 10 per cent earners made a little under half the total income of 2017, compared to less than 2 per cent earned by the the lowest paid 30 per cent workers, said the report, which covered 189 countries.
- On an average, the bottom 10 per cent workers earned $22 a month in 2017 while the top decile earned $7,475. In other words, the poorest 10 per cent would need to work three centuries more if they were to reach the $7,475 level of the top decile.
- While the pay inequality has remained consistent in India, it has reduced at the global workplace in the last 13 years. The income share of the richest 10 per cent was down to 48.9 per cent in 2017 from 55.5 per cent in 2004. While the report attributed this to the rise of emerging markets such as China and India, the pay inequality in these countries is more pronounced. China’s 10 per cent richest workers earned 42.12 per cent of its labour income against the bottom decile’s 0.47 per cent in 2017.
- Worldwide, the income share of the middle 60 per cent workers grew to 30.2 per cent in 2017 from 23.6 per cent in 2004, while the share of the richest 20 per cent workers came down by 6.8 percentage points.
The GM cotton conundrum
Topic: GS -III: Economic Development
Over 1,000 farmers participated in a ‘civil disobedience’ movement in Maharashtra’s Akoli Jahagir village, sowing genetically modified HTBT cotton to protest the Centre’s ban on GM crops.
What is HT Bt cotton?
- Herbicide-tolerant Bt (HT Bt) Cotton is genetically modified crop of unapproved genes which is not permissible in India. Technically, herbicide is like a poison which is used to destroy unwanted vegetation.
- The technique in the HT Bt Cotton makes the crop resistant to herbicide following modification in genes of the seeds. “Normally, when an herbicide is sprayed, then it destroys unwanted vegetation along with causing harm the cotton crop also. So, farmers use less herbicide in their fields.
What’s the extent of HT Bt Cotton in India?
- In the absence of government approval, production of HT Bt seed is illegal, but farmers say it’s available in those states where its being grown defying the laws. A section of farmers have started sowing its seeds particularly in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for the past few years.
- A government panel had found that the HT Bt Cotton was grown in 15 per cent of the areas in these states during 2017-18 while this percentage was 5 per cent for Punjab.
- According to supporters of HT Bt Cotton, its preferred to reduce the cost of labour as de-weeding is an extremely labour intensive activity involving 40 per cent of the total cost for growing cotton.
- It is in this context the herbicide tolerant (HT), the new generation Bt cotton, has attracted the attention of many farmers. The farmers have felt the impact of HT Bt Cotton in terms of lower costs and reduced crop losses leading to higher production and income.
What do agitating farmers say?
- They say that they should be allowed to use the latest technologies in the agriculture including genetically modified (GM) crops. They say that across the world a dozen GM crops have been approved so far, and these are being grown on over 185 million hectares in more than two dozen countries.
- However, the Indian government in 2010 had imposed a moratorium, leaving Bt Cotton as the only genetically modified crop permitted for cultivation in the country.
- The farmers want improved seeds and technology for better crops.
What do the opponents of HT Bt Cotton say?
- Leading farmer’s organizations in Haryana like BKU have strongly opposed the idea of HT Bt cotton and Bt brinjal. They said that the protest by a group is just part of tactics of seed companies which are involved in the production of seeds of HT Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal. They want to use their puppets to propagate demand for such seeds. Such seeds will cause more diseases among humans and animals apart from causing damage to the environment.
What is the government’s stand?
- The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare had informed the Lok Sabha that the major cotton growing states have been directed to file FIRs, seize stocks and issue show-cause notices to the companies concerned to stop production of HT Bt Cotton.
- The police have already started filing FIRs against farmers in Maharashtra who have sown the HT Bt Cotton.
- Leading farmer leaders have not come in the support of HT Bt Cotton in Haryana yet, hence no major agitation appears on this issue in near future. However, agitating leder says they will continue with their satyagraha to sow HT Bt Cotton in other areas of Haryana and Punjab. Agriculture department officer RP Sihag says they can’t initiate any action against the farmer concerned till its confirmed that it was really HT Bt Crop. “It may take some time to test the plants of the crop to reach on a conclusion.”
Bengal port records country’s highest sea level rise in 50 years
Topic: GS-III: Environment
Of the major ports in India, Diamond Harbour in West Bengal located at the mouth of river Hooghly has recorded the maximum sea level increase, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
More in news:
- While recent studies reveal that sea level rise in the country has been estimated to be 1.3 mm per year along India’s coasts during the last 40-50 years, at Diamond Harbour the rise was almost five times higher at 5.16 mm per year.
- The mean sea level rise for Diamond Harbour was based on recordings over the period between 1948 to 2005. This is followed by Kandla port in Gujarat where the sea level rise was 3.18 (1950 to 2005), followed by Haldia in West Bengal, which recorded a sea level rise of 2.89 mm a year (1972 to 2005). Port Blair also recorded a sea level rise of 2.20 mm per year (1916-1964).
- Sea level rise is said to be linked with global warming and as per the fifth assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change, the global sea level was rising at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year over the last century.
- Going by the data from the Ministry of Earth Sciences, four ports — Diamond Harbour, Kandla, Haldia and Port Blair — recorded a higher sea level rise than the global average. Chennai and Mumbai recorded a sea level rise far below the global and the national averages at 0.33 mm per year (1916-2005) and 0.74 mm (1878-2005) respectively.
- Rising sea levels can exacerbate the impacts of coastal hazards such as storm surge, tsunami, coastal floods, high waves and coastal erosion in the low lying coastal areas in addition to causing gradual loss of coastal land to sea.
- According to experts the sea level rise is higher in West Bengal, particularly in the Sunderbans delta because of the deltaic sediment deposition as a result of the mixing of fresh water and saline water.
Centre outlaws outfit for pro-Khalistani activities
Topic: GS -III: Security
The Union Home Ministry has banned the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a group advocating secessionist and pro-Khalistani activities in India.
More in news:
- The group was advocating Referendum 2020, an online campaign for Khalistan, a separate land for the Sikhs.
- Its founder Avtar Singh Pannu was seen shouting slogans and wearing a T-shirt that said “Khalistan Zindabad, Referendum 2020” at the India-New Zealand cricket match in the U.K.
- A senior Ministry official said the SFJ’s online supporters were over 2 lakh but physically it was only a group of eight to 10 people. The Punjab government gave crucial information to help ban the group.The official said 11 cases were registered against the SFJ in the past four years and 39 people were arrested. The group also funded certain activities.
300-member all-woman voyage to fight ocean plastic
Topic: GS-III: Environment
More than 300 women will join a round-the-world voyage launching in October to highlight the devastating impact of plastic pollution in the oceans and conduct scientific research into the escalating crisis.
More in news:
- Millions of tonnes of plastic, from food packaging to fishing gear enters the sea each year, leading some marine experts to warn that there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.
- The two-year all-female voyage comprises scientists, teachers, filmmakers, product designers, photographers and athletes. It is organised by eXXpedition, a non-profit focusing on marine pollution.
- They will collect samples from some of the planet’s most important and diverse marine environments to build a picture of the state of the seas.
- The 38,000 nautical mile trip will cover the Arctic, the Galapagos Islands, the South Pacific islands and central ocean areas where plastic accumulates because of circulating currents.
NEWS IN BREEF
Worker safety code Bill
The Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill, 2019 that seeks to merge 13 labour laws into one code on occupational safety, health and working conditions that would apply to all establishments with 10 or more workers was approved by the Union Cabinet, paving the way for its introduction in Parliament.
- The Bill was the second of four proposed codes that aim to merge 44 labour laws, with the Code on Wages Bill, 2019 that was approved on July 3 being the first.
Other key decisions by Union Cabinet
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