Supreme Court takes note of complaint by survivor’s family #GS2 #Governance
The Supreme Court on July 31 took suo motu cognisance of a letter written by the family of the Unnao rape case victim on July 12 to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi on threats received from the accused persons.
The letter has come to light almost two days after a truck collided with her car, causing serious injuries to her and her lawyer.
The CJI called it a “highly volatile situation”. He said he was informed about the letter only on Tuesday (July 30). He asked why the court registry had not brought the letter to his attention.
The CJI listed the suo motu case for hearing on August 1, promising that a judicial order would be passed to ensure safety and better conditions for the rape survivor. The accident, which happened near Rae Bareli on July 28, claimed the lives of two of her aunts.
Kuldeep Singh Sengar, four-time BJP MLA from U.P.’s Bangermau, is an accused in the rape case and was arrested last April. The Uttar Pradesh BJP on Tuesday claimed that Sengar was suspended from the party in 2018.
The girl’s letter narrates the incidents of July 7-8 when some people allegedly associated with Sengar threatened her family with dire consequences. It also sought a direction for registration of an FIR against the persons who intimidated them.
The letter, signed by the girl, her mother and aunt, stated that on July 7, Naveen Singh, son of an accused in the rape case; Shashi Singh, Manoj Singh, brother of another accused Kuldeep Singh; and one Kunnu Mishra visited their house and threatened them. The next day, another person came to their house. The girl and the family said that along with their letter they were also annexing the video of the car in which these persons came to their house.
An FIR, which was lodged a day after the road accident, names the BJP legislator, his brother Manoj Singh Sengar, Vinod Mishra, Haripal Singh, Naveen Singh, Komal Singh, Arun Singh, Gyandendra Singh, Rinku Singh and Awadhesh Singh as accused.
Good July rains bring monsoon deficit to 9%- Jacob Koshy #GS1 #Geography
India’s monsoon deficit percentage has for the first time this year narrowed down to single digits thanks to better-than-expected July rainfall.
As of July 31, data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) says that the country got 28.5 cm of rainfall in July, about 4% more than what’s normal for the month. This has reduced the seasonal deficit (calculated from June 1 to July 31) from 32.8% as on June 30 to 9%, as July’s numbers suggest.
July rainfall exceeds the prediction by the weather agencies in May. The IMD, for instance, had forecast July rainfall to be 5% less than normal, and private weather agency Skymet said the deficit would be 9%. The improvement in rainfall was distributed in all regions except the southern peninsula, which got 10% less rain than what’s normal for July
Currently, the monsoon is in an active phase and, because of the likelihood of a rain-bearing low pressure system in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal, steady rains are likely over Central India as well as India’s western coast until the first week of August.
While the IMD is expected to soon announce an updated outlook for the quantum of rainfall expected in August and September, it had in May forecast rainfall in August to be 99% of its average. August and July are the rainiest and the most important months in the monsoon and contribute roughly 65% of the overall monsoon rainfall.
The pessimism by forecasters in May was due to the looming fear of an El Niño, a climate phenomenon known to dry up monsoon rainfall. The threat of an El Niño has now largely receded.
Currently, weak El Niño conditions are prevailing over equatorial Pacific Ocean and forecasts indicate that transition of El Niño conditions to El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral conditions is likely during the end of the monsoon season,” the IMD’s latest outlook indicates.
The improvement in rains are critical to revive kharif sowing in the country. As of July 26, the area under food crops is about 10% below what it was last year. Updated sowing figures are expected on Friday evening.
Cabinet nod for revised Chit Funds Bill #GS2 #Governance
The Union Cabinet has approved the introduction of the Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in Parliament, to reduce the compliance burden of the registered chit funds in the country while also protecting the interest of the subscribers.
Speaking to reporters after announcing the decisions of the Union Cabinet, Mr. Javadekar said the Bill follows the Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which was introduced in Parliament last March, but then lapsed. The government has not released any details about the 2019 Bill as it is yet to be introduced in Parliament.
However, it is expected to be largely along the lines of the 2018 Bill, while also incorporating some of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
The 2018 Bill incorporated several provisions that sought to improve the regulation of chit funds as set out in the original Chit Funds Act, 1982. Among the provisions was that a chit funds could be created only with the prior sanction of the relevant State government.
In a chit fund, a group of people agree to pay a certain amount periodically into a fund. Also periodically, one of the subscribers is chosen by drawing a ‘chit’ to be the recipient of the prize amount from the fund.
The 2018 Bill also specifies that a chit will be drawn in the presence of at least two subscribers. It also sought to increase the maximum commission of the foreman — the person who manages the chit fund — to 7% from 5%.
At present, the Chit Fund Act 1982 does not apply to chits that are smaller than ₹100. The 2018 Bill sought to remove the limit of ₹100, with the State government being allowed to set the limit over which the provisions of the Act would apply.
The Standing Committee recommended that the Bill should incorporate insurance coverage for the chit fund subscribers, the cost of which would be borne by the chit fund company.
Plan for single water disputes tribunal #GS2 #Governance
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a Bill that promises faster redressal of water disputes between States by putting in place a new architecture for tribunals that handle inter-State water disputes.
Moving the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019, for passage in the Lok Sabha, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the existing tribunals constituted to resolve river water disputes had failed and in some cases, even after 33 years, the tribunals are yet to give an award.
The Minister said though the original Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, enacted in 1956, was amended 17 years ago to make five years the maximum period within which river water disputes need to be resolved, the reality has been different.
The new Bill proposes that the final award will be delivered in two years and whenever it gives the order, the verdict will be notified automatically. Mr. Shekhawat also said that any law passed now should factor in the water scenario that may arise in a few decades.
When we think of the water issue we have to do so keeping in mind the situation of 30 years from now. Water is a resource that we have to conserve and use judiciously; otherwise there will come a time when laws alone will not work. We have to rise above regions and States and rivers and see this resource and problem in its totality.
Disputes have to be resolved and they have to be done in a time-bound manner. Today climate change and water scarcity are issues that need our immediate attention,” he added.
Giving a background of the history of tribunals, the Minister said only four of the nine water tribunals could submit their report. And these too came after a seven to 28 year delay. Mr. Shekhawat said irregular sittings was one of the reasons for delayed orders.
The new Bill provides for the constitution of a single tribunal with different benches, and the setting of strict timelines for adjudication. A retired Supreme Court judge will head the tribunal and benches will be formed as and when required. States can approach the tribunal for resolution of their disputes and once resolved, the bench will wind up.
Congress member Manish Tewari opposed the Bill and claimed that it didn’t have any provision for consultation with States. Dayanidhi Maran of the DMK said tribunals have been ‘toothless’ as the award of water tribunals had not been respected by States and suggested that all rivers be nationalised.
He alleged that Karnataka didn’t abide by the Cauvery river water tribunal award and is in “contempt of court”. We disbelieve the tribunals. Tamil Nadu has been a sufferer for long. All [Central] governments have been playing vote bank politics,” Mr. Maran said.
The BJP’s Varun Gandhi suggested that water be treated as national resource and suggested a council on the lines of GST Council. Speaking on the Rabi-Beas water dispute, Rajasthan MP Hanuman Beniwal (RLP) accused Punjab of stealing water from ‘canals’.
BJP member Satyapal Singh countered him by saying that there should not be any apprehensions in anyone’s mind that the central government wants to hurt the federal structure of the country.
Lok Sabha clears tough law to evict illegal occupants of govt property #GS2 #Governance
Lok Sabha Wednesday cleared a strong law to evict illegal occupants from the government property. The earlier law made it difficult for the government to evict unauthorised occupants from residential properties. The Union government provides residential accommodation to members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and also to other officials and government employees.
However, it was difficult for the estate officers to evict illegal occupants after the expiry of their term or retirement from the service because of the cumbersome and time-consuming provisions in the existing law. The existing law has multiple layers of eviction process involving service of a show cause notice and appeal provisions at several levels that took years to implement an eviction order.
Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri moved the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill, 2019 which was approved by the Lok Sabha.
Modi government had introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha in 2017 for speedy eviction of the illegal occupants. However, it could not be passed in its first term and expired with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha in May this year.
Under the existing provisions, the entire process should not take more than 5-7 weeks to evict an illegal occupant of a government property. There was a provision of giving four more weeks’ time if the occupant filed an appeal against the estate officer’s order. However, the existing process took several years in many cases with a prolonged legal battle in High Courts against the government’s eviction order.
Under the summary provisions of the existing law, the estate officer does not have to follow the elaborate procedure of serving the show cause notice and other time consuming process. However, they were not applicable to residential properties.
In September 2014, the government had to cut water and power supply of former civil aviation minister and Rashtriya Lok Dal Supremo Ajit Singh’s bungalow in New Delhi. It resulted in a tense stand-off between the government and RLD leader as his supporters threatened to cut off Delhi’s water supply in a tit-for-tat response.
In the new bill, the government has extended summary eviction procedures on residential properties as well. Politically influential unauthorised occupants often do not vacate the government accommodation and adopt dilatory tactics by filing appeals before the appeallate officer or the High Court.
In the bill, the government has inserted a new sub-section (3A) in section 7 of the Act. Now, if any illegal occupant challenges the estate officer’s eviction order in a court of law then he will have to pay damages to the government on monthly basis.
Thailand in talks with India to buy BrahMos cruise missiles- Dinakar Peri #GS3 #Defence
In possibly the first sale of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to another country, Thailand is in talks with India for their purchase, official sources said. A few other countries have also expressed interest in BrahMos but nothing has fructified yet.
Negotiations are on. It may not happen this year, but most likely next year. While Thailand expressed interest in the missiles some time back, discussions picked pace after the visit of Royal Thai Navy Chief Admiral Ruddit to India in December last year.
As part of the expanding defence cooperation between the two countries, Thailand has made a request for repair and refurbishing their Dornier maritime patrol aircraft. “A joint team of Indian Navy, Bharat Electronics Limited and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited visited Thailand in mid-June to discuss the issue.
In addition, Thailand Navy is looking to increase its capabilities and planning to induct more ships, defence sources said. In line with that, Indian Navy is exploring opportunities wherein India could help in ship design and has even “offered ship construction at the various defence public sector undertaking shipyards.”
The Indian Navy’s foreign cooperation initiatives include highlighting the capability of various Defence Public Sector Undertakings and Indian defence industry to friendly foreign navies.
Discussions are on to integrate Thailand into India’s coastal surveillance radar chain network which sources is “likely to be finalised by year end.” Several littoral states including Maldives and Seychelles have already been integrated into it.
The inaugural India, Thailand and Singapore trilateral naval exercise announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address at Shangri-La dialogue in June 2018 is scheduled to be held later this year. Finalising the exercise got delayed and it got a push during the visit of Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba to Thailand in April.
India will host the first edition of the exercise in September this year,” diplomatic sources said adding Singapore will host the second edition and Thailand the third.
The Initial Planning Conference to discuss the modalities of the exercise was held in May and the Final Planning Conference to finalise the details is scheduled to be held in August, officials said. Malaysia has also evinced interest in joining the exercise.
The two navies already conduct a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) and a new bilateral exercise is also in the works apart from the trilateral. As members of the Indian Ocean rim association (IORA) and Indian Ocean Naval symposium (IONS), navies of India and Thailand are working closely in the areas of disaster risk management, maritime security safety, information sharing and interoperability.
The Fed Just Cut Interest Rates. Here’s What That Means for You. #GS3 #Economy
Federal Reserve officials did not touch any of those rates when they announced a quarter-point interest-rate cut on Wednesday, the first cut in a decade. The rate they reduced is the federal funds rate, which is what banks and other financial institutions charge one another for very short-term borrowing.
Most consumers don’t do that sort of overnight borrowing, but the Fed’s moves still affect the borrowing and saving rates they encounter every day.
The effect is not always direct or immediate, so consumers probably will not wake up on Thursday to find that all of their favorite rates have changed by a quarter of a point. There is even solid evidence that
the mere expectation that the Fed would cut rates on Wednesday had already pushed down some of the key rates that consumers pay.
One of the biggest potential impacts of the Fed’s cut may be one you don’t see: heading off a recession. If the move works, it could prevent the economy from weakening and forestall layoffs and other economic damage that could hurt workers and consumers
‘India and U.S. very close to resolving all trade issues’- T.C.A. Sharad Raghavan #GS3 #Economy
India and the U.S. are “very close” to resolving all their trade-related differences, with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal planning to meet the U.S. Trade Representative in the coming month.
The focus now for the two countries is to “calm the heightened tempers” since almost all issues have been resolved. The core area of disagreement, market access, is also close to being resolved, he said.
All the issues that have happened, on aluminium, steel, retaliatory tariffs by us, are all done now,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “The focus now is to look ahead and to calm the heightened tempers on both sides. The officials from our side and their side have been meeting regularly, and we are very close to seeing an agreement coming into place.”
The key bone of contention between India and the U.S. is market access, the official explained, adding that this was at the bottom of most of the tensions between the two countries over the last year or so.
The market access issue will also be resolved soon, when the [Commerce] Minister meets the U.S. Trade Representative either late next month [August] or early the month after that,” the official said. The Indian government is demanding greater market access in the U.S. for dairy products, medical devices, and information and communication technology (ICT) services, he added.
The U.S. government, on the other hand, is demanding increased market access on a wider range of products.
India had in mid-June imposed retaliatory tariffs on 29 items imported from the U.S., including walnuts, apples, and some pulses, a year after it had initially threatened to do so. The threat of retaliation by India had come following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in March 2018 to impose higher import tariffs on aluminium and steel, including that originating in India.
Soon after, the U.S. also announced that it would be reviewing India’s eligibility for duty-free imports under the US Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). India repeatedly held talks with the U.S. at various levels to convince them to grant India an exemption from the steel and aluminium import duty hike, and also to further extend the GSP to India.
However, this was to no avail. The U.S. refused to grant India an exemption from the import duty hike and also earlier this year withdrew India’s GSP status. The meeting between the Minister and the USTR will close this issue and once again increase the engagement between the two countries
Core sector growth slows to 0.2% in June #GS3 #Economy
Growth of eight core industries dropped to 0.2% in June mainly due to a contraction in oil-related sectors as well as in cement production. The eight core sector industries viz. coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilizer, steel, cement and electricity had expanded by 7.8% in June last year.
According to the data released by the government, crude oil output contracted by 6.8% while the refinery segment de-grew by 9.3%. Cement output declined by 1.5%. Fertiliser production was also in the negative zone.
Steel and electricity production, however, increased by 6.9% and 7.3%, respectively, during the month under review. During April-June, the eight sectors grew by 3.5% compared with 5.5% in the same period last year.
SEBI mulls weather, freight derivatives- Ashish Rukhaiyar #GS3 #Economy
For the first time ever, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is actively examining the feasibility of allowing derivatives contracts based on intangibles such as weather or freight in the Indian commodity segment.
As part of its attempts to make the commodity segment more efficient and investor friendly, the regulator is also looking at exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on metals, better designed options contracts and ways to increase participation of hedgers and encourage delivery-based settlement.
According to two persons familiar with the matter, the capital markets regulator has formed around five working groups, with each group tasked with a specific issue related to the commodities segment.
The working groups have been told to submit their report to the Commodity Derivatives Market Regulation Department (CDMRD) by end of August. Thereafter, the regulator may forward select proposals to the Commodity Derivatives Advisory Committee (CDAC) for further deliberation before a formal submission could be made to the SEBI board.
A brainstorming session was held recently wherein SEBI officials and exchange representatives were present. It was suggested that exchanges can form working groups to examine specific issues and give suggestions to SEBI.
Incidentally, a vision document prepared by CDAC in 2016 touched upon the issue of derivative contracts based on intangibles like freight and rainfall but it was never taken up for active deliberation.
Globally, energy companies and even those dealing with agricultural products use weather derivatives extensively to hedge against adverse or unexpected weather behaviour. Freight derivatives available on the Baltic Exchange are quite popular and are used by ship owners for protection against freight rate fluctuations.
One of the working groups has been tasked to look at new products and it is looking at the feasibility of launching derivatives on freight and rainfall, ETFs on silver and base metals along with options based on spot prices of commodities,” added another person, wishing not to be named.
An email query sent to SEBI on Monday remained unanswered till the time of going to press.
The other working groups are looking at different issues like allowing delivery from a seller’s warehouse in addition to the current practice of delivery only from warehouses accredited by the Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority.
Tea Board accepts IIM recommendations on recasting e-auction system across India #GS3 #Economy
The Tea Board has, in-principle, accepted the recommendations submitted by a team of IIM Bangalore professors to recast the present pan India e-auction system.
We will implement this in a phased manner with an eye on improving the ease of business. The new system aims at improving price discovery, simplifying the process elevating industry standards, and enhancing the quality of tea on offer at the auctions.
Tea prices have remained flat at around ₹140 per kg for nearly four years since 2014. Mr. Roy said that nearly 75% of these recommendations had already made their way into the alternative auction platform to be rolled out by mjunction.
The SAIL-Tata Steel joint venture has won a tender for putting up an innovative platform based at Assam’s Jorhat, where many of these features had been incorporated. “These include designing a comprehensive e-catalogue, fixed reserve price and logistic support for buyers.
The deficiencies of the present pan Indian e-auction system rolled out in 2016 were many. The system had neither improved price discovery nor boosted volumes. The modified system aims at addressing these issues while creating equal opportunities for all.
Among the stakeholders present at the meeting, producer associations such as the Tea Association of India welcomed the initiative.
Significance of US Federal Reserves rate cut and its impact on India #GS3 #Economy
The US Federal Reserve has announced a quarter-percentage-point cut in interest rates — the first rate cut by the US central bank in 11 years. What makes this even more significant is that barely six months ago, the Fed was on a hawkish rate-hike trajectory, moving in the direction of bolstering its debt-laden economy.
Why has US Fed cut rates?
The Fed has cited concerns about the global economy and muted US inflation as reasons for the move, and signaled a readiness to lower borrowing costs further if needed.
Financial markets had widely expected the quarter-percentage-point rate cut, which lowered the US central bank’s benchmark overnight lending rate to a target range of 2.00% to 2.25%.
Why is Fed’s rate cut significant?
The cut in interest rates on Wednesday is the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. What is ironic is that this move comes despite a strong US economy and indicators such as job market data showing renewed buoyancy. The rate cut follows months of pressure from US President Donald Trump, who has been pushing the American central bank for a cut in rates.
Jerome Powell, the chairman of the US Fed, has repeatedly pledged to follow economic data, and has resisted the nudges from Trump, only to now sharply change course.
US rate cut impact on India
A rate cut in the US is good for emerging market economies and is projected to catalyse a debt and equity market rally in countries such as India. Typically, emerging economies such as India tend to have higher inflation and thereby higher interest rates than those in developed countries such as the US and Europe.
As a result, FIIs would want to borrow money in the US at low-interest rates in dollar terms and then invest that money in bonds of emerging countries such as India in Re terms to earn a higher rate of interest. When the US Fed cuts its interest rates, the difference between interest rates of the two countries increases, thus making India more attractive for the currency carry trade.
The new debate on defence funding #GS3 #Defence
Earlier this month, the Union Cabinet amended the terms of reference (ToR) of the 15th Finance Commission (FC) to widen their scope. Through the change, the government has requested the FC to look into the possibility of a separate mechanism for the funding of defence and internal security. Critics of the decision have questioned the addition to the FC’s ToR on the ground that it would undermine the federal structure of Indian polity.
What is the FC and what is its mandate?
The Finance Commission is a constitutional body that owes its existence to Article 280 of the Indian Constitution. Its mandate is to determine the distribution of tax revenues between the Centre and the states, and amongst the states themselves.
The FC has a five-year term; the 15th FC was constituted in November 2017 and its recommendations will apply from 2020 to 2025. In the past, FCs have also dwelt on the distribution of central grants to states, as well as the flow of resources to the third tier of governance — the panchayats and the municipalities.
In a federal structure such as India’s, powers and responsibilities are divided between the Centre and the states. While the Union collects a majority of the tax revenue, states have a greater responsibility for the delivery of public goods.
Thus, FCs aim to do two types of adjustments. One, to address the vertical imbalance between the taxation powers of the Centre and the expenditure priorities of the states.
Two, to allay the horizontal imbalances between the states themselves with the objective of ensuring balanced regional development
What is the role of the ToR, and why is the latest tweak being criticised?
One of the reasons why FCs are reconstituted every five years is to ensure that they can take into account the changing dynamics of the political and fiscal landscape. Even though the ToRs are essentially in the nature of guidelines to the FC, yet a change in ToRs over the years has reflected the changing needs of India’s overall development.
Any changes in ToRs can, and often do, have their critics. For instance, several southern states had protested against the 15th FC ToR last year because of apprehensions that it would lead to a reduction in their share of tax revenues.
The latest addition to the 15th FC’s ToR calls for the FC to examine the possibility of allocation of adequate, secure and non-lapsable funds for defence and internal security of India. In other words, the Centre has requested the FC to examine whether a separate mechanism for funding of defence and internal security ought to be set up, and how such a mechanism could be operationalised.
With capital spending on defence continuing to fall short of requirements, it is difficult to contest the basic premise that spending on defence needs to be bolstered.
However, sequestering funds for defence from the Centre’s gross tax revenues means a reduction in the overall tax pool that is shared with states. This is likely to be protested by the states, several of whom are arguing for an increase in their share in taxes collected to 50 per cent from the current 42 per cent.
This request by the Centre also raises questions over the fiscal space at its disposal to finance spending on items in the Union list.
The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution lists the separate (Union List and State List) and joint
(Concurrent List) responsibilities of the Centre and the states. Defence is in the Union List. The Centre’s request to the FC for greater resources means that it has limited ability to ramp up expenditure on items in the Union list.
This is partly because the Centre’s expenditure on items in the State and Concurrent Lists has been increasing over the years. Research has shown that the share of the Centre’s revenue expenditure on items in the State List has broadly grown over the years; it went up from 13.4 per cent in 2002-03 to 23.1 per cent in 2008-09, before declining to16.2 per cent in 2015-16.
Similarly, the Centre spent 16.4 per cent of its revenue expenditure on Concurrent List subjects in 2015-16, up from 11.8 per cent in 2002-03 (see chart). This increase in spending by the Centre on items in the State and the Concurrent Lists has led to a reduction in its spending on items in the Union List.
Are states being squeezed out of funding?
The added fiscal pressures of the Centre and the requirement of having to share tax revenues with states has left the Centre in a peculiar position.
To shore up its revenues, the Centre has, over the years, begun to rely more on cesses and surcharges. In the recent Union Budget, too, it increased the special additional excise duty and road and infrastructure cess on petrol and diesel by one rupee each.
But the revenue from cesses and surcharges is not part of the divisible tax pool that is shared with the states. It is kept by the Centre. This implies that states receive a lower share of the Centre’s gross tax revenue collections.
For instance, the states’ share in central taxes has been pegged at Rs 8.09 lakh crore in 2019-20. This works out to around 33 per cent of the gross tax revenues. In comparison, post the government accepting the recommendations of the 14th FC, states’ share in central taxes rose to 42 per cent from the 32 per cent earlier.
What’s at stake in India’s biggest ever trial of tuberculosis vaccines #GS3 #SnT
On July 15, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) launched India’s first large-scale trial for two new tuberculosis (TB) vaccines.
As per the 2018 annual report of the Central TB division of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the incidence of TB was nearly 2.8 million annually, and the incidence of multidrug-resistant TB was 1,47,000 per year.
The total number of deaths because of TB (excluding HIV) was 4,23,000, and the incidence of HIV-TB was 87,000 per year. India contributes to 27 per cent of the global TB burden; the highest share globally. That is why, in 2017, the central government had committed itself to eliminating TB by 2025.
The new vaccines that are being put through the trials offer a chance to contain the accelerating spread of multi-drug resistant TB. Treating TB requires a multi-drug course of treatment lasting six months; longer still for treating drug-resistant TB. Treatment failure and recurrence can have devastating consequences.
Why new vaccines
Scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research have felt a critical need for new TB vaccines that are more effective than the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine. The BCG vaccine is used in the routine Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) in countries across the world. It is generally given at birth or in the first year.
The vaccine is over 100 years old and, while it has been partially effective in protecting infants and young children, particularly from the most severe forms of TB, it provides poor protection against pulmonary disease in adolescents and adults.
It is for these reasons a need was felt to develop more effective preventive TB vaccines, Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General of ICMR, said.
There are two vaccines being tested in the latest trial: Immuvac (also known as mycobacterium indicus pranii or MIP), which is manufactured by Cadila Pharmaceuticals in Ahmedabad, and VPM1002 manufactured by Serum Institute of India in Pune. There are seven main centres with six subsites where the trial will be conducted.
What the latest trials entail
Typically, vaccine trials have three phases. During Phase 1, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase 2, the clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase 3 the vaccine is given to several thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety.
Even so, India’s trials stand out. Dr Manjula Singh, co-investigator and coordinator of the vaccine trial said that nowhere has a Phase 3 trial involved trying out two TB vaccines in one go. This is the first time that such a large preventive TB vaccine trial has been taken up.
The trials in India will involve enrolling 12,000 healthy household contacts of newly diagnosed pulmonary TB patients. The candidates will be enrolled from across six states — Delhi, Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Approximately 2,000 participants will be enrolled in each state over the next 7-8 months.
The main aim of the trial is to evaluate the efficacy of both the vaccines by comparing the reduction in the incidence of TB over a three-year period. The candidates in this trial will be at high risk of contracting the disease, and will be vaccinated in a double-blind manner with either one of the vaccines, and compared with placebo for its efficacy.
What happens next
This is a Phase 3 vaccine trial where the safety and efficacy of the two TB vaccines are being studied in comparison to the placebo in a larger population.
Depending on the results, the recommendations would be sent to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Both vaccines are being manufactured by Indian pharmaceutical companies. The price of the vaccines would be decided by the government.
What the Bill to curb Ponzi schemes says #GS3 #Economy #GS2 #Governance
On July 29, Rajya Sabha passed The Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2019; it had been passed by Lok Sabha five days previously. The Bill aims to protect investors from fraudulent investment schemes, such as Ponzi schemes.
The Bill covers existing gaps in legislation that had been exploited by various parties to siphon large amounts of money away from small investors. In particular, it amends three laws, i.e., The Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, The Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 and The Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act, 2002.
According to an analysis by PRS India, under the Bill, deposit-taking schemes are defined as ‘unregulated’ if they are undertaken for business purposes, and additionally, are not registered with one of the nine regulatory authorities mentioned in the Bill.
A common type of scam involving unregulated deposits is the Ponzi scheme, a type of investment fraud wherein one party promises high returns on an investment with little to no risk. The early investors in a Ponzi scheme are repaid by the scheme acquiring new investors, and so on.
Once there are no longer enough people to secure a new round of investments, the scheme collapses and the investors lose their money. This was the classic pattern seen in the Saradha case in West Bengal, in which politicians of the ruling party have been accused.
The nine authorities charged with the oversight and regulation of deposit-taking schemes include the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), and state and Union Territory governments.
Each authority oversees different types of deposit-taking schemes, with the RBI overseeing deposits taken by non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), and Sebi overseeing mutual funds. Any deposit-taking scheme must be registered with the relevant authority, based on the category it falls under, and only then is its operation legal.
The Bill provides for the appointment of a “competent authority”, with a rank not below Secretary to the state or central government, with the power to provisionally attach the property of the deposit-taker, and all the deposits received by them. The Bill also allows the competent authority to summon and examine people to obtain evidence, and order records to be produced.
The Bill provides for the formation of designated courts in specific areas. The central government will additionally designate an authority to establish an online database with information on various deposit-takers.
The database will be used to ascertain which deposit-takers are regulated, and which are not. Deposit-takers will be required to inform the authority in charge of the database about their actions and the state of their business.
Three kinds of offences are delineated under this Bill: running unregulated deposit-taking schemes (which includes advertising, operating, and accepting money for such schemes), fraudulently defaulting on the deposits made under a regulated deposit-taking scheme, and prompting investors to invest in unregulated deposit schemes by knowingly falsifying facts.
The first kind of offence has been made punishable by two to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 3 lakh to Rs 10 lakh.
The second kind of offence is punishable by imprisonment for three to 10 years, and fines ranging from Rs 2 lakh to double the amount collected from depositors. Repeat offenders may be punished by a five-to 10-year stint in prison, and fined between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 5 crore.
PM Modi chairs 30th PRAGATI meeting; ‘Housing for All’ among issues taken up #GS3 #Economy
At the very first PRAGATI meeting of his second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday reviewed the progress in grievances redressal in the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) scheme and directed officials to work towards the goal of ensuring “Housing for All” by 2022.
Following a review of the many complaints regarding PMAY (U) and its resolution, Modi asked officials to work towards the objective of easing hurdles. According to a media release issued Wednesday, the PM also looked at resolution of public grievances related to the Department of Financial Services towards the same goal. Moreover, eight railway and road sector projects across states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh were reviewed.
This was the PM’s thirtieth meeting through the ICT-based, multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI). With regards to the newly-constituted Jal Shakti Ministry, Modi asked states to focus on water conservation in view of the ongoing monsoon season.
For the Accessible India campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan), Modi suggested a feedback collection process, using technology, wherein persons with disabilities can give inputs regarding inaccessible public premises.