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Daily Current Affairs

23-February-2024- Top News of the Day

1. Escalating Farmer Protests: Challenges and Structural Issues Plague Indian Agriculture

Topic: GS3 – Agriculture – MSP
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the declining share of agriculture in GDP, challenges faced by farmers, government policies related to agriculture (like MSP), and the broader socio-economic context of rural distress.
Context:
  • The situation arising from the ongoing protests by farmers’ unions demanding legally guaranteed minimum support prices (MSP) took a tragic turn when a 22-year-old farmer was killed as police intervened to halt the protesters’ march to Delhi.
  • These protests, intensified by farmers who previously forced the government to repeal three contentious farm laws through a year-long sit-in at Delhi’s borders in 2020-21, have sparked sharp political divisions and public debate.
  • While major opposition parties have rallied behind the farmers, with the Congress party promising a legal guarantee for MSP, it’s essential to note that India’s agricultural distress predates the current government’s tenure, underscoring deeper systemic issues.
More about the news: Agriculture’s Declining Economic Significance:
  • At the time of Independence, agriculture employed around 70% of India’s workforce and contributed to 54% of the GDP.
  • However, today, agriculture contributes less than 18% to GDP while still engaging over half of the country’s workforce.
  • The relative decline in the proportion of cultivators compared to agricultural laborers underscores the challenges facing the sector, with farming increasingly becoming financially unviable for many.
Challenges of Small Land Holdings and Indebtedness:
  • Most Indian farmers operate on small and marginal land holdings, with nearly half of them burdened by debt.
  • Data from the latest Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households reveal that around 70% of agricultural households own less than 1 hectare of land.
  • Additionally, a significant portion of farm households across various states grapple with low incomes and high indebtedness, exacerbating the economic strain on farmers.
Unfavorable Terms of Trade and Lack of Support:
  • The index of terms of trade (ToT) between farmers and non-farmers indicates a persistent disadvantage for farmers, with the ToT remaining negative or stagnant over recent years.
  • Contrary to the perception of farmers receiving excessive financial support, India lags behind other countries in terms of producer protection and agricultural support, according to OECD data.
  • This highlights the inadequacy of existing support mechanisms in addressing the challenges faced by Indian farmers.
The MSP Debate and Structural Challenges:
  • While the debate over MSPs garners attention, it serves as a manifestation of deeper structural issues plaguing Indian agriculture.
  • The sector’s unremunerative nature, coupled with long-standing challenges such as small land holdings and indebtedness, necessitates a comprehensive approach beyond short-term fixes like MSP adjustments.
  • Addressing the systemic issues requires concerted efforts to enhance farmers’ bargaining power in the market and create alternative avenues for rural employment, acknowledging that farming alone cannot sustainably support the livelihoods of millions dependent on it.
Conclusion:
  • The complexities of India’s agricultural sector demand holistic solutions that address the underlying structural challenges, including land ownership patterns, indebtedness, and unfavourable terms of trade.
  • Efforts to bolster farmers’ income and livelihood security must extend beyond MSPs to encompass broader policy reforms and investments in rural infrastructure and employment generation.
Some solutions to tackle agricultural challenges
(A) Promoting new technologies and reforming agricultural research and extension:
  • One of the most crucial requirements for agricultural growth is the significant reform and strengthening of India’s agricultural research and extension infrastructure.
  • The persistent underfunding of operations and infrastructure, the failure to replace ageing researchers, and widespread access to cutting edge technologies have all contributed to the gradual collapse of these services.
(B) Improving Water Resources and Irrigation
  • India’s major water user is agriculture.
  • Nonetheless, the necessity to plan and manage water on a river basin and multi-sectoral basis has been brought to light by the growing rivalry for water among industry, residential use, and agriculture.
  • It is anticipated that there will be less water available for irrigation as urban and other demands increase. It is necessary to find ways to drastically increase irrigation productivity, or “more crop per drop.”
  • Among the things that could be done include piped conveyance, improved water management on farms, and the use of more effective delivery systems like drip irrigation.
(C) Facilitating crop diversification to higher-value commodities
  • A major contributor to increased agricultural growth will be motivating farmers to diversify into higher-value commodities, especially in rain-fed regions with high rates of poverty.
  • Furthermore, there is a great deal of potential for growing agro-processing and creating competitive value chains that connect farmers to cities and export markets.
  • Farmers and business owners should be in charge of diversification projects, but the government can first ease restrictions on marketing, shipping, exporting, and processing.
(D) Promoting high-growth commodities
  • There is a lot of room for growth in some agricultural subsectors, most notably dairy.
  • Over 25% of the agricultural GDP comes from the livestock industry, mostly from the dairy sector. 70% of India’s rural families, most of whom are poor and led by women, rely on this sector for their income.
  • Although milk production has been growing quickly—roughly 4% annually—the domestic market is predicted to rise by at least 5% annually in the future.
  • But low genetic quality of cows, insufficient nutrition, limited access to veterinary care, and other issues limit the amount of milk produced.
(E) Developing markets, agricultural credit and public expenditures
  • Trade barriers exist both inside and between India and other countries due to the country’s long history of heavy government engagement in agriculture marketing.
  • Nevertheless, private sector spending on value chains, marketing, and agro-processing is increasing, albeit far more slowly than it should.
  • Although certain limitations are being removed, much more work has to be done to promote diversification and reduce consumer costs.
  • Since it’s still hard for farmers to secure credit, there’s a need to improve their access to rural financing.
(F) Climate change mitigation
  • More extreme weather events are predicted, with rain-fed areas likely to be most affected. These events include droughts, floods, and irregular showers.
  • The watershed programme may be the best agricultural programme for promoting new crop types and improved farming techniques when combined with efforts from agricultural research and extension.
(G) Marketing reforms
  • Indian farmers struggle to make a living from their sellable excess produce since there isn’t a well-functioning market or adequate transportation.
  • Consequently, wholesalers have taken advantage of farmers by quickly dumping their products at a cheaper price, which is unprofitable.
  • Another major threat to Indian agriculture is changes in the prices of agricultural products.
  • Price stability benefits buyers, exporters, and agro-based sectors in addition to farmers.
  • India has a pattern of changing prices for agricultural items since the price swings are neither smooth nor homogeneous.
(H) Minimizing Post-Harvest Losses
  • Ineffective postharvest techniques leading to food product waste is one of the major causes of India’s high food inflation. At every point of the food value chain, from the level of farmers to the level of carriers, waste occurs.
  • The development of cold storage, warehousing, packaging, and cold transport chain infrastructure has the potential to significantly reduce waste and boost the availability of agricultural produce, especially horticultural crops like fruits and vegetables, according to agricultural economists.
(I) Developing Food Processing Industry
  • Food processing is a new sector, and with India’s fast urbanisation, rising per capita income, and increasing number of women entering the workforce, the country’s need for processed food is expected to climb gradually.
  • The food processing sector in India is still in its infancy, making up less than 10% of all food produced in the nation, although having enormous growth potential.
PYQ: In view of the declining average size of land holdings in India which has made agriculture non-viable for a majority of farmers, should contract farming and land leasing be promoted in agriculture? Critically evaluate the pros and cons. (200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2015)
Practice Question:  Critically analyze the structural challenges facing the agricultural sector in India and evaluate the effectiveness of government policies in addressing them. (150 words/10 m)

2. CBSE Proposes Pilot Study for Open Book Exams: Exploring Innovative Assessment Methods for Deeper Learning

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Education
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the educational reforms proposed by the CBSE.
Context:
  • The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has put forth a proposal for a pilot study to assess the feasibility of implementing open book exams (OBE) for students in Classes 9 to 12.
  • This pilot study, slated for November-December, will be conducted in select schools for subjects like English, Mathematics, and Science for Classes 9 and 10, and English, Mathematics, and Biology for Classes 11 and 12.
  • The decision is in line with the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) released recently, reflecting the Board’s aim to explore innovative assessment methods.
More about the news: Understanding Open Book Exams:
  • Open book exams allow students to refer to their textbooks and notes while answering questions.
  • They can either be restricted or free type, where restricted exams permit only approved study material, whereas free type exams allow students to bring any relevant material.
  • Unlike traditional closed-book exams, questions in OBEs are designed to assess conceptual understanding and analytical skills rather than rote memorization.
History and Context:
  • Although not a novel concept, CBSE previously introduced Open Text Based Assessment (OTBA) in 2014, aiming to reduce memorization burden and foster information processing skills among students.
  • However, the discontinuation of OTBA due to its perceived failure to cultivate critical abilities highlights the challenges in implementing open book assessments effectively.
  • In higher education, OBEs are relatively common, with various institutions, including engineering colleges and universities, adopting them for assessment purposes.
Perceptions and Challenges:
  • Contrary to common perception, OBEs are not inherently easier than traditional exams; they aim to test deeper understanding and application of concepts.
  • Teachers face the challenge of crafting questions that require critical thinking rather than straightforward answers.
  • Connectivity issues and the need for skill development among students for effective performance in OBEs pose additional challenges.
Alignment with Educational Reforms:
  • CBSE’s proposal aligns with broader educational reforms aimed at transitioning from rote memorization to competency-based learning.
  • While the National Education Policy 2020 does not explicitly mention open book exams, it emphasizes competency-based learning and assessment reforms.
  • Similarly, the National Curriculum Framework emphasizes the need for assessments that accommodate diverse learning styles and provide constructive feedback.
Research Insights:
  • Studies on open book exams suggest mixed results, with some indicating reduced stress levels among students but also highlighting challenges such as connectivity issues and the need for skill development.
  • While mean scores may be higher in OBEs compared to closed-book exams, there is a need for focused training and skill development to maximize the benefits of open book assessments.
Conclusion:
  • CBSE’s proposal for open book exams reflects ongoing efforts to reform assessment practices and promote deeper learning outcomes among students. However, effective implementation requires addressing various challenges and ensuring alignment with broader educational objectives.
Pros and Cons of Open Book Exams (OBE)
Pros:
  • Exams with open books have the potential to do away with rote learning, which is pervasive in Indian education. Students will be encouraged to be both analytical and creative as they develop their analytical skills.
  • Exams focused on memory frequently reward students with superior recall, which worries pupils who comprehend the material but struggle with memorization. Exams that are open-book can benefit students with varying levels of learning ability.
  • Students are free to learn topics in peace, even in the face of memory-based assessments. Currently, students are focusing less on conceptual comprehension and more on test preparation.
  • Open-book exams have the potential to transform teaching and raise educational standards.
  • It can help get rid of copying and cheating.
  • Many people believe that pupils will just copy the information from their textbooks. However, open-book exam questions are designed in a way that necessitates content analysis.
Cons:
  • Exam anxiety motivates a lot of pupils to study. Exams that are open-book may cause pupils to lose concentration on their study.
  • Numerous coaching facilities exist in India that help students get ready for a range of exams. For every notion, they might offer model answers that are memorizable. This may lessen the intent behind open-book tests.
  • Additionally crucial is memory training, particularly for young people. Exams with open books may deter pupils from learning even the most fundamental information.
  • Students may feel even greater strain because open-book exams will have a demanding evaluation system.
  • The worry of forgetting the information will vanish.
PYQ: Consider the following statements: (2018) 1) As per the Right to Education (RTE) Act, to be eligible for appointment as a teacher in a State, a person would be required to possess the minimum qualification laid down by the State Council of Teacher Education concerned. 2) As per the RTE Act, for teaching primary classes, a candidate is required to pass a Teacher Eligibility Test conducted in accordance with the National Council of Teacher Education guidelines. 3) In India, more than 90% of teacher education institutions are directly under the State Governments. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 and 2 (b) 2 only (c) 1 and 3 (d) 3 only Ans: (b)
Practice Question:  Critically analyze the proposal by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to conduct pilot studies on open book exams for Classes 9 to 12. Evaluate the potential benefits and challenges of implementing open book exams in the Indian education system. (250 words/15 m)

3. International Team Achieves Breakthrough: Laser Cooling of Positronium Marks Milestone in Atomic Physics

Topic: GS3 – Science & Technology – Development and their applications
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the breakthrough achievement in laser cooling of Positronium by the AEgIS collaboration highlights advancements in experimental physics and laser cooling techniques 
Context:
  • In a significant breakthrough, an international team of physicists from the Anti-hydrogen Experiment: Gravity, Interferometry, Spectroscopy (AEgIS) collaboration has achieved a milestone by demonstrating the laser cooling of Positronium.
  • Positronium, comprising a bound electron (e-) and positron (e+), is a fundamental atomic system with a very short half-life of 142 nano-seconds.
  • Its mass is twice that of an electron, making it a unique leptonic atom.
  • Due to its hydrogen-like nature with halved frequencies for excitation, it presents a promising avenue for laser cooling experiments and tests of fundamental theories.
More about the news: Announcement and Experimental Setting:
  • The achievement was announced by physicists representing 19 European and one Indian research group within the AEgIS collaboration, following experiments conducted at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
  • This breakthrough serves as a crucial precursor to future experiments involving anti-hydrogen formation and the measurement of Earth’s gravitational acceleration on anti-hydrogen.
  • Additionally, it holds potential for developing gamma-ray lasers with applications beyond physics, including atomic nucleus exploration.
Development and Challenges:
  • The AEgIS experiment underwent rigorous development and testing phases, with several experimental runs conducted in the accelerator beam hall of CERN over the past few years.
  • Formal acceptance as a scientific experiment by CERN in 2008 marked the beginning of a complex process involving the design and construction of particle traps for confining antiparticles, antiprotons, and positrons.
  • Despite the challenging experimental environment, characterized by the constraints of the accelerator beam hall, technological innovations were instrumental in realizing the experiment’s objectives.
Laser Cooling Process and Results:
  • Experimentalists successfully cooled Positronium atoms from approximately 380 Kelvin to about 170 Kelvin using a 70-nanosecond pulse of an alexandrite-based laser system.
  • The cooling was demonstrated in one dimension, employing lasers operating in either the deep ultraviolet or infrared frequency bands.
  • This achievement underscores the advancement in laser cooling techniques and their potential applications in fundamental research and beyond.
Conclusion:
  • The successful laser cooling of Positronium represents a significant milestone in atomic physics, demonstrating the feasibility of manipulating and controlling fundamental atomic systems for scientific exploration and technological innovation.
                                              About CERN
  • European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) is the world’s largest nuclear and particle physics laboratory and best known as operator of the Large Hadron Collider, which found the elusive Higgs boson in 2012.
  • CERN is based in Geneva on the French-Swiss border.
  • It has 22 member states.
PYQ: The efforts to detect the existence of Higgs boson particle have become frequent news in the recent past. What is/are the importance of discovering this particle? 1) It will enable us to understand as to why elementary particles have mass. 2) It will enable us in the near future to develop the technology of transferring matter from one point to another without traversing the physical space between them. 3) It will enable us to create better fuels for nuclear fission. Select the correct answer using the codes given below: (a) 1 only (b) 2 and 3 only (c) 1 and 3 only (d) 1, 2 and 3 Ans: (a)
Practice Question:  Critically evaluate the significance of the recent breakthrough achieved by the international team of physicists in laser cooling of Positronium. Discuss the implications of this achievement for fundamental research in atomic physics and its potential applications in technological innovation. (250 words/15 m)

4. India Achieves Milestone in Kala Azar Elimination: Reports Less Than One Case Per 10,000 Population Nationwide in 2023

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Health This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the achievement of targets in combating Kala Azar which reflects the government’s efforts in public health governance and disease control.
Context:
  • India has accomplished a significant milestone in its battle against Kala Azar, the second deadliest parasitic disease after malaria, by achieving the target of reporting less than one case per 10,000 population across all blocks in 2023.
  • Data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme revealed a decrease in reported cases and deaths compared to the previous year, with 595 cases and four deaths reported in 2023.
  • The Indian government has informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about this achievement, marking a crucial step towards eliminating Kala Azar.
More about the news: Historical Context and Targets:
  • India had set various deadlines for Kala Azar elimination, starting from 2010 and extending to 2015, 2017, and eventually 2020.
  • The elimination target is defined as no block in the country reporting more than one case per 10,000 people.
  • Despite missing several deadlines, India has made substantial progress in reducing the disease burden, particularly in endemic states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh.
Verification Process and Future Steps:
  • While India has met the required targets, the verification and certification process by WHO experts is crucial for officially declaring the country Kala Azar-free.
  • The sustained maintenance of low case numbers over the next three years will be essential for India to receive WHO certification.
  • Experts will evaluate surveillance mechanisms and assess the sustainability of success before issuing certification.
Key Interventions and Challenges:
  • India’s success in achieving elimination targets can be attributed to rigorous interventions, including indoor residual spraying, sealing of mud walls to prevent sandfly nesting, and mobilization of the ASHA network to ensure completion of treatment for Post Kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) patients.
  • However, tracking PKDL cases remains a challenge due to the potential for disease resurgence from untreated reservoirs.
Advancements in Diagnosis and Treatment:
  • Advancements in diagnostic tools and treatment regimens have facilitated early diagnosis and improved patient outcomes.
  • Point-of-care diagnostic kits and shorter treatment durations have enhanced the efficiency of disease management compared to previous decades, reducing the burden on patients and healthcare systems alike.
Conclusion:
  • India’s achievement in reducing Kala Azar cases signifies a significant public health victory, although sustained efforts and vigilance are essential to maintain progress and ultimately eliminate the disease entirely.
What is Kala-Azar?
About:
  • Visceral leishmaniasis commonly known as kala-azar, is a slow-progressing indigenous disease caused by a protozoan parasite of genus Leishmania.
  • It is also known as Black Fever or Dumdum Fever.
  • In India Leishmania donovani is the only parasite causing this disease.
Transmission and Symptoms:
  • It is transmitted by sandflies.
  • Sandflies of the genus Phlebotomus argentipes are the only known vectors of kala-azar in India.
  • It causes fever, weight loss, and spleen and liver enlargement.
  • If left untreated, it can be fatal in 95% of cases.
Recorded Cases in India:
  • India documented 530 cases and four deaths in 2023, a decline from previous years.
  • Additionally, there were 286 cases of post-kala azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL).
Post Kala-azar Dermal Leishmaniasis (PKDL):
  • This condition arises when Leishmania donovani infiltrates and thrives within skin cells, resulting in the formation of skin lesions.
  • In some instances of kala-azar, PKDL emerges after treatment, but now it is believed that PKDL might occur without going through the visceral stage. However, more data is needed to understand how PKDL develops.
  • The visceral stage refers to the initial phase of visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar), where the parasite affects internal organs.
Treatment:
  • In India, the primary treatment for kala-azar involves administering injectable liposomal amphotericin B.
  • For PKDL, the standard treatment consists of 12 weeks of oral miltefosine, with the dosage adjusted based on the patient’s age and weight.
Strategies for Elimination in India:
  • Effective Spraying: Rigorous monitoring of indoor residual spraying to curb sandfly breeding and disease spread.
  • Wall Plastering: Using Gerrard soil for wall plastering to minimize sandfly breeding areas.
  • Treatment Compliance: Ensuring completion of PKDL treatment through the ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) network.
PYQ: Consider the following statements: (2017) 1) In tropical regions, Zika virus disease is transmitted by the same mosquito that transmits dengue. 2) Sexual transmission of Zika virus disease is possible. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 only (b) 2 only (c) Both 1 and 2 (d) Neither 1 nor 2 Ans: (c)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of India’s achievement in meeting the target of reporting less than one case of Kala Azar per 10,000 population across all blocks in 2023. Analyze the key interventions and challenges encountered in India’s efforts towards Kala Azar elimination. (250 words/15 m)

5. Should India have regional benches of the Supreme Court?

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity – Judiciary
Critical for UPSC as it delves into the debate on establishing regional benches, impacting judicial efficiency and access to justice.
Context
  • The article discusses the recommendation to establish regional benches of the Supreme Court in India.
  • Justices Govind Mathur and Sanjoy Ghose explore implications, addressing geographical bias, virtual hearings, constitutional matters, conflicting precedents, and access to justice for lawyers.
 Introduction:
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice has recommended the establishment of regional benches of the Supreme Court in India.
  • However, the apex court has consistently rejected this idea, and the matter is currently sub judice.
  • Justice Govind Mathur and Sanjoy Ghose discuss the implications of regional benches.
Addressing Geographical Bias:
  • Justice Mathur acknowledges a shift in his perspective, emphasizing the need for regional benches to address the challenges faced by people living far from Delhi.
  • Sanjoy Ghose raises concerns about frivolous petitions and suggests implementing a mechanism to scrutinize the types of petitions admitted to the Supreme Court.
Virtual Hearings vs. Regional Benches:
  • Ghose suggests a hybrid approach, with preliminary and admission hearings conducted virtually, while final hearings take place physically.
  • Justice Mathur contends that while technology is useful for court management, virtual hearings may not be an effective alternative to regional benches, as physical hearings maintain objectivity.
Focus on Constitutional Matters:
  • The article includes a proposal for a separate court of appeal and courts of cassation, similar to the French system, to alleviate the burden on the Supreme Court.
  • Ghose advocates for a court of cassation to handle non-constitutional matters, allowing the Supreme Court to focus exclusively on constitutional cases.
Conflicting Precedents and Increased Litigation:
  • Ghose argues that a separation of the court of cassation and the permanent appellate court could reduce conflicting decisions.
  • Justice Mathur disagrees, citing technology’s role in keeping judges updated and maintaining uniformity in decisions.
Impact on Lawyers and Access to Justice:
  • Ghose acknowledges concerns raised by the Supreme Court Bar about the Balkanization of the Supreme Court but believes regional benches would lead to a vibrant regional bar.
  • The discussion highlights the potential benefits of regional benches, including greater opportunities and democratization of the legal profession.
Reforming High Courts and Dealing with SLPs:
  • Justice Mathur emphasizes the need for overall judicial reforms, not limited to High Courts, to improve efficiency.
  • The discussion includes a suggestion to retain certain exclusive powers of the Supreme Court while addressing the issue of overburdening with Special Leave Petitions (SLPs).
Conclusion:
  • The Article explores the pros and cons of establishing regional benches, touching upon geographical bias, virtual hearings, the focus on constitutional matters, conflicting precedents, impact on lawyers, and the need for broader judicial reforms.
Practice Question:  Examine the potential benefits and challenges of establishing regional benches of the Supreme Court in India. (150 words/10 m)

6. Top court says laws have teeth but pollution control boards are slack.

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Environmental Pollution and Degradation
GS2 –  Governance – Government policies – Issues arising out of their implementation UPSC relevance: Examines legal and environmental aspects, emphasizing enforcement gaps in pollution control, affecting industries and governance.
Context
  • The Supreme Court criticizes Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and Thoothukudi administration for negligence in handling toxins from Vedanta’s closed copper smelting plant, highlighting slack enforcement of pollution laws.
 Additional information on this news:
  • The Supreme Court holds Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and Thoothukudi district administration equally responsible for toxins from Vedanta’s copper smelting plant.
  • Justices criticize pollution regulators for being slack in implementing laws, emphasizing the problem is not the absence of laws but lack of enforcement.
  • The court questions TNPCB on shutting down the plant without defined violations, highlighting the impact on investment.
  • Vedanta’s appeal to reopen the plant, closed in 2018 due to pollution concerns, is being heard.
  • TNPCB argues the refusal to renew consent was based on the expired status of the application.
Regulatory bottlenecks in controlling environmental pollution
Challenges:
  • Fragmented legal framework: Multiple agencies with overlapping mandates lead to confusion and inefficient enforcement.
  • Outdated regulations: Existing regulations may not address new forms of pollution or emerging technologies.
  • Lack of resources: Limited manpower and funding hinder effective monitoring and enforcement.
  • Weak compliance: Penalties for violations are often inadequate, creating a “pollute and pay” mentality.
  • Industry lobbying: Powerful industries may pressure policymakers to weaken environmental regulations.
Way Forward:
  • Streamline legal framework: Consolidate environmental laws and establish a single nodal agency for better coordination.
  • Update regulations: Regularly review and revise regulations to keep pace with evolving technology and pollution sources.
  • Strengthen enforcement: Increase manpower, invest in technology, and impose stricter penalties for non-compliance.
  • Promote transparency: Public access to environmental data and decision-making processes can enhance accountability.
  • Economic incentives: Implement pollution taxes, subsidies for clean technologies, and market-based instruments to encourage compliance.
  • Empower communities: Encourage public participation in environmental decision-making and equip them with legal tools to hold polluters accountable.
  • International collaboration: Share best practices, harmonize regulations, and jointly address transboundary environmental issues.
By addressing these challenges and implementing effective solutions, we can create a more robust regulatory framework that safeguards our environment and promotes sustainable development.
Practice Question:  Despite existing regulations, environmental pollution remains a major challenge in India. Critically examine the key regulatory bottlenecks hindering effective control and suggest a multi-pronged approach to overcome them. (150 words/10 m)

7. IISc scientists develop synthetic antibody to neutralise deadly snake bite toxin

Topic: GS3 – Science and Technology –  Development & their applications UPSC Relevance: Advances in synthetic antibody for snakebites, merging technology and biology, addressing public health and biodiversity conservation.
Context
  • Scientists at IISc, Bengaluru, create a synthetic human antibody neutralizing potent neurotoxin from Elapidae snakes like cobra and black mamba.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Scientists at IISc, Bengaluru, develop a synthetic human antibody to neutralize potent neurotoxin from Elapidae family snakes, including cobra and black mamba.
  • The team applies a strategy used for HIV and COVID-19 antibodies, a novel approach for snakebite treatment.
  • The antibody targets a conserved region in the core of a major toxin (3FTx) found in elapid venom.
  • Using yeast cell surfaces, a large library of artificial antibodies is designed and tested, leading to the selection of one effective antibody.
  • In animal models, the synthetic antibody, when mixed with a toxic 3FTx, significantly increases survival compared to mice injected with the toxin alone.

8. The women of ASHA: overworked, underpaid and on the edge of breakdown

Topic: GS2 –  Governance – Government policies – Issues arising out of their implementation
GS2 – Social Justice – Health UPSC Relevance: Examines challenges faced by ASHAs, pivotal in India’s health schemes, highlighting societal, economic, and health dimensions.
Context
  • The article discusses the challenges faced by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in India, including overwork, inadequate pay, health risks, and calls for their recognition as full-fledged workers.
 Introduction:
  • ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) in India face challenges with a triple burden: domestic chores, community health work, and health centre responsibilities.
  • Overworked and underpaid, ASHAs risk health issues like anaemia, malnutrition, and non-communicable diseases.
The ASHA Role:
  • ASHAs, primarily women, serve as community health workers advocating for resource-deficient communities, vital for India’s health schemes.
  • Their role expanded beyond maternal and child health to various tasks, including vaccination follow-ups, mental health support, and reporting domestic violence cases.
The Study’s Findings:
  • A study in Bhopal traced 40 ASHAs during COVID-19, revealing their challenging routines and limited autonomy over time, money, and well-being.
  • Erratic eating habits, inadequate rest, and expanded job responsibilities contribute to health vulnerabilities among ASHAs.
Economic Inequities:
  • ASHAs, classified as volunteers, face economic, physical, and psychological challenges, highlighting power inequities.
  • Despite their essential care work, ASHAs are not adequately cared for by the system.
Environmental Challenges:
  • Extreme weather conditions, including heat waves, pose additional challenges, impacting the health of ASHAs.
  • Limited discussion and protective measures for ASHAs working in extreme weather conditions are noted.
Health Impact and Maternal Services:
  • ASHAs’ health directly affects their ability to work effectively, influencing women’s access to maternal services and safer deliveries.
  • Strengthening the ASHA program is crucial for advancing child and maternal health outcomes in India.
Monetary Barriers and Out-of-Pocket Expenses:
  • ASHAs, as honorary workers, receive varied incomes, and their health is not covered under government health schemes.
  • Out-of-pocket expenditures for logistical costs contribute to economic challenges for ASHAs.
Violence and Marginalization:
  • ASHAs face gender and caste hierarchies, experiencing abuse, harassment, and assault with limited redressal systems.
  • Historically from marginalized communities, they encounter stress working within a health system dominated by privileged individuals.
Calls for Change:
  • ASHAs demand fixed honorariums, stipulated working hours, access to maternity leaves, and pension.
  • Advocates suggest recognizing ASHAs as full-fledged workers, paying them decently, and addressing their physical and emotional well-being.
Conclusion:
  • Recognizing and addressing the challenges faced by ASHAs is crucial for sustaining India’s community health programs and improving overall public health outcomes.
Practice Question:  Discuss the challenges faced by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in India and propose measures for their improved well-being. (150 words/10 m)

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