Daily Current Affairs 04.03.2023( Select Central staff can opt for Old Pension Scheme, Supreme Court eases norm for selection of consumer court presidents, members, World Bank to lend $1 billion to support India’s health sector, Border issue should be kept ‘in proper place’, says China, Kuno Park unsuitable to host all 20 cheetahs, not enough prey, says scientist, India scores 74.4 in World Bank index on working women, U.S. blames Indian firm for cough syrup deaths in Gambia, Services activity hit 12-year high in February, PMI signals, Court verdict on manner of choosing poll panel is a boost to its independence )

Daily Current Affairs 04.03.2023( Select Central staff can opt for Old Pension Scheme, Supreme Court eases norm for selection of consumer court presidents, members, World Bank to lend $1 billion to support India’s health sector, Border issue should be kept ‘in proper place’, says China, Kuno Park unsuitable to host all 20 cheetahs, not enough prey, says scientist, India scores 74.4 in World Bank index on working women, U.S. blames Indian firm for cough syrup deaths in Gambia, Services activity hit 12-year high in February, PMI signals, Court verdict on manner of choosing poll panel is a boost to its independence )


1. Select Central staff can opt for Old Pension Scheme

Govt. allows one-time option for those who applied for jobs advertised before Dec. 22, 2003, the day National Pension Scheme was notified, but joined service in 2004, when NPS came into effect

In a significant decision, the government has decided to give a one-time option to select Central government employees to migrate to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS).

The employees should have applied for jobs advertised before December 22, 2003, the day the National Pension System (NPS) was notified, but joined service in 2004, when the NPS came into effect. The option is available to the Central government employees enrolled under the NPS as they joined service on or after January 1, 2004.

The order will also be applicable to the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) personnel. Employees have time till August 31 to opt for the OPS.

The employees’ contribution to the NPS will be credited to the General Provident Fund (GPF) of the individual.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has maintained that restoration of the old system will cause unnecessary financial burden on the government while several Opposition-ruled States such as Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh have announced that they would restore the OPS.

Official cites litigations

A senior government official told The Hindu that the decision was taken to address the vast gamut of litigations that the government faced on the issue.

“There were hundreds of litigations in courts across the country, the government did not win a single case. Through court orders, individual officials were getting benefit, we decided to issue general instructions for the benefit of all eligible officials,” said the official.

The Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare (DPPW) held extensive consultations with the Ministries of Finance and Law and Departments of Expenditure and Personnel and reached a consensus to allow the employees the option to switch to the OPS. In 2020, the DPPW gave one-time option to those Central government employees to opt for the OPS who were declared successful for recruitment in the results declared before December 31, 2003. However, representation was received from government employees referring to court judgment and orders by the Central Administrative Tribunals that allowed them to migrate to the OPS. Following this, the DPPW moved a proposal to issue a general circular to extend the benefit of the judgments to similarly placed employees. Union Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh approved the proposal on Friday.

The exact number of employees who will be covered under the new order is not known and it will be known after eligible employees have exercised the option, said the official. “The government was spending time and resources in fighting such cases in court. There were several orders by High Courts and even the Supreme Court to give OPS benefits to those recruits who applied for jobs before the NPS was notified,” said the official.

Till January 31, a total of 23,65,693 Central employees and 60,32,768 State government employees have enrolled under the NPS. Except West Bengal, all States had implemented the NPS.

2. Supreme Court eases norm for selection of consumer court presidents, members

The Supreme Court on Friday used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 to attract younger talent to preside over consumer courts by reducing the mandatory professional experience from 20 to 10 years.

In a judgment, a Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and M.M. Sundresh also introduced written exams and viva voce to check the candidates’ performance.

Consumer commissions have the power of civil courts in many aspects.

The judgment noted that the government has proposed several amendments to the Consumer Protection (Qualification for appointment, method of recruitment, procedure of appointment, term of office, resignation and removal of President and Members of State Commission and District Commission) Rules, 2020.

‘Filling the vacuum’

However, it did not want to wait for the law. Rather, the court said its judgment would fill the vacuum until the amendments were made in the 2020 Rules.

“We direct that in future and hereinafter, a person having a Bachelor’s degree from a recognised university and who is a person of ability, integrity and standing, and having special knowledge and professional experience of not less than 10 years in consumer affairs, law, public affairs, administration, economics, commerce, industry, finance, management, engineering, technology, public health or medicine, shall be treated as qualified for appointment of president and members of the State Commission,” the judgment directed.

The appointments to the district consumer commissions would also be made on the same criteria, the judgment noted.

3. World Bank to lend $1 billion to support India’s health sector

The World Bank is lending up to $1 billion to help India with preparedness for future pandemics as well as to strengthen its health infrastructure. The lending will be divided into two complementary loans of $500 million each.

Through this combined financing of $1 billion, the bank will support India’s flagship Pradhan Mantri-Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission (PM-ABHIM), launched in October 2021, to improve the public healthcare infrastructure across the country.

Better service delivery

In addition to the national-level interventions, one of the loans will prioritise health service delivery in seven States — Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh.

The $500-million Public Health Systems for Pandemic Preparedness Programme (PHSPP) will support the government’s efforts to prepare India’s surveillance system to detect and report epidemics of potential international concern.

Another $500-million Enhanced Health Service Delivery Programme (EHSDP) will support government’s efforts to strengthen service delivery through a redesigned primary healthcare model, which includes improved household access to primary healthcare facilities, stronger links between each household and its primary care facility through regular household visits and risk assessment of non-communicable diseases.

Both the PHSPP and the EHSDP loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) have a final maturity of 18.5 years, including a grace period of five years, stated the World Bank.

The agreement was signed by Rajat Kumar Mishra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Government of India and Auguste Tano Kouamé, country director, India, World Bank.

India’s performance in health has improved over time. According to the World Bank estimates, India’s life expectancy has increased from 58 in 1990 to 69.8 in 2020. This is higher than average for the country’s income level.

4. Border issue should be kept ‘in proper place’, says China

Tug of war: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in New Delhi on Thursday. AP

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar highlighted ‘abnormal’ state of ties and need for peace on the LAC for return to normalcy but Beijing wants to delink that subject from rest of relations

Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, in talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, called on India to look at relations “in the context of once-in-a-century changes in the world” and to put the border issue “in the proper place”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

In Thursday’s talks in New Delhi, Mr. Jaishankar had flagged the “abnormal” state of ties and reiterated India’s position that restoration of peace on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was required for a return to normalcy.

The Chinese side, meanwhile, has sought to delink the boundary from the rest of ties, even while putting forward what the Indian military has seen as unacceptable demands in the long-running continuing negotiations that have dragged on for close to three years, to complete the disengagement process along the LAC.

Mr. Qin, in what is his first visit to India as Foreign Minister for the G-20 meet, said China “supports the Indian side in fulfilling its chairmanship of the G-20 and is ready to strengthen communication and cooperation to safeguard the common interests of developing countries and international equity and justice, so as to inject stability and positive energy into the world”.

“As neighbouring countries and major emerging economies, China and India have far more common interests than differences,” he said. “The development and revitalisation of China and India display the strength of developing countries, which will change the future of one-third of the world’s population, the future of Asia and even the whole world. The two sides should implement the important consensus of the leaders of the two countries, maintain dialogue and properly resolve disputes, and promote the improvement of bilateral relations and the steady moving forward of the relations.”

The boundary, and China’s transgressions starting in April 2020, remain a sticking point. Mr. Qin repeated the Chinese stand that “the boundary issue should be put in the proper place in bilateral relations” and that “the situation on the borders should be brought under normalised management as soon as possible.”

He added that China was “willing to speed up resumption of exchanges and cooperation with India in various fields, resume direct flights at the earliest date and facilitate people-to-people exchanges”.

At a press conference on Thursday, Mr. Jaishankar said he had discussed the “abnormal” current state of relations with Mr. Qin and the “thrust of our talks was on challenges in the bilateral relationship and the peace and tranquillity at the LAC.”

The Chinese statement quoted Mr. Jaishankar as “agreeing that bilateral relations should be understood and improved from a historical perspective and strategic height.”

Last week, the two sides held their first in-person high-level border talks in more than three years, with Shilpak Ambule, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the MEA, travelling to Beijing for the 26th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC).

5. Kuno Park unsuitable to host all 20 cheetahs, not enough prey, says scientist

Finding a home: A cheetah brought from South Africa is seen in an enclosure at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. PTI

The Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh, which currently hosts 20 cheetahs brought in from Africa, does not have enough prey to sustain all the animals.

While the Rajasthan government had offered to host some animals in the relatively smaller but well-equipped Mukundra Tiger reserve, “political considerations” had prevented this from happening, Yadvendradev Jhala, the wildlife scientist who played a major role in India’s cheetah reintroduction programme, told The Hindu.

Eight cheetahs from Namibia and 12 from South Africa were transported to India between September 2022 and February 2023 as part of an initiative to reintroduce the species to India, where the cheetah population had gone extinct in the early 1950s.

Dr. Jhala is a former Dean of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and among the co-authors of the National Cheetah Action Plan that forms the basis of the cheetah programme.

He had superannuated from the institute but had his tenure extended by two years to ensure the smooth execution of the cheetah reintroduction programme in the country.

“I do believe I have much more to contribute in terms of scientific knowledge and the vision (to ensure sustainable cheetah populations). Maybe the government thinks otherwise,” he said.

‘Only one third’

As present, there are about 20 chital — the cheetah’s main prey — per square kilometre available at the KNP, a sharp decline from the nearly 60 chital per square km that could be found in the park in 2014, Dr. Jhala said.

“This, at the most, would sustain 15 animals, and five ought to have been shifted elsewhere. Unlike the Gangasagar and the Nauradehi wildlife sanctuaries (in Madhya Pradesh), which will take at least a year and investments worth ₹750 crore to be made suitable for the cheetah to stay, Mukundara can immediately accommodate them,” Dr. Jhala explained.

“Initially the Rajasthan government was reluctant, but they agreed and wrote to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) last year conveying their readiness to accept cheetahs. But now the Centre doesn’t seem keen. They haven’t said ‘no’, but I think they want to wait. I think there are political considerations here,” he observed.

Dr. Jhala said the lack of sufficient prey in KNP was a “concerning” situation.

“I think the government should consider measures such as prey supplementation [by bringing in more animals]. The government has started developing Gandhi Sagar and has transferred funds to Madhya Pradesh for creating a fenced enclosure like in the Kuno National Park,” he added.

6. India scores 74.4 in World Bank index on working women

The laws affecting the Indian working woman’s pay and pension do not provide for equality with Indian men, dragging India’s score in a World Bank index on the life cycle of a working woman down to 74.4 out of a possible 100.

A score of 100 on the Index means that women are on an equal standing with men on all the eight indicators being measured, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2023 report. India scored higher than the 63.7 average for the South Asian region, though lower than Nepal which had the region’s highest score of 80.6. Of the 190 economies covered in the Index, only 14 scored a perfect 100: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

For India, the Index used data on laws applicable in Mumbai, viewed as the country’s main business city.

“When it comes to constraints on freedom of movement, laws affecting women’s decisions to work, and constraints related to marriage, India gets a perfect score,” the report said.

However, India lags behind when it comes to laws affecting women’s pay, pension and work after having children, constraints on women starting and running a business, gender differences in property and inheritance.

7. U.S. blames Indian firm for cough syrup deaths in Gambia

Big impact: The children observed by CDC had developed fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and inability to pass urine.

Inquiry suggests contaminated medicines imported into Gambia led to this Acute Kidney Injury cluster among children, CDC report says

An investigation report by the top public health body of the U.S., Centre for Disease Control, into the death of children in Gambia due to kidney injury, has suggested a strong link between these deaths and consumption of allegedly contaminated cough syrup manufactured by India-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

A CDC report released on Friday said, “This investigation strongly suggests that medications contaminated with Diethylene Glycol [DEG] or Ethylene Glycol [EG] imported into The Gambia led to this Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) cluster among children.”

The CDC report is the third such evidence to link cough syrups manufactured in India to the deaths. Earlier, the World Health Organization had stated that it had found DEG and EG, two industrial chemicals, in tested samples in the range of 1% to 21.3%. Before this, an investigation by the Gambian Parliament had said Maiden Pharma ‘should be held accountable’.

India’s claim

The Indian government, however, maintains that when it collected control samples from the pharma company of the same batch that was exported to Gambia and found no contamination. “We had also requested that a team of Indian officials go to Gambia to investigate the case but we have been disallowed by Gambia from conducting the probe,” a senior Health Ministry official told The Hindu.

The Indian Health Ministry has not issued any official response to the U.S.-CDC report. Health officials have claimed it to be ‘a political ploy’.

Between July and Septmber last year, the Gambian Ministry of Health had identified that 78 children developed sudden kidney failure and up to 66 (85%) of them died. Gambia had requested help from CDC experts to help investigate the situation.

Up to 56 patients met the criteria for investigation and were included in the CDC analysis.

8. Services activity hit 12-year high in February, PMI signals

Favourable demand conditions, new business gains support momentum in sector, S&P Global’s survey of services firms shows; Index rises to 59.4 marking the 19th straight monthly expansion

India’s services sector expanded at the strongest rate in 12 years in February supported by favourable demand conditions and new business gains, a monthly survey showed on Friday.

The seasonally adjusted S&P Global India Services PMI Business Activity Index rose to 59.4 in February, from 57.2 in January.

For the 19th month in a row, the reading was above 50, denoting expansion.

“The service sector more than regained the growth momentum lost in January, posting the sharpest expansion… for 12 years as demand resilience and competitive pricing policies underpinned the joint-best upturn in sales,” said Pollyanna De Lima, Economics Associate Director at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

On the prices front, there was substantial moderation in cost pressures as input prices increased at the slowest pace in almost two-and-a-half years and output charge inflation softened to a 12-month low.

The degree of optimism recorded in February was the lowest for seven months as some firms doubted demand would remain this resilient.

9. Editorial-1: Picking the watchdog

Court verdict on manner of choosing poll panel is a boost to its independence

The Supreme Court verdict taking away the power to appoint members of the Election Commission of India (ECI) from the sole domain of the executive is a major boost to the independence of the election watchdog. The Court has ruled that a three-member committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, or the leader of the single largest Opposition party, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI), will choose the CEC and ECs until a law in passed. As a constitutional body vested with plenary powers of superintendence, direction and control over elections, the ECI is a vital component of the republic that requires functional freedom and constitutional protection to ensure free and fair elections. It has been the practice that the President appoints the CEC and ECs on the advice of the Prime Minister, but the Constitution Bench has pointed out that the original intent of the Constitution makers was that the manner of appointment should be laid down in a parliamentary law. Article 324 says the President should appoint the CEC and Commissioners, subject to any law made in that behalf by Parliament. However, successive regimes have failed to enact a law. Justice K.M. Joseph, who has authored the main verdict, has based the Court’s decision on “the inertia” of the legislature and the perceived vacuum in the absence of a law.

Few would disagree with the Court’s fundamental proposition that the election watchdog should be fiercely independent and not be beholden to the executive; and there should be no room for an appointing authority to expect reciprocity or loyalty. The government’s argument that the existing system was working well and there was no vacuum was quite weak, as, admittedly, the convention now is that the Prime Minister chooses a name from among a database of high-ranking civil servants and advises the President to make the appointment. However, a relevant question is whether the presence of the CJI in the selection panel is the only way in which an institution’s independence can be preserved. There is no clear proof that the independence of the CBI director, who is appointed by a panel that includes the CJI, or his nominee, has been preserved or enhanced. Further, the CJI’s presence may give pre-emptive legitimacy to all appointments and affect objective judicial scrutiny of any error or infirmity in the process. On its part, the government will be well-advised to enact a law — but not one that seeks to preserve the current convention to get around the verdict — that is in tune with the spirit of the Court’s emphasis on the ECI’s independence.

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