Daily Current Affairs 08.04.2023 ( NGT sets up panel to revisit clearance given to Great Nicobar Island project, Himachal considering legalising cultivation of cannabis, says CM , House panel apprised of collusive threat from China and Pakistan , Efforts on to get satellite radio collar for ‘Arikompan’ before translocation , Mission to map rural India’s cultural assets covers over one lakh villages , Common medical devices face risk of malware attacks, Database on 10,000 genomes to be ready for research access , Drugmakers get more time to join ‘Track and Trace’ system for exports , LIGO-India must contribute to the communities it needs sustenance from )

Daily Current Affairs 08.04.2023 ( NGT sets up panel to revisit clearance given to Great Nicobar Island project, Himachal considering legalising cultivation of cannabis, says CM , House panel apprised of collusive threat from China and Pakistan , Efforts on to get satellite radio collar for ‘Arikompan’ before translocation , Mission to map rural India’s cultural assets covers over one lakh villages , Common medical devices face risk of malware attacks, Database on 10,000 genomes to be ready for research access , Drugmakers get more time to join ‘Track and Trace’ system for exports , LIGO-India must contribute to the communities it needs sustenance from )


1. NGT sets up panel to revisit clearance given to Great Nicobar Island project

A view of the Great Nicobar Island. 

The eastern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on April 3 ordered a stay on the ₹72,000-crore Great Nicobar Island (GNI) project and set up a committee to revisit the environmental clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

A high-power committee headed by the Secretary, MoEF&CC has been asked to submit the report within two months.

The Great Nicobar Island is a mega project to be implemented at the southern end of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The main contentions in the appeals were that the project will have adverse impact on the rich biodiversity of the area and damage the habitats of endangered species.

The Galathea bay in the island is a nesting ground for birds and the project area is part of Coastal Regulation Zones-IA and IB.

One of the appeals challenged the forest clearance on the ground that the impact of diversion of 130.75 square km of pristine tropical rainforests on biodiversity and tribals has not been considered.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Friday attacked the Centre over the issue, alleging that the Modi government has embarked on “ecocide” and what is being pushed through is an “ecological nightmare”.

2. Himachal considering legalising cultivation of cannabis, says CM

Controlled cultivation of cannabis has been permitted in Uruguay, Austria, and the U.S.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu on Friday said the State government was considering legalising the cultivation of cannabis.

“It (cannabis cultivation) would play a significant role in generating revenue for the State. Besides, it would be beneficial to patients as it has many medicinal properties. It can be used for industrial purposes as well,” Mr. Sukhu said in Shimla.

The Chief Minister said the State government was cautious about the potential increase in drug use and had formed a five-member committee of MLAs.

“The committee will conduct a thorough study about each and every aspect related to cannabis cultivation in the State. The committee will visit areas where illegal cultivation of cannabis takes place, and submit a report within a month. Only on the basis of the report will the government take a decision,” he said.

Mr. Sukhu said cannabis cultivation had been kept under the legal purview in several States.

“Neighbouring Uttarakhand became the first State in the country to legalise cannabis cultivation in 2017. Controlled cultivation is being done in some districts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, controlled cultivation of cannabis has been permitted in several countries such as Uruguay, Canada, the U.S., Austria, and Belgium,” he said.

The Chief Minister said the government would consider all aspects, including regulatory measures, and will study the models followed by other States that have legalised cannabis cultivation before taking the final call.

3. House panel apprised of collusive threat from China and Pakistan

Strong defence: While the Indian Navy’s fleet is growing, it must further expand capacity, officials said. 

China has grown from having 250 ships to over 350 in just over a decade, Navy representative says in submission to Parliamentary standing committee; Islamabad’s maritime force projected to expand by 50% with help from Beijing

The Indian Navy currently has a strength of around 130 ships and submarines and while the target is to have a 200-ship Navy, given the current trajectory, it is likely to have 155-160 ships, Chief of Defence Staff and Secretary, Department of Military Affairs, General Anil Chauhan has said in a submission to the Parliamentary standing committee on defence.

The Chinese Navy, with around 355 ships, has grown to be the world’s largest Navy in terms of numbers. The committee was apprised of the possible collusive threat from both China and Pakistan and the former’s role in expansion of the Pakistan’s Navy.

“The Indian Navy’s strength today is about 131 ships… Our plan is to build the Navy to around 200 ships. But the way we are going now, we will reach between 155-160. In terms of pure numbers, they are very less. However, a few factors have to be kept in mind as these issues are dependent on geography…,” Gen. Chauhan said in the report.

As per the standing committee report tabled in Parliament in the just-concluded session, Gen. Chauhan said that in four-five years, the Chinese Navy will have a strength of about 555 ships. The name of China or Pakistan weren’t directly mentioned and left blank in the report while describing them.

The Indian Navy currently has 143 aircraft and 130 helicopters. In addition, 43 ships and submarines are under construction at various shipyards, while initial approval exists for the indigenous construction of 51 ships, six submarines and 111 Naval Utility Helicopters.

While noting that the number of assets required for various types of aircraft is calculated based on Indian Navy’s envisaged tasks and missions, available surface assets, areas of interest and other factors are promulgated in the Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2012-27, the committee noted, “However, there is a shortfall of planes and helicopters for reconnaissance and transport, which is being mitigated through progressive procurement.”

A Navy representative said in the submission to the committee that in just over a decade, China has grown from having 250 navy ships to more than 350 and has become the largest navy in the world.

Along with their numbers, their operations have expanded and at any point of time, five to nine of their ships are operating in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and their research vessels are also operating, which can influence our security, the representative said.

From now to 2030, the Pakistani Navy is projected to expand by 50% with China playing the biggest role in the expansion. Hence, it is imperative that the Indian Navy expand its capability, the representative added.

The committee, in this regard, want to state that the Ministry should assess the threat perception which has increased many folds in view of hostile nations in the neighbourhood and the increase in trade in the Indian Ocean Region, the report said.

4. Efforts on to get satellite radio collar for ‘Arikompan’ before translocation

A wild tusker locally called ‘Arikompan’ at Cement Palam near Chinnakkanal in Idukki. 

The Kerala Forest Department has approached the Assam government to procure a satellite radio collar to be attached to ‘Arikompan’, the wild elephant at Chinnakkanal in Idukki district, before it is translocated to Parambikulam in Palakkad.

A senior Forest Department official told The Hindu that the device is available with the Wildlife Trust of India, a conservation organisation.

“To procure it, we need permission from the Assam government and are to get it through intervention at the Chief Wildlife Warden-level,” the official added.

Following a plea by an animal welfare forum, the Kerala High Court had last month stayed the Department’s decision to capture the rogue tusker and shift it to a training centre.

However, the court on Wednesday accepted recommendations of a committee of experts and ordered the capture, radio-collaring and translocation of ‘Arikompan’.

As per an affidavit filed by the Department, ‘Arikompan’ has “damaged three ration shops of Harrison Malayalam Plantation Ltd., 22 houses and other shops” in the past three months. It also attributed seven deaths to the wild elephant.

According to the official said, the Department has already arranged a radio collar for ‘Mission Arikompan’ and the GSM radio collar will provide data in Chinnakkanal. “But the present radio collar cannot be used for ‘Arikompan’ in the deep forest area of Parambikulam.

“Only satellite radio collar provides data without mobile range in Parambikulam. So we hope the satellite radio collar will be available before Monday so that we can complete the mission next week,” the official added.

According to sources, the ongoing protests in Palakkad against ‘Arikompan’s’ translocation is another hurdle for the mission. “For the past several days, the kumkis [trained elephants] and the special team deputed for ‘Mission Arikompan’ have been camping in Chinnakkanal. We will take further steps as per a directive from the government and the court,” the official said.

Constantly monitored

’Arikompan’ has been camping with a female elephant and two baby elephants at 301 Colony and Cement Palam near Chinnakkanal for the past several days, revealed Forest Department officials.

“The Rapid Response Team is monitoring the tusker’s movements round-the-clock,” said a source.

5. Mission to map rural India’s cultural assets covers over one lakh villages

Video dossier: Modhera in Gujarat has been showcased for being the first solar-powered village in India.

In a bid to harness the unique cultural heritage of rural India, the government has identified and documented distinctive features of more than one lakh villages across the country.

In this cultural asset mapping, villages have been broadly divided into seven-eight categories based on whether they are important ecologically, developmentally or scholastically, if they produce a famous textile or product, and if they are connected to some historical or mythological events such as the Independence struggle or epics like the Mahabharata.

The ecological category, for example, includes the Bishnoi village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan, which is a case study for living in harmony with nature, and Uttarakhand’s Raini village, which is famous for the Chipko movement.

There are also villages that have developmental importance like Modhera in Gujarat, which is the first solar-powered village in India.

Suketi in Himachal Pradesh, Asia’s oldest fossil park, and Pandrethan in Kashmir, the village of Shaivite mystic Lal Ded, are also classified for their historical importance.

The entire exercise has been carried out under the Mera Gaon Meri Dharohar (My Village My Heritage) programme of the National Mission for Cultural Mapping (NMCM).

The NMCM aims to develop a comprehensive database of art forms, artists and other resources across the country. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) said it has undertaken the cultural asset mapping of these villages through field surveys.

“Detailed field surveys were carried out by joint teams of the Culture Ministry and the Common Services Centres (CSC), under the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) to create the dossiers,” Molly Kaushal, Director of the NMCM programme told The Hindu.

The survey documents the cultural identity of the villages by involving citizens to share what makes their village, Block or district unique.

The survey process involves a CSC Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE) conducting meetings with locals and then uploading interesting facts about their village, its places of interest, customs and traditions, famous personalities, festivals and beliefs, art and culture, etc., on to a special application.

The IGNCA plans to cover all the 6.5 lakh villages in the country.

6. Common medical devices face risk of malware attacks

Vulnerable area: India is one of the world’s top 20 markets for medical devices.

 Experts warn that such connected health devices with software components can leak data and urge the government to put in cybersecurity measures to protect hospital databases

Common medical devices such as oximeters, hearing aids, glucometers, and pacemakers can be turned into spyware and malware, say experts, warning that such devices can even leak your medical data if not layered with adequate cyber protection. Industry experts are now seeking urgent Central government intervention to recognise this threat and immediately put in place measures to plug any possible drain.

Their warning comes close on the heels of the ransomware attacks suffered by India’s top tertiary care hospitals, leading to the siege of millions of medical records and vast amounts of health data at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Safdarjung Hospital and Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospitals. A ransomware attack is a computer virus that encrypts one’s essential files and renders them inaccessible unless the hacker is paid for the key to open them.

“What these attacks indicate is our vulnerability,” said Shuchin Bajaj, founder director of the Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, adding that these electronic health records contain one of the most valuable databases of knowledge: patient information.

Connected to cloud

Now, experts are warning that it is not only large healthcare establishments that are under threat. Many personal use medical technology devices contain software as medical device (SaMD) and software in medical devices (SiMD) and are usually connected to the internet, mobile phones, servers, and the cloud.

“If not given adequate cyber protection, these devices can be turned into spyware and malware and can even breach data. Currently, there are no guidelines on the regulation of SaMD and SiMD. Therefore, we suggest that the government should consult with industry experts to identify the challenges that could pose a risk to national security,” warned Pavan Choudary, chairman, Medical Technology Association of India.

India currently lacks any centralised data collection mechanism, which gives an exact cost of data corruption for the healthcare industry. However, it is clear that data is seeing a threat that has become rampant, sophisticated, and severe, said Arushi Jain, director, Akums Drugs and Pharmaceuticals.

“Pharma companies face their IT environment being landed with legacy hardware and software. In particular, operational technology devices, networks and systems that support business did not have IT security in mind when built. These networks and systems need to connect with IT networks, which exposes them to an organisation’s entire threat landscape and creates new opportunities for cyber criminals,” she explained.

Data governance

Data protection is not rocket science but requires legal and technical artisanship, allocation of adequate resources and training of all professionals involved in the processing of personal data, says the World Health Organisation (Europe). It advocates for continuous effort that is based on an institutional vision, a governance concept and a willingness to be accountable.

7. Database on 10,000 genomes to be ready for research access

The Genome India Project, a Centre-backed initiative to sequence 10,000 Indian human genomes and create a database, is about two-thirds through, said Rajesh Gokhale, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

“We have sequenced close to 7,000 genomes and 3,000 of these are already available for public access by researchers. We expect the 10,000 genomes to be completely sequenced by the end of the year,” Mr. Gokhale said at a conference organised by the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises (ABLE), an industry group, on Friday.

About 20 institutions across India are involved in the project though the analysis and coordination is done out of the Centre for Brain Research, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

The Indian population of 1.3 billion consists of over 4,600 population groups, and many of them are endogamous. Thus, the Indian population harbours distinct variations and often many disease-causing mutations are amplified within some of these groups. Therefore, findings from population-based or disease-based human genetics research from other populations of the world cannot be extrapolated to Indians, says a note from the IISc.

Creating a database of Indian genomes means that researchers anywhere can learn about genetic variants that are unique to India’s population groups and use that to customise drugs and therapies.

“It is necessary to create public infrastructure such as genomic databases – similar to what the Information Technology industry has created – for India’s biotechnology sector to expand and have more valuable companies and start-ups,” said Vijay Chandru, co-founder, Strand Life Sciences, and former president, ABLE.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, ABLE co-founder, said that building such genomic-database infrastructure must involve greater “public-private partnerships”.

While the project has sequenced 7,000 genomes, 3,000 of them are available for public access

8. Drugmakers get more time to join ‘Track and Trace’ system for exports

DGFT extends deadline for implementation to August 1; manufacturers granted time for ensuring that data pertaining to maintaining parent-child relationship in packaging levels for export of drug formulations is uploaded on the central portal

Drugmakers have got another extension, this time up to August 1, to help implement the Track and Trace system for export of pharmaceuticals consignments.

On the cards for at least eight years, the system was mooted as a measure to address counterfeit and product recall challenges. The latest extension, from the earlier March 31 deadline, came in the backdrop of pharma exporters’ body Pharmexcil’s representation to the Commerce Department citing members’ difficulties in implementing the system.

“The date for implementation of Track and Trace system for export of drug formulations with respect to maintaining the parent-child relationship in packaging levels and its uploading on central portal has been extended upto 1.08.2023 for both SSI and non SSI manufactured drugs,” the Directorate General of Foreign Trade said in a notification.

‘Good practices’

Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil) Director General Ravi Udaya Bhaskar ruled out the likelihood of any further delay in the roll out. “We have already paid C-DAC who is working on this [project], thus no further postponement will be there,” he said, highlighting how product traceability was a part of good manufacturing practices.

Initially, secondary and tertiary packing will get covered under the system, the primary packing will be included at a later stage, Mr. Bhaskar added.

9. Science for all

LIGO-India must contribute to the communities it needs sustenance from

The Union Cabinet’s approval to set up a gravitational-wave detection facility in Maharashtra, a ₹2,600 crore project, is one that will consist of a detector called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), to be built in the image of the twin LIGO instruments already operational in the U.S. Their detection of gravitational waves, in 2016, launched a new era of astronomy. A third detector is being built in India as part of the LIGO-India collaboration in order to improve the detectors’ collective ability to pinpoint sources of gravitational waves in the sky. The Cabinet’s approval throws up two opportunities: first, India could become a global site of gravitational physics research, aiding training and the handling of precision technologies and sophisticated control systems, ultimately, cementing a reputation for successfully running an experimental Big Science project. The starting requirement here is the timely release of funds for construction, followed by issuing the allocated resources without delay.

Second, LIGO-India can demonstrate an ability to reckon intelligently with Indian society’s relationship with science, using the opportunities that Big Science affords. India has had a contested relationship with such projects, including, recently, the Challakere Science City and the stalled India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO). They need large land tracts, with inevitable implications for land-use change. Contests over land rights, against the backdrop of the sustainable use of natural resources, carbon sequestration targets, just transitions, and human rights, recall the interplay between the history of science and settler colonialism — an example is Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope, to be built on land the locals hold sacred. One contention there was that the land had been rendered physically inaccessible, and that “science had become an agent of colonisation”, to quote science historian Leandra Swanner. A similar criticism has trailed experimental Big Science undertakings, including the INO, in the economically developing world: that they are far removed from the concerns of the majority. Shakier though this latter argument may be, such undertakings still have a responsibility to define their public value, beyond benefits to national industry and research. This is the second opportunity LIGO-India has, amplified by the context of the present moment: to build a facility that contributes to the communities from which it requires sustenance and knowledge, engage in good faith on concerns about access to land and other resources, and conduct public outreach on a par with the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration. The starting requirement is to contemplate what all LIGO-India can do for India.

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