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Daily Current Affairs 09.05.2023 ( The crisis in Manipur is a humanitarian problem: SC, Buddhism, India’s soft power projection tool , Not quite the Kerala story , The sharp divide that is Manipur’s burden , The Maoists are still a threat , The lack of a drug recall law in India , What are the regulations to curtail misleading food ads? ,In new ‘Quad’ meet with U.S., Saudi Arabia, UAE, Doval discusses infrastructure plans in Gulf , Scam exposed in purchase of diesel by Railways from national oil companies , Five more cheetahs to be released into wild at Kuno , Coal imports rose 30% in FY23 to 162 mt on demand )

Daily Current Affairs 09.05.2023 ( The crisis in Manipur is a humanitarian problem: SC, Buddhism, India’s soft power projection tool , Not quite the Kerala story , The sharp divide that is Manipur’s burden , The Maoists are still a threat , The lack of a drug recall law in India , What are the regulations to curtail misleading food ads? ,In new ‘Quad’ meet with U.S., Saudi Arabia, UAE, Doval discusses infrastructure plans in Gulf , Scam exposed in purchase of diesel by Railways from national oil companies , Five more cheetahs to be released into wild at Kuno , Coal imports rose 30% in FY23 to 162 mt on demand )

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1. The crisis in Manipur is a humanitarian problem: SC

The Supreme Court on Monday called the Manipur crisis a “humanitarian problem” while noting that it is the President, and not the High Court, who has the power to designate a community as Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.

“We have made our concern explicit about the need for protection of people and property, and the need for restitution and stabilisation. This is a humanitarian problem. We are concerned deeply about the loss of life and property,” CJI D.Y. Chandrachud told the Centre and the Manipur government, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta. The court stressed the need to make due arrangements in relief camps.

“On Sunday night, a group of about 100 Kuki people were trying to get out of the MR 1st Battalion camp but the security personnel stopped them,” said Golan Naulak, an Imphal resident, who had to flee to the camp. Another resident, a researcher at a government institute, said, “When we first arrived at the MR camp three days ago, it was absolute chaos. There was no food, no proper drinking water, and the authorities were also caught by surprise.”

Residents said the other fear tribals in the area have is of being at the mercy of State law enforcement officials. “Whether it is real or perceived, there is a lot of fear among those in the camps. There have been a lot of allegations of police complicity in the violence so far and that is a real concern for a lot of people,” the 45-year-old researcher said, adding that the MR 1 camp now has about 400-500 people.

But even as more of the people housed at the MR camps try to leave, those stranded there said the authorities are slowly rehabilitating them to their home towns in their respective districts. A few batches of the tribals have been sent back to Churachandpur and Kangpokpi on Monday morning. Manipur government officials did not respond to The Hindu’s questions about allaying fears of tribals being housed at their facilities.

2. Buddhism, India’s soft power projection tool

Abhishek Srivastava is Assistant Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament, CIPOD, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

There is much significance to India having hosted a two-day global Buddhist summit in New Delhi (April 20-21), which was organised by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation. The summit saw the participation of key figures from the global Buddhist community, including the Dalai Lama. It was at this summit that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, laid emphasis on the continuing relevance of the Buddha’s teachings in today’s world. The summit was a significant opportunity for India to project and connect with the Buddhist population around the world, thereby strengthening the country’s soft power.

India’s efforts so far

The Indian government has been actively investing in its Buddhist diplomacy efforts, with a focus on promoting tourism through the development of the “Buddhist tourist circuit”. Additionally, Mr. Modi has made it a point to visit Buddhist sites during his Southeast and East Asian visits. By hosting such a high-profile event, the Indian government hopes to demonstrate its commitment to preserving and promoting Buddhist culture and heritage, as well as strengthening ties with the global Buddhist community. With its strong historical and cultural ties to Buddhism, India is well-positioned to play a leading role in shaping the discourse around Buddhist issues on the global stage.

Against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Mr. Modi said, “India has not given ‘Yuddha’ to the world but ‘Buddha’.” This resonates with his earlier statement of his telling the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, that ‘this is not the era of war’. The Delhi summit’s theme, “Responses to Contemporary Challenges: Philosophy to Praxis”, also highlights India’s attempts to provide an alternative to contested global politics, with morality as the guiding principle.

Buddhist diplomacy has the potential to promote regional cohesion, given that nearly 97% of the global Buddhist population is based in Asia. During the Cold War, China effectively used Buddhist diplomacy to engage with its neighbouring countries, and it continues to employ this approach to gain legitimacy for its Belt and Road Initiative. As India and China compete to dominate the Buddhist heritage as a tool for soft power, India holds an advantage due to the faith’s origins in the country. However, despite being home to a number of key Buddhist sites, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar, India has struggled to attract Buddhist tourists, who tend to favour sites in Thailand and Cambodia.

The guiding principle, China factor

India’s efforts to position itself as a great power committed to cooperation rather than coercion are rooted in its deep historical and cultural ties to the region. The current government’s guiding principles for foreign policy, Panchamrit principles include “Sanskriti Evam Sabhyata” which means cultural and civilizational links, which were highlighted during the Delhi summit, which saw a diverse group of 171 foreign delegates from South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, and Taiwan, along with 150 delegates from Indian Buddhist organisations. Also in attendance were prominent scholars, sangha leaders, and dharma practitioners. Through such efforts, India hopes to reinforce its image as a responsible global power committed to peaceful cooperation and regional stability. By laying an emphasis on cultural and civilisational ties, India seeks to promote greater understanding and cooperation between nations and to demonstrate the unique role it can play in shaping the region’s future.

India recognises the importance of Buddhism as a means of conducting public diplomacy and has utilised it to its advantage. However, to maintain its edge over China, more action is needed. China is actively seeking to exert control over the appointment of the next Dalai Lama, which would be a blow to India’s efforts to project its soft power through Buddhism. India must act to ensure that it remains a key player in the global Buddhist community.

To further strengthen its Buddhist diplomacy, India should continue promoting Buddhism at the highest levels of government, while also organising cultural events to showcase the country’s rich Buddhist history. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) could play a significant role in promoting such events within and outside India. Additionally, India should work to strengthen its ties with key Buddhist institutions and leaders around the world. The Delhi summit was a step in the right direction, providing a valuable opportunity for cultural exchange and the sharing of ideas.

The film link

India also needs to utilise the reach of Bollywood in promoting its Buddhist heritage. China, with its influence over Hollywood, has completely dominated the narrative around Buddhism through cinema. In contrast, India is behind in this domain; there have not been any efforts made through cinema. India’s G-20 presidency this year could be used to promote Buddhist diplomacy on a bigger scale through various cultural meetings, especially as Buddhist teachings align with the motto of India’s G-20 presidency, ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’.

As Buddha was the first diplomat of peace, his teachings of peace and cooperation in these tough times can become the guiding light of Indian diplomacy on the world stage.

With its strong historical and cultural ties to Buddhism, India can play a lead role in shaping the discourse around Buddhist issues

3. Not quite the Kerala story

The film by Sudipto Sen shows a clear lack of understanding of Malayali society

STATE OF PLAY

Propaganda, it is said, is best delivered when it doesn’t appear to be so. But that is passé given the brazen display of animosity in films such as Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files. Sudipto Sen, director of The Kerala Story, seems to have taken a leaf out of Mr. Agnihotri’s style book. It could be that the audience these films address demands that the message be served in an unapologetically crass manner.

About a fortnight before its release, The Kerala Story was called out by many for its gross misrepresentation of facts and deceit as the trailer claimed to portray the true story of “32,000 women” from Kerala, who it said were lured through ‘love jihad’ into joining the Islamic State.

The Left, the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League dubbed the film as an attempt to malign Kerala and the Muslim community, which has greatly contributed to the State’s secular cultural milieu, while many organisations and individuals took legal recourse to get the film outlawed on the ground that it aimed to drive a wedge between communities.

The Supreme Court refused to entertain pleas against the movie, and reminded the petitioners about the “money sunk” into the project. It remanded the matter to the Kerala High Court, which also refused to put a stay on the film’s release. The makers informed the High Court that they would remove the teaser with the claim about “32,000 women” joining the IS and alter the trailer to say that it was a “compilation of the true stories of three young girls.” They also agreed to add a rider that the film is a work of fiction. The High Court upheld the filmmaker’s right to free creative expression.

A year ago, a short fiction film, Anthem for Kashmir, on human rights violations including enforced disappearances in the State that was reconstituted into two Union Territories, was banned by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Its maker, Sandeep Ravindranath, chose not to undertake what would have been a complex legal battle citing paucity of support.

On the other hand, the BJP threw its weight behind The Kerala Story with none less than the Prime Minister using it as a poll plank in Karnataka where electioneering is in progress. The BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government made the screening of the film tax-free. The Catholic church in Kerala found the moment opportune to push its demand for a ban on Kakkukali, a play based on a story with the same name and written by writer Francis Noronha, claiming that it berated Christianity; the argument received the backing of the BJP.

Neither the play nor the film met with a ban, but the age-old debate on the limits of freedom of expression resurfaced in Kerala. Most reviews on social and in conventional media found The Kerala Story ill-motivated and made to demonise a community. The film is riddled with conjecture and smacks of a clear lack of understanding of Malayali society in northern Kerala — a case in point is the unconcealed zeal to paint the Malappuram district in a certain colour.

Several social media users reasoned that the film was made for a non-Kerala audience with a deeply divisive agenda, stemming from a detestation of the State as an outlier in national politics. While that could well be the case, a ban is not an answer to battle a propaganda film no matter its content. Calling for a ban is a double-edged weapon capable of upending future arguments in favour of free expression.

A creative response is possible, as evident from the series of ‘real Kerala stories’ flooding social media in the wake of the film’s release to lukewarm response in cinemas across the State. The wave is led by none other than music maestro A.R. Rahman, who shared a three-year-old video of a Hindu wedding solemnised in the premises of a mosque in Kayamkulam, with a message of unconditional love. Cartoonist E.P. Unny’s sketch of a mosque, temple and a church in Thiruvananthapuram a few metres apart from one another and sound artist Resul Pookutty’s call for #MyKeralaStory are all getting increasing traction on social media, forming an impromptu body of counter-narratives. All these messages may fall short in terms of reach, but they certainly show the way in building civic resistance in times of imperious governments.

4. The sharp divide that is Manipur’s burden

There is a deep hill-valley divide in access to basic facilities and better jobs

The ethnic violence that broke out in Manipur last week has led to over 50 deaths. Thousands have fled the State or are being evacuated. Hundreds of houses, churches, temples, and vehicles have been vandalised or set ablaze. At the heart of this conflict is the long-standing hill-valley identity divide.

On the one hand, the better educated, Manipuri-speaking urban dwellers, comprising mainly Hindus and a significant share of Muslims, live in the State’s valley, which is not covered by forests. They have better access to good quality drinking water, clean cooking fuel, and hospitals. The population in the valley dominates public sector jobs, and the economy of the region is propped up by tourists, who, for the most part, stay in the valley. A higher share of industries, which provide better employment opportunities, can also be found in the valley.

On the other, the relatively less educated tribal people live in the rural areas. A majority of them speak the Tangkhul, Thado, Kabui or the Mao language. Close to 90% of them are Christians. They live in the hilly regions, which are covered mostly by forests, and have relatively poor access to basic facilities. This population is poorly represented in public sector jobs. Very few of them work in industries and don’t earn a sufficient income from tourism.

The trigger for the violence was a tribal solidarity march organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM), which was supported by tribal bodies including the Naga Students Union Chandel, the Sadar Hills Tribal Union on Land and Forests, the Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong and the Tribal Churches Leaders Forum, according to the Press Trust of India. The ATSUM called this rally to protest the Manipur High Court’s direction to the State to pursue a recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the non-tribal Meitei-speaking people (officially called the Manipuri language).

The population with Manipuri as its mother tongue dominates the valley districts — Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Bishnupur — and forms 85-99% of each district’s population. On the other hand, in the hill districts — Senapati, Churachandpur, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong — the Manipuri-speaking population is less than 4%. Tangkhul in Ukhrul district, Mao in Senapati district, Kabui in Tamenglong district, and Thado across most hill districts are the dominant mother tongues.

The vandalisation of places of worship in the State has brought to the fore the sharp hill-valley divide in religious terms. In the hill districts, 89-96% of the population is Christian, while in the valley their share is marginal. In the valley, 60-75% is Hindu, with the Imphal East and Thoubal districts having a significantly high Muslim population.

The grievance of the hill tribal people that according ST status to the Meiteis will eat into their share of reservation seems to be borne out by data. The tables show that their share in public sector employment (as of 2016) was on the lower side. People from the hills held 35% of public sector jobs while they formed close to 43% of the population, whereas those from the valley held about 65% of such jobs. Also, close to 90% of foreign and 75% of domestic tourists restrict themselves to the valley.

The hill-valley divide is more pronounced when access to basic facilities is compared. In the valley, 73-90% of households had access to better quality water compared to 51-69% in the hill districts. In the valley, 70-90% of households had access to clean cooking fuel, compared to 23-62% in the hills. In the valley, 67-76% of births were institutional, compared to 39-67% in the hills.

5. The Maoists are still a threat

Colonel Shashank Ranjan is a retired Infantry officer. He is Adjunct Professor with the OP Jindal Global University and is pursuing a PhD on the Maoist insurgency.

On April 26, 10 personnel of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and a civilian driver were killed in a blast, which the police said was caused by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted by Maoists, near Aranpur village in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. The blast occurred some six months before the Assembly elections, and amid claims by the government that the Maoist insurgency has waned. The DRG personnel were returning in a van after carrying out an anti-Maoist operation based on a tip-off, which could have been a trap. The IED was planted underneath the metalled surface of the road. It is not clear whether it was deployed the night before the attack or months earlier, when the road was under construction.

The message

While it is a fact that the Maoists have been on the back foot for some time, to dismiss their capability to strike at will, especially in their stronghold, would be a mistake. A strike such as the one carried out on April 26 cannot be the brainchild of a local Maoist unit; it is highly likely that this was a trap laid out under the directions of the Maoist Central Committee, indicating the sustained hierarchy of the Maoists. The primary motive seems to be to send out a message of ‘continued control’ by the guerrillas.

This attack, like many of the proscribed group’s previous attacks, was carried out during the tactical counter-offensive campaign — the period between February and June every year when the Maoists carry out maximum attacks against security forces. Out of a total of 17 major strikes in Chhattisgarh (2010-2023), two were carried out in February, four in March, six in April, two in May, and one each in June, November and December. The data clearly point to a pattern that should give the government enough leads to plan its strategy. Most importantly, it is imperative that the security forces remain extra cautious during the months of the tactical counter-offensive campaign by strictly adhering to standard operating procedures and protocols, which seem to have been blatantly flouted during the unfortunate strike on April 26.

It is widely acknowledged that effective policing in insurgency-affected regions is the function of a strong State police force, and that Central police forces ought to supplement and not supplant the State police. According to data of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, there are many vacancies in the State police forces. As on January 1, 2021, the share of vacancies in State police cadres in left wing extremism-affected States was 24.41%, which adversely effects the police-population ratio. It is hoped that this number has improved over the last couple of years. Without comprehensive transformation of the State police, Central forces would achieve little beyond random and, at times, ‘misplaced killings.’

In the context of employing local tribal youth for the DRG, a few facets are ignored. First, the local youth, when armed, often get a false sense of empowerment and land in feuds with the Maoists. Such belligerence is due to familiarity by virtue of belonging to the same ecosystem as the Maoists. During the April 26 incident, the intelligence network of the DRG was outclassed by that of the Maoists. Second, the DRG needs to be employed in a controlled manner by the State police. Security should not be simply outsourced to them. The DRG personnel, in this case, seem to have acted independently, exposing their ad-hoc planning. Third, although the combat-worthiness of the DRG is beyond doubt, it is not complemented by the rigour of discipline, which is an imperative quality for troops in any protracted counter-insurgency campaign. The track record of the DRG regarding discipline is not too encouraging, with many of the cadres having been cashiered on disciplinary grounds and some having been found to be involved in crime.

Lasting solutions

The Maoist space is constantly shrinking. However, treating this incident as an act of desperation would be an exercise in complacency. Delving deep into the roots of this festering wound would be the key to success. The incident calls for a deeper reflection on the discontent and dispossession of the tribal people of central India, who are in all respects the most disadvantaged of citizens. The government also needs to pay adequate attention to perception management. A case in point is the extensive road construction projects in Bastar. The government says these projects will enhance the reach of the security forces instead of saying that they will ease the lives of the local population. This conveys the wrong message. Also, the futility of the Maoist ideology in current times is not adequately exposed, to weaken the insurgency. Security is no doubt necessary, in tandem with development, but the focus needs to be beyond security and development.

While the Maoists have been on the back foot for some time, to dismiss their capability to strike at will would be a mistake

6. The lack of a drug recall law in India

What happens when substandard drugs are indiscriminately distributed in the market? Have there been discussions on implementing a drug recall law in the country? Why are pharmaceutical companies resisting a centralised drug recall authority?

The story so far:

On April 25, Abbot, a multinational pharmaceutical company, published a public notice in newspapers alerting people about a mislabelled batch of medicine that it had inadvertently shipped to the market. While such recalls take place regularly in the U.S., we have never witnessed domestic or foreign pharmaceutical companies recall substandard or mislabelled drugs in India.

Is there a drug recall law in India?

One of the reasons for this difference in behaviour in India and the U.S. is because the law in the latter requires pharmaceutical companies to recall from the market those batches of drugs that have failed to meet quality parameters. India, on the other hand, has been mulling the creation of a mandatory recall law for substandard drugs since 1976, and yet no law exists that mandates such medicine be removed from the market to this day.

In 1976, the Drugs Consultative Committee, which consists of all the state drug controllers along with senior bureaucrats from the Ministry of Health and the national drug regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), discussed the issue of drug recalls. The minutes of this meeting record a discussion on how drugs ordered to be recalled by a state drug controller in one State were found to be on sale in another State. While the meeting resolved to have greater cooperation between various state drug controllers to facilitate better coordination, this decision never translated into amending the law to create a legally binding structure to enforce such recalls. Since then the issue has come up repeatedly in regulatory meetings in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2016, 2018 and 2019 but none of them resulted in amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to create a mandatory recall mechanism. In 2012, certain recall guidelines were published by the CDSCO but they lacked the force of law.

Why is there no recall law?

There are three possible answers to this question. The first is that the Drug Regulation Section of the Union Health Ministry is not up to the task of tackling complex drug regulatory issues due to a combination of factors including apathy, lack of expertise and a greater interest in enabling the growth of the pharmaceutical industry than protecting public health. The second possible factor is India’s highly fragmented regulatory structure, with each State having its own drug regulator. But despite the fragmentation, drugs manufactured in one State can seamlessly cross borders to be sold in all States around the country. To create an effective recall mechanism, the responsibility of recalling drugs has to be centralised, with one authority wielding the legal power to hold companies liable for failures to recall drugs from across the country. However, both the pharmaceutical industry and state drug regulators have resisted greater centralisation of regulatory powers. This opposition has little grounding in logic. If India is a single market for drugs, it follows that it should have one regulator. If not, the incompetence of a regulator in one State can lead to adverse effects for patients in other States.

The third possible factor is that India’s drug regulators are aware of the fact that a mandatory drug recall system, which necessarily has to be centred on a system of wide publicity, will bring to public attention the state of affairs in India’s pharmaceutical industry.

What happens when substandard drugs are not recalled?

People, including children, are almost certainly dying or suffering from adverse health events because substandard drugs are not swiftly removed from the market. Every month, dozens of drugs fail random-testing in government laboratories. Ideally, these drugs will be necessarily recalled in a transparent manner, with the people being informed of the failures.

If this were to actually happen in India, the people would be flooded with alerts on an almost daily basis, which then would increase the pressure on drug regulators to institute extensive reforms.

If the bureaucracy’s intention is to avoid accountability, it might prefer to keep quiet and let substandard drugs, even those with dangerous consequences for consumers, circulate in the market. This has been their modus operandi for decades, until recently, when drug failures overseas brought attention to this issue. Yet nothing has changed on the ground.

THE GIST

On April 25, Abbot, a multinational pharmaceutical company, published a public notice in newspapers alerting people about a mislabelled batch of medicine that it had inadvertently shipped to the market.

India has been mulling the creation of a mandatory recall law for substandard drugs since 1976, and yet no law exists that mandates such medicine be removed from the market to this day.

People, including children, are almost certainly dying or suffering from adverse health events because substandard drugs are not swiftly removed from the market. Every month, dozens of drugs fail random-testing in government laboratories.

7. What are the regulations to curtail misleading food ads?

What are the stipulations under the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising & Claims) Regulations, 2018?

On April 29, the Advertisement Monitoring Committee at the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) flagged 32 fresh cases of food business operators (FBOs) making misleading claims and advertisements. As per the regulator, the count of such offences has shot up to 170 in the last six months.

What are the regulations?

There are varied regulations to combat misleading advertisements and claims, some are broad, while others are product specific. For example, FSSAI uses the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising & Claims) Regulations, 2018 which specifically deals with food (and related products) while the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)’s regulations cover goods, products and services. Further, the Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 stipulate that advertisements must not imply that the products have “some special or miraculous or supernatural property or quality, which is difficult of being proved.” The FSSAI seeks that the advertisements and claims be “truthful, unambiguous, meaningful, not misleading and help consumers to comprehend the information provided”. The claims must be scientifically substantiated by validated methods of characterising or quantifying the ingredient or substance that is the basis for the claim.

Product claims suggesting a prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of a disease, disorder or particular psychological condition is prohibited unless specifically permitted under the regulations of the FSS Act, 2006.

When can a product be referred to as ‘natural’ and ‘fresh’?

A food product can be referred to as ‘natural’ if it is a single food derived from a recognised natural source and has nothing added to it. It should only have been processed to render it suitable for human consumption. The packaging too must be done sans chemicals and preservatives. Composite foods, which are essentially a mixture of plant and processed constituents, cannot call themselves ‘natural’, instead, they can say ‘made from natural ingredients’.

‘Fresh’ can be used for products which are not processed in any manner other than washing, peeling, chilling, trimming, cutting or irradiation by ionising radiation not exceeding 1 kGy or any other processing such that it remains safe for consumption with the basic characteristics unaltered. Those with additives (to increase shelf life) may instead use ‘freshly frozen’, ‘fresh frozen’, or ‘frozen from fresh’ to contextualise that it was quickly frozen while fresh.

What about ‘pure’ and ‘original’?

‘Pure’ is to be used for single-ingredient foods to which nothing has been added and which are devoid of all avoidable contamination, while unavoidable contaminants are within prescribed controls. ‘Original’ is used to describe food products made to a formulation, with a traceable origin that has remained unchanged over time. They do not contain replacements for any major ingredients. It may similarly be used to describe a unique process which has remained unchanged over time, although the product may be mass-produced.

What about ‘nutritional claims’?

Nutritional claims may either be about the specific contents of a product or comparisons with some other foodstuff. Claims of equivalence such as “contains the same of (nutrient) as a (food)” or “as much (nutrient) as a (food)” may be used in the labelling provided that it gives the equivalent nutritional value as the reference food. According to Manisha Kapoor, Chief Executive Officer and Secretary General at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) , most complaints of misleading ads were related to the nutrition of a product, its benefits and the ingredient mix not being based on adequate evidence.

“A lot of claim data is to be based on technical data. For example, if you say, that there is Vitamin D in my product, we need evidence to substantiate that there indeed is Vitamin D in your product,” she says, adding, “then if you claim that Vitamin D in your product can also help reduce fatigue, improve stamina or another claim like that — then there needs to be enough literature to substantiate that the ingredient does what is being stated”.

THE GIST

The Advertisement Monitoring Committee at the FSSAI flagged 32 fresh cases of food business operators (FBOs) making misleading claims and advertisements.

According to Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) , most complaints of misleading ads were related to the nutrition of a product, its benefits and the ingredient mix not being based on adequate evidence.

The FSSAI wants advertisements and claims to be “truthful, unambiguous, meaningful, not misleading and help consumers to comprehend the information provided”.

8. In new ‘Quad’ meet with U.S., Saudi Arabia, UAE, Doval discusses infrastructure plans in Gulf

Strengthening ties: A file photo of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval with U.S. counterpart Jake Sullivan. 

In what is being billed as another important “Quad” in West Asia, Saudi Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad Bin Salman (MbS) hosted a special meeting of the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India, the U.S. and the UAE, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

The meeting, to consider regional initiatives on infrastructure, was billed last week by U.S. NSA Jake Sullivan as “unlike anything seen in the region in recent years”. Mr. Doval’s visit is significant as it follows a week after his visit to Iran, which recently agreed to restart ties in a meeting brokered by Beijing.

The MEA and the National Security Council did not comment on Mr. Doval’s travels, but both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. government issued formal statements on the discussions.

“During the meeting, [the leaders] discussed means to strengthen relations and ties between their countries in a way that enhances growth and stability in the region,” said the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the meetings that included the UAE NSA and Deputy Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Tahnoun, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Mr. Doval.

‘Shared vision’

According to a U.S. White House statement, the meeting sought to “advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world”.

In particular, the bilateral meeting between Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Doval is one of a number of meetings set over the next few weeks to prepare for upcoming meetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Joseph Biden this month, and the PM’s state visit to the U.S. in June. U.S. Ambassador Eric Garcetti will finally present his credentials to President Droupadi Murmu on May 11, and is expected to begin formal meetings on preparations for the state visit.

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Doval will meet again “on the margins of the Quad Summit later this month in Australia,” announced a White House statement on Monday.

Mr. Modi is due to travel to Hiroshima as part of the G-7 outreach to other countries (May 19-21), which President Biden will attend; to Papua New Guinea for a bilateral visit where Mr. Biden will also be making a visit at the same time (May 21-23); and then meet Mr. Biden at the US-India-Australia-Japan Quad summit in Sydney (May 24) as well.

The visit to Saudi Arabia is one of several high-profile engagements abroad by Mr. Doval, who was in Tehran and met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, NSA Shamkhani and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last Monday.

‘Counter to China’

The quadrilateral meeting that saw Mr. Doval fly to Jeddah, was first reported by news portal Axios from Tel Aviv, which said the meetings on infrastructure were meant to provide a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and other inroads in the region, and come months after Beijing brokered a breakthrough in the Saudi-Iran ties.

Quoting U.S. officials in its report, Axios had said that among the projects is a plan to connect Gulf countries via a railway network and connect to India via shipping lanes from “two ports” in the region. However, it did not explain how this would differ from the already existing connections between India and the Gulf region.

In a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy ahead of the visit, Mr. Sullivan said his meetings in Saudi Arabia were meant to “discuss new areas of cooperation between New Delhi and the Gulf as well as the United States and the rest of the region, fuelled in part by the comprehensive economic partnership signed last year between India and the UAE.”

9. Scam exposed in purchase of diesel by Railways from national oil companies

Payments made to national oil companies across 16 zones have come under the scanner.

A routine preventive check by the Vigilance Department has exposed a huge scam in the purchase of High Speed Diesel (HSD) by the Indian Railways from national oil companies in one of the zones.

According to Railways sources, an audit of HSD purchase by the North East Frontier Railway revealed excess payment to the tune of ₹243 crore made to the Indian Oil Corporation Limited and the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited during January-September 2022.

The investigators informed the Railway Board of the irregularity and directed the Principal Financial Advisor, North East Frontier Railway, to recover the excess payment made to the oil companies. While asking other zones to check if any excess payment was made at their end, the Vigilance Department urged to “set up a system to avoid such irregularities in future”.

‘Under scanner’

After the alert, payments made to national oil companies across the 16 zones of the Indian Railways have come under the scanner.

“We will conduct an internal audit to check the payments made to oil companies. The Railways purchase HSD in huge quantity and even a small change will run into several crores of rupees,” a senior official in the Southern Railway, who preferred not to be quoted, told The Hindu on Monday.

Explaining details of the excess payment, the Vigilance Department, in its letter to the Railway Board, said going by the invoices raised by the oil companies, the rates charged were found to be “25-40% more than the maximum retail prices of HSD at the nearest petrol pumps, thus abnormally increasing the cost of fuel to Railways”.

Acting on the alert issued by the Vigilance Department, the North East Frontier Railway authorities took steps to recover part of the excess payment made to the oil companies and adjust the balance in subsequent bills. The excess payments were made in violation of Clause 12(a) of the Railway Board’s Rate Contract with the oil companies, the sources added.

10. Five more cheetahs to be released into wild at Kuno

No boundaries: Four cheetahs have been released into the wild so far, and one of them even ventured outside the national park.

They will be released into ‘free-roaming conditions’ before the onset of monsoon in June; twenty big cats have been brought from Namibia and South Africa since September 2022, two have died

Five more cheetahs — three females and two males — will be released from the acclimatisation camps to “free-roaming conditions at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh before the onset of monsoon in June, the Union Environment Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The statement was based on a report submitted by an expert committee to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which is the nodal body for Project Cheetah. The committee members visited the KNP on April 30 and reviewed the current status of Project Cheetah.

Twenty cheetahs have been brought from Namibia and South Africa since September 2022 as part of a translocation programme to reintroduce the wild cat into Indian habitat. As part of their acclimatisation, the animals were housed in special enclosures. However, two of them died — one of kidney infection and the other of heart failure, following a strenuous hunt.

Long-term plan

The long-term plan to acclimatise the animals to Indian conditions is to gradually release them into the wild — though all the animals are radio-collared and the Madhya Pradesh State wildlife officials are tracking their movement — and keep adding more animals from Africa until a sizeable self-sustaining population is established in a decade or so, while accounting for natural mortality and acclimatisation-related challenges.

So far, four of the cheetahs have already been released into the wild — with one of them even ranging outside the Kuno National Park and venturing into farms in Uttar Pradesh. It had to be tranquillised and returned to the sanctuary.

The remaining cheetahs, the statement said, would remain in the acclimatisation camps for the duration of the monsoon season (June-September).

After September, when the monsoon ends, more animals would be released into the KNP or surrounding areas in “a planned manner” to the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The cheetahs would be allowed to move out of the KNP and not necessarily recaptured unless they venture into areas where they are in “significant danger,” the statement added.

Concern over space

Independent experts have raised concerns that the cheetahs had on average too little space and limited access to prey at the national park, and this would pose considerable problems for their eventual flourishing in India.

One of the scientists, who was associated with the study, told The Hindu that available space at the KNP — about 1,00,000 sq. km. in the park and 6,00,000 in the landscape surrounding the park — was adequate for 21 cheetahs. At present, there are 18.

11. Coal imports rose 30% in FY23 to 162 mt on demand

India’s coal imports increased by 30% to 162.46 million tonnes (mt) in the 2022-23 financial year against 124.99 mt in the year-earlier period, according to a report. The import of coking coal rose 5.44% to 54.46 mt over 51.65 mt in FY22, mjunction said in a report.

In March alone, non-coking coal import stood at 13.88 mt against 12.61 mt a year earlier. Coking coal imports were 3.96 mt (4.76 mt). India is among the top five coal-producing countries in the world.

However, some parts of its coal requirement are met through imports as the country is also among the major consumers of the dry fuel.

For coking coal — a key raw material used in steel making — the country remains heavily dependent on imports.

“The persistently high demand for steam coal in India, coupled with the weakening of seaborne prices led to increased volumes during March. This trend is likely to continue in coming months in view of the above-normal average temperature expected this summer,” mjunction CEO Vinaya Varma said.

Along with other varieties of coal like anthracite, pulverised coal injection (PCI coal), met coke and pet coke, total imports in FY23 were at 249.06 mt, up from 200.71 mt in FY22, a rise of more than 24%.

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