1. Sickle cell screening meets only 1% of target, hurting ambitious elimination goal
With barely two weeks left in the fiscal year, the Health Ministry has completed a minuscule 1% of its ambitious target to scan one crore people for sickle cell disease in 2022-23. The Ministry is starkly behind schedule, having screened just a little over one lakh people this year, according to official data accessed by The Hindu from the National Health Mission’s portal for sickle cell disease.
The minutes of a meeting of the seventh Mission Steering Group convened by the NHM reveal that the target set for 2022-23 was to screen one crore people. However, only 1,05,954 people have been screened so far, out of which 5,959 people (5.62%) were found to be carrying the traits.
In her Budget speech, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that India aims to eliminate sickle cell anaemia by 2047. This means that the incidence of the disease will be reduced to a specified level, with continuous efforts to prevent recurrence.
Achieving this would involve screening at least seven crore people under the age of 40 years in multiple phases by 2025-26.
A budget of ₹542 crore has been proposed by NHM for the massive exercise.
The Health Ministry has now written to the States and assigned tentative State-wise screening targets for timely completion of the exercise.
While there are approximately 15 lakh estimated patients living with sickle cell disease, they have not been yet identified by the screening system. The challenge of data unavailability is huge, the Ministry has observed.
This challenge was flagged in an inter-ministerial meeting held last month between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Indian Council of Medical Research and other stakeholders.
The fear of a large number of these patients slipping through the cracks is real. This would mean that their access to diagnosis and treatment is scarce. The Health Ministry is now working to create and maintain a central registry for all screened persons. This will be the first such registry to be maintained at the central level.The Ministry has now developed a portal and an app to capture the screening data.
In the inter-ministerial meeting, it was pointed out that one priority group for immediate screening is pregnant women. “In the long-term, screening of targeted population of unmarried adolescents between 10 to 25 years will be undertaken,” a senior official said.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder in which the red blood cells of the patient turn into a sickle-shaped crescents, become rigid and sticky, and get clogged in the blood vessels. “The capacity of these cells to carry oxygen reduces, which leads to excruciating pain and organ damage in the affected patients,” a doctor working with the Ministry explained. For those born with the disease, the Ministry has indicated that administering pneumococcal vaccination to newborns is critical.
“Once the patients develop sickle cell disease, there is currently no definitive cure. We can only put the patient on maintenance treatment. Hence the solution would be to create awareness,” the official added.
2. ‘Lines between natural, man-made disasters blurred in Joshimath’
Main culprit: The construction of Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant of NTPC, in Joshimath, started in November 2006.
People in the past built eco-friendly houses by not touching slopes or disturbing water channels; what is being witnessed today is ‘luxurious interference instead of peaceful coexistence’, says Secretary of Disaster Management in Uttarakhand
A senior Uttarakhand government official said on Saturday that after the Mishra Committee report in 1976, “major investigation, master plan or mitigation measures” were missing in Joshimath, the Himalayan town affected by land subsidence since January this year. The crisis has left hundreds of residents displaced from their homes.
Ranjit Kumar Sinha, Secretary, Disaster Management, Uttarakhand, said roads were built and widened without any consideration for water channels, while huge colonies and Army bases were allowed to come up in the region. He said the lines between man-made and natural disasters had blurred and before thinking about development, the dynamics of mountains and hills should be considered.
Mr. Sinha was speaking before a panel of experts on the topic “Disaster mitigation and resilience” on the second day of the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction Conference in Delhi.
The Mahesh Chandra Mishra committee in 1976 had said that Joshimath was built on the debris of ancient landslips and prohibited heavy construction work. It recommended proper drainage, reforestation, and reinforcements near river banks to prevent erosion.
Mr. Sinha said hills and mountains are “living entities” which have their own dynamics and are bound by laws of physics, chemistry and biology. He stated that earlier, people built small eco-friendly houses and they never touched slopes or disturbed water channels or vegetation but what is being witnessed today is “luxurious interference instead of peaceful coexistence.”
“What happened in Joshimath? We have built and widened roads without any consideration for slope or water channels, we have allowed heavy vehicles to ply, allowed Army and ITBP to construct big base. These are necessary but we should have done something for Joshimath as a whole,” Mr. Sinha said.
He said mountains are essential not only for the hill people but for people in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and other States too as the Ganga and the Yamuna, the two main rivers that originate in Uttarakhand, make the soil fertile. He said the gaps in regulations and guidelines should be plugged so that people are made responsible for their acts.
Local people have blamed the construction of a tunnel by the National Power Thermal Corporation, a kilometre from Joshimath town, for the sinking of the area.
He said that the issues of mountain States are different and suggested that there are areas which should be left to the States.“Kerala has done very well in early warning system, there should be a platform for exchange of information at State level. There is no institutional framework for exchange of ideas… landslide mitigation requires serious attention,” he said, adding landslips are a concern in hill areas.”
3. The evil effects of deforestation
The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that since 1990, 420 million hectares of forests have been lost through conversion to other land uses — agriculture, industrial use and biofuels — in order to feed 11 billion humans by the end of this century.
This will, in particular, affect the tropical regions such as India, China and Africa.
Causes of global warming
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has published the Global Forest Resources Assessment, and points out that 31% of the land on earth is covered by forests. When trees are felled, they lead to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and hence, global warming. Deforestation increases 11% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O, SO2, and chlorofluorocarbons).
The Harvard University Public Health Group further points out that deforestation leads to spikes in infectious germs such as those causing diseases such as malaria and dengue, which can adversely affect humans.
Dr. S.B. Kadrekar of the Environmental Society of India points out that not just trees but soil and water too must be saved. A 1% increase in deforestation leads to a 0.93% decrease in the availability of clean drinking water in rural communities that depend on open wells and flowing streams.
Also, trees release water into the atmosphere during transpiration, and this comes down as rainfall. Thus, deforestation has double effects.About 30% of the earth’s land area (3.9 billion hectares) is covered by forests. Yet, in the name of food supply, land use for developmental activities and technology, a lot of deforestation occurs in many countries.
Situation in India
The total forest cover in India is about 8 lakhsq km, which is 22% of the total geographic area of the country. Of these, the twin islands of Andaman and Nicobar have 87% of the total area.
Dr. Pankaj Sekhsaria points out that the Colonial British set up a port there, in order to export timber elsewhere. The present government is also targeting these islands in order to expand its navy and also to attract more mainlanders to not just visit but even settle down here. So much for saving these islands.
The Himalayan States of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh have about 21,000, 24,000 and 16,000 sq km of forest area, respectively. Yet, the government of India has removed a significant fraction of trees in order to build underpass and overpass highways in these regions.
Likewise, Goa has about 2,219 sq km forestation. Yet, the government there has cut trees with the idea of connecting Mumbai to Goa by a four-lane highway. Around 31,000 trees are being cut by local authorities.
Giant banyan trees
Likewise, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)is set to start the expansion of the 45-km stretch of NH163, from two to four lanes. Towards this, they want to destroy 9,000 banyan trees in Chevella Mandal in Telangana.
These giant banyan trees are centuries old, established by the Nizams and other forest-loving groups.
In sum, these are some of the evil effects of deforestation, and we should protest.
4. Why is crypto trade within PMLA ambit?
How will the money trail in cryptocurrency transactions be tracked by intelligence units?
The story so far:
On March 7, to further tighten the loosely regulated crypto market, the Finance Ministry said that all virtual digital assets (VDAs) will come within the ambit of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA).
What is the PMLA ?
The anti-money laundering legislation was passed by the National Democratic Alliance government in 2002, and came into force on July 1, 2005. The PMLA was showcased as India’s commitment to the Vienna Convention on combating money laundering, drug trafficking, and countering the financing of terror (CFT). The law was aimed at curbing the process of converting illegally earned money into legal cash. The Act empowered the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to control money laundering, confiscate property, and punish offenders.
In July 2022, Union Minister of State for Finance Pankaj Chaudhary told the Lok Sabha, in response to a query on cases registered by the ED, that “till March 31, 2022, the ED recorded around 5,422 cases, attached proceeds to the tune of ₹1,04,702 crore (approx.), filed Prosecution Complaint in 992 cases resulting in confiscation of ₹869.31 crore and convicted 23 accused persons under PMLA.”
What does this move mean for crypto?
The gazette notification by the Ministry brings cryptocurrency transactions within the ambit of PMLA. This means that Indian crypto exchanges will have to report any suspicious activity related to buying or selling of cryptocurrency to the Financial Intelligence Unit – India (FIU-IND). This central agency is responsible for receiving, processing, analysing, and disseminating information related to suspicious financial transactions to law enforcement agencies and overseas FIUs. In its analysis, if the FIU-IND finds wrongdoing, it will alert the ED. Under Section 5 and 8(4) of the Act, the ED has discretionary powers to search and seize suspected property without any judicial permission.
Why is the government tightening the legislative grip on digital trade?
For a little more than a decade, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFT) and other digital assets enjoyed a regulation-free environment. But, in the past couple of years, as the use of digital assets has gone mainstream, regulators have turned hawkish. The value of all existing cryptocurrency is about $804 billion as of January 3, 2023, according to cryptocurrency price-tracking site CoinMarketCap.com. That is about twice the GDP of Singapore in 2021. In India, according to a survey conducted by crypto exchange KuCoin, over 10 crore Indians have invested in cryptocurrencies.
Separately, according to a report by blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, illegal use of cryptocurrencies hit a record $20.1 billion last year. Transactions associated with sanctioned entities jumped over 1,00,000-fold, making up 44% of last year’s illegal activity.
What tools can be used to track money laundering via crypto transactions?
Tracking money trail in cryptocurrency transactions may require new tools and approaches as such transfers differ fundamentally from traditional banking channels. FIUs may be familiar with Know Your Customer (KYC) or Customer Due Diligence (CDD) norms. But the technological nature of VDAs presents a new challenge in gathering information. This requires the intelligence unit to broaden its intelligence framework.
The Egmont Group that facilitates cooperation between FIUs to prevent money laundering recommends the analysis of crypto wallets, its associated addresses and blockchain records, and hardware identifiers like IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) or SEID (Secure Element Identifier) numbers, as well as MAC addresses.
What about regulation in other countries?
According to PwC’s ‘Global Crypto Regulations Report 2023’, a large proportion of countries are at various stages of drafting regulations around crypto. Most countries have already brought digital assets under anti-money laundering laws. Singapore, Japan, Switzerland, and Malaysia have legislations on regulatory framework. The U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada have initiated plans on regulating. So far, China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have issued a blanket ban on cryptocurrency. The EU is also preparing a cross-jurisdictional regulatory and supervisory framework for crypto-assets. The framework seeks to provide legal clarity, consumer and investor protection, and market integrity while promoting innovation in digital assets.
According to a report by blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, illegal use of cryptocurrencies hit a record $20.1 billion last year