Daily Current Affairs 14.03.2021 (Pollution and Covid Spread, India-Srilanka relation, E-commerce Policy)

Daily Current Affairs 14.03.2021 (Pollution and Covid Spread, India-Srilanka relation, E-commerce Policy)


1. ‘Focus on growth than inflation’

CEA’s comment on economic priorities comes ahead of policy framework review

Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Krishnamurthy Subramanian said on Saturday that the country requires growth at this juncture, even with economic trade-offs, as it aspires to increase its dominance and self- reliance in the global economy.

Dr. Subramanian’s comment comes ahead of the revision of policy framework and inflation targets for the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) headed by the RBI Governor by March 31.

Inflation target review

It would be the first review for the Reserve Bank of India since it was tasked with a mandated inflation target of 4% with a 2% deviation in either direction in June 2016, when it adopted a flexible inflation targeting model.

“At this juncture we must focus on growth and when it comes to pressures for trade-offs, we must be leaning on growth,” Dr. Subramanian said at a virtual annual regional meeting of the CII, Eastern Region.

‘Shun profiteering’

Speaking about realising ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, the CEA said the private sector had to get back to “Shubh Labh” (ethical profit) and refrain from profiteering.

He gave examples from healthcare studies for Auyushman Bharat where it was found that the rates of the private sector hospitals were 6-7 times higher than those run by the government and that readmission rates in them were also higher.

Dr. Subramanian also called for a change in the mindset on how to increase the pie of government taxes instead of seeking its reduction across sectors.

He said the cycle of private sector investment would begin though there was a lag and to support it, government spending in capex was necessary. The government had already begun it and it would trigger private investment, the CEA added.


  • Inflation refers to the rise in the prices of most goods and services of daily or common use, such as food, clothing, housing, recreation, transport, consumer staples, etc.
  • Inflation measures the average price change in a basket of commodities and services over time.
  • The opposite and rare fall in the price index of this basket of items is called ‘deflation’.
  • Inflation is indicative of the decrease in the purchasing power of a unit of a country’s currency. This could ultimately lead to a deceleration in economic growth.
  • However, a moderate level of inflation is required in the economy to ensure that production is promoted.

Who measures Inflation in India?

  • Inflation is measured by a central government authority, which is in charge of adopting measures to ensure the smooth running of the economy. In India, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation measures inflation.
  • In India, inflation is primarily measured by two main indices — WPI (Wholesale Price Index) and CPI (Consumer Price Index) which measure wholesale and retail-level price changes, respectively. The CPI calculates the difference in the price of commodities and services such as food, medical care, education, electronics etc, which Indian consumers buy for use.

What are the main causes of Inflation?

Some key reasons for Inflation:

  • High demand and low production or supply of multiple commodities create a demand-supply gap, which leads to a hike in prices.
  • Excess circulation of money leads to inflation as money loses its purchasing power.
  • With people having more money, they also tend to spend more, which causes increased demand.
  • Spurt in production prices of certain commodities also causes inflation as the price of the final product increases. This is called cost-push inflation.
  • Increase in the prices of goods and services is also a factor to consider as the involved labour also expects and demands more costs/wages to maintain their cost of living. This spirals to further increase in the prices of goods.

What is Stagflation?

  • The term was coined by Iain Macleod, a Conservative Party MP in the United Kingdom, in November 1965.
  • Stagflation is said to happen when an economy faces stagnant growth as well as persistently high inflation.
  • With stalled economic growth, unemployment tends to rise and existing incomes do not rise fast enough and yet, people have to contend with rising inflation.
  • So people find themselves pressurised from both sides as their purchasing power is reduced.

Case of Stagflation

  • In the early and mid-1970s when OPEC (The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries), which works like a cartel, decided to cut supply and sent oil prices soaring across the world.
  • On the one hand, the rise in oil prices constrained the productive capacity of most western economies that heavily depended on oil, thus hampering economic growth. On the other hand, the oil price spike also led to inflation and commodities became more costly.
  • For instance, in 1974, the oil prices went up by almost 70% and it leads to a consequent rise in inflation.

2. Draft e-com policy moots safeguards against data misuse

‘Algorithms shall avoid bias, digitally-induced discrimination’

The government plans to lay down principles for usage of data for the development of any industry, where such norms do not already exist, and put in place adequate safeguards to prevent misuse and access of data by unauthorised persons, according to a draft national e-commerce policy.

The government is in the process of developing regulations for personal and non-personal data, the policy, which is under discussion, said.

The draft stated that sharing of data for industrial development would be encouraged and regulations for data would be provided for the sharing mechanism.

According to the draft, the government acknowledges the importance of data as an asset and needs to use data emanating from India for ‘Indian entities first’.

An inter-ministerial meeting, under the chairmanship of a top official of the department for promotion of industry and internal trade, was held on Saturday to deliberate upon this draft.

For free and informed choice, it said that e-commerce operators would have to ensure that algorithms used by them were not biased and that no discrimination due to digitally induced biases was prevalent.

“Consumers have a right to be made aware of all relevant details about the goods and services offered for sale including country of origin, value addition in India, and any other such information which may be necessary for making an informed decision at the pre-purchase stage,” it said.

e-Commerce in India

  • Electronic commerce or e-commerce is a business model that lets firms and individuals buy and sell things over the Internet.
  • Propelled by rising smartphone penetration, the launch of 4G networks and increasing consumer wealth, the Indian e-commerce market is expected to grow to US$ 200 billion by 2026 from US$ 38.5 billion in 2017.
  • India’s e-commerce revenue is expected to jump from US$ 39 billion in 2017 to US$ 120 billion in 2020, growing at an annual rate of 51%, the highest in the world.
  • The Indian e-commerce industry has been on an upward growth trajectory and is expected to surpass the US to become the second-largest e-commerce market in the world by 2034.

Advantages of e-Commerce

  • The process of e-commerce enables sellers to come closer to customers that lead to increased productivity and perfect competition. The customer can also choose between different sellers and buy the most relevant products as per requirements, preferences, and budget. Moreover, customers now have access to virtual stores 24/7.
  • e-Commerce also leads to significant transaction cost reduction for consumers.
  • e-commerce has emerged as one of the fast-growing trade channels available for the cross-border trade of goods and services.
  • It provides a wider reach and reception across the global market, with minimum investments. It enables sellers to sell to a global audience and also customers to make a global choice. Geographical boundaries and challenges are eradicated/drastically reduced.
  • Through direct interaction with final customers, this e-commerce process cuts the product distribution chain to a significant extent. A direct and transparent channel between the producer or service provider and the final customer is made. This way products and services that are created to cater to the individual preferences of the target audience.
  • Customers can easily locate products since e-commerce can be one store set up for all the customers’ business needs
  • Ease of doing business: It makes starting, managing business easy and simple.
  • The growth in the e-commerce sector can boost employment, increase revenues from export, increase tax collection by ex-chequers, and provide better products and services to customers in the long-term.
    • The e-commerce industry has been directly impacting the micro, small & medium enterprises (MSME) in India by providing means of financing, technology and training and has a favourable cascading effect on other industries as well.

Disadvantages of e-Commerce

  • There is lesser accountability on part of e-commerce companies and the product quality may or may not meet the expectations of the customers.
  • It depends strongly on network connectivity and information technology. Mechanical failures can cause unpredictable effects on total processes.
  • Definite legislations both domestically and internationally to regulate e-commerce transactions are still to be framed leading to lack of regulation of the sector.
  • At times, there is a loss of privacy, culture or economic identity of the customer.
  • There is a chance of fraudulent financial transactions and loss of sensitive financial information.
  • The Internet is borderless with minimum regulation, and therefore protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) on the Internet is a growing concern. There are currently several significant IPR issues including misuse of trademark rights.

Government Initiatives Regarding e-Commerce in India

  • In February 2019, a draft National e-Commerce policy has been prepared and placed in the public domain, which addresses six broad issues of the e-commerce ecosystem viz. e-commerce marketplaces; regulatory issues; infrastructure development; data; stimulating domestic digital economy and export promotion through e-commerce.
  • The Department of Commerce initiated an exercise and established a Think Tank on ‘Framework for National Policy on e-Commerce’ and a Task Force under it to deliberate on the challenges confronting India in the arena of the digital economy and electronic commerce (e-commerce).
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to allow “interoperability” among Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPIs) such as digital wallets, prepaid cash coupons and prepaid telephone top-up cards. RBI has also instructed banks and companies to make all know-your-customer (KYC)-compliant prepaid payment instruments (PPIs), like mobile wallets, interoperable amongst themselves via Unified Payments Interface (UPI).
  • FDI guidelines for e-commerce by DIPP: In order to increase the participation of foreign players in the e-commerce field, the Government has increased the limit of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the e-commerce marketplace model for up to 100% (in B2B models).
  • Government e-Marketplace (GeM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Union Bank of India to facilitate a cashless, paperless and transparent payment system for an array of services in October 2019.
  • The heavy investment of Government of India in rolling out the fibre network for 5G will help boost e-commerce in India
  • In the Union Budget of 2018-19, the government has allocated Rs 8,000 crore (US$ 1.24 billion) to BharatNet Project, to provide broadband services to 150,000-gram panchayats.

3. Will adenovirus antibodies reduce vector vaccine efficacy?

Using the same adenovirus subtypes for repeated vaccination might result in reduced efficacy, but not in the case of inactivated vaccines

Unlike the mRNA vaccine platform used by Pfizer and Moderna, where vaccine efficacy reached 94% and 95%, respectively, the vector-based vaccine platform technology used by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have shown lower efficacy.

While vaccine efficacy is 66% for Johnson & Johnson vaccine, AstraZeneca vaccine showed 55.1% efficacy when the second dose is administered less than six weeks after the first but 81.3% when the gap between the two doses is over 12 weeks. In contrast, Sputnik V has 91.6% efficacy.

Pre-existing antibodies

Is the relatively low efficacy of adenovirus-based vaccine in some people because of pre-existing antibodies? “Adenovirus-based vaccine platforms have been in development for decades. All through that time, the issue of whether pre-existing antibodies to the adenovirus vector will affect the development of antibodies against the new target the adenovirus is carrying as antigen has remained unclear. There are studies showing that there is a loss of potency if there are pre-existing antibodies, but there are also some other studies showing that there is no major potency loss,” immunologist Dr. Satyajit Rath, formerly with the National Institute of Immunology, Delhi says in an email to The Hindu.

Dr. Rath adds: “Pre-existing antibodies against adenoviruses will stop the adenovirus particles from getting into cells and making the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.” The presence of pre-existing antibodies against adenovirus and those developed after first and second dose of the vaccine becomes particularly important when repeat vaccinations are needed, as in the case of boosters against variants or yearly vaccination.

“There is always a group with fair levels of pre-existing antibodies. Sooner or later, anti-adenoviral antibodies will inevitably form, complicating the situation for subsequent vaccinations. But nobody has planned and tested a continuously variable panel of adenoviruses as vaccine vectors for long-term boosting, I am afraid!” says Dr. Rath. Virologist Dr. V. Ravi, formerly with NIMHANS also says there is no data available on how the antibodies against adenovirus subtypes will affect the efficacy of vaccines, especially with boosters.

While high levels of neutralising antibodies against adenovirus subtype Ad5 have been seen in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, neutralising antibodies against adenovirus subtype Ad26 were moderately common in the two regions. The amount of neutralising antibodies against subtype Ad26 was markedly lower than for Ad5, a 2011 study found. “If pre-existing immunity to a vector is high, you will expect low response to the cargo antigen. With a heavy dose of the vector that dampening effect can be overcome,” virologist Dr. Jacob John, formerly with CMC Vellore says in an email.

Dr. Rath agrees with Dr. John and says: “It is plausible that unless the anti-adenovirus antibodies are very efficient and are present at high levels, enough virus particles will get in to make the vaccine work well enough; 10-50 billion virus particles are injected into the muscle.”

Clever design

While Johnson & Johnson uses a single dose of Ad26 subtype, the Sputnik V vaccine uses a combination of Ad26 and Ad5 for the first and second dose, respectively. “That is a clever design,” says Dr. John about the use of two different subtypes for the first and second doses of Sputnik V. “Immunity against the first vector will not interfere with the second dose as it contains a different subtype,” says Dr. John.

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses chimpanzee adenovirus. Antibodies against the chimpanzee adenovirus are not prominent in people anywhere in the world. What then is the reason for the low efficacy of the Oxford vaccine? “My guess is the antigen mass (potency) may be relatively low, perhaps adjusted for relatively low cost of production. That is perhaps the reason for a two-dose regimen,” says Dr. John.

“Many issues are involved in determining how well a vaccine design will work. Exactly how the engineered virus was constructed is one factor, the actual number of virus particles given is another. It is not simply a matter of which adenovirus is used as the vector,” says Dr. Rath about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Effective combinations

AstraZeneca vaccine is already being tested in combination with Pfizer and Sputnik V vaccines. “Is this to increase vaccine efficacy of the Oxford vaccine? “I think that these combinations are being tried for a variety of short-term goals – one is to try to overcome supply chain problems by mixing-and-matching, another is to keep giving a different adenovirus each time for as long as possible,” Dr. Rath says.

Dr. John too feels that a heterologous vector as second or third dose may improve vaccine efficacy. But one can be sure only when data become available. “Let me venture to say that no matter which vector was used for first immunisation, further boosters can be given using an inactivated virus vaccine or an mRNA vaccine.”

Dr. Krishna Ella, CEO of Bharat Biotech said during a press conference that people vaccinated with Covishield cannot be administered the same vaccine next year. Was he referring to antibodies that would have developed against adenovirus vector that would make repeat vaccination ineffective? “Dr. Ella might have been referring to a future third dose – which is unlikely to be useful as a booster dose because of immunity to the vector that will render the vector virus non-infectious, hence unable to deliver the cargo (spike protein) inside human cells. However, third or repeated periodic doses will be very effective using inactivated virus vaccine (Covaxin) or mRNA vaccine, which use non-immunogenic lipid vesicles,” says Dr. John.

While using the same adenovirus subtypes for repeat vaccinations might result in reduced efficacy in the case of vector-based vaccines, the inactivated vaccines do not face this problem, as seen in the case of rabies and inactivated polio vaccine. “Theoretically, repeat doses with inactivated vaccines will raise the height of immune response with no chance of any reduction of efficacy. If three doses are taken, especially with at least four months interval between second and third doses, there may not be any need for annual boosting. We will have to obtain data to confirm if the theoretical conclusion is correct in real life,” says Dr. John.

Adenovirus COVID-19 vaccine:

  • The adenovirus used in the trail is a weakened common cold virus. 
  • The vaccine Ad5-nCoV uses a recombinant adenovirus type-5 vector that carries the genetic material that codes for spike glycoprotein of a novel coronavirus, and it is a first-in-human trial of adenovirus as a vaccine. 
  • The vaccine was found to react in such a way to neutralise antibodies, which peaked at day 28 post-vaccination, while rapid specific T-cell responses peaked at day 14 after vaccination.
  • The vaccine also stimulated a rapid T cell response in those, who were given higher- and middle-doses of the vaccine, with levels peaking at 14 days after vaccination. 
  • After 28 days of vaccination, the majority of recipients showed either a positive T cell response or had detectable neutralising antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. 

Safety concerns and Limitations:

  • The most common adverse reaction was pain at the injection site , fever, fatigue, headache and muscle pain and these persisted for less than 48 hours . 
  • No serious adverse event was noted within 28 days post-vaccination.
  • The pre-existing immunity towards adenovirus type-5 vector used in the vaccine, nonetheless of the doses can reduce the immune responses (both neutralising antibodies and T-cell response) to the virus and also lower the peak of the responses, particularly for neutralising antibodies immunity. 
  • Recipients aged 45-60 years were found to have lower seroconversion of neutralising antibodies, as compared with the younger recipients.

4. Optical monitoring of power line health

Raman thermometry is used on fibre optic cables included with power lines

Researchers at IIT Madras have demonstrated that by using Raman thermometry on fibre optic cables, they can achieve monitoring of power transmission cables. Interestingly, they achieve this by using the optical fibres that are already embedded in the power cables for establishing optical communication. The work is part of a larger ongoing project on distributed fibre sensors and has been published recently in IEEE Sensors Journal.


The seeds of the idea were sown about ten years back when Balaji Srinivasan of the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Madras was approached by a company that planned to implement overhead power lines across the country. The company wanted Prof. Srinivasan to certify that the glass fibre they were planning to include for communication purposes along with their power cables was indeed an optical fibre. Such optical fibres are traditionally incorporated in cables and buried underground. This could cost up to 80% of the total expense in setting up the communication system. The company had figured that they would save this cost byincorporating the optical fibres in a hollow tube intertwined with power lines and thereby save the cost of digging tunnels to accommodate them.

It was during this certification process that Prof. Srinivasan got the idea that one or two of the unused fibres could be usedto keep tabs on the health of the power cables. This is based on the principle that any current flowing through a conductor would cause a temperature rise due to the Joule heating effect.

Raman effect

In the Raman effect, when light is scattered off an object, say a molecule, two bands are observed, with higher and lower frequency than the original light, called the Stokes and anti-Stokes bands, respectively. By studying the relative intensity of the two bands, it is possible to estimate the temperature of the object .

“The anti-Stokes component of Raman scattering is strongly dependent on the temperature that the material is subjected to. Thus, by measuring the intensity of the anti-Stokes scattered light we can estimate the temperature. This is Raman thermometry,” says Prof. Srinivasan.

He explains that the temperature measurement is performed in a distributed manner using an optical fibre. To achieve this, a pulse of light is launched into the optical fibre and the backscattered radiation is observed. “The time of flight of the backscattered radiation provides an estimate of the distance from which the light is backscattered,” he says. This can go up to tens of kilometre. This technique is married to Raman thermometry to get the results for actual measurements over tens of kilometres.

Cost-effective solution

Alternative methods of measuring the temperature of power cables include using a thermal camera to manually monitor their length, which is cumbersome. The present method devised by the team is both economical and provides real-time information.

Optical fibre-embedded power cables are already available across the country, but none of them are presently used for power monitoring. “We are presently working with a leading Indian power transmission and distribution company for implementing this technology,” says Prof. Srinivasan.

5. Modi, Gotabaya speak ahead of Geneva vote

Sri Lanka’s administration counting on friends and neighbours to support it; leaders reviewed topical developments

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reviewed “topical developments” during a telephone call on Saturday, an official press release said, just over a week before a crucial vote on Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where Colombo has sought New Delhi’s support.

The call, initiated by the Sri Lankan side according to officials sources, assumes significance amid strained bilateral ties, following Colombo’s recent policy choices on key infrastructure projects, including a decision to boot India out of a Colombo Port terminal project and an approval for a Chinese energy project on the northern islands, close to the Tamil Nadu coast.

New Delhi conveyed its displeasure on both moves. Colombo has subsequently offered an alternative terminal project and is negotiating with the Adani Group.

“Had a telephone conversation with President @GotabayaR. We discussed issues relevant to our bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including in the context of COVID-19,” Mr. Modi said in a tweet.

A media release issued by the Indian government said: “The leaders reviewed topical developments and the ongoing cooperation between both countries in bilateral and multilateral forums. They agreed to maintain regular contact between relevant officials, including in the context of the continuing COVID-19 challenges,” and added that Mr. Modi “reiterated the importance of Sri Lanka” to India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.

As the Human Rights Council prepares to vote on a resolution on Sri Lanka’s rights record later this month, the Rajapaksa administration is counting on friends and neighbours, who are currently members of the Council, to back it.

President Rajapaksa earlier wrote to Mr. Modi, among other leaders, seeking a favourable vote. Reiterating Colombo’s expectation, Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage told The Hindu in a recent interview that “India cannot abandon us.”

Crucial role

It is widely predicted that India might abstain, given its own principle against country-specific resolutions and growing geopolitical concerns in the strategic island nation. All the same, those familiar with the Geneva process observe that India could still play a crucial role in last-minute negotiations among members of the council, and potentially tip the scales.

Intervening in an interactive dialogue in February on the report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noting that Sri Lanka is “on alarming path towards recurrence of grave human rights violations”, India’s Permanent Representative in Geneva made an unambiguous call to respect the rights of the Tamil community. “We believe that respecting the rights of the Tamil community, including through meaningful devolution, contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka,” Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey said.

China, which is also currently a member of the 47-member council, has assured Sri Lanka of its support.

Economic assistance

Irrespective of how the Geneva vote goes, Colombo is faced with a major economic challenge, as it prepares to repay over $4 billion of its outstanding debt by next year. While Thursday’s media release said Mr. Modi and Mr. Rajapaksa discussed COVID-19 challenges — Sri Lanka’s first consignment of vaccines was a gift from India — it made no specific mention of economic assistance from India.

During his last call with Mr. Modi in May 2020, President Rajapaksa sought an additional $1-billion currency swap facility — the RBI extended $400 million — to boost the foreign reserves that are under enormous strain since the pandemic struck. India is yet to respond.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s debt freeze request made over a year ago, too, awaits New Delhi’s response.

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka said China approved a 10 billion yuan ($1.54 billion) currency swap. In March last year, China granted an ‘urgent’ $500 million loan to Sri Lanka to cope with the economic stress of the novel coronavirus.

India- Sri Lanka

Key Points

  • Issues of Tamilians in Srilanka
    • Denial of Citizenship: The problem of the Srilankan Tamils began earlier than the 1950s. After independence in 1948 the Srilankan government felt that the Tamils were not Srilankan because they had Indian ancestry.
      • The majority of the Tamils were denied Srilankan citizenship due to which most of the Tamils continued to live in poverty in the tea estates of Srilanka.
    • Linguistic Discrimination: The conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka started in 1956 when Sinhala was made the official language by the country’s President and large scale discrimination began against the Tamils.
    • Religious Discrimination: The discrimination against the Tamil population continued throughout the 1960s as Buddhism was given the primary place in the state and the number of Tamils employed by the state and admitted into institutions of higher learning was greatly restricted.
    • Intensified Movements: During this period the Tamils responded to their oppression largely through a political and a non-violent protest movement. In the 1970s, however, there was an increased trend towards Tamil separatism and militancy that gave rise to a terrorist organization called LTTE.
    • Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): It was formed in 1976 as the self-styled “national freedom movement of the people of Tamil Eelam” and began a guerilla war on the government and administration.
      • It undertook numerous terrorist activities in Srilanka especially against the Sinhalese and executed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (the ex Prime Minister of India).
      • After a long strife, and millions of casualties, the civil war with LTTE ended in 2009. India played an important role in helping Srilankan to uproot terrorism from its homeland.
  • Concerns for India:
    • Rehabilitation of Refugees: A lot of Srilankan Tamils who evaded from Srilankan civil war (2009) are seeking refuge in Tamil Nadu. They are not returning in fear of being targeted again. It is a challenge for India to rehabilitate them.
    • Sentiments of Indian Tamils: A number of protests and criticism is drawn at the end of Indian Government for overlooking the plight of Srilankan Tamils to maintain good relationship with Srilanka.
    • Strategic interests vs Tamil question: Often India has to trade off on the question of Tamilian minority rights over strategic issues to protect its economic interests in its neighborhood and to counter Chinese influence in Indian Ocean.
  • India – Sri Lanka Confidence Building Measures:
    • Currency Swap Agreements: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had signed an agreement for extending a USD 400 million currency swap facility to Sri Lanka to boost the foreign reserves and ensure financial stability of the country, which is badly hit by Covid-19 pandemic.
    • High Level Exchanges: Political relations between India and Sri Lanka have been marked by high-level exchanges of visits at regular intervals.
    • India’s Support against Terrorism: During the course of the civil war, India supported the right of the Government of Sri Lanka to act against terrorist forces.
    • The Indian Housing Project: It is Government of India’s flagship project of developmental assistance to Sri Lanka. Its initial commitment is to build 50,000 houses for those affected by the civil war as well as for the estate workers in the plantation areas.
    • Addressing Fishermen Issue: Given the proximity of the territorial waters of both countries, especially in the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar, incidents of straying of fishermen are common.
      • Both countries have agreed on certain practical arrangements to deal with the issue of bona fide fishermen of either side crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line.
    • Joint Exercises: India and Sri Lanka conduct joint Military (Mitra Shakti) and Naval exercise (SLINEX).
    • Participation in Groupings: Sri Lanka is also a member of regional groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and SAARC in which India plays a leading role.
    • SAGAR: Srilanka supports India’s concern for the security of Indian ocean with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region).
    • Line of Credit: India has extended a $400 million line of credit to Sri Lanka to help strengthen its infrastructure and economy. An additional $50 million to help Sri Lanka combat terrorism.

6. Pollution linked to virus spread: Vardhan

PM2.5 and NO2 contributing to the spread and virulence of SARS-CoV-2 infections, says Health Minister

There is emerging evidence to suggest that exposure to ambient air pollutants, especially PM2.5 and NO2, contribute to the spread and virulence of SARS-CoV-2 infections, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday.

He was inaugurating the new green campus of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute for Research in Environmental Health (NIREH), in Bhopal.

“Furthermore, ambient air pollution is a known risk factor for multiple adverse health outcomes, including chronic cardio-respiratory morbidities, and the presence of the said morbidities renders the affected population more vulnerable to COVID-19,” the Health Minister said.

To worsen matters, he added, closed indoor spaces provide ideal environments for viral transmission due to the lack of ventilation preventing the dilution of viral particles, and the absence of ultraviolet rays which can potentially inactivate the virus.

Speaking about the challenges before NIREH, Dr. Vardhan said the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported in 2018 that over 91% of the global population reside in areas where ambient air pollution levels exceed the normal limits prescribed by the WHO, resulting in around 4.2 million annual deaths.

Water pollution

He added that the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health estimated that 1.8 million deaths worldwide are related to “water” (mainly microbiological contamination) and 0.5 million deaths occur due to chemical pollution of water and soil by heavy metals and other man-made chemicals.

“Another major source of water pollution that is yet to be appropriately quantified is plastic debris. It has become an important environmental problem because of its ubiquitous prevalence, persistence, accumulation in aquatic food chains, and adverse effects on aquatic organisms and potentially to human health,” Dr. Vardhan said.

He added that the emission of huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is the main cause of climate change.

“Thus, research, especially targeted at estimating the burden of pollution/climate change and consequent health effects, is essential to design and implement suitable intervention strategies that will enable the achievement of the sustainable development goals of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme),” the Minister said.

Air Pollution & Concerted Efforts

Recently, the State of Global Air 2020 report was released. The report has highlighted two warnings for India. Firstly, India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world in 2019. Secondly, the country has had the worst levels of PM 2.5 levels in the world for the last decade.

Despite many efforts taken by the government to tackle air pollution, the Indo-Gangetic plains pollution load has remained high. Moreover, air pollution has now become the largest risk factor for death among all health risks.

Hence, in order to mitigate the deleterious impact of air pollution on the health of the people, there is a need for urgent concerted effort to tackle this public issue.

Pollutants Causing Effect on Health

  • Pollutants with the strongest evidence for public health concern include particulate matter (PM), Ozone (O3), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Sulphur dioxide (SO2).
  • These pollutants are capable of penetrating deep into lung passageways and entering the bloodstream causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory impacts.

Various Reports on Effect of Air Pollution

  • State of Global Air 2020 Report: According to it, India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure (83.2 μg/cubic metre) in the world.

    • In 2019, over 116,000 infants in India died within a month after birth due to exposure to severe air pollution.
    • The report also suggests exposure to polluted air during pregnancy is linked to low weight and premature birth.
    • Further, it noted that long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases in India in 2019.
  • WHO: According to WHO, toxic air is now the biggest environmental risk of early death, responsible for one in nine of all fatalities.
    • It kills 7 million people a year, far more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined,
    • An estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections in children.
  • World Bank: According to a 2016 World Bank report, the lost lives and ill health caused are also a colossal economic burden:
    • $225bn is lost labour income in 2013, or $5.11tn per year (about $1m a minute), if welfare losses are also added.

Source of Air Pollution

  • Burning of Fossil Fuels: Most of the pollutants are produced by burning fossil fuels or wood, for driving, heating, power plants and industry.
    • Several man-made factors, vehicular emissions, construction dust, garbage burning causes severe pollution.
    • The particles can be made of black carbon, nitrates, sulphates, ammonia or mineral dust.
  • Agriculture & Allied Sources: Farming is one such source of pollution, with ammonia from livestock manure and fertilisers blowing into cities and forming particles, particularly in spring time when crops are sown and muck is spread.
    • Further, stubble burning is also one of the major sources of air pollution in northern India, especially in winters.
  • Natural Sources: Apart from it, there are some natural sources of outdoor air pollution such as dust storms.

7. Framework for testing water launched

Centre caps tariffs to ensure that they remain within reach of common man

Citizens can now get the water quality in their taps tested at reasonable rates, as part of a monitoring framework rolled out by the Centre’s flagship Jal Jeevan Mission on Saturday.

Using an information management system modelled on the COVID-19 testing framework, the samples tested by members of the public, as well as government officials, will create a nationwide database of water quality, Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhaawat told presspersons after the launch.

However, a major hurdle remains as only 66 of the 2,033 water testing laboratories have been certified by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).

The “drinking water quality testing, monitoring and surveillance framework and guidelines” released on Saturday mandate a network of NABL accredited labs to be set up in every State, district and block over the next year. At the panchayat level, teams of women in the village water and sanitation committees will be given field testing kits. Of the ₹3.6 lakh crore Jal Jeevan budget, 2% has been earmarked for quality monitoring.

Detailed testing protocols and standards have been laid out to check for chemical and biological contaminants, which are present in more than half of all blocks, according to a 2018 assessment by the Central Groundwater Board. State governments can include private players as part of the network, but the Centre has capped tariffs to ensure that they remain within the reach of the common man.

The suggested tariffs would allow one to test a water sample’s pH level, turbidity, alkalinity and hardness for a package rate of ₹50. Testing the water for the presence of chloride, sulphate or iron would cost ₹50 each, while tests for the more dangerous arsenic, fluoride, nitrate or coliform bacteria would cost ₹100 each. A package for all the 16 water quality parameters would cost ₹600. Turnaround time for chemical tests should not be more than 24 hours, while testing for the biological contaminants will produce results within 48 hours, the guidelines said.

Apart from voluntary tests by members of the public, officials have been mandated to do regular inspections. All results of testing will be fed into the Water Quality Information Management System, a portal developed with the support of the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Similarly, results of all tests will now be sent to the citizen who requested it, as well as the WQMIS database and a local official who will be deputed to take remedial action in case of contamination.

Jal Jeevan Mission

  • Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) envisages supply of 55 litres of water per person per day to every rural household through Functional Household Tap Connections (FHTC) by 2024.
  • JJM focuses on integrated demand and supply-side management of water at the local level.
    • Creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability measures as mandatory elements, like rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and management of household wastewater for reuse, would be undertaken in convergence with other government programmes/schemes.
  • The Mission is based on a community approach to water and includes extensive Information, Education and Communication as a key component of the mission.
  • JJM looks to create a jan andolan for water, thereby making it everyone’s priority.
  • Funding Pattern: The fund sharing pattern between the Centre and states is 90:10 for Himalayan and North-Eastern States, 50:50 for other states, and 100% for Union Territories.
  • The Central government has recently released the operational guidelines for JJM.
    • For the implementation of JJM, following institutional arrangement has been proposed:
      • National Jal Jeevan Mission (NJJM) at the Central level
      • State Water and Sanitation Mission (SWSM) at the State level
      • District Water and Sanitation Mission (DWSM) at the District level
      • Village Water Sanitation Committee (VWSC) at Village level
    • Every village will prepare a Village Action Plan (VAP) which will have three components:
      • Water source & its maintenance
      • Water supply and
      • Greywater (domestic wastewater) management.
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