1. Vaccines for all above 18 from May 1; States can buy directly
Manufacturers must sell 50% directly to Centre but can set price for open market
Amid a virulent second wave of COVID-19 in India, the Centre on Monday allowed vaccination against the infection for all persons above the age of 18 from May 1.
The decision followed a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pharmaceutical company representatives, doctors, Union Ministers in charge of healthcare and medicines and officials from multiple nodal Ministries.
However, questions remain on whether enough stocks of vaccines will be available to cater to the accelerated demand. When the year began, the government’s plan was to inoculate 30 crore, or about a third of the adult population, by August. As of Monday, only 8% had got one dose and 1% were fully inoculated.
Immunisation Phase 3
The Phase 3 of the National Vaccine Strategy will enable vaccine manufacturers to sell half their vaccines to the State governments and the open market. The rest will mandatorily be sold to the Centre.
Before May 1, manufacturers will have to make an advance declaration of the price for the 50% of the stock to be supplied to the States and the open market. Based on this price, the States, private hospitals, industrial establishments and so on can procure the vaccines from them. Private hospitals will have to procure their supplies exclusively from the 50% supplied to the States and the open market.
As of Monday, India had administered 12.4 crore doses since January 16. When it opened up vaccination for those above 45 on April 1, there was an initial surge in the number every day — touching 4.5 lakh on April 5. The number declined steadily thereafter.
On Monday, nearly 2.8 million doses were administered.
Several States have complained of shortages. After initially defending its decision to rationalise vaccine administration as based on “global scientific protocol”, the Centre subsequently allowed imported vaccines to apply for supply without first conducting mandatory local trials.
Serum Institute of India is supposed to have supplied 100 million doses of Covishield every month from May but has said it would not be able to do so before July.
Bharat Biotech, manufaturer of Covaxin, whose current capacity is around 20 crore doses annually, is supplying around 1 crore vaccines a month. It has said it will take around two to three months to start production at its Bengaluru facility, which will take its overall manufacturing capacity to 70 crore doses annually, or around 6 crore doses per month.
Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine, has been approved and is set to begin supply by May, though it is not clear how many doses will be available to Indians.
The ongoing vaccination programme for healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above 45 will continue.
While all vaccines manufactured in the country will have to abide by the 50% rules, imported fully-ready-to-use vaccines can be entirely sold to the States and the open market. The Centre, from its share, will allocate vaccines to the States/Union Territories based on the criteria of extent of infection (number of active COVID-19 cases) and performance (speed of administration).
Guidelines for implementing vaccine programme
- Given these limitations, the government has drawn up strategic guidelines for implementing an vaccine programme covering 30 crore people by July.
- The guidelines draw upon the knowledge of running national campaigns acquired over three decades of implementing the Universal Immunisation Programme.
- These guidelines detail the skills, roles and responsibilities of the required human resources, logistics for delivering vaccines at point of use, physical infrastructure, monitoring systems based on digital platforms and feedback systems for reporting adverse events.
- The approach involves 19 departments, donor organisations and NGOs at the national, state, district and block level.
- The guidelines also mention the priority criteria — caregivers, front line workers of the departments of health, defence, municipalities and transportation; persons above the age of 50 and those below 50 having diabetes, hypertension, cancers and lung diseases.
Issues with the guidelines
- Of the 28,932 cold chain points, half are in the five southern states, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
- Combined with poor human resources — doctors, nurses, pharmacists — a weak private sector, poor safety and hygiene standards, frequent power outages, poor infrastructure, the capacity to implement with the expected speed, quality and accuracy is daunting.
- The immunisation can disrupt routine health service delivery — antenatal care, national programmes like those pertaining to TB or other immunisation drives.
- While data for the above-50-year-olds is available in the electoral rolls, line listing of the under 50s with comorbidities can be challenging.
- Not only are urban-rural variations substantial, but urban areas have weak public health infrastructure and a multiple number of private providers due to the poor implementation of the Clinical Establishment Act, 2010.
- Patient tracking can be problematic.
- The non-availability of efficacy data could also impact the procurement and supply of vaccines, result in huge wastage, and can introduce scope for errors and duplication.
2. Second wave is not more lethal, says ICMR
Those above 60 are still most at risk
There is no difference in mortality among COVID-19 patients in the first and second waves, said leading doctors in charge of the national COVID-19 management strategy.
There was a relative increase in instances of those with shortness of breath as a symptom of the infection, but those above 60 — as in the first wave — continued to be most at risk from dying.
A “marginally higher” proportion of patients younger than 20 were present in the second wave (5.8%) compared with the first (4.2%).
In the first wave, 25.5% of the patients were between the ages of 20 and 40, compared with 23.7% in the ongoing second wave.
Shortness of breath
Citing data from a section of hospitalised patients from the first and second waves, Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava said 47% of the symptomatic patients presented “shortness of breath” in the second wave (March-April 2021), compared with 41% in the first (September-November 2020).
In all other symptoms associated with COVID-19 — “fast breathing”, cough, chills, joint pain, fatigue — there was a greater proportion who manifested these symptoms in the first wave than in the ongoing second wave. A key caveat to the data was that for the first wave, 6,642 patients were analysed, while in the second wave, only 1,405 were analysed.
Of 6,650 admitted patients from September to November last year, 9.6% succumbed, whereas from March to April, 9.7% of a group of 351 died from the virus. There was no difference in the proportion of patients who required mechanical ventilation in the first and second waves, Dr. Bhargava said. The second wave — apart from a steep rise in coronavirus cases — has been characterised by unprecedented demand for medical-grade oxygen leading to severe shortages. Dr. Bhargava said the sudden surge may have triggered panic and a demand for more oxygen.
V.K. Paul, who chairs the empowered group on vaccinations and COVID-19 management (NEGVAC), said there was no difference in mortality, in the first and second wave, in those 40 and under. “There is no overarching extra/ excess risk of younger becoming COVID-19 positive,” he said.
On drug protocol for treatment, AIIMS director Randeep Guleria stressed that none of the antiviral drugs — Remdesivir, Fapiravir — as well as convalescent plasma had any established benefit in curing the disease.
3. Vande Bharat becomes one of top civilian evacuations
Now in Phase 10, it has surpassed the Gulf War airlift
The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), which started repatriating Indians stranded abroad due to COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns since May 7 last, has turned out to be one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country.
Into the middle of Phase 10, the VBM has surpassed the large-scale airlift of 1,10,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War. Till now, the Air India (AI) Group has operated 11,523 inbound flights to carry 18,19,734 passengers and 11,528 outbound flights with 13,68,457 passengers. The national carrier, which carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission, was supported by its budget carrier Air India Express.
The first phase of the VBM, which lasted 11 days from May 7 to 17, was aimed at destinations with high concentration of Indians. As many as 64 inbound and outbound flights each were operated by the AI group to carry 12,708 and 3,562 passengers, respectively. The lengthiest was VBM VI and VII lasting 61 days each.
The current VBM Phase 10 has international and domestic schedules operating till October 31. Of these, 373 are international flights from the country and another 376 are flights from abroad. Patronage has come down in the VBM flights these days as there is a spurt in COVID-19 cases in India and many other countries of late, airline sources told The Hindu.
Cargo only flights
Air India Express (AIE) used its B-737-800 fleet to lift agricultural produce, mainly fruits and vegetables, to West Asian countries, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The airline also chartered some of the 24 flights on its fleet as “cargo-only flights” to ship fruits and vegetables, the most sought-after items among the NRIs.
Besides helping rural farmers and the NRIs, the aim was to keep the supply chain intact.
“Transport bubbles” or “air travel arrangements”, temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the pandemic, are in place.
As it is reciprocal in nature, airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits. Such arrangements had been established with Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, the Maldives, Nepal, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Ukraine, the UAE, the U.K., the U.S. and Uzbekistan.
Vande Bharat Mission
- Vande Bharat Mission is the biggest evacuation exercise to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad amidst the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions.
- It is also considered as the largest exercise to bring back Indian citizens since the evacuation of 177,000 from the Gulf region in the early 1990s at the start of hostilities between Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
- The mission has given priority to Indian citizens with “compelling reasons to return” – like those whose employment have been terminated, those whose visas have expired and not expected to be renewed under the present circumstances and those who have lost family members in recent times.
- Under the repatriation plan, the government will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner.
- Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express will operate 64 flights to bring back stranded Indians from 12 countries.
- The entire cost of travel will be borne by the passengers under the mission.
Operation Samudra Setu
- The program named Samudra Setu by Indian navy entails to bring back around two thousand Indians in two ships during the first phase of evacuation.
- INS Jalashwa and INS Magar are being operated as part of efforts to repatriate Indian nationals from foreign shores.
4. EU Council approves conclusions on Indo-Pacific strategy
The Council of the European Union on Monday approved conclusions on a European Union strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to “reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions” with the aim to contribute to “regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development,” at a time of “rising challenges and tensions in the region.”
“Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests,” a statement from the Council said. “The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021,” it stated.
The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific will have a long-term focus and will be based on “upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law,” it stated. The EU will aim to promote effective rules-based multilateralism, it said, reiterating its support for ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) centrality, a point also stressed by India.
The EU will work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery, it said. The EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a “rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU.”
“Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial,” it said.
The Concept of ‘Indo Pacific’
- First time, the term ‘Indo Pacific’ was used by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Indian soil in 2007. Then, he said that there is a connect between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
- After about ten years, the President of the United States used this term during his visit to East Asia. He repeatedly used this term instead of ‘Asia Pacific’. The motive is to ensure that all the countries in the region are working in a direction to make it an open, free, inclusive, prosperous and rule based Indo Pacific system.
- China is giving a tough competition to U.S in all sectors. In the trade war with China, U.S. wants to pump up as much as banding together of other nations as possible.
- India considers two important aspects within the scope of this term:
- One, centrality of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), which is necessary to take forward the notion of Indo-Pacific.
- Second, respect for international laws, especially the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS) at the time of disputes, particularly over the South China Sea.
Significance of the Indo Pacific Region
- It is a very rich region in terms of natural resources (fisheries, oil, gas) as well as mineral resources.
- About 3.5 trillion dollars international trade flows through the South China Sea.
- Trade of some of the major economies like China, Japan, Korea or the west coast of the United States goes through the South China Sea.
- About 50% of India’s trade is conducted through the South China Sea.
India’s Role in the Indo Pacific Region
- India has been one of the major players in the region. India conducts many naval exercises with the United States, countries of ASEAN, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
- Last time in 2015, with the United States, India issued a strategic vision for the Indian ocean and the Pacific, in which maintaining the security in the South China Sea, was also mentioned.
- ONGC Videsh Ltd is prospecting for oil and gas in the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam. India imports 82% of its oil. It needs oil from wherever it can get. Therefore, explorations at the South China Sea is very important for it.
- The international community including India wants freedom of navigation, freedom of over flights in the region, especially the South China Sea.
Claims Made by China in the South China Sea
- The Chinese regime claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region, which gives it the right to manufacture islands, declare defensive perimeters around its artificial islands, and to chase ships from other nations out of the South China Sea. The International Court of Arbitration rejected the claim in 2016.
- China considers disputes in the South China Sea as territorial disputes and therefore considers that UNCLOS does not have a locus standi to pass the judgement over disputes.
5. NASA Mars helicopter makes first flight on another planet
Ingenuity flew 10 feet above Martian surface for 39 seconds
NASA successfully flew its tiny helicopter Ingenuity on Mars early on Monday, the first powered flight on another planet and a feat a top engineer called “our Wright brothers’ moment.”
At 3:34 a.m. Eastern Time (0734 GMT), the 1.8 kg rotorcraft lifted off, hovered 10 feet above the Martian surface, then came back to rest after 39.1 seconds.
Data and images from the autonomous flight were transmitted 278 million km back to Earth where they were received by NASA’s array of ground antennas and processed more than three hours later.
Engineers were tensely watching their screens at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where the mission had been designed and planned for the past six years.
They broke into applause as one of them read off a checklist of tasks Ingenuity had achieved and concluded: “Ingenuity has performed its first flight — the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.”
Ingenuity quickly sent back a black-and-white image from its downward pointing navigation camera, showing its bug-like shadow cast on the surface.
Then came a choppy colour video from the Perseverance rover showing Ingenuity on the ground, in flight.
“We’ve been talking so long about our Wright brothers’ moment on Mars, and here it is,” said lead engineer MiMi Aung.
The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903 in North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honour of that feat.
NASA had originally planned the flight for April 11 but postponed it over a software issue that was identified during a planned high-speed test of the aircraft’s rotors. The issue was resolved with a software update and tweak in coding.
Ingenuity travelled to Mars attached to the underside of Perseverance, which touched down on the planet on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Ingenuity’s goal, by contrast, is to demonstrate its technology works, and it won’t contribute to Perseverance’s science goals.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission
- The mission is designed to better understand the geology of Mars and seek signs of ancient life.
- Assess ancient habitability.
- Demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration.
- Duration: At least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days).
- Mission Steps:
- Collect: Perseverance will collect rock and soil samples in cigar-sized tubes. The samples will be collected, the canisters will be sealed, and left on the ground.
- Fetch: A Mars Fetch Rover (provided by the European Space Agency) will land, drive, and collect all samples from the different locations, and return to the lander.
- Transfer: These samples will be transferred to the Mars Ascent Vehicle which will meet with an Orbiter.
- Return: The Orbiter will carry the samples back to Earth.
- Perseverance is the most advanced, most expensive and most sophisticated mobile laboratory sent to Mars.
- It is different from previous missions because it is capable of drilling and collecting core samples of the most promising rocks and soils, and setting them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars.
- Launch: 30th July, 2020
- Landing: 18th February, 2021
- Landing Site:
- Jezero Crater (an ancient river delta that has rocks and minerals that could only form in water).
- Power Source:
- A Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) which converts heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium (Plutonium Dioxide) into electricity.
- Instruments: It carries seven instruments, two microphones and 23 cameras in total in order to conduct unprecedented science and test new technology on Mars. Few important instruments are:
- Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment (MOXIE):
- This will use power to produce oxygen using atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- If successful, it can be scaled up to provide the two very critical needs of humans: oxygen for breathing, and rocket fuel for the trip back to Earth.
- Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX):
- RIMFAX will provide high resolution mapping and also look for subsurface water on Mars.
- Mars Helicopter:
- It is actually a small drone to test whether the helicopter can fly in the sparse atmosphere on Mars. The low density of the Martian atmosphere makes the odds of actually flying a helicopter or an aircraft on Mars very low.
- An advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability will help determine mineralogy.
- It can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy at a distance.
- Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL):
- An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and high-resolution imager that will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before.
- Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC):
- A spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to map mineralogy and organic compounds.
- SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload.
- Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA):
- Sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust size and shape.
- Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment (MOXIE):
6. Cuba gets new leader as Raul Castro retires
Miguel Diaz-Canel becomes the first-ever civilian leader of the communist country
Cuba marked the end of an era on Monday with the transfer of power from the Castro clan, in charge for six decades, to the communist country’s first-ever civilian leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
As Raul Castro, 89, enters retirement, he handed the all-powerful position of first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Mr. Diaz-Canel, 60, already Cuba’s president since 2018.
“April 19, an historic day,” tweeted the new leader, lauding the PCC’s “founding and guiding” generation for handing over the reins.
Mr. Diaz-Canel’s election at a party congress, though pre-determined, marks a watershed for the country of 11.2 million people, many of whom have known no leader other than a Castro.
Fidel Castro, still revered as the country’s father and saviour, led the country from 1959 to 2006, when he fell ill and his brother Raul took over. Fidel Castro died in 2016.
Mr. Diaz-Canel and some other members of the new PCC executive were born after the revolution led by the Castro siblings in the 1950s, leading in 1959 to the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The PCC congress was held 60 years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state, setting up decades of conflict with the United States, which has had sanctions against the country since 1962.
It also marked six decades since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-revolutionary Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA.
The change at the top is not expected to yield any major policy shifts.
Mr. Diaz-Canel, a suit-and-tie wearing, tech-savvy Beatles fan, remains a staunch party disciple.
And a new Constitution passed in May 2019 made it clear that the country’s commitment to socialism was “irrevocable.”
7. ‘About 52% adults not clear on defences against cybercrime’
59% of adults in India are victims: Norton Life Lock survey
About 52% of adults admitted that they do not know how to protect themselves from cybercrime, according to a survey conducted by online security solutions provider Norton Life Lock
The report also said 59% of the adults in India had become victims of cybercrime in the past 12 months.
The ‘2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report,’ based on the research conducted online by The Harris Poll among 10,030 adults in 10 countries, including 1,000 adults in India, also found that cybercrime victims collectively spent 1.3 billion hours trying to resolve these issues.
“In a year of lockdowns and restrictions, cybercriminals have not been deterred.” said Ritesh Chopra, director, sales and field marketing, India & SAARC countries, NortonLifeLock.
“More Indian adults fell victim to identity theft in the past 12 months and most are concerned about data privacy,” he added.
He said while the report suggested that many Indian consumers (90%) were taking proactive steps to safeguard their data, 2 in 5 still felt it was impossible to protect their privacy (42%) in this age or say they don’t know how to do so (42%).
As per the research 7 in 10 Indian adults (70%) believe that remote work has made it much easier for hackers and cybercriminals to take advantage of people.
“Around half (52%) say they do not know how to protect themselves from cybercrime, and even more (68%) say it is difficult for them to determine if the information they see online is from a credible source,” NotronLifeLock mentioned in the report.
- Cyber Security is protecting cyber space including critical information infrastructure from attack, damage, misuse and economic espionage.
- Cyber Space: A global domain within the information environment consisting of the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers.
- Critical Information Infrastructure: According to Section 70(1) of the Information Technology Act, CII is defined as a “computer resource, the incapacitation or destruction of which, shall have debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety”.
- Cyber Attack: It is a malicious and deliberate attempt by an individual or organization to breach the information system of another individual or organization.
Motives behind Cyber Attacks
- To seek commercial gain by hacking banks and financial institutions.
- To attack critical assets of a nation.
- To penetrate into both corporate and military data servers to obtain plans and intelligence.
- To hack sites to virally communicate a message for some specific campaign related to politics and society.
Types of Cyber Attacks
- Malware, short for malicious software refers to any kind of software that is designed to cause damage to a single computer, server, or computer network. Ransomware, Spy ware, Worms, viruses, and Trojans are all varieties of malware.
- Phishing: It is the method of trying to gather personal information using deceptive e-mails and websites.
- Denial of Service attacks: A Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack is an attack meant to shut down a machine or network, making it inaccessible to its intended users. DoS attacks accomplish this by flooding the target with traffic, or sending it information that triggers a crash.
- Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, also known as eavesdropping attacks, occur when attackers insert themselves into a two-party transaction. Once the attackers interrupt the traffic, they can filter and steal data.
- SQL Injection:
- SQL (pronounced “sequel”) stands for Structured Query Language, a programming language used to communicate with databases.
- Many of the servers that store critical data for websites and services use SQL to manage the data in their databases.
- A SQL injection attack specifically targets such kind of servers, using malicious code to get the server to divulge information it normally wouldn’t.
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS):
- Similar to an SQL injection attack, this attack also involves injecting malicious code into a website, but in this case the website itself is not being attacked.
- Instead the malicious code the attacker has injected, only runs in the user’s browser when they visit the attacked website, and it goes after the visitor directly, not the website.
- Social engineering is an attack that relies on human interaction to trick users into breaking security procedures in order to gain sensitive information that is typically protected.
Components of Cyber Security
- Application Security: It encompasses measures or counter-measures that are taken during an application’s development process to protect it from threats that can come through flaws in the app design, development, deployment, upgrade or maintenance.
- Information security: It is related to the protection of information from an unauthorized access to avoid identity theft and to protect privacy.
- Network Security: It includes activities to protect the usability, reliability, integrity and safety of the network.
- Disaster Recovery Planning: It is a process that includes performing risk assessment, establishing priorities, developing recovery strategies in case of an attack.
Need for Cyber Security
- For Individuals: Photos, videos and other personal information shared by an individual on social networking sites can be inappropriately used by others, leading to serious and even life-threatening incidents.
- For Business Organizations: Companies have a lot of data and information on their systems. A cyber attack may lead to loss of competitive information (such as patents or original work), loss of employees/customers private data resulting into complete loss of public trust on the integrity of the organization.
- For Government: A local, state or central government maintains huge amount of confidential data related to country (geographical, military strategic assets etc.) and citizens. Unauthorized access to the data can lead to serious threats on a country.
- The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a specialized agency within the United Nations which plays a leading role in the standardization and development of telecommunications and cyber security issues.
- Budapest Convention on Cybercrime: It is an international treaty that seeks to address Internet and computer crime (cybercrime) by harmonizing national laws, improving investigative techniques, and increasing cooperation among nations. It came into force on 1 July 2004. India is not a signatory to this convention.
- Internet Governance Forum (IGF): It brings together all stakeholders i.e. government, private sector and civil society on the Internet governance debate. It was first convened in October–November 2006.
- Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): It is a non-profit organization responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the Internet, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation. It has its headquarters in Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Laws related to Cyber Security in India
Information Technology Act, 2000
- The act regulates use of computers, computer systems, computer networks and also data and information in electronic format.
- The act lists down among other things, following as offences:
- Tampering with computer source documents.
- Hacking with computer system
- Act of cyber terrorism i.e. accessing a protected system with the intention of threatening the unity, integrity, sovereignty or security of country.
- Cheating using computer resource etc.
Strategies under National Cyber Policy, 2013
- Creating a secure cyber ecosystem.
- Creating mechanisms for security threats and responses to the same through national systems and processes.
- National Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) functions as the nodal agency for coordination of all cyber security efforts, emergency responses, and crisis management.
- Securing e-governance by implementing global best practices, and wider use of Public Key Infrastructure.
- Protection and resilience of critical information infrastructure with the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) operating as the nodal agency.
- NCIIPC has been created under Information Technology Act, 2000 to secure India’s critical information infrastructure. It is based in New Delhi.
- Promoting cutting edge research and development of cyber security technology.
- Human Resource Development through education and training programs to build capacity.
- Increased use of mobile technology and internet by people.
- Proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) and lack of proper security infrastructure in some devices.
- Cyberspace has inherent vulnerabilities that cannot be removed.
- Internet technology makes it relatively easy to misdirect attribution to other parties.
- It is generally seen that attack technology outpaces defence technology.
- Lack of awareness on Cyber security.
- Lack of Cyber security specialists.
- Increased use of cyberspace by terrorists.
Recent Steps taken by Government
- Cyber Surakshit Bharat Initiative: It was launched in 2018 with an aim to spread awareness about cybercrime and building capacity for safety measures for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and frontline IT staff across all government departments.
- National Cyber security Coordination Centre (NCCC): In 2017, the NCCC was developed. Its mandate is to scan internet traffic and communication metadata (which are little snippets of information hidden inside each communication) coming into the country to detect real-time cyber threats.
- Cyber Swachhta Kendra: In 2017, this platform was introduced for internet users to clean their computers and devices by wiping out viruses and malware.
- Training of 1.14 Lakh persons through 52 institutions under the Information Security Education and Awareness Project (ISEA) – a project to raise awareness and to provide research, education and training in the field of Information Security.
- International cooperation: Looking forward to becoming a secure cyber ecosystem, India has joined hands with several developed countries like the United States, Singapore, Japan, etc. These agreements will help India to challenge even more sophisticated cyber threats.
8. RBI sets up committee to review working of ARCs
Panel to submit report in 3 months
The RBI on Monday set up a committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the working of asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) in the financial sector ecosystem and recommend suitable measures for enabling them to meet the growing requirements.
The six-member committee will be headed by Sudarshan Sen, former executive director, Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
As per the terms of reference of the committee, the panel will review the existing legal and regulatory framework applicable to ARCs and recommend measures to improve efficacy of ARCs.
It will also review the role of ARCs in the resolution of stressed assets, including under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), and give suggestions for improving liquidity in and trading of security receipts.
Besides, it has also been asked to review the business models of ARCs.
“The committee will submit its report within three months from the date of its first meeting,” the central bank said in a statement.
Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC)
- It is a specialized financial institution that buys the Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) from banks and financial institutions so that they can clean up their balance sheets.
- This helps banks to concentrate in normal banking activities. Banks rather than going after the defaulters by wasting their time and effort, can sell the bad assets to the ARCs at a mutually agreed value.
- Legal Basis:
- The Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, 2002 provides the legal basis for the setting up of ARCs in India.
- The SARFAESI Act helps reconstruction of bad assets without the intervention of courts. Since then, a large number of ARCs were formed and were registered with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which has got the power to regulate the ARCs.
- Capital Needs for ARCs:
- As per amendment made in the SARFAESI Act in 2016, an ARC should have a minimum net owned fund of Rs. 2 crore.
- The RBI raised this amount to Rs. 100 crore in 2017. The ARCs also have to maintain a capital adrequacy ratio of 15% of its risk weighted assets.
- Risk-weighted assets are used to determine the minimum amount of capital that must be held by banks and other financial institutions in order to reduce the risk of insolvency.
- About the new ARC:
- Of the existing ARCs, only 3-4 are adequately capitalised, while the more-than-dozen remaining are thinly capitalised — necessitating the need to set up a new structure to resolve stressed assets urgently.
- In a report released by Reserve Bank of India (RBI), it was said that banks’ gross non-performing assets may rise to 13.5% by September 2021, from 7.5% in September 2020 under the baseline scenario.
- The transfer of stressed assets to the ARC will happen at net book value, which is the value of assets minus provisioning done by banks against these assets. This could enable the banks to alleviate its losses from NPAs – a part of stressed assets.
- The bank will get 15% cash and 85% security receipts against bad debt that will be sold to the ARC.
- Security Receipts (SR) are issued by ARCs, when Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of commercial banks (CB) or financial institutions (FI) are acquired by the ARCs for the purpose of recovery.
- As per extant instructions, investment in SRs is restricted to the Qualified Institutional Buyers (QIBs), as defined by SARFAESI Act 2002.
- Support by Central Government:
- While the government will not provide any direct equity support to the ARC, it may provide sovereign guarantee that could be needed to meet regulatory requirements.
- Expected Benefits:
- This structure will reduce the load of stressed assets on the bank balance sheet and look to resolve these bad debt in a market-led way.
- With most banks expected to be on board this company, the resolution is expected to be faster.
- Other Proposed Reforms:
- Development Financial Institution:
- The government could subsume India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL) into the proposed Development Financial institution (DFI), which is being set up to enable long-term infra funding worth Rs. 5 lakh crore in 3 years.
- The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID), the proposed DFI, will anchor the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP).
- The Reserve Bank of India will regulate the proposed DFI, which will be fully owned by the government in initial years.
- With regard to the privatisation of two state-owned banks and one insurer, the companies will be identified by a government-defined process.
- NITI Aayog will do the first round for selecting, then it will go to the core group of secretaries on disinvestment and, thereafter, it will be examined by the alternate mechanism.
- Development Financial Institution:
9. Editorial-1: Protecting children in the age of AI
Their rights, privacy, and well-being must be protected in digital environments just as they are in the physical world
We are now living among history’s very first “AI” generation. From the Alexas they converse with, to their robot playmates, to the YouTube wormholes they disappear into, the children and adolescents of today are born into a world increasingly powered by virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI).
AI is not only changing what humans can do, it is shaping our behaviours, our preferences, our perceptions of the world and of ourselves. Older people still remember life before AI and the digital world — our references, anchors and pole stars pre-date the fourth Industrial Revolution. Not so for the millions of children and adolescents who were born into it. What does this mean for them, and for us — their parents and guardians?
The task ahead
Double imperatives — this would mean getting all children on-line and creating child-safe digital spaces
One of the most pressing concerns is that not everyone can tap into the opportunities offered by this transformation. According to UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as many as two-thirds of the world’s children do not have access to the Internet at home.
In addition to closing the digital divide, we need to better protect children and adolescents online; but how does one childproof AI? How do we encourage and support the tremendous good AI can do for children’s growth and development, while simultaneously mitigating the harm? And how do we equip children and young people with the knowledge, tools and awareness to protect themselves?
In the old-fashioned physical world, we evolved norms and standards to protect children. For instance, there are policies and protocols for a child travelling alone as an unaccompanied minor. Parents are understandably reluctant to let their children be photographed by the media, and in many countries, news outlets blur children’s faces to protect them. Where are these protections online?
The virtual world is full of unsupervised “vacations” and “playgrounds” — with other children and, potentially, less-than-scrupulous adults, sometimes posing anonymously as children. While video gaming and chat forums like Fortnite: Battle Royale, to name one popular example, offer an online space for children to socialise with their friends, multiple reports identify such virtual playgrounds as “honeypots” for child predators. Short of banning screen time entirely, parents are hard-pressed to keep tabs on just what their children are doing online, and with whom. With online homework, this has become even more difficult.
Right to freedom of attention
It does not help that the AI systems driving many video games and social networks are designed to keep children hooked, both through algorithms and gimmicks like “streaks”, “likes”, infinite scroll, etc. Even if this is an ancillary consequence of the underlying business model, the damage is done — children, from a tender age through adolescence, are becoming digitally addicted.
Similarly, right when children and youth are forming their initial views of the world, they are being sucked into virtual deep space, including the universe of fake news, conspiracy theories, hype, hubris, online bullying, hate speech and the likes. With every click and scroll, AI is sorting them into tribes, and feeding them a steady diet of specially customised tribal cuisine. All this is thrown at our children just when they are starting to try to make sense of who they are and the world they live in; right when it is so important to help them understand and appreciate different perspectives, preferences, beliefs and customs, to build bridges of understanding and empathy and goodwill.
Harvesting, algorithmic bias
Other insidious pitfalls also lie in the path of the Generation AI child. Today, many AI toys come pre-programmed with their own personality and voice. They can offer playful and creative opportunities for children, with some even promoting enhanced literacy, social skills and language development. However, they also listen to and observe our children, soaking up their data, and with no framework to govern its use. Some of these AI toys even perform facial recognition of children and toddlers. Germany banned Cayla, an Internet-connected doll, because of concerns it could be hacked and used to spy on children. Yet, most countries do not yet have the legal framework in place to ban such toys.
Finally, in the field of education, AI can and is being used in fabulous ways to tailor learning materials and pedagogical approaches to the child’s needs — such as intelligent tutoring systems, tailored curriculum plans, and imaginative virtual reality instruction, offering rich and engaging interactive learning experiences that can improve educational outcomes. But algorithms can also both amplify existing problems with education systems and introduce new challenges — when the pandemic caused the usual tests to be cancelled in the United Kingdom and by the International Baccalaureate board, for instance, the algorithms that served as a fallback meant thousands of students lost out on college admissions and scholarships. And unless the educational and performance data on children is kept confidential and anonymous, it can inadvertently typecast or brand children, harming their future opportunities.
So, how do we balance the tremendous good AI can do for children, while keeping their unique vulnerabilities topmost in our preoccupations, mitigating inadvertent harm and misuse?
The next phase of the fourth Industrial Revolution must include an overwhelming push to extend Internet access to all children. Governments, the private sector, civil society, parents and children must push hard for this now, before AI further deepens the pre-existing inequalities and creates its own disparities. And on mitigating on-line harms, we need a multi-pronged action plan: we need legal and technological safeguards; we need greater awareness among parents, guardians and children on how AI works behind the scenes; we need tools, like trustworthy certification and rating systems, to enable sound choices on safe AI apps; we need to ban anonymous accounts; we need enforceable ethical principles of non-discrimination and fairness embedded in the policy and design of AI systems — we need “do no harm” risk assessments for all algorithms that interact with children or their data. In short, we need safe online spaces for children, without algorithmic manipulation and with restricted profiling and data collection. And we need online tools (and an online culture) that helps prevent addiction, that promotes attention-building skills, that expands children’s horizons, understanding and appreciation for diverse perspectives, and that builds their social emotional learning capabilities.
Key first step
In February, in a landmark decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted General Comment 25, on implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and fulfilling all children’s rights in the digital environment. This is an important first step on the long road ahead.
The Government of India has put in place strong policies to protect the rights and well-being of children, including a legislative framework that includes the Right to Education. Laws and policies to prevent a range of abuses and violence, such as the National Policy for Children (2013), can be extended for children in a digital space.
But much more needs to be done, here in India and around the world. And in this interconnected world, the more we can agree upon multilaterally and by multi-stakeholder groups, the easier it may be to implement nationally and locally. Just as India proactively helped shape the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and gave the world the principle of Ahimsa, it could also galvanise the international community around, ensuring an ethical AI for Generation AI.
10. Editorial-2: The ordinance route is bad, repromulgation worse
Governments, Centre and State, are resorting to the practice which is a usurpation of legislative power by the executive
The central government has repromulgated the ordinance that establishes a commission for air quality management in the National Capital Region, or the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020. This raises questions about the practice of issuing ordinances to make law, and that of re-issuing ordinances without getting them ratified by Parliament.
The Constitution permits the central and State governments to make laws when Parliament (or the State Legislature) is not in session. As law making is a legislative function, this power is provided for urgent requirements, and the law thus made has an automatic expiry date. The Constitution states that the ordinance will lapse at the end of six weeks from the time Parliament (or the State Legislature) next meets.
In the Constituent Assembly, while there was a discussion on how long the ordinance could remain valid (with some members asking for it to lapse within four weeks of promulgation as that would be sufficient time to call an urgent session of Parliament), no one raised the possibility of an ordinance to be re-promulgated. Perhaps such an eventuality was beyond their imagination.
What the data show
Whereas an ordinance was originally conceived as an emergency provision, it was used fairly regularly. In the 1950s, central ordinances were issued at an average of 7.1 per year. The number peaked in the 1990s at 19.6 per year, and declined to 7.9 per year in the 2010s. The last couple of years has seen a spike, 16 in 2019, 15 in 2020, and four till now this year.
State governments also used this provision very often. The issue was brought up in the Supreme Court through a writ petition by D.C. Wadhwa, a professor of economics, who discovered this fact when he was researching land tenures. He found out that Bihar had issued 256 ordinances between 1967 and 1981, of which 69 were repromulgated several times, including 11 which were kept alive for more than 10 years.
A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in 1986, ruled that repromulgation of ordinances was contrary to the Constitutional scheme. It said, “it would most certainly be a colourable exercise of power for the Government to ignore the Legislature and to repromulgate the Ordinance and thus to continue to regulate the life and liberty of the citizens through Ordinance made by the Executive.
Such a stratagem would be repugnant to the constitutional scheme as it would enable the Executive to transgress its constitutional limitation in the matter of law making in an emergent situation and to covertly and indirectly arrogate to itself the law making function of the Legislature.” Interestingly, the Court pointed out that there was not a single instance of the President (i.e., the central government) repromulgating an ordinance.
The judgment did not stop the practice. Instead, the Centre also started to follow the lead of Bihar. For example, in 2013 and 2014, the Securities Laws (Amendment) ordinance was promulgated three times. Similarly, an ordinance to amend the Land Acquisition Act was issued in December 2014, and repromulgated twice – in April and May 2015.
An unconstitutional practice
The matter came up again in the Supreme Court, and in January 2017, a seven-judge Constitution Bench declared this practice to be unconstitutional. The judgment concluded that, “Re-promulgation of ordinances is a fraud on the Constitution and a subversion of democratic legislative processes.”
Even this judgment has been ignored. The Indian Medical Council Amendment Ordinance was issued in September 2018, and reissued in January 2019, as it was passed by only one House of Parliament in the intervening session. The current case of the Commission for Air Quality Management is even more egregious. While the ordinance of October 2020 was laid in Parliament on the first day of the recent Budget Session, a Bill to replace it was not introduced. However, the ordinance has been repromulgated now.
States have also been using the ordinance route to enact laws. For example, in 2020, Kerala issued 81 ordinances, while Karnataka issued 24 and Maharashtra 21. Kerala has also repromulgated ordinances: one ordinance to set up a Kerala University of Digital Sciences, Innovation and Technology has been promulgated five times between January 2020 and February 2021.
Onus on legislatures, courts
The legal position is clear, and has been elucidated by constitution Benches of the Supreme Court. Ordinances are to tackle exigencies when the legislature is not in session, and expire at the end of six weeks of the next meeting of the legislature. This time period is given for the legislature to decide whether such a law is warranted. Repromulgation is not permitted as that would be a usurpation of legislative power by the executive. As governments, both at the Centre and States, are violating this principle, the legislatures and the courts should check the practice. That is what separation of powers and the concept of checks and balances means. By not checking this practice, the other two organs are also abdicating their responsibility to the Constitution.