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Daily Current Affairs 25.07.2021 (Moon-forming region seen around exoplanet for the first time, Study proposes repurposed drug to treat COVID-19, What are the surveillance laws in India?)

Daily Current Affairs 25.07.2021 (Moon-forming region seen around exoplanet for the first time, Study proposes repurposed drug to treat COVID-19, What are the surveillance laws in India?)

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1.Moon-forming region seen around exoplanet for the first time

Scientists for the first time have spotted a moon-forming region around a planet beyond our solarsystem – a Jupiter-like world surrounded by a disc of gas and dust massive enough that it could spawn three moons the size of the one orbiting Earth.

The researchers used the ALMA observatory in Chile’s Atacama desert to detect the disc of swirling material accumulating around one of two newborn planets seen orbiting a young star called PDS 70, located 370 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, about 9.5 trillion km.

Known exoplanets

More than 4,400 planets have been discovered outside our solar system, called exoplanets. No circumplanetary discs had been found until now because all the known exoplanets resided in “mature” – fully developed – solar systems, except the two infant gas planets orbiting PDS 70.

The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

In our solar system, the impressive rings of Saturn, a planet around which more than 80 moons orbit, represent a relic of a primordial moon-forming disc, said study co-author Stefano Facchini of the European Southern Observatory.

The orange-coloured star PDS 70, roughly the same mass as our Sun, is about 5 million years old. The two planets are even younger. Both planets are similar (although larger) to Jupiter, a gas giant. It was around one of the two planets, called PDS 70c, that a moon-forming disc was observed. Researchers have now confirmed initial evidence of a disc around this planet.

Birth of a moon

Stars burst to life within clouds of interstellar gas and dust scattered throughout galaxies. Leftover material spinning around a new star then coalesces into planets, and circumplanetary discs surrounding some planets similarly yield moons.

The dominant mechanism thought to underpin planet formation is called “core accretion,” said study co-author Richard Teague of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“In this scenario, small dust grains, coated in ice, gradually grow to larger and larger sizes through successive collisions with other grains. This continues until the grains have grown to a size of a planetary core, at which point the young planet has a strong enough gravitational potential to accrete gas which will form its atmosphere,” Teague said.

Moon of Earth

The moon that we see almost every night is a natural satellite of the Earth. This means that the moon revolves around the earth on a regular path. The gravitational attraction between the earth and the natural satellite holds it in its orbit even as the moon revolves around the earth.

Being our closest celestial neighbour appears large compared to the stars. In fact, all the stars and planets are larger than the moon but are so far away that they appear very small in comparison.

The moon’s surface is covered by rocks and loose dirt which we call lunar soil. It is pockmarked with craters of different sizes because of meteorites that hit its surface. On earth, these meteorites burn up in our atmosphere before they reach the ground. But this orb of the night has no atmosphere, so it is covered with large craters. Because there is no air, there is no life on the moon. We all know that Neil Armstrong was the first person to land on this celestial body in 1969.

Phases of the Moon:

If you look up at the moon at night, you would have noticed that it changes its shape every day. This is because the heavenly body has no light of its own; it can only reflect light from the sun. Only the side of the moon which faces the sun can reflect this light and can appear bright; the other side appears dark. As this celestial bod revolves around the earth we can see different amounts of the region illuminated by the sun. Thus, it appears to change its shape.

2.Study proposes repurposed drug to treat COVID-19

The drug is now in Phase-II trials to evaluate efficacy, safety, tolerability to treat COVID-19 patients

A long wait for drugs to treat COVID-19 may come to a close, if Phase II trials of the drug niclosamide deliver positive results. The repurposed drug, an antihelminth originally used to treat tapeworm infection, was found to show promise in an exploratory study undertaken by Bengaluru-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS-TIFR) and Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (InSTEM) along with Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (CSIR-IIIM), Jammu.

Based on the recommendations of this preliminary study, the drug is now under “multi-centric, phase-II, randomized, open label clinical study to evaluate efficacy, safety and tolerability of NIclosamide for the treatment of hospitalized Covid-19 patients,” according to a press release of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) dated July 5.

Among those following the news about the novel coronavirus, it is well known that the spike protein of the receptor binding domain attaches itself to the ACE2 receptor present in the cell. This is a route the virus uses to enter the cell.

There is also another way of entering the cell, especially in cells that do not carry ACE2.

Alternative route

“The stomach and proximal intestinal epithelium have cells that do not carry the ACE2 receptor but also are infected by the virus, and the cell line we are working with may be a surrogate model for such a system,” explains Satyajit Mayor, Director of NCBS-TIFR, who is an author of the study which has been published in PLOS Pathogens.

To enter such cells the spike glycoprotein finds a different pathway using alternative binding proteins on the surface of the cell. These are not yet fully characterised.

“The other pathway is something that we have been involved in uncovering and working on for the past 20 years at NCBS, and therefore we could immediately deploy our knowledge in seeing how we could influence this route,” says Prof. Mayer.

Blocking the virus

To study the path taken by the virus, the group isolated and purified the spike glycoprotein, attached it to a pseudovirus and tagged it with a fluorescent dye. When the virus tries to enter the cell, it is first engulfed in a membranous vesicle. This vesicle provides an environment of low pH (acidic medium) which is necessary for the virus to infect the cell. Thus, a substance that would alter the pH of the environment would block the entry of the virus. This role can be played by, for instance, niclosamide.

“Niclosamide is a drug used for tapeworm treatment. Other worms, such as pinworms and roundworms, are not affected. It is taken orally so can be used right off the shelf if the dosage and efficacy is proved for Covid,” says Varadharajan Sundaramurthy from NCBS-TIFR, a co-author.

The group has used this method to block the real SARS-CoV-2 virus in culture. “As the pandemic started, we established dedicated space in our biosafety level 3 suite for SARS-CoV-2 infection assays and obtained relevant approvals. So, when bafilomycin and niclosamide showed inhibitory effect in pseudovirus assays, we could immediately test them in real SARS-CoV-2 infection assays,” says Dr Sundaramurthy. “We could further extend these results to the gastric AGS cells with and without ACE2.”

Clinical trials

The drug is being taken through a clinical trial by CSIR. Ram Viswakarma of CSIR-IIIM, another co-author, said the following in an email to The Hindu:“CSIR New Delhi (through its constituent laboratory CSIR-IICT, Hyderabad) with an Industry partner received DCGI approval for a Phase II clinical trial, which is currently [underway] in multiple hospitals across India. Once the trial is complete, the results will be submitted to the drug regulator.”

3.What are the surveillance laws in India?

In light of the Pegasus spyware scandal, what are the checks and balances to prevent abuse of procedures?

The story so far: An international group of news publications are reporting that a spyware known as Pegasus has been used to spy on politicians, journalists, and activists, primarily in 10 countries. Reports from the grouping called the Pegasus Project, which includes The Wire in India, The Guardian in the U.K., and The Washington Post in the U.S., suggest that in India, at least 40 journalists, Cabinet Ministers, and holders of constitutional positions were possibly subjected to surveillance. The reports are based on a database of about 50,000 phone numbers accessed by the Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which they say are numbers of interest to clients of NSO, the Israel-based company that created Pegasus. According to The Guardian, Amnesty International’s Security Lab has tested 67 of the phones linked to these numbers and found that “23 were successfully infected and 14 showed signs of attempted penetration”.

What do we know about Pegasus?

Pegasus can take multiple routes to reach a target’s phone. Its earliest avatars used spear phishing, a hit-or-miss method in which a malicious link is embedded in a message customised to entice the target to click. However, it has now evolved to include “zero-click” attacks, where the target need not take any action for the phone to be infected. In 2019, WhatsApp released a statement saying that Pegasus could enter phones via calls made on the platform, even if they were not attended. Pegasus uses several such “exploits”, or weaknesses, in Android and Apple phones to enter phones; and many of these exploits are reportedly “zero day”, which means it is not a weakness that the device manufacturers are aware of. Forbidden Stories reports that frequently used exploits are bugs in iPhone’s iMessage communication app. Pegasus can also be delivered over the air from a nearby wireless transmitter, or manually inserted if the target phone is physically available.

Once inside the phone, Pegasus seeks “root privileges”, Claudio Guarnieri, who runs Amnesty International’s Security Lab, told The Guardian. Root privileges is a level of control over the phone that is beyond what a regular user has. It enables Pegasus to set up shop within the phone and establish communications with its controllers through an anonymised network of internet addresses and servers. It can then start transmitting any data stored on the phone to its command-and-control centres. This level of control also means Pegasus can turn on the phone’s cameras and microphones to turn it into a spying device without the owner’s knowledge.

Who are its clients?

The NSO Group which developed Pegasus officially claims it has 60 clients in 40 countries, though the company has not revealed their identities. Going by the Pegasus Project’s analysis of the phone numbers that the spyware possibly targeted, its clients have interests primarily in 10 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Reading this together with NSO’s statement that Pegasus is graded as a cyberweapon and can be sold only to authorised government entities as per Israeli law, most reports have suggested that the governments in these countries are the clients.

Forbidden Stories is also reporting that the Israeli Ministry of Defence has a significant role in deciding whom NSO sells the software to, and apparently got it sold to Saudi Arabia despite the company’s reservations. This is significant as reports have indicated that Pegasus was used to spy on Jamal Khashoggi before the Saudi journalist and dissident was lured to the kingdom’s embassy in Turkey and assassinated. In India, the government has neither confirmed nor denied that it has purchased the NSO software at any point of time.

Who has been targeted?

The NSO has stated that Pegasus is not a tool for mass surveillance, but the 10,000 numbers that are in the Moroccan cluster of the database suggest otherwise, says Forbidden Stories. While the stated aim of Pegasus is to fight crime and terrorism, the database also has the numbers of over 200 journalists worldwide, including 40 from Indian media houses such as The Wire, The Hindu, and Hindustan Times.

The database also contains the numbers of about 13 heads of state, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who has probably been spied on from Morocco; South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, probably spied on from Rwanda; and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, probably spied on from India.

A cluster of 2,000 Indian and Pakistani phone numbers, identified as being of possible interest to the Indian client, has the contacts for Opposition politicians, civil rights activists, and judges.

What do Indian laws outline?

Section 5(2) of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, states that the government can intercept a “message or class of messages” when it is “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence”.

The operational process and procedures for it appear in Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951. Rule 419A was added to the Telegraph Rules in 2007 after the verdict in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) vs Union of India case in 1996, in which the Supreme Court said telephonic conversations are covered by the right to privacy, which can be breached only if there are established procedures. Under Rule 419A, surveillance needs the sanction of the Home Secretary at the Central or State level, but in “unavoidable circumstance” can be cleared by a Joint Secretary or officers above, if they have the Home Secretary’s authorisation.

In the K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India verdict of 2017, the Supreme Court further reiterated the need for oversight of surveillance, stating that it should be legally valid and serve a legitimate aim of the government. The court also said the means adopted should be proportional to the need for surveillance, and there should be procedures to check any abuse of surveillance.

The second legislation enabling surveillance is Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which deals with electronic surveillance. It facilitates government “interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource” if it is in the interest of the “sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order” or for preventing or investigating any cognizable offence.

The procedure for electronic surveillance as authorised by Section 69 is detailed in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009. These rules, according to Apar Gupta, lawyer and executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, are very broad and allow even the redirection of traffic to false websites or the planting of any device to acquire any information.

Mr. Gupta is of the opinion that the use of Pegasus is illegal as it constitutes unauthorised access under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act.

Section 66 prescribes punishment to anyone who gains unauthorised access to computers and “downloads, copies or extracts any data”, or “introduces or causes to be introduced any computer contaminant or computer virus,” as laid down in Section 43.

The Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response to a plea alleging that despite the striking down of draconian Section 66A of the IT Act in 2015 by the apex court, police in various states were still invoking it in FIRs to clamp down on free speech on social media platforms.

  • The petition said a recent working paper by the Internet Freedom Foundation demonstrated that pending prosecutions under Section 66A had not been terminated, and further it continued to be invoked by police across India in FIRs registered after the 2015 judgment.
  • The petition said there had been a huge communication gap at the ground level and many officials may not even know about the Supreme Court verdict.
  • It said trial courts and prosecutors were not actively implementing the verdict and the burden of terminating illegal prosecutions based on Section 66A fell on the accused persons.

Background

  • Section 66A dealt with information related crimes in which sending information, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, which is inter alia offensive, derogatory and menacing is made a punishable offence.
  • In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India judgement, Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and J. Chelameswar had observed that the weakness of Section 66A lay in the fact that it had created an offence on the basis of undefined actions: such as causing “inconvenience, danger, obstruction and insult”, which do not fall among the exceptions granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech.
  • The court also observed that the challenge was to identify where to draw the line. Traditionally, it has been drawn at incitement while terms like obstruction and insult remain subjective.
  • In addition, the court had noted that Section 66A did not have procedural safeguards like other sections of the law with similar aims, such as :
    • The need to obtain the concurrence of the Centre before action can be taken.
    • Local authorities could proceed autonomously, literally on the whim of their political masters.
  • The judgment had found that Section 66A was contrary to both Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. The entire provision was struck down by the court.
  • After that government had appointed an expert committee (T.K. Viswanathan committee) which proposed a legislation to meet the challenge of hate speech online.

4.Where did the Centre go wrong on cooperatives?

Why has the Supreme Court struck down part of the 97th Constitution Amendment and will it impact federal principles?

The story so far: The recent Supreme Court verdict striking down a part of the 97th Constitution Amendment, insofar as it dealt with cooperative societies under the domain of the States, has brought the focus on the extent to which the Centre can seek to lay down policy for the functioning of cooperative societies. The correctness of the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government’s move to amend the Constitution to provide a reformist framework for the functioning of cooperatives is in question.

What is the 97th Constitution Amendment?

The Union government, in its Statement of Objects and Reasons for the amendment, referred to the “weaknesses” in safeguarding the interests of members of cooperatives and the fulfilment of the objectives of these institutions. It referred to delayed elections, nomination of office-bearers for long durations, reduced accountability in management and inadequate professionalism in many societies. It spoke of the need to initiate fundamental reforms to revitalise these institutions and ensure “their autonomy, democratic functioning and professional management”.

Recognising that ‘cooperative societies’ came under Entry 32 of the State List in the Seventh Schedule, the Amendment proposed to create a framework for the functioning of cooperative societies. State laws on cooperatives should conform to this framework. It introduced Part IXB in the Constitution so that the concept of cooperative societies gains constitutional recognition. It was on the lines of Part IX, which deals with panchayats, and Part IXA, which deals with urban local bodies. The idea was to empower Parliament to frame laws for cooperative societies that function across States (multi-State cooperative societies) and State legislatures to make laws for all other cooperative societies falling under their jurisdiction.

The Amendment set out basic rules such as a maximum of 21 directors in a society, a fixed term of five years for elected members, a six-month cap on the time limit for which a society’s board of directors can be kept under supersession or suspension, and reservation of one seat for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes, and two seats for women on the board of every cooperative society, that is, every society that has members from these sections.

What was the legal infirmity in the Amendment?

On a legal challenge to the validity of the 97th Amendment, the Gujarat High Court struck down Part IXB in its entirety on two grounds. First, the Amendment required not only a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which was obtained, but also had to be ratified by 50% of the State legislatures. This was because the Amendment impinged on a subject over which only the State legislatures had law-making powers. In the absence of such ratification, the Part was declared unconstitutional. It also ruled that the Part violated the basic structure of the Constitution in that it was in breach of federal principles.

What was the Supreme Court’s view?

The Centre’s defence was that the Amendment did not alter the entry in the State List on ‘cooperative societies’. In fact, it specified that the State legislatures would enact the relevant laws based on a common framework. There was no need for ratification by the Assemblies, as no subject was shifted from the State List to the Central or Concurrent List. However, the Supreme Court rejected the argument. The Amendment had the effect of limiting and circumscribing the scope and extent to which States could frame laws on cooperative societies. This impacted on their legislative power and would therefore amount to a change that would require ratification by the Assemblies.

All three judges on the Bench that heard the Union government’s appeals agreed with the Gujarat High Court that the ratification by the State legislatures was required for Part IXB, and in the absence of such ratification, the Part had to be struck down. However, the majority, comprising Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and B.R. Gavai, declared the Part inoperative only in respect of cooperative societies that came under the States. It would be valid as far as multi-State cooperative societies were concerned as Parliament had the power to regulate their functioning.

Justice K.M. Joseph, in his dissenting view, ruled that Part IXB could not be severed into two sections, one covering State cooperatives and the other for multi-State cooperatives. It set out a framework for the State cooperatives and only added a clause that in respect of multi-State cooperatives, Parliament will enact the relevant law. As the latter provision had no independent life if the portion concerning the State cooperatives was struck down, the ‘doctrine of severability’ cannot be applied, and the entire Part had to be declared unconstitutional.

What now survives in the 97th Amendment?

The Amendment added the words “or cooperative societies” to Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution to expand the fundamental right to form associations or unions to cover cooperative societies too. It also added a ‘Directive Principle’ through Article 43B, which says: “The State shall endeavour to promote voluntary formation, autonomous functioning, democratic control and professional management of cooperative societies.” These clauses remain undisturbed. In line with the Supreme Court’s judgment, Part IXB dealing with cooperative societies will survive, but only with reference to multi-State societies.

How does the ruling affect Cooperation Ministry?

The Ministry of Cooperation was formed recently, apparently with a view to giving a fillip to the cooperative movement and reforming the functioning of cooperative societies. Until now, the subject was dealt with by the Agriculture Ministry. It administered the Multi-State Cooperative Societies Act, 2002. The new Ministry will continue this work. For now, it will not be in a position to compel States to bring their cooperative laws in conformity with the Centre’s vision. Regarding the fate of the constitutional framework for all cooperative societies in the country, the Centre has the option of re-enacting the Amendment with a two-thirds majority in Parliament and obtaining ratification by 50% of the State legislatures.

Why in News

Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld a 2013 judgment of the Gujarat High Court and struck down certain provisions of the Constitution (97th Amendment) Act, 2011.

  • It gave a major boost for federalism as the 97th Amendment shrank the exclusive authority of States over its co-operative societies, a sector considered as a massive contributor to the economy.

Co-operatives

  • According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO),  a cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.
  • There are many types of cooperatives such as Consumer Cooperative Society, Producer Cooperative Society, Credit Cooperative Society, Housing Cooperative Society and Marketing Cooperative Society.
  • The United Nations General Assembly had declared the year 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives.
  • India is an agricultural country and laid the foundation of World’s biggest cooperative movement in the world.
    • Recently, a separate ‘Ministry of Co-operation’ has been created by the Central Government to give a new push to the cooperative movement.

Key Points

  • Issue:
    • Part IXB, introduced into the Constitution through the 97th Amendment, dictated the terms for running co-operative societies.
    • The provisions in the Amendment, passed by Parliament without getting them ratified by State legislatures as required by the Constitution.
    • It went to the extent of determining the number of directors a society should have or their length of tenure and even the necessary expertise required to become a member of the society.

Other Major Provisions of the 97th Amendment

  • The word “cooperatives” was added after “unions and associations” in Article 19(1)(c) under Part III of the Constitution. This enables all the citizens to form cooperatives by giving it the status of fundamental right of citizens.
  • A new Article 43B was added in the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV) regarding the “promotion of cooperative societies”.
  • Central Government’s Argument:
    • It justified that the government was injecting ‘professionalism’ and autonomy into the functioning of the societies.
    • Lack of accountability by the members has led to poor services and low productivity.
    • Even elections are not held on time. Co-operatives need to run on well-established democratic principles.
  • SC’s Ruling:
    • Exclusive Legislation of States:
      • The constitution has been described as quasi-federal in that, so far as legislative powers are concerned, though there is a tilt in favour of the Centre vis-à-vis the States given the federal supremacy principle.
        • Quasi-federalism means an intermediate form of state between a unitary state and a federation.
      • However, within their own sphere, the States have exclusive power to legislate on topics reserved exclusively to them.
      • Part IX B, which consists of Articles 243ZH to 243ZT, has “significantly and substantially impacted” State legislatures’ “exclusive legislative power” over its co-operative sector under Entry 32 of the State List.
      • The court pointed out how Article 243ZI makes it clear that a State may only make law on the incorporation, regulation and winding up of a society subject to the provisions of Part IXB of the 97th Amendment.
    • Not Ratified by the States:
      • It held that the 97th Constitutional Amendment required ratification by at least one-half of the state legislatures as per Article 368(2) of the Constitution, since it dealt with an entry which was an exclusive state subject (co-operative societies).
        • Under Article 368(2), Parliament can amend the Constitution by passing a Bill with a special majority.
      • Since such ratification was not done in the case of the 97th amendment, it was liable to be struck down.
    • Upheld the Validity of Provisions related to Multi State Cooperative Societies:
      • It did not strike down the portions of Part IXB of the Amendment concerning ‘Multi State Co-operative Societies (MSCS)’ due to the lack of ratification.
      • When it comes to MSCS with objects not confined to one State, the legislative power would be that of the Union of India which is contained in Entry 44 List I (Union List).
      • It is declared that Part IXB of the Constitution is operative only insofar as it concerns multi-State cooperative societies both within the various States and in the Union Territories.

Lists to Differentiate Legislative Powers

  • There are three Lists which provide for distribution of legislative powers (under 7th Schedule to the Constitution):

    • Union List (List I) – It contains 98 subjects (originally 97) and comprises the subjects which are of national importance and admit of uniform laws for the whole of the country.
      • Only the Union Parliament can legislate with respect to these matters e.g. Defence, Foreign Affairs, Banking, Currency, Union Taxes, etc.
    • State List (List II) – It contains 59 subjects (originally 66) and comprises subjects of local or State interest.
      • It lies within the legislative competence of the State Legislatures, viz. Public Order and Police, Health, Agriculture, etc.
    • Concurrent List (List III) – It contains 52 subjects (Originally 47) with respect to which; both Union Parliament and the State Legislature have concurrent power of legislation. The Concurrent List (not found in any federal Constitution) was to serve as a device to avoid excessive rigidity to a two-fold distribution.
      • It is a ‘twilight zone’, as for not so important matters, the States can take initiative, while for the important matters, the Parliament can do so.
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