Daily Current Affairs 31.03.2023 ( Bountiful beginnings, Drugs for rare diseases get customs duty relief, ISRO releases images of Earth captured by its EOS-06 satellite, Closure of Indira Canal to affect parched Rajasthan, Ahead of tribunal’s launch, SOP for GST investigations to minimise fresh disputes, Disinvestment facing many challenges: Govt. , Vaikom, a satyagraha, and the fight for social justice )

Daily Current Affairs 31.03.2023 ( Bountiful beginnings, Drugs for rare diseases get customs duty relief, ISRO releases images of Earth captured by its EOS-06 satellite, Closure of Indira Canal to affect parched Rajasthan, Ahead of tribunal’s launch, SOP for GST investigations to minimise fresh disputes, Disinvestment facing many challenges: Govt. , Vaikom, a satyagraha, and the fight for social justice )


1. Bountiful beginnings

Hailing the harvest: Tiwa tribesmen taking part in a dance to celebrate the Yangli festival at Gobha village in Morigaon district of Assam on Thursday. Yangli, an occasion to celebrate a bountiful harvest, is an important festival of the Tiwas as agriculture is the mainstay of their economy.

2. Drugs for rare diseases get customs duty relief

Centre issues waiver to offer substantial cost savings for those in need of such treatments; pembrolizumab (Keytruda) used in treatment of various cancers also gets the same concession.

All drugs and food for special medical purposes imported for personal use for treatment of all rare diseases listed under the National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021 are now fully exempted from basic customs duty, the Union government declared through a general exemption notification. The waiver will come into effect from Saturday.

The Centre has also fully exempted pembrolizumab (Keytruda), used in treatment of various cancers, from basic customs duty.

In order to get this exemption, the individual importer has to produce a certificate from the Central or State Director of Health Services or District Medical Officer/Civil Surgeon of the district.

Drugs/medicines generally attract basic customs duty of 10%, while some categories of life-saving drugs/vaccines attract concessional rate of 5% or nil. According to a government release, while exemptions are already in place for certain drugs for treatment of spinal muscular atrophy or Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it has been receiving many representations seeking customs duty relief for drugs and medicines used in treatment of other rare diseases.

Drugs or special foods required for the treatment of these diseases are expensive and often need to be imported. Food for special medical purposes is a food formulation intended to provide nutritional support to persons who suffer from a specific disease, disorder or condition.

It is estimated that for a child weighing 10 kg, the annual cost of treatment for some rare diseases may vary from ₹10 lakh to over ₹1 crore per year, with treatment being lifelong and drug dose and cost increasing with age and weight. This exemption will result in substantial cost savings and provide much-needed relief to the patients, said the release.

3. ISRO releases images of Earth captured by its EOS-06 satellite

Image of the Earth captured by the EOS-06 satellite released by the Indian Space Research Organisation. 

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has released images of Earth captured by the EOS-06 satellite. The space agency said that the images are a mosaic generated by the ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC). “NRSC/ISRO has generated a global False Colour Composite (FCC) mosaic from the images captured by the Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM) payload on board EOS-06,” the space agency said.

It further added that the mosaic with 1 km spatial resolution is generated by combining 2939 individual images, after processing 300 GB data to show the Earth as seen during February 1 and 15. “OCM senses the Earth in 13 distinct wavelengths to provide information about global vegetation cover on Land and Ocean Biota for global oceans,” ISRO added.

The EOS-06 third generation satellite in the Oceansat series was launched by ISRO onboard the PSLV-C54 along with eight Nano-satellites on November 26.

EOS-06 provides continued services of Oceansat-2 with enhanced payload capability and carries four payloads OCM-, Sea Surface Temperature Monitor, Ku-Band Scatterometer, ARGOS.

The EOS-06 is envisaged to observe ocean color data, sea surface temperature and wind vector data to use in Oceanography, climatic and meteorological applications. The satellite also supports value added products such as potential fishing zone using chlorophyll, SST and wind speed and land-based geophysical parameters.

4. Closure of Indira Canal to affect parched Rajasthan

The repairs have been necessitated because of the dilapidated condition of the canal at several places. 

 The closure of the Indira Gandhi Canal, considered the lifeline for northern and western Rajasthan districts, for two months beginning this week, for repair and relining of feeders, is set to have an impact on the drinking and irrigation needs of 1.75 crore people in the State. Numerous cattle, industrial usage, and Army cantonments along the international border will also be affected.

The repairs have been necessitated because of the dilapidated condition of the canal at several places, which has led to seepage of water, in addition to the risk of damage when water is supplied at full capacity.

The canal will be closed till the end of May, although partial flow of water will be allowed during the first fortnight of April only for drinking water needs. The canal traverses seven districts — Sriganganagar, Hanumangarh, Bikaner, Churu, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer — all of which will be affected during the zero flow of water from mid-April to May.

Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) Chief Engineer Neeraj Mathur said water supply in Jodhpur would be maintained during the summer months by filling up the reservoir adjacent to the main canal. Mr. Mathur said the closure would include the Harike Barrage in Punjab as well, from where the canal begins.

About 10,110 million litres of water have been stored in the Nokha Daiya dam in the neighbouring Nagaur district, and 2,800 borewells and 3,900 handpumps have been identified for ensuring drinking water supply. The PHED’s Nodal Officer, Ramchandra Rad, said a “water holiday” would be observed on every Sunday.

Hansraj Godara, Sarpanch of Lilala village in Barmer district, said that though the stoppage of water supply would create difficulties in the region, alternative arrangements would be made with the administration’s help.

The district administration in Jaisalmer has formulated plans to supply water by tankers to far-off villages. The main canal’s total length of 445 km in the State is expected to get additional water by saving on the considerable seepage losses after the relining work, which will benefit the people downstream.

5. Ahead of tribunal’s launch, SOP for GST investigations to minimise fresh disputes

The GST Investigation wing deals with policy issues relating to enforcement actions. 

 With Parliament clearing the decks for the establishment of a Goods and Services Tax (GST) Appellate Tribunal to resolve rising disputes under the nearly six-year-old indirect tax regime, the Revenue Department is in the process of finalising a standard operating procedure (SOP) for officers undertaking intelligence and investigation work.

“With the legal landscape of indirect taxes getting transformed, the need arises to prepare a comprehensive manual and we are working out a codified set of instructions for officers to follow so as to minimise fresh disputes,” a top government official told The Hindu.

Legal challenges

The GST Investigation wing of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), which deals with policy issues relating to enforcement actions such as search, seizure, prosecution and arrest, is drafting the manual. It will include various SOPs and instructions for field formations to abide by, and will be published shortly, the official said.

Over the past couple of years, the number of legal challenges mounted by taxpayers in various courts have also been rising, in the absence of a dedicated GST Tribunal that were envisaged since the GST regime’s launch in July 2017.

“There will be sudden rush in filing of appeals once the tribunal is set up, and hence, a careful deliberation on investigation processes and the appellate bodies’ functioning, will help all stakeholders,” said Abhishek A. Rastogi, founder of Rastogi Chambers.

“It is hoped that this code will move ahead with a technology framework also and there will be clear guidelines for online filings, virtual hearings, online submissions, virtual tracking of matters, and transparency in listing,” he emphasised, noting that a pragmatic code will certainly help litigants.

Between April 2021 and November 2022, over 21,500 cases of GST evasion were booked by the revenue authorities, entailing an amount of almost ₹1.5 lakh crore. Of this, about ₹46,200 crore was realised and over 470 people were arrested.

6. Disinvestment facing many challenges: Govt.

Disinvestment receipts so far this fiscal total 35,282 cr. vs revised estimates of 50,000 cr.; Finance Ministry concedes in its annual report that stake sale process has been stalled by global as well as domestic issues; Union Budget has set an FY24 disinvestment target of 51,000 cr., a nine-year-low

The Finance Ministry, which last month pared the disinvestment target for 2023-24 to a nine-year low of ₹51,000 crore, has now publicly acknowledged the multiple challenges it is facing in privatising public sector enterprises (PSEs) and raising funds through minority stake sales, a drive that has stalled since Air India’s sale.

Outlining the key obstacles, the Ministry noted that the COVID-19 pandemic seriously impacted transactions in 2020 and 2021, followed by the Ukraine conflict last year, which hurt minority as well as strategic stake sales as “financial capacity and risk-reward options of potential bidders turned worse”.

Also, “strategic disinvestment transactions have to deal with matters such as resolving land title, lease and land use issues with State government authorities, disposal of non-core assets, excess manpower and labour unions, protection of process and functionaries etc.,” the Ministry noted in its annual report for 2022-23.

Multiple court cases filed by employees’ unions and other interest groups against the disinvestment policy as well as specific transactions were also hindering deals. “Any of these issues may impact the transaction timeline,” the Ministry pointed out.

“Challenges to disinvestment through minority stake sale include reduced availability of government stake over 51% for large listed central PSEs; relatively muted perception of investors in these stocks as compared to private sector peers; price overhang in the market due to high disinvestment target and frequent use of exchange traded funds (ETF) route for stake sale till 2019-20,” it added.

‘Frequent use of ETFs’

Between 2016-17 and 2019-20, the government had raised almost ₹99,000 crore from ETFs with underlying shares of CPSEs.

Disinvestment receipts so far this year amount to just ₹35,282 crore, against a Budget target of ₹65,000 crore and revised estimates of ₹50,000 crore. The privatisation of Central Electronics and Pawan Hans had to be scrapped after being announced, owing to legal concerns about the winning bidders.

The sole strategic sale completed in FY23 is of Neelachal Ispat Nigam Ltd. (NINL) to a Tata group firm. NINL was a joint venture between four CPSEs and two State PSEs from Odisha, with no direct Government of India holding.

7. EDITORIAL-1: Vaikom, a satyagraha, and the fight for social justice

Pazha Athiyaman is a writer, researcher and the author of ‘Vaikom Porrattam’

The word ‘Vaikom’ has many associations — in Kerala, one thinks of the writer Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, the singer Vaikom Vijayalakshmi and Vaikathappan, the deity of the Vaikom temple. Many Indians will connect Vaikom with Mahatma Gandhi, while in Tamil Nadu, it conjures up the name and the image of Periyar.

But there is more to it in terms of a social movement of consequence. March 30 was a significant day in connection with Vaikom, a serene town in Kottayam, Kerala. The date also marks the commencement of the centenary year of the Vaikom temple street entry movement that was launched in 1924, and a milestone in temple entry movements in India. This non-violent movement was to end the prohibition imposed on backward communities in using the roads around the Vaikom Mahadeva temple. It was the prelude to the temple entry proclamation of Kerala in 1936. Launched by leaders in Kerala such as T.K. Madhavan, K.P. Kesava Menon and George Joseph, on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, the movement was sustained and successfully conducted by Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, then president of the Tamil Nadu Congress, and others between 1924 and 1925.

Periyar’s entry, conditions

Supported by the Kerala Congress, the committee against untouchability launched the protest on March 30, 1924, where three persons from various communities prevented from entering the temple streets were to go flag off the satyagraha. The protest sustained itself for more than one and a half years, leading to many arrests and satyagrahis being jailed. The government suddenly stopped these arrests after April 9. Instead, police ire was now directed against leaders of the protest and the leaders of Kerala who had camped in Vaikom. Their arrests created a vacuum as there was no leader to lead the protest.

This led to leaders such as Neelakandan Nampoothiri and George Joseph to request Periyar to lead the protest. There was no looking back. As a mark of appreciation, the editor of Tamil journal Navasakthi and scholar, Thiru. Vi. Kalyanasundaram, or Thiru.Vi.Ka. conferred the title Vaikom Veerar (Hero of Vaikom) on Periyar.

The Vaikom movement was of many hues — as day-to-day protests, arrests, of inquiries, jail terms and and agitations and attacks by orthodox Hindu traditionalists Even the Akalis from Punjab travelled to Vaikom to supply food to the protesters. There was also the support of the higher castes for a 13-day march to the capital, a resolution in the Assembly in support of the sanchara (free entry to the streets around the temple), its defeat, and also the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi to negotiate between the government, protesters and orthodox Hindus.

Since Mahatma Gandhi insisted that it should be a local protest, requests to make it a pan-India movement failed. Backed by the government and the administration, the traditionalists caused many troubles for the satyagrahis, which included counter rallies marked by violence. The resolution for the right to sanchara was defeated in the Assembly by the open support of the traditionalists and the indirect pressure of the government. But the satyagrahis overcame the hurdles. Tamils, who went to participate in the protest, lent a helping hand to Keralites in favour of temple entry for all communities.

The Tamil role

Tamil Nadu played a pivotal role in Vaikom Satyagraha, which symbolised a struggle by the “untouchables”. Periyar and Kovai Ayyamuthu, a firebrand leader, worked in tandem with leaders in Kerala. But they faced repressive action. There was a rally by the upper castes from Vaikom led by Mannathu Padmanabhan in favour of the protesters and another rally in the south, in support of temple entry, led by Emperumal Naidu from Nagercoil. Sivathanu Pillai, a leader from Nagercoil (which was a part of Travancore) spoke at the meeting that culminated at Trivandrum beach. There were also arrests. The names of Tamils who participated in the movement are published in my book, Vaikom Porattam (Vaikom Struggle).

Over 603 days

So, a significant temple street entry movement that began on March 30, 1924 ended on November 23, 1925. In these 603 days, there were many important events. In the wake of new Yuva Raja ascending to the throne, 19 leaders, including Periyar, Kesava Menon and T.K. Madhavan, were released on August 30, 1924. The rally by the upper castes that began on November 1, reached Trivandrum on November 13, submitting its memorandum to the Queen regent.

The sanchara resolution that was taken up for voting in the Assembly in February 1925, was defeated by a single vote. Mahatma Gandhi, who was in Kerala, held talks with the Queen of Travancore, social reformer Narayana Guru, traditionalists and police commissioner W.H. Pitt. On November 17, the satyagrahis announced their decision to withdraw their protest. On November 23, the government of the Travancore princely state declared that people could enter three of the four streets around Vaikom temple, thus bringing the protest to an end. There was a victory celebration on November 29, 1925, presided over by Periyar.

The Kerala government has now decided to commemorate the movement by organising various cultural events. Tamil Nadu too is observing the occasion, as announced by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin in the Assembly session. A word about the Kerala government’s memorial. It is not the same one that I saw in 2008, as constant refurbishments are evident. A memorial for Periyar, being maintained by the Tamil Nadu government since 1994, may be the only structure for people in Tamil Nadu to understand what happened. There is also the practice in Tamil Nadu of naming children after Vaikom — one that began in 1930

Vaikom is more than just a name of a town. It is a symbol of social justice and symbolises the eradication of caste barriers. It is one that still burns bright in history and the social justice movement.

The Vaikom temple street entry movement in Kerala, with a resonance in Tamil Nadu, is a struggle that set India on the path of equality and justice for all.

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