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Press Information Bureau (PIB) IAS UPSC – 20th April to 26th April – 2020

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  • April 30, 2020
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Press Information Bureau (PIB) IAS UPSC – 20th April to 26th April – 2020

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GS-2

Promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in the light of the pandemic situation of COVID-19

(Topic: Governance)

Background: During the current COVID-19 pandemic, there have been instances of 

  • Attack on the most critical service providers i.e. members of healthcare services by miscreants, thereby obstructing them from doing their duties
  • Members of the medical community are being perceived as carriers of the virus, and this has led to cases of their stigmatization and ostracization and sometimes worse, acts of unwarranted violence and harassment.  

Several States have enacted special laws to offer protection to doctors and other medical personnel in the past. However, Covid-19 outbreak has posed a unique situation where harassment of the healthcare workforce and others working to contain the spread of the disease has been taking place at all fronts, in various places including even cremation grounds. 

In this context, the Union Cabinet has approved promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to protect healthcare service personnel and property including their living/working premises against violence during epidemics. The President has given his assent for promulgation of the Ordinance. 

  • The ordinance makes acts of violence against the healthcare workers as cognizable and non-bailable offences.
  • Under it, there is also a provision to provide compensation for injury to healthcare service personnel or for causing damage or loss to the property.
  • The investigation into the cases of attack will be completed within 30 days and judgment will be pronounced within one year
  • Accused of the attack can attract a punishment ranging from 3 months to 5 years and a fine from 50 thousand rupees to  2 lakh rupees. 
  • A compensation amounting to twice the market value of the damaged property will be taken from the accused if damage is done to the vehicles or clinics.

The current Ordinance is intended to ensure that during any situation akin to the current pandemic, there is zero tolerance to any form of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property.

Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

  • This law enables states to ban public gatherings, ask schools and large institutions to stop functioning, and issue advisories to companies to explore work-from-home models.  
  • It also gives the state a right to penalise media organisations spreading misinformation. 
  • For background and features, click here.

What is an Ordinance?

Ordinances are laws that are promulgated by the President of India on the recommendation of the Union Cabinet as per Article 123 of the Constitution. They can only be issued when Parliament is not in session. They enable the Indian government to take immediate legislative action.

  • Ordinances cease to operate either if Parliament does not approve of them within six weeks of reassembly, or if disapproving resolutions are passed by both Houses. It is also compulsory for a session of Parliament to be held within six months.
  • Governor can also promulgate an ordinance under Article 213. It however requires instructions from the President in cases where a passage of similar bill would have required the assent of President.

Instances where ordinance can be used:

  • It is meant as a last resort and not a tool to replace the power or functioning of Parliament.
  • It can, generally, be issued only on pressing issues or issues that require immediate consideration that cannot wait for Parliament to assemble and consider the bill.

Misuse:

  • Ordinances are used by governments to pass legislation which is currently pending in Parliament, as was the case with the Food Security Ordinance
  • Ordinances are promulgated when there is no consensus in the parliament. For E.g.: the ordinance on altering the Land Reforms Act.
  • Re-promulgation: Re-promulgation of Ordinances raises questions about the authority of the Parliament as the highest law making body.
  • In Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar (1986), the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to re-promulgate ordinances without putting it to vote in the parliament.

In the above instances, ordinances are being used to bypass legislature. However, following arguments show how it cannot effectively bypass legislature.

  • Validity- Maximum validity for an ordinance is 6 months and 6 weeks.
  • Restrictions- A constitutional amendment cannot be made through ordinance route.
  • Judicial review- Re-promulgation of ordinance can be deemed unconstitutional by the court. 
  • Not every law or major reforms can be introduced via ordinance route.

In Krishna Kumar Singh vs. State of Bihar, SC held that the failure to place an ordinance before the legislature constitutes abuse of power and a fraud on the constitution

Dr. BR Ambedkar had opined that the mechanism of issuing an ordinance is devised in order to deal with a situation that may suddenly and immediately arise when Parliament is not in session


Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) Scheme

(Topic: Government Schemes and policies)

In News: Rs. 17,793 crores released for 8.89 crore farmer families during the lockdown

  • Central Sector scheme with 100% funding from Government of India
  • Under the scheme income support of Rs.6000/- per year in three equal instalments will be provided to small and marginal farmer families having combined land holding/ownership of up to 2 hectares
  • Definition of the family for the scheme is husband, wife and minor children.
  • State Government and UT Administration will identify the farmer families which are eligible for support as per scheme guidelines.
  • The fund will be directly transferred to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries.

Significance of PM KISAN Scheme

  • Support to small and marginal farmers who are largely involved in subsistence farming and struggles to invest in agriculture inputs or technology,
  • Boost the rural consumption and positive for agriculture and allied sectors.
  • Poverty reduction: Cash transfer programmes are an important tool of social protection and poverty reduction. They have an immediate impact on reducing hunger and rural poverty.
  • Better use: This can increase productive investment, increase access to markets and stimulate local economies. Income support can be used to make a repayment or at least activate a bank account which can then receive a loan.
  • Rural development: It can serve as an important complement to a broader rural development agenda, including a pro-poor growth strategy focusing on agriculture.

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PM-GKY)

(Topic: Government Schemes and policies)

In News: In order to provide food security during the prevailing situation due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has decided to distribute pulses to the eligible households under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PM-GKY). About 107,077.85 MT pulses have so far been issued to the States/UTs.

What: The ₹1.7 Lakh Crore relief package – named PMGKY- was announced by Union government to alleviate the distress caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Healthcare Workers: Insurance cover of ₹50 lakh
  • Food grains to Poor: 80 crore poor people under National Food Security Act will receive five extra kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of pulses
  • MGNREGA workers (13.63 crore): Wage increased from ₹182/day to ₹202/day
  • Jan Dhan Women Account holders (20.4 crore): DBT of ₹500/ month for next three months 
  • Senior Citizens, disabled & Poor widows (3 crore): Ex-gratia of ₹1000 (through existing pension schemes)
  • Farmers (8.7 crore): Front loading of ₹2000 to them under existing PM Kisan Yojana
  • Ujjwala Beneficiaries (8.3 crore): Free cylinders for next three months
  • Wage earners: Those earning below ₹15000/month in firms having less than 100 workers will receive 24% of their monthly wages into their PF accounts for next three months
  • Construction workers: Centre has directed States to use Construction worker’s welfare fund to give relief to 3.5 crore registered workers

Strategy by Government:

  1. Government has followed two-pronged approach
    • Ensuring a steady supply of food and cooking gas to poor people
    • Easing cash woes of the vulnerable sections of society
  2. Fiscally prudent: By utilizing existing schemes funding for the package is kept within the budget so as to retain control over the deficit 
  3. Preserving Financial resources -Given the uncertainty over the length of crisis – government may announce future relief packages to adapt with changing situation

Challenges:

  • Modest cash transfer might not be enough given the drying up of incomes for the vulnerable sections of society
  • Implementation issues: People may face difficulties to draw money from their accounts during the lockdown
  • Migrant labourers may find difficulties to access the extra food grain announced
  • Package does not address the challenges being faced by Informal MSMEs and other hard-hit sectors.

GS-3

Crisis Management – COVID-19

A. Central Government constitutes 6 Inter-Ministerial Teams 

  • To make assessment of situation and augment State efforts to fight and contain spread of COVID-19 effectively. 
  • IMCTs to focus on complaints of implementation of lockdown measures as per guidelines, supply of essential commodities, social distancing, preparedness of health infrastructure, safety of health professionals and conditions of the relief camps for labour and poor people.
  • The Committees have been constituted  by the Central Government in exercise of the powers, conferred, inter alia, under Section 35(1), 35(2)(a), 35(2)(e) and 35(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act 2005.

B. Surplus rice available with FCI allowed to be converted to ethanol

  • For: Utilization in making alcohol-based hand-sanitizers and for blending in Petrol
  • National Policy on Biofuels, 2018 under Para 5.3 inter-alia envisages that during an agriculture crop year when there is projected over supply of food grains as anticipated by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, the policy will allow conversion of these surplus quantities of food grains to ethanol, based on the approval of National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC).
  • What is the Science behind it?

Ethanol is considered an effective substance against a large spectrum of microorganisms which can linger on the skin.

    • A 2004 study published in the Clinical Microbiology Reviews journal says the best antimicrobial efficacy can be achieved with ethanol (60-85%), isopropanol (60- 80%) and n-propanol (60-80%). 
    • Alcohol attacks viruses and other disease-causing pathogens by damaging their cell structures. Some alcohols damage the layers that envelop the virus, while some just break down the cells. 
    • The novel coronavirus, for instance, is an enveloped virus surrounded by a fat layer. Lipid membrane viruses—like the coronavirus—can be killed using alcohol-based disinfectants and hand sanitizers. They simply break down the membrane or the layer of fat, leaving the virus unable to infect an individual.

C. CSIR supports efforts to develop a drug to save lives of critically ill patients suffering from Gram-negative sepsis

  • CSIR, is now initiating a randomized, blinded, two arms, active comparator-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of the drug for reducing mortality (deaths) in critically ill COVID-19 patients
  • The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved the trial and it will start soon at multiple hospitals
  • It is found to be extremely safe in patients and no systemic side effects are associated with its use. The drug has been shown to reduce the mortality of critically ill patients by more than half. It also leads to faster recovery of organ dysfunction seen in this condition.
  • What happens in Gram-negative sepsis as well as in critically ill COVID-19 patients?
    • There is an altered immune response leading to a massive change in their cytokine profile. 
    • The drug modulates the immune system of the body and thereby inhibits the cytokine storm leading to reduced mortality and faster recovery.

D. Cabinet approves Rs. 15,000 Crore for ”India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package”

Aim: Mounting emergency response to slow and limit COVID-19 in India through

  • Development of diagnostics and COV1D-dedicated treatment facilities
  • Centralized procurement of essential medical equipment and drugs required for treatment of infected patients
  • Strengthen and build resilient National and State health systems to support prevention and preparedness for future disease outbreaks
  • Setting up of laboratories
  • Bolster surveillance activities, bio-security preparedness, pandemic research
  • Proactively engage communities and conduct risk communication activities

E. COVID India Seva: An interactive platform to establish a direct channel of communication with millions of Indians amid the pandemic

  • This initiative is aimed at enabling transparent e-governance delivery in real-time and answering citizen queries swiftly, at scale, especially in crisis situations like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Through this, people can pose queries @CovidIndiaSeva and get them responded to in almost real time. @CovidIndiaSeva works off a dashboard at the backend that helps process large volumes of tweets, converts them into resolvable tickets, and assigns them to the relevant authority for real-time resolution.

F. First Mobile Testing Lab for COVID-19 detection

  • Mobile Virology Research and Diagnostics Laboratory (MVRDL) developed by DRDO in association with ESIC Hospital, Hyderabad and Private industry
  • Can process more than 1,000 samples in a day and will enhance country’s capabilities in fighting COVID19.

G. Antiviral nano-coatings to be upscaled for making triple layer medical masks & N-95 respirator receives support to combat COVID 19: The use of highly effective antimicrobial nanoparticles on PPEs, masks etc., is a useful application that will provide an extra layer of protection for the high risk settings, such as for the medical workers

H. Virucidal coating to prevent COVID transmission: The group will be extending their expertise on developing the molecules that will target the membranes of Covid-19 viral particles selectively. These molecules will then be used for engineering of different surfaces like glass, plastic and textiles including cotton, nylon, and polyester to provide virucidal coating that can potentially inhibit the viral transmission.

I. Scientists working on anti COVID drugs using garlic essential oil: Under the Drug discovery platform, in turn, the research will explore separation of therapeutic and valuable medicinal components from the peel and seeds of fruits and utilisation of natural garlic essential oil as a ACE 2 protein inhibitor for preventing SARS-CoV-2 invasion.

J. IIT Delhi develops low cost Probe-free Covid 19 detection assay – free Real-time PCR Diagnostic Kit: A testing kit which is at a very low cost for the people of India. The kit will not only empower healthcare services but also support the government in the time of crisis.

K. UV disinfection trolley can effectively clean up hospital spaces in combating COVID-19

  • UV light in the range of wavelengths between 200 and 300 nm is capable of inactivating microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, thus disinfecting both air and solid surfaces. 
  • Often, chemical disinfectants are not enough to remove the bacteria and viruses found in hospitals and other contamination prone environment. 
  • Rapid decontamination of the used patient-care beds and hospital rooms before admission of subsequent occupants is a major requirement in hospitals in view of the limited availability of beds. Coronavirus is sensitive to UVC light, as in the case of other viruses and bacteria. 
  • The germicidal effects of UVC irradiation with a peak intensity at 254 nm results in cellular damage of the virus, thereby inhibiting cellular replication. 
  • Unlike chemical approaches to disinfection, UV light provides rapid, effective inactivation of microorganisms through a physical process.

L. Herbal decongestant spray on mask can protect from suffocation: Wearing a mask for a long time is reportedly causing difficulties in breathing and congestion in the respiratory system. 

  • The main reasons behind this problem include the accumulation of carbon dioxide and humidity in the inner cavity of the mask. When a person breathes in, this goes back to the lungs again. Repetition of this process over a period of time causes discomfort in breathing and congestion. 
  • To address this issue, a herbal decongestant spray has been developed. This formulation helps in clearing the wind pipe and congestion by removing the mucus or cough leading to ease of breathing

M. DoPT’s online Corona course: https://igot.gov.inThe training contents of the course include 

  • Basics of COVID
  • Clinical management
  • ICU care management
  • Infection prevention and care
  • Usage of PPE
  • Quarantine and isolation
  • Training for NCC cadets
  • Management of COVID 19 cases
  • Laboratory sample collection and testing
  • Psychological care of patients
  • Paediatric care in COVID
  • Pregnancy during COVID

New Technology

(Topic: New developments in Technology)

A. Fish gills used to develop efficient low-cost electro-catalysts for rechargeable metal-air battery

  • This bio-inspired carbon nanostructure can help overcome the bottleneck in the realization of several renewable energy conversion and storage technologies such as fuel cell, biofuel cell, and metal−air battery.
  • The present strategy enriches a route to synthesize low-cost, highly efficient bioinspired electrocatalyst that is better than commercial Platinum on carbon (Pt/C) catalyst and could be utilized as next-generation nonprecious carbon-based electrocatalyst for energy conversion and storage applications.

B. New model to predict ionospheric electron density can help communication/navigation

Artificial Neural Networks based global Ionospheric Model (ANNIM) has been developed using long-term ionospheric observations to predict the ionospheric electron density and the peak parameters

ANNs replicate the processes in the human brain (or biological neurons) to solve problems such as pattern recognition, classification, clustering, generalization, linear and nonlinear data fitting, and time series prediction, and very few attempts have been made to model the global ionosphere variability using ANNs. 

Tracking the variability of the Ionosphere is important for communication and navigation. The ionospheric variability is greatly influenced by both solar originated processes and the neutral atmosphere origin, therefore, difficult to model. Scientists have tried to model the ionosphere using theoretical and empirical techniques; however, the accurate prediction of electron density is still a challenging task.

C. Development of ten varieties of Anthurium

By: D Vasini Bai, a women innovator from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala by using the cross-pollination method.

  • Anthurium (Anthurium spp.) is a vast group of beautiful blooming plants available in a wide range of colors. The plants of the varieties are having high demands due to its use as indoor decorative plants.
  • They are beautiful but also purify the surrounding air and remove harmful airborne chemicals like formaldehyde, ammonia, toluene, xylene, and allergens. Its importance of removing toxic substances from the air, NASA has placed it in the list of air purifier plants.

Study shows that COVID 19 may affect the Central Nervous System causing loss of smell and taste

(Topic: Medicine)

Scientists of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Jodhpur have explored the neuroinvasive nature of the COVID 19 virus SARS-CoV-2 highlighting that loss of smell and taste of infected patients makes their entire Central Nervous System (CNS) and the underlying structures in the brain more prone to viral infection with devastating effects.

  • SARS-CoV-2 is known to interact with a specific human receptor known as hACE2 (human angiotensin-converting enzyme-2) which also happens to be the entry point of the virus and has an almost ubiquitous presence in most human organs ranging from lung parenchyma to nasal mucosa. The brain is also known to express this receptor.
  • Nose and mouth both are very important entry points of the virus, which then may be slowly making its way to the olfactory bulb using the neurons of the olfactory mucosa. The olfactory bulb located in the forebrain is the structure that is chiefly responsible for the sense of smell. This explains the loss of smell associated with many asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 and also may be exposing the CNS to viral infection.

The publication highlights that activities like smoking could increase the chances of contracting COVID-19 infection, attributing this to the interactions and co-expression of the hACE2 receptor and the nicotinic receptor, which is stimulated on smoking.


Exploring ‘Super-luminous supernovae exploded rapidly and decayed slowly’

(Topic: Space)

Researchers at the Arayabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) Nainital an autonomous research institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Govt. of India found that SN 2010kd, a super-luminous supernova stands out with the amount of mass as well as Nickel ejected during explosion, which is much more than seen in case of normal core-collapse supernovae.

What are Supernovae?

Supernovae are a kind of energetic explosions where the core of massive stars (a few times to that of mass of our Sun) go to a catastrophic phase of explosion liberating huge amounts of energy.  These events are visible through very far away distances much beyond our own solar system. Super-luminous supernovae are a special type of stellar explosions having energy output 10 or more times higher than that of standard supernovae.


NTPC launches Hydrogen Fuel bus and car project for Leh and New Delhi – Invites Global EOI

(Topic: Energy; Environment)

  • The move to procure Hydrogen Fuel Cell based vehicles is first of its kind project in the country, wherein a complete solution from green energy to the fuel cell vehicle would be developed.
  • The initiative will also harness renewable energy for generation of hydrogen and develop it’s storage and dispensation facilities as part of pilot projects at Leh and Delhi. 
  • The move to launch hydrogen powered vehicles aims at decarbonizing mobility segment. 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell based vehicles

  • Like conventional batteries under the bonnets of automobiles, hydrogen fuel cells too, convert chemical energy into electrical energy.
  • From a long-term viability perspective, FCEVs are billed as vehicles of the future, given that hydrogen is the most abundant resource in the universe.
  • Can be recharged faster and also give more mileage than the lithium-ion batteries commonly used in EVs today.

The Workings:

  • A fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. Fuel cells are often compared to batteries. Both convert the energy produced by a chemical reaction into usable electric power. However, the fuel cell will produce electricity as long as fuel (hydrogen) is supplied, never losing its charge.
  • Hydrogen is high in energy, yet an engine that burns pure hydrogen produces almost no pollution. NASA has used liquid hydrogen since the 1970s to propel the space shuttle and other rockets into orbit. Hydrogen fuel cells power the shuttle’s electrical systems, producing a clean by product – pure water, which the crew drinks.

Criticisms:

  • Hydrogen is more explosive than petrol.
  • The process of making hydrogen needs energy — often from fossil fuel sources. That has raised questions over hydrogen’s green credentials.

Think about it: 

  • What are your views on: “Secularism and Harmony” is not “political fashion” but it is “perfect passion” for India and Indians
  • If you were on the Advisory Council of the 15th Finance Commission, what will your views be on the following –
  1. Implications of the pandemic for GDP growth in 2020-21 and 2021-22.  Uncertainty about macro variables over time
  2. Possible assumptions for tax buoyancy and revenue in the current year and next year
  3. What should be the public expenditure fillip to shore up the economy

Note:

DIKSHA Platform: For augmenting teaching and learning processes

VidyaDaan 2.0: For inviting e-learning Content contributions

  • The programme has been launched due to the increasing requirement for e-learning content for students (both school and higher education) especially in the backdrop of situation arising out of Covid- 19 and also due to the urgent need to integrate digital education with schooling to augment learning.
  • Has a content contribution tool that provides a structured interface for the contributors to register and contribute different types of content (such as, explanation videos, presentations, competency-based items, quizzes etc.), for any grade (from grade 1 to 12), for any subject as specified by the states/UTs.

White paper by TIFAC to strategize revival of post-COVID 19 Indian economy

The Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), an autonomous technology think-tank, under the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India, is preparing a white paper to strategize revival of post-COVID 19 Indian economy in the following areas –

  • Strengthening Make in India initiatives
  • Commercialization of Indigenous technology
  • Developing a technology-driven transparent Public Distribution System (PDS)
  • Efficient rural health care delivery
  • Reduction of import
  • Adoption of emerging technology domains like AI, Machine Learning, Data Analytics 

Facilitating Farmers in Direct Marketing

Government of India has been making concerted efforts to facilitate farmers in direct marketing and assure better returns.  There is a need to promote direct marketing without insisting for licensing procedures and facilitate the farmers in timely marketing of farm produce.

In order to decongest wholesale markets & to boost the supply chain, following two modules under National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) have been introduced:

  • FPO Module: FPOs can directly trade with e-NAM portal. They can upload produce details from collection centers with picture/quality parameter and avail the bidding facility without physically reaching to the mandis.
  • Warehouse Based Trading Module: Farmers can sell their produce from Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority (WDRA) registered warehouses notified as deemed market, and do not physically bring the produce to the nearest mandis.

What is e-NAM?

  • e e-NAM is an innovative initiative in agricultural marketing to 
  • Enhance farmers accessibility digitally to multiple number of markets & buyers
  • To bring transparency in trade transactions with the intent to improve price discovery mechanism, quality commensurate price realization
  • To develop the concept of One Nation One Market for agriculture produce

Reach:

  • Today, it has reached 585 mandis across 16 States and 02 UTs.
  • More than 1.66 crore farmers and 1.28 Lakh traders registered on e-NAM platform. 

Civil Services Day: 21st April; celebrated as a tribute to the great Sardar Patel – Iron Man of India, who envisioned our administrative framework and emphasised on building a system that is progress-oriented and compassionate

Patel’s contribution:

  • Widely considered to be the architect of modern India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played an important role in the integration of all the princely states (especially Hyderabad, Junagadh and Kashmir) into the Indian Union after the British left India in 1947.
  • Provided good governance as an able administrator in diverse fields like modern farming and empowerment of tribal communities
  • Organised peasants from Kheda, Borsad, and Bardoli in Gujarat in non-violent civil disobedience against the British Raj, becoming one of the most influential leaders in Gujarat.
    • He earned the title of “Sardar” after spearheading a no-tax campaign by peasants at Bardoli in Gujarat.
    • He also led the relief and rehabilitation operations when Gujarat was ravaged by floods and worked tirelessly during a plague outbreak in Ahmedabad.
  • He is also remembered as the “patron saint of India’s civil servants” for having established the modern all-India services system. “A civil servant cannot afford to, and must not, take part in politics. Nor must he involve himself in communal wrangles. To depart from the path of rectitude in either of these respects is to debase public service and to lower its dignity,” he had cautioned them on April 21, 1947.

Acknowledging the monumental contribution of Patel in nation building, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “History will call him the builder and consolidator of new India.”

The remarks Patel made during the Quit India Movement are also relevant today. He said: “We have to shed mutual bickering, shed the difference of being high or low and develop the sense of equality and banish untouchability. We have to live like the children of the same father”.

Solve: With great skill and masterful diplomacy and using both persuasion and pressure, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel succeeded in integrating hundreds of princely states with the Indian Union. Discuss.

Must Read: Link 1

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