PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU (PIB) IAS UPSC – 25th May to 31st May – 2020

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  • June 3, 2020
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Press Information Bureau (PIB) IAS UPSC – 25th May to 31st May – 2020



Veer Savarkar –  Vinayak Damodar Savarkar 

(Topic: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues)

Period: 28 May 1883 – 26 February 1966

Cause of Death: Fasting (Sallekhana Prayopavesa)

He was commonly known as Veer Savarkar (“brave” in his native Marathi language)

  • An Indian independence activist, politician, lawyer, writer, and the formulator of the Hindutva philosophy
  • Championed atheism and rationality and also disapproved orthodox Hindu belief. In fact, he even dismissed cow worship as superstitious. Savarkar was a radical and his Hindutva too was a radical break in the Hindu thought: anti-caste, reformist, modernist and futuristic. It was a modern Hindu response to the modern world
  • Organised a youth group named ‘Mitra Mela’
  • In London, Veer Savarkar inspired his fellow Indian students and formed an organisation ‘Free India Society’ to fight against Britishers for freedom.
  • Was against foreign goods and propagated the idea of Swadeshi. In 1905, he burnt all the foreign goods in a bonfire on Dussehra.
  • Provided legal defence to Madan Lal Dhingra, who was accused in a murder case of a British Indian army officer named Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie.
  • Veer Savarkar also founded the two-nation theory in his book ‘Hindutva’ calling Hindus and Muslims two separate nations. In 1937, Hindu Mahasabha passed it as a resolution. In 1937, he also became the president of ‘Hindu Mahasabha’.
  • A fierce critic of the Indian National Congress (INC) and Mahatma Gandhi; opposed the ‘Quit India Movement’ and later objected to INC’s acceptance of Indian partition. He proposed the co-existence of two nations in one country.


The main challenge thrown by the British rule and colonial modernity under the pale of capitalism was for Hindus to justify their existence as a society. Who were they? Could Hindus survive in a modern world dominated by the expansionist organised religions, nations and nation-state?

Savarkar responded to these challenges. The coming together of various pagan traditions as Hinduism to meet the challenge of the Abrahamic monotheism is a centuries-old process. Savarkar consolidated it under a new ideological construct. He wielded it into a coherent political construct, Hindutva that aimed to answer the challenges of the modern world, especially the charge of the colonialists that India is not a nation and hence unworthy of self-rule.

For India to be able to resist imperialism, a nation had to be born. For Savarkar, that nation was a Hindu Rashtra. Only a Hindu nation transcending caste, regional and linguistic barriers was capable of resisting imperialism. No longer would invading armies roam around the countryside; no longer would India be a playground for colonial powers; no longer would its people and cities be pulverised by warlords for they would have to face a powerful Indian state created on the foundation of a Hindu nation. And the foundation of this Hindu nation was Hindutva.

Savarkar was a radical and his Hindutva, too, was a radical break in Hindu thought: anti-caste, reformist, modernist and futuristic. It was a modern Hindu response to the modern world.

50 years of imprisonment – Kaala Paani

  • Savarkar wrote a book titled “The History of the War of Indian Independence”- wrote about the guerilla warfare tricks used in 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. 
  • While the book was banned by Britishers, Madama Bhikaji Cama published the book in Netherlands, Germany and France, which eventually reached many Indian revolutionaries.
  • Savarkar was arrested in 1909 on charges of plotting an armed revolt against the Morle-Minto reform. He also tried to escape by diving in the water but was arrested. He was sentenced to two life sentences i.e. 50 years in the cellular jail of Andamans, also known as Kala Pani, in 1911.

Death – 1964: Savarkar declared his wish to attain Samadhi and started hunger-strike on February 1, 1966 and passed away on February 26, 1966. He believed that his purpose of life is solved as India has gained Independence.

In 2002, Port Blair airport at Andaman and Nicobar’s Island was renamed after Veer Savarkar International Airport.

115th Birth Anniversary of Ramkinkar Baij

(Topic: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues)

To commemorate the 115th Birth Anniversary of Ramkinkar Baij, Ministry of Culture’s National Gallery of Modern Art will organise virtual tour titled “Ramkinkar Baij | Journey through silent transformation and expressions”.

  • Ramkinkar Baij, one of the most seminal artists of modern India, was an iconic sculptor, painter and graphic artist.
  • In 1925, he made his way to Kala Bhavana, the art school at Santiniketan and was under the guidance of Nandalal Bose. Encouraged by the liberating, intellectual environment of Santiniketan, his artistic skills and intellectual horizons blossomed, thus acquiring greater depth and complexity. Soon after completing his studies at Kala Bhavana he became a faculty member, and along with Nandalal Bose and Benodebehari Mukherjee played a pivotal role in making Santiniketan one of the most important centres for modern art in pre-Independent India.
  • He experimented restlessly with forms, moving freely from figurative to abstract and back to figurative, his themes were steeped in a deep sense of humanism and an instinctive understanding of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature.
  • In 1970, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan for his irrefutable contribution to Indian art. In 1976 he was made a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi. In 1976, he was conferred the honorary Doctoral Degree of ‘Desikottama’ by Visva Bharati, and in 1979 an honorary D.Litt by Rabindra Bharati University.

The onset, progress and retreat of monsoon in India

(Topics: Indian Geography)

During April and May when the sun shines vertically over the Tropic of Cancer, the large landmass in the north of Indian ocean gets intensely heated resulting into intense low pressure in the northwestern part of the subcontinent. Since the pressure in the Indian Ocean in the south of the landmass is high as water gets heated slowly, the low pressure cell attracts the southeast trades across the Equator. These conditions help in the northward shift in the position of the ITCZ. The southwest monsoon may thus, be seen as a continuation of the southeast trades deflected towards the Indian subcontinent after crossing the Equator.


The southwest monsoon sets in over the Kerala coast by 1st June and moves swiftly to reach Mumbai and Kolkata between 10th and 13th June. The monsoon may burst in the first week of June in the coastal areas of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra while in the interior parts of the country, it may be delayed to the first week of July. As these winds approach the land, their southwesterly direction is modified by the relief and thermal low pressure over the northwest India. By mid-July, southwest monsoon engulfs the entire subcontinent

The triangular peninsula of India breaks the monsoon into two –

1) Arabian Sea branch -which led to rainfall in Western Ghats towards Bihar but move parallel to Aravali hence no rainfall in Rajasthan and

2) Bay of Bengal branch- brings rainfall to NE, SE and funneling towards Gangetic plains

Retreat of monsoon:

The months of October and November are known for retreating monsoons. By the end of September, the southwest monsoon becomes weak as the low pressure trough of the Ganga plain starts moving southward in response to the southward march of the sun. It is because of high pressure in Tibetan high (weakening ITCZ & snowfall in Tibet region) and creation of trough or LP in Indian Ocean (warmer) that the wind reverses its direction and starts flowing as north-eats trade wind bringing rain to Coromandel Coast area, WB, etc. This process is more gradual than on-set. It begins in NW states of India by early September and completely retreats by mid-October.

Break in the monsoon:

During the south-west monsoon period after having rains for a few days, if rain fails to occur for one or more weeks, it is known as break in the monsoon. These breaks in the different regions are due to different reasons:

  • In northern India rains are likely to fail if the rain-bearing storms are not very frequent along the monsoon trough or the ITCZ over this region.
  • Over the west coast the dry spells are associated with days when winds blow parallel to the coast.

Thus monsoon as a phenomenon remains a complex one.


Assam plans to provide functional tap connections to 13 lakh rural households in 2020-21

(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

Government of India approved Rs 1407 Crore for 2020-21 under Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). In 2020-21, State plans to provide tap connections to 13 lakh households out of total 63 lakhs. 

Realization of the goal of Jal Jeevan Mission in Assam is not difficult taking into account the abundant water resources in the State i.e. both ground water and surface water.

  • The state is giving emphasis on capitalising on ‘low-hanging fruits’ i.e. in the villages/ habitations where piped water supply schemes already exist, to yield the desired results. 
  • The state plans to immediately provide household tap connections to all remaining households of belonging to weaker and marginalised sections on priority. 
  • A defined roadmap is also charted for the effective implementation of Village Action Plan (VAP) with the active participation of the rural community. 
  • Strengthening of existing drinking water sources for long-term sustainability of drinking water supply systems through convergence of various programmes like MGNREGS, SBM (G), 15th Finance Commission Grants to PRIs, District Mineral Development Fund, CAMPA, Local Area Development Fund, etc. at village level is planned for judicious use of all available resources.   

While planning, thrust is given on covering households in quality-affected habitations, aspirational districts, SC/ ST dominated villages/ habitations, Sansad Adarsh Gramin Yojana villages, etc. on priority.

Above all, local village community/ Gram Panchayats and or its sub-committee/ user groups are being involved in planning, implementation, management, operation and maintenance of water supply systems in villages to ensure long-term sustainability.

To safeguard from COVID-19, Assam is taking up water supply works in villages to provide household tap connections, which will help in practicing social distancing, and will additionally help local people in getting employment and boost rural economy.

About Jal Jeevan Mission

Government of India has restructured and subsumed the ongoing National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) into Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) to provide Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) to every rural household i.e., Har Ghar Nal Se Jal (HGNSJ) by 2024.

Proposed Jal Jeevan Mission will be a decentralised, community-managed and sustainable water management scheme –

  • Out of 17.87 crore rural households in the country about 14.6 crore which accounts for 81.67 percent are yet to have household tap connections for water. 
  • JJM envisages a structural change in the provision of drinking water supply services. The service provision should change to ‘utility based approach’ centered on ‘service delivery’
  • The government had also integrated different ministries and departments dealing with water into one ministry — the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

Work to be taken up under JJM: 

  • In-village water supply (PWS) infrastructure for tap water connection to every household
  • Reliable drinking water source development/ augmentation of existing sources
  • Transfer of water (multi-village scheme; where quantity & quality issues are there in the local water sources)
  • Technological intervention for treatment to make water potable (where water quality is an issue, but quantity is sufficient)
  • Retrofitting of completed and ongoing piped water supply schemes to provide FHTC and raise the service level
  • Grey water management
  • Capacity building of various stakeholders and support activities to facilitate the implementation

73rd Amendment of Constitution of India: Gram Panchayats or its sub-committees will play a crucial role in planning, designing, execution, operations and maintenance of the in-village infrastructure under the Jal Jeevan Mission – Every village is to prepare a village action plan (VAP) which will be essentially having three components namely; 

  1. Water source & its maintenance
  2. Water supply and 
  3. Grey water management

SDG-6: Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 

Water-stressed districts: Districts with critical or over-exploited groundwater levels as per the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) 2017. For states without critical and over-exploited groundwater levels, districts with the least availability of groundwater in comparison to the rest of the districts in the state have been selected.

Tribal Affairs Ministry announces inclusion of 23 additional Minor Forest produce items in Minimum Support Price List

(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

  • This decision enhancing the coverage from 50 to 73 items comes in view of the exceptional and very difficult circumstances currently prevailing in the country on account of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the potential of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs scheme to offer the much needed support to the tribal MFP gatherers.
  • The increase across various items of Minor Forest Produce ranged from 16% to 66%. (in some cases such as Giloe, the increase has been up to 190%). The increase is also expected to provide an immediate and much needed momentum to procurement of Minor Tribal Produce across all States.
  • 14 of the newly added items, otherwise agricultural produce, are not commercially grown in the North Eastern part of India but are found to grow in the wild in forests. Hence, the Ministry has favourably considered to include these specific items as MFP items for the North-East.
  • The Ministry has provided flexibility to States to fix MSP upto 10% higher or lower than MSP declared by the Government.

Minimum Support Price for Minor Forest Produce Scheme

  • The scheme for forest produce has been started with following objectives:
    • To provide fair price to the MFP gatherers and enhance their income level. 
    • To ensure sustainable harvesting of MFPs.
    • To ensure huge social dividend for MFP gatherers, majority of whom are tribals.
  • Earlier, the scheme was only implemented in States having Schedule areas as listed in the Fifth Schedule of the constitution of India. 
  • Since 2016, the scheme is applicable in all States.

Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) 

  • It came into existence in 1987
  • It is a national-level apex organization. 
  • The basic objective of the TRIFED is to provide good price of the ‘Minor Forest Produce (MFP) collected by the tribes of the country.
  • It functions under Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt. of India.
  • TRIFED has its Head Office at New Delhi. 
  • It has a network of 13 Regional Offices located at various places in the country.

Minor Forest Produce (MFP)

  • Section 2(i) of the Forest Rights Act defines a Minor Forest Produce (MFP) as all non-timber forest produce of plant origin and includes bamboo, brushwood, stumps, canes, cocoon, honey, waxes, Lac, tendu/kendu leaves, medicinal plants etc.
  • The definition of “minor forest produce” includes bamboo and cane, thereby changing the categorization of bamboo and cane as “trees” under the Indian Forest Act 1927.

Let us revise Forest Rights Act (FRA) 

  • Grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
  • Makes a beginning towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation.

Why is it required?

  • India’s forests are home to crores of people, including many Scheduled Tribes, who live in or near the forest areas of the country.
  • Since times immemorial, the tribal communities of India have had an integral and close knit relationship with the forests and have been dependent on the forests for livelihoods and existence in the form of minor forest produce, water, grazing grounds and habitat for shifting cultivation.
  • For the first time Forest Rights Act recognises and secures community Rights or rights over common property resources of the communities in addition to their individual rights.
  • Supporters of the Act claim that it will redress the “historical injustice” committed against forest dwellers, while including provisions for making conservation more effective and more transparent.

What are the rights granted under the Act?

  • Title rights – i.e. ownership – to land that is being fared by tribals or forest dwellers as on 13 December 2005, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family as on that date, meaning that no new lands are granted.
  • Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes.
  • Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
  • Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife
  • Right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity
  • Rights of displaced communities
  • Rights over developmental activities

Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) authorizes the States give the Gram Sabah’s power to regulate and restrict

  • sale/consumption of liquor
  • ownership of minor forest produce
  • power to prevent alienation of land and restore alienated land
  • power to manage village markets, control money lending to STs
  • power to manage village markets, control money lending to STs and Mandatory executive functions to approve plans of the Village Panchayats, identify beneficiaries for schemes, issue certificates of utilization of funds.

Impact of FRA

Land Conflicts

  • Recognition of rights will check conflict over resources
  • Will decrease conflict among tribal and between them and outsiders
  • Simplify land acquisition process as the rights of the individuals could be easily ascertained

Social Impact

  • Identification of land rights would create a sense of empowerment and security
  • Decrease in alienation from land will protect tribal culture also
  • Will strengthen democratic decentralization by empowering Gram Sabha
  • Will check harassment by outsiders, including forest bureaucracy

Economic Impact

  • Land right would ensure tribal can economically utilize the land and would also incentivize investment on the land
  • Right over forest produce will help in increasing their income
  • Proper compensation would be awarded in case of acquisition of land

Committees on ‘Minor Forest Produce’

A.K.Sharma Committee: The committee was set up to look in to the issues related with the ownership of the Gram Sabha, fair prices, institutional mechanism, value addition, etc. and suggest remedial measures including Ownership, Price fixation, Value addition and Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP)

T Haque Committee:

  • The Ministry of Panchayati Raj had constituted a Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. T. Haque to look into different aspects of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) management in fifth schedule areas which has recommended for fixation of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for 14 MFPs in its final report.
  • These are Tamarind, Mahuwa flower, Mahuwa seed, Tendu leaf, Bamboo, Sal Seed, Myrobalan, Chironji, Lac, Gum karaya, Honey, Seeds of Karanja, Neem and Puwad.
  • To operationalizing the MSP for selected MFPs, the earlier Planning Commission had suggested for Central Price Fixation Commission for MFP as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
  • All primary collectors including tribal and people living in and around the forests involved in the MFP collection will be benefitted.

Solve: Implementation of the Forest Rights Act, in letter and spirit, will not only help resolve the increasing land conflicts but also help uplift the economic and social status of forest dwellers. Analyse.

Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY)

(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

Constituting about 7.73% of the global fish production and export earnings of Rs.46,589 Crores (2018-19), India today has attained the status of the second largest aquaculture and 4th largest fish exporting nation in the world.

  • The ‘fisheries and aquaculture sector’ is recognized as the sunshine sector in Indian agriculture.
  • Fishery is a State subject.

The Union Cabinet has approved the Rs 20,050-crore Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) to bring about Blue Revolution through sustainable development of fisheries sector over next five years.

  • Augment fish production and productivity at a sustained average annual growth rate of about 9% to achieve a target of 22 million tonne by FY25 through sustainable and responsible fishing practices
  • The government also aims to double the income of fishers, fish farmers and fish workers by 2024 through the scheme – Targets creating additional direct employment of 15 lakh fishers, fish farmers, fish workers, fish vendors in fishing and allied activities and 45 lakh indirect employment
  • Increase aquaculture average productivity to 5 tons per hectare from the current national average of 3 tons per hectare.
  • Address critical gaps in the value chain, including infrastructure, modernisation, traceability, production, productivity, post-harvest management, and quality control
  • Focus areas include Fishing Harbours and Landing Centers, Post-harvest and Cold Chain Infrastructure, Fish Markets and Marketing Infrastructure, Integrated Modern Coastal Fishing Villages and Development of Deep-sea Fishing.

The Need: It is a scheme to bring Blue Revolution through sustainable and responsible development of fisheries sector in India. 

  • Fisheries and aquaculture are an important source of food, nutrition, employment and income in India. 
  • The sector provides livelihood to more than 20 million fishers and fish farmers at the primary level and twice the number along the value chain. 
  • Fish being an affordable and rich source of animal protein, is one of the healthiest options to reduce hunger and malnutrition.

The scheme intends to address:

  • Lack of accurate data on assessment of fishery resources and their potential in terms of fish production
  • Critical gaps in fish production and productivity; Low yield optimisation; Harvest and post-harvest operations
  • Modernization and strengthening of value chain
  • Landing and berthing facilities for fishing vessels
  • Establishing a robust fisheries management framework and fishers’ welfare
  • Sanitary and phyto-sanitary matters
  • Welfare of fishermen

Aims and objectives 

  • Enhancing fish production and productivity through expansion, intensification, etc. 
  • Reduce post-harvest losses from the present high of 25% to about 10% by modernizing and strengthening value chain
  • Modernizing and strengthening of value chain – post-harvest management and quality improvement as well as standards and traceability in fisheries sector from ‘catch to consumer’
  • Doubling fishers and fish farmers’ incomes and generation of employment
    • Activities like Mariculture, Seaweed cultivation and Ornamental Fisheries having potential to generate huge employment especially for rural women will be promoted.
    • Underlining the need to enhance domestic fish consumption with corresponding health benefits, the Government will register “Sagar Mitra” and encourage formation of Fish Farmers Producer Organizations (FFPOs) to help achieve the PMMSY goals. 
    • Youth will be engaged in fisheries extension by creation of 3477 Sagar Mitras in coastal fisher villages. 
    • Large number of Fisheries Extension Services Centers will be set up in private space to create job opportunities to young professionals.
  • Enhancing contribution to Agriculture Gross Value Addition and fisheries export competitiveness. 
  • Create a conducive environment for private sector participation, development of entrepreneurship, business models, promotion of ease of doing business, innovations and innovative project activities including start-ups, incubators etc. in fisheries sector.
  • Being a fisher centric umbrella scheme, fishers, fish farmers, fish workers and fish vendors are the key stakeholders in the developmental activities envisaged and enhancement of their socio-economic status is one the core objectives of this scheme.
  • Robust fisheries management and regulatory framework
  • Under the Swath Sagar plan, activities envisaged with a view to modernize the fisheries sector include promotion of Bio-toilets, Insurance coverage for fishing vessels, Fisheries Management Plans, E-Trading/Marketing, Fishers and resources survey and creation of National IT-based databases.
  • Focus on several new activities and areas such as Traceability, Certification and Accreditation, Aquaculture in saline/alkaline areas, Genetic improvement programmes and Nucleus Breeding Centres, Fisheries and Aquaculture start-ups, promotional activities for fish consumption, branding, GI in fish, Integrated Aqua parks, Integrated coastal fishing villages development, State-of-art wholesale fish markets, Aquatic Referral Laboratories, Aquaculture Extension Services, Biofloc, support for new/upgradation of fishing boats, disease diagnostic and quality testing labs, Organic Aquaculture Promotion and Certification and Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ) devices.

Earlier Initiatives taken by the present Government

  1. Creation of a separate Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying in the Union Government
  2. Setting up a new and dedicated Department of Fisheries with independent administrative structure
  3. Implementation of the Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Blue Revolution: Integrated Development and Management of Fisheries during the period 2015-16 to 2019-20 with a central outlay of Rs. 3,000 crore
  4. Creation of Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) during 2018-19 with a fund size of Rs. 7,522.48 crore
  5. Launching of PMMSY with an investment of Rs. 20,050 crore, the scheme with highest ever investment for fisheries sector.

What else can be done?

  • Government needs to lay special thrust on increasing productivity in inland fisheries along with full utilisation of the country’s deep sea fishing potential. 
  • Technology needs to be leveraged at every step and role of logistics cannot be ignored. A robust logistics support requires complementary infrastructural facilities like cold chain and storage facilities to handle peak harvests. Creation of cold chains can help reduce spoilage losses which are currently at 30-35 per cent. Marketing infrastructure and cloud-based market intelligence should also be put in place.
  • Under social security, accidental insurance of fishers should be enhanced from Rs 2 lakh to more.
  • Fish markets —both wholesale and retail —need to be modernised and Safal-type (Mother Dairy’s fruits and vegetable stores) retail outlets could be opened up in cities

Aarogya Setu is now open source

(Topic: Government’s efforts to combat COVID-19)

On April 2, 2020, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) launched Aarogya Setu, a Covid-19 contact tracing app, mandatory for those employed in private and public offices. The app provides the ability to identify and analyse a person’s risk of a Covid-19 infection, alert them early, and offer medical support and resources. Additionally, the data is useful for the government to identify emerging hotspots.

Data might prove to be our best bet in the battle against this global pandemic. Hence, Aarogya Setu application!

How does it work?

  • The Aarogya Setu app requires users to submit their geodata and utilises Bluetooth to connect to other registered users on the network. 
  • It then analyses whether the user has come in contact with any person who tested positive for the virus, and directs them towards the appropriate medical intervention. 
  • Based on its terms of service, it is intended to “notify, trace, and suitably support” registered users and their potential Covid-19 infection risk. 
  • These records are stored on the phone till the time any user tests positive or declares symptoms of COVID-19 in a self-assessment survey in the app. In such cases, the records are uploaded to the servers.
  • The app is available in 11 languages.

What data can be collected and shared by Aarogya Setu?

The data collected by the Aarogya Setu app is broadly divided into four categories — demographic data, contact data, self-assessment data and location data. This is collectively called response data. 

  • Demographic data includes information such as name, mobile number, age, gender, profession and travel history. 
  • Contact data is about any other individual that a given individual has come in close proximity with, including the duration of the contact, the proximate distance between the individuals, and the geographical location at which the contact occurred. 
  • Self-assessment data means the responses provided by that individual to the self-assessment test administered within the app. 
  • Location data comprises the geographical position of an individual in latitude and longitude.

What are the checks and balances?

The protocol says the response data that can be shared with ministries, government departments and other administrative agencies has to be in de-identified form. This means that, except for demographic data, the response data must be stripped of information that may make it possible to identify the individual personally; it must be assigned a randomly generated ID.

Further, the NIC shall, “to the extent reasonable”, document the sharing of any data and maintain a list of the agencies with which data has been shared. This documentation will include the time at which data sharing was initiated, with which entities it was shared, the categories of such data, and the purpose of sharing the data.

The protocol also calls for any entity with which the data has been shared to not retain the data beyond 180 days from the day it was collected. The protocol reads back to the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to establish the penalties in case of violation of the protocol. It also has a sunset clause, which calls for the empowered group to review the protocol after six months; unless extended, it will be in force only for six months from the date of issue.

As an open-source software – Why has the source code of Aarogya Setu been made public?

Government has released the source code of Aarogya Setu app to promote transparency and collaboration with the software developer community. 

When launching the app on April 2, the IT ministry had explicitly mentioned in the terms of use that no one was allowed to reverse-engineer the app or alter with the coding of the app. This led to critics questioning whether the app could be used for surveillance and go beyond its mandate of contact tracing. Cyber law experts and the software developer community called upon the government to allow reverse engineering and also publish the source code of the app so that it could be seen by anyone.

This will restore some faith in skeptical minds as they can now read and understand the code for themselves. It will also help in assuaging the data privacy and security concerns surrounding the app.

The government must take utmost precautions in securing our data and ensure sensitive information does not land in the hands of unauthorised players who may misuse it.

Enhancing the app’s ease-of-use, increasing the user base, and analysing the resulting aggregated, anonymised data will help Indians and the world overcome the Covid-19 crisis.

ADB, India sign $177 million loan for state road improvements in Maharashtra

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India signed a $177 million loan to upgrade 450 kilometers (km) of state highways and major district roads in the state of Maharashtra.

  • The project will improve connectivity between rural areas and urban centers in the state enabling rural communities to better access markets, employment opportunities and services. 
  • Improved mobility will expand development and livelihood opportunities outside of the state’s major urban centers to second-tier cities and towns thus reducing income disparities.
  • Will also strengthen road safety measures by developing a road safety audit framework that will protect vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women, and children, following the international best practice.
  • The project will also focus on training the Maharashtra Public Works Department project staff to build their capacity in climate change adaptation and disaster resilient features in road design, road maintenance planning and road safety.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.


A wave of locust swarms sweeping across northern India

(Topic: Agriculture, Disaster Management)

Amidst a wave of locust swarms sweeping across western and northwestern India, the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (DAC&FW) has stepped up locust control operations in the affected States of Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

What exactly are locusts?

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a short-horned grasshopper, an omnivorous and migratory pest, normally live and breed in semi-arid or desert regions, that is innocuous while it is in a “solitary phase” and moving about independently. These winged insects differ from normal hoppers, and become dangerous only when their populations build up rapidly and the close physical contact in crowded conditions triggers behavioural changes. They, then, enter the “gregarious phase”, by grouping into bands and forming swarms that can travel great distances (up to 150 km daily), while eating up every bit of vegetation on the way. 

If not controlled at the right time, these insect swarms can threaten the food security of countries. Kenya is already reporting its worst locust outbreak in 70 years, while Ethiopia and Somalia haven’t seen one this bad in quarter of a century.

What are ‘desert locusts’ doing in non-desert lands?

For laying eggs, they require bare ground, which is rarely found in areas with dense vegetation. So, they can breed in Rajasthan but not in the Indo-Gangetic plains or Godavari and Cauvery delta.

But green vegetation is required for hopper development. Hopper is the stage between the nymph that is hatched from the eggs, and the winged adult moth. 

As individuals, or in small isolated groups, locusts are not very dangerous. But when they grow into large populations their behaviour changes, they transform from ‘solitary phase’ into ‘gregarious phase’, and start forming ‘swarms’. A single swarm can contain 40 to 80 million adults in one square km, and these can travel up to 150 km a day.

The further eastward movement

The current swarms contain “immature locusts”. These feed voraciously on vegetation. They consume roughly their own weight in fresh food every day, before they become ready for mating. But right now Rajasthan does not offer enough to satisfy their hunger. With no crops in the field, they have been invading green spaces, including parks, in Jaipur and orange orchards near Nagpur. 

Apart from the search for food, their movement has been aided by westerly winds that were, this time, further strengthened by the low pressure area created by Cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal. Thus, we have had two meteorological drivers behind the current locust invasions:  one, unseasonal heavy rains in the main spring-breeding tracts in March-April, and, two, strong westerly winds.

How can these pests be controlled?

  • Historically, locust control has involved spraying of organo-phospate pesticides on the night resting places of the locusts. On May 26, the Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research, Lucknow, advised farmers to spray chemicals like lambdacyhalothirn, deltamethrin, fipronil, chlorpyriphos, or malathion to control the swarms. However, the Centre had on May 14 banned the use of chlorpyriphos and deltamethrin. Malathion is also included in the list of banned chemicals but has been subsequently allowed for locust control.
  • Special mounted guns are used to spray the chemicals on the resting places and India has 50 such guns, and 60 more are expected to arrive from UK by the first week of June. Drones are also being used this year.
  • A proactive exercise of control, through aerial spraying of ultra-low volume of concentrated insecticides in all potential breeding sites, is required, along with continuous monitoring of the crops during the ensuing kharif season.
  • Control operations also require procurement of equipment, training of field teams, prepositioning of supplies in key breeding areas and updating contingency plans. These operations are technically not restricted under the current lockdown regime.

Discuss: Despite the ups and downs in the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship, cooperation on the locust warning system has survived the wars, terrorist attacks, and political turmoil.

Technological Developments

A. RT-LAMP based test for Coronavirus: RT-LAMP a rapid, accurate and cost-effective test can be done with indigenous components and set up with minimal expertise and instrumentation.

  • COVID-19 RT-LAMP test is a nucleic acid based test carried out from nasal/throat swab sample from patients. The test recipe has been developed and successfully demonstrated using synthetic templates. It is rapid (45-60 min), cost effective and accurate test.
  • The advantage of this test is that the RT-LAMP based COVID-19 kit components are easily available and these can be completely manufactured in India.  While the, the current COVID-19 testing is done by real-time PCR their components are mostly imported. Further these tests are expensive; require highly trained manpower, costly instruments and a relatively high-end lab and cannot be deployed at remote locations in quarantine centers, airports and railway stations, etc.
  • On the other hand, the RT-LAMP test can be done in a single tube with minimal expertise in a very basic lab setup like mobile units / kiosks for testing at Airports, Railway Stations, Bus Stands and other public places. The end detection of the test is a simple colored reaction, which is easily visible in UV light, and now is being modified such that it can be detected in regular light.

B. Molecular shock absorbers buffer axonal tension of nerve cells: The study can help in understanding and treatment of concussion from head injuries as well as stretch-induced nerve injuries.

Axons are long tubular extensions of nerve cells that transmit electrical signals across long distances and can be up to a meter long in the case of humans. At such lengths, they are subjected to large stretch deformations during limb or other bodily movements. Axons in the brain too undergo significant deformations, even during normal activities like jumping (the human brain is as soft and wobbly as edible jelly).

C. Study for identification of structure-based potential antivirals against COVID 19

  • Will search for small molecule inhibitors targeting some of the most important viral replication enzymes. These enzymes are viral proteases (papain-like protease & 3CLprotease), RNA dependent RNA polymerase (nsp12), and the Methyltransferase or MTase (nsp14).
  • Viral proteases, which are enzymes encoded by the genetic material (DNA or RNA) of viral pathogens, catalyze the cleavage of specific peptide bonds in cellular proteins.
  • In this study, a computer-based high throughput virtual screening approach will be used to identify antiviral molecules from different compound libraries that will be experimentally validated for antiviral potential.

D. Facilitating Research and Innovation: Establishment of 4 COVID-19 Bio Banks by the Department of Biotechnology

  • The specimens collected from COVID-19 positive subjects can be a valuable resource for the R&D efforts. NITI Aayog has recently issued guidelines for sharing of bio specimens and data for research related to COVID-19.
  • The role of bio-banks for COVID-19 samples would be development of a vaccine and treatments; guidance regarding handling, including nasopharyngeal swabs; and conditions under which the higher BSL-3 practices should be followed for example, when working with cultures of the coronavirus specimens.

E. Development of COVID-19 India National Supermodel for monitoring infection transmission & aid decision-making by policymakers: To help monitor the future transmission of infection, thus aiding decisions involving health system readiness and other mitigation measures.

  • While the Government is keeping a close watch on infectivity and mortality, it is imperative to bring in a robust forecasting model for predicting the spread and enhancing disease surveillance. 
  • The model will entirely rely only on the data that is relevant to COVID-19, and also have an adaptive built-in component to learn from the newer trends in the data. 
  • It will aggregate successful evidence-based mathematical and statistical forecasting models and include the best predictive analytics for robust forecasting of infectious disease spread.
  • The supermodel could be used by the policymakers in India and around the world to overcome difficulties in predicting the rate of spread of infection and how it would burden the healthcare sector, thereby curbing the epidemic.

F. A note on Science and Technology in finding solutions to combat COVID-19

On vaccines, there are three kinds of attempts being made. 

  • The first are indigenous efforts. 
  • The second are globally collaborative efforts where Indian organisations are taking a lead role
  • The third is Indian participation in global efforts. 

On drug discovery, our scientific efforts take three approaches. 

  • The first is the repurposing of extant drugs to see how effective they are against the virus and in mitigating the consequences of the disease. 
  • Second, Phyto-pharmaceuticals and extracts from medicinal plants are being tested. 
  • Finally, using a variety of approaches, new drug discovery including a ‘Hackathon’ for computational drug discovery is being undertaken.

A conglomeration of research efforts have resulted in new tests and testing kits. These include new tests for detection of the virus and also for antibody detection. The latter are being used for serological studies,

The speed of these developments is made possible by the collaborative efforts of our scientists, institutions and science agencies. The regulatory system has also been closely engaged, combining speed with quality.

Please Note

Chamba Tunnel under Chardham Pariyojana: Border Roads Organisation (BRO) achieved this major milestone by digging up a 440 m long Tunnel below the busy Chamba town on Rishikesh-Dharasu road Highway (NH 94). 

  • The construction of tunnel was a challenging task in terms of weak soil strata, continuous water seepage, heavy built up area on top thereby chances of sinking of houses, land acquisition issues, restrictions during COVID lockdown etc.
  • BRO is a key stake holder in prestigious Chardham project and breakthrough of this tunnel has been achieved by Team Shivalik. Latest Austrian technology has been used in its construction.

Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMJVK): Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMJVK) restructured in May 2018 earlier known as MsDP – Implemented for the benefit of the people from all sections of the society  in identified Minority Concentration Areas for creation of assets in education, skill and health sectors.

  • Provide better socio economic infrastructure facilities to the minority communities particularly in the field of education, health & skill development as compared to the present situation, which would further lead to lessening of the gap between the national average and the minority communities with regard to backwardness parameters.
  • The flexibility introduced in the programme will enable addressing important issues that would result in speedier implementation leading to greater inclusiveness of the minority communities.
  • The criteria for identification of Minority Concentration Towns and Clusters of Villages have been rationalized by lowering the population percentage criteria of Minority Communities and fulfilment of backwardness parameters in the following manners:-
    • Earlier only those Towns which were found backward in terms of both in Basic Amenities and Socio-economic parameters were taken up as MCTs. Now, the Towns which were found backward in either or both of the criteria have been taken up as MCT.
    • Earlier only those Cluster of Villages which were having at-least 50% population of Minority Community were taken. Now the population criterion has been lowered to 25%.

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