Current Affairs (27th March 2021)
- Recently, the Supreme Court dismissed petitions seeking to stay the sale of fresh electoral bonds ahead of Assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.
- Although the court said there is no justification to stay the current sale, the larger constitutional challenge to the electoral bonds scheme filed in 2017 is still pending.
- Apart from challenging the constitutionality of the electoral bonds scheme, the petitioners had asked the court to declare all political parties as public offices to bring them under the ambit of the Right to Information Act and compel political parties to disclose their income and expenditure.
What are electoral bonds?
- Announced in the 2017 Union Budget, electoral bonds are interest-free bearer instruments used to donate money anonymously to political parties.
- A bearer instrument does not carry any information about the buyer or payee, and the holder of the instrument (which is the political party) is presumed to be its owner.
- The bonds are sold in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore, and State Bank of India is the only bank authorised to sell them.
- Donors can buy and subsequently donate bonds to a political party, which can encash the bonds through its verified account within 15 days.
- There is no limit on the number of bonds an individual or company can purchase. If a party hasn’t enchased any bonds within 15 days, SBI deposits these into the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. A total of 12,924 electoral bonds worth Rs 6534.78 crore have been sold in 15 phases between March 2018 and January 2021.
- When first announced in then Finance Minister’s Budget speech of 2017, electoral bonds were understood to be a way for companies to make anonymous donations. However, the fine print of the notification has revealed that even individuals, groups of individuals, NGOs, religious and other trusts are permitted to donate via electoral bonds without disclosing their details.
Why have they been challenged?
- The point of contention is the anonymity provided to donors of electoral bonds. Through an amendment to the Finance Act 2017, the Centre has exempted parties from disclosing donations received through electoral bonds.
- In other words, they need not disclose these details in their mandatory contribution reports to the Election Commission every year.
- This means voters will not know which individual, company, or organisation has funded which party, and to what extent.
- Before the introduction of electoral bonds, parties had to disclose details of all donors who have contributed more than Rs 20,000. According to transparency activists, the change infringes the citizen’s ‘Right to Know’ and makes the political class even more unaccountable.
What is the ECI’s stand?
- In its submission to the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in May 2017, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had objected to amendments in the Representation of the People Act that exempt political parties from disclosing donations through this route.
- In a letter to the Law Ministry the same month, the ECI had asked the government to “reconsider” and “modify” the above amendment.
- NASA and ISRO are collaborating on developing a satellite called NISAR, which will detect movements of the planet’s surface as small as 0.4 inches over areas about half the size of a tennis court.
- The satellite will be launched in 2022 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, into a near-polar orbit.
- It will scan the globe every 12 days over the course of its three-year mission of imaging the Earth’s land, ice sheets and sea ice to give an “unprecedented” view of the planet.
What is NISAR?
- The name NISAR is short for NASA-ISRO-SAR. SAR here refers to the synthetic aperture radar that NASA will use to measure changes in the surface of the Earth.
- Essentially, SAR refers to a technique for producing high-resolution images. Because of the precision, the radar can penetrate clouds and darkness, which means that it can collect data day and night in any weather.
- It’s an SUV-sized satellite that is being jointly developed by the space agencies of the US and India.
- The partnership agreement was signed between NASA and ISRO in September 2014.
- NASA will provide one of the radars for the satellite, a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers and a payload data subsystem.
- ISRO will provide the spacecraft bus, the second type of radar (called the S-band radar), the launch vehicle and associated launch services.
- Significantly, NISAR will be equipped with the largest reflector antenna ever launched by NASA.
PRIMARY GOALS OF NISAR:
- Tracking subtle changes in the Earth’s surface
- Spotting warning signs of imminent volcanic eruptions
- Helping to monitor groundwater supplies
- Tracking the rate at which ice sheets are melting
- During the course of three years, the images will allow scientists to track changes in croplands, hazard sites and will help them to monitor crises such as volcanic eruptions.
- The images will be detailed enough to show local changes and broad enough to measure regional trends.
- As the mission continues for years, the data will allow for better understanding of the causes and consequences of land surface changes, increasing our ability to manage resources and prepare for and cope with global change.
- The images will be able to capture changes in the Earth caused by certain activities. For instance, drawing drinking water from an underground aquifer can leave signs on the surface. If too much of it is drawn out, the ground begins to sink, which is what scientists believe the images will be able to show them.
- NISAR is an all-weather satellite that’s going to give us an unprecedented ability to look at how Earth’s surface is changing.
Tribal TB Initiative
- In fulfilment of the cherished goal of a “TB Mukt Bharat” envisioned by Prime Minister, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare today launched the “Tribal TB Initiative”.
- A Guidance Note on Joint Action Plan for Tuberculosis (TB) Elimination, a Special Edition of Tribal Ministry’s Publication ‘ALEKH’ on TB, and a document on Tribal Tuberculosis (TB) Initiative was also released at the event.
- India witnessed over 18.04 lakh TB notifications, notwithstanding the difficulties presented because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its related regulation/preventive strategies.
- Thus, Government of India introduced bidirectional screening for COVID-19 and TB, strengthening diagnostic networks and combining TB screening in COVID surveillance activities.
- UT of Lakshadweep and district of Badgam in Jammu & Kashmir have been declared TB Free on World TB Day this year while several other States and Districts across the country have been awarded for their progress made towards achieving the SDGs related to TB.
- Over 104 million tribal population lives in India, across 705 tribes, accounting for 8.6 % of the country’s population.
- 177 tribal districts were identified as high priority districts where physical remoteness, malnutrition, poor living conditions and lack of awareness contribute to the vulnerability of the tribal population to TB.
WORLD TB DAY
- World TB Day is observed on 24 March each year to raise awareness and understanding about one of the world’s top infectious killers and catalyze action to address its devastating health, social, and economic impact around the world.
- March 24 marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease.
- The theme of World TB Day 2021 – ‘The Clock is Ticking’ –conveys the sense that the world is running out of time to act on the commitments to end TB made by global leaders.
- This is especially critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put End TB progress at risk, and to ensure equitable access to prevention and care in line with WHO’s drive towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.
- Provisional data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) from 84 countries indicates that an estimated 1.4 million fewer people received care for tuberculosis (TB) in 2020 than in 2019 – a reduction of 21% from 2019.
- In the group of 10 high-burden countries with the largest reported shortfalls compared with 2019, the overall shortfall was 28%. With many people with TB unable to access care, WHO estimates that half a million more people may have died from TB in 2020 alone.
- Health being a holistic subject influenced by all aspects of life, the necessity to have a multisectoral collaboration with various Ministries and Departments to reach out to the most vulnerable population categories was underscored to achieve the elimination target by 2025.