The HINDU Notes – 06th April
📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 06 April
🌐 Rail regulator gets green light
- The Centre cleared the decks for setting up an independent rail regulator that will be responsible for recommending passenger fares, setting performance standards for rail operations and creating level playing policy for private sector participation.
- The regulator, named Rail Development Authority (RDA), will be based in Delhi with an initial corpus of Rs. 50 crore and will be set up through an executive order later this month.
- The RDA will act within the parameters of the Railway Act, 1989 and only make recommendations to the Ministry which will take a final call on passenger and freight fares.
- The need for a regulator has been emphasised by various committees, including the Dr. Bibek Debroy Committee on Mobilisation of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry in 2015, the National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) in 2014 and Expert Group under the Chairmanship of Dr. Rakesh Mohan in 2001.
- The Authority’s primary functions will be to recommend tariff “commensurate with costs,” frame principles for social service obligation, and ensure a level playing field for stakeholders by suggesting policies for private investment.
- It will also fix efficiency standards and resolve disputes related to future concession agreements, the Ministry said.
- It will also collect, analyse and disseminate information and statistics concerning the rail sector.
- The Railways’ estimated losses in the passenger segment has ballooned from Rs. 6,159 crore in 2004-05 to around Rs. 30,000 crore in 2015-16, mainly due to sharp increases in input costs and no commensurate increase in fares over the same period,according to a concept paper on the Authority prepared by the Indian Railways.
- Keeping rail fares within affordable limits has led to cross-subsidisation as the goods fares have increased considerably more than the passenger fares in the past.
- The Authority will have a Chairman and three members with a fixed term of five years and will be allowed to engage experts from various fields.
- “The RDA will be an independent body with separate budget. The independence is ensured through separate budget, appointment and removal process,” the statement added.
- The Chairman and members of the Authority will be appointed by a Search and Selection Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary with members including the Railway Board Chairman, Department of Personnel and Training Secretary and Chairman of any regulatory body of the Central Government nominated by the Cabinet Secretary.
🌐 Safety measures intensified in Goa following monkey fever scare
- The Goa Health Services have intensified fever surveillance and other precautionary measures in areas near North Goa’s border, adjacent to Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district, following rise in deaths due to Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) or monkey fever,particularly in Banda town of the district.
- Nine deaths have been reported in Sindhudurg as of now.
- The vaccination programme has been going on for quite some time.
🌐 Taj changing colour, mud therapy being used: govt
- Since its completion in 1654 the Taj Mahal has endured attacks from all sides, it was attacked by the Jats, defaced by the British army and stained by air pollution.
- Now a new threat has been identified: insect excrement.
- Swarms of insects breeding in a polluted river near the Taj Mahal are threatening the intricate marble inlay work at the 17th century monument to love by leaving green and black patches of waste on its walls, archaeological experts said.
- Workers scrub the walls clean every day, but the regular scrubbing can damage the floral mosaics and shiny marble surface.
- During question hour, members voiced concern over the maintenance of the Taj Mahal, while referring to change in the colour of the marble structure and the damage caused by insects.
- Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said efforts are also being made to reduce the impact of insects on the 17th century monument.
- Mr Sharma said a kind of mud therapy, involving application of a paste of ‘multani mitti’, was being undertaken to preserve the colour of the monument.
- It has been applied on three-fourths of the structure and is “showing results”, he added.
- He said that the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has also submitted a report about the upkeep of the Taj.
🌐 Bihar, Jharkhand children ‘undernourished,’ says NGO
- In Bihar and Jharkhand, nine out of every 10 children aged 6-23 do not get an adequate diet.
- The nutrition and health status of children in these two States has been found to be “critically low” in comparison to the national standard.
- According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4, 2015-16) data, only 7.5% and 7.2% of children in Bihar and Jharkhand respectively in this age group receive an adequate diet, according to a trend analysis of the NFHS-4 data released by the NGO, Child Rights and You (CRY).
- The comparative figure in the case of Tamil Nadu, for instance, is 31%.
- CRY’s findings indicate that inadequate provision of quality antenatal care, and the States’ failure to address the special nutritional requirements of expecting and lactating mothers are negatively affecting child health.
- Moreover, more than one third of the total births in the two States continue to remain home births.
- The NFHS-4 data on child feeding practices and the nutritional status of children further suggest that almost two-thirds of children under the age of three years in these two States (65% in Bihar and 67% in Jharkhand) are not breastfed within the first hour of birth, noted the CRY analysis.
- The analysis also observed that almost two-thirds of children (63.5% in Bihar and 69.9% in Jharkhand) aged 6- 59 months were suffering from acute anaemia.
- The prevalence of anaemia among a high percentage of pregnant women in the agegroup of 15-49 years (62.6% in Jharkhand and 58.3% in Bihar) further indicates that juvenile anaemia is merely a manifestation of the malnutrition- cycle transmitted through generations, thereby extending the legacy of under-nutrition.
- Further, the data on maternal health also revealed that only 9% of pregnant women in Bihar and 15% of pregnant women in Jharkhand consumed iron and folic acid supplements for hundred days or more during pregnancy.
- “An adequate diet in terms of quality and quantity for a child below 6 months means that she is exclusively breastfed. For children aged 6-23 months, it means that they receive solid/semi-solid food comprising five nutrient groups (carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, and minerals) along with the breast milk,” said Mr. Abhik Bhattacharya, senior manager for policy and advocacy at CRY.
- On the positive side, both Bihar and Jharkhand have done well in several child health and nutrition indicators such as institutional delivery, immunisation, and treatment of critical childhood diseases.
- “A comparative analysis between NFHS-4 and NFHS-3 data suggests that institutional deliveries were less than 20% in Bihar and Jharkhand a decade ago (2005-06). They have now risen to around 60% of total births. But the rate of progress in critical indicators such as child nutrition, which has a direct linkage with a child’s overall growth and development, remains far below expectations,” noted the analysis.
🌐 WhatsApp case for Constitution Bench
- A Constitution Bench of five judges will decide on April 18 whether a larger denomination of judges should hear a petition for a declaration that a 2016 policy of instant messaging app – WhatsApp – to give Facebook access to information and personal details shared by millions of its users is a violation of their privacy and free speech.
- Having at first meant to hear the case during the summer vacation, Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar on 5 April 2017 advanced the date for the Constitution Bench hearing to April 18, saying it is a “serious issue.”
- The case is based on a petition by two students – 19- year-old Karmanya Singh Sareen and 22-year-old Shreya Sethi – to challenge the contract entered into between the two Internet giants to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos and documents shared by users despite the fact that privacy is prized and guaranteed by WhatsApp.
- The duo was aggrieved by the Delhi High Court decision to uphold the contract. The High Court took a nuanced position by confirming the legality of the policy effective from September 25 though directing WhatsApp to “delete completely” from its server information/ data/ details of all users who choose to delete their account.
- On appeal, the Supreme Court responded by directing Facebook, WhatsApp, the Centre and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to file responses and roped in Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi to assist it in the case.
- When the hearing began, senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, for Facebook, raised the contention that if the WhatsApp-Facebook contract is going to be challenged as a violation of the right to privacy, then a larger Bench than five judges should hear the case.
- He referred to the 1954 eight-judges Bench verdict in M.P. Sharma’s case and the six-judges Bench judgment of 1962 in Kharak Singh case on the right to privacy.
- Both judgments had categorically rejected the existence of privacy as a guaranteed right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- Mr. Venugopal argued that any future debate on the question of right to privacy should be decided by a larger Bench of at least nine judges.
🌐 Centre hands over to SC accreditation guidelines for NGOs
- The Centre on 5 April 2017 handed over to the Supreme Court the new guidelines framed for accreditation of nearly 30 lakh NGOs and voluntary organisations (VOs) in the country.
- A Bench of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was informed by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that theMinistry of Rural Development framed the accreditation guidelines to regulate “manner in which the VOs/ NGOs, which are recipient of grants, would maintain their account, the procedure for audit of the account, including procedure to initiate action for recovering of the grants in case of misappropriation and criminal action.”
- The guidelines, which are yet to be notified, were handed over to the court, amicus curiae and senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi and advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who filed the PIL, for suggestions.
- According to the guidelines, NITI Aayog has been appointed as the nodal agency for the purpose of registration and accreditation of VOs/NGOs seeking funding from the Government of India.
- The Aayog has been also tasked with maintaining of database systems to manage and disseminate information relating to NGOs/VOs.
- “The existing portal at NITI Aayog (NGO-Darpan) shall be strengthened and aligned with accreditation like functions which should also provide a snapshot of the NGO with regard to its ongoing and past work, particularly with respect to public and foreign funds so as to facilitate grant making authorities on the bona fides,” the affidavit by the Centre said.
🌐 BC Commission set to get constitutional status
- The Union government introduced a new Bill in the Lok Sabha that seeks to accord constitutional status to the Backward Classes Commission, which now has only statutory powers.
- This will bring the body, which looks after the interests of Other Backward Classes, on a par with that of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes Commission, and give powers to Parliament to designate castes as OBCs.
- Social Justice Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot introduced the Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, a move seen as part of the ruling BJP’s aggressive outreach to politically crucial other backward castes.
- The proposed commission will have a chairperson, vice-chairperson and three other members and will hear the grievances of socially and educationally backward classes, a function discharged so far by the Scheduled Castes commission.
- At present, the functions of the commission are limited to examining the requests for inclusion of any class of citizens as a backward class and hear complaints of over-inclusion or under-inclusion of any backward class in the existing quota and advise the Central government.
- The Bill will require the support of two-thirds of the members of the House for its passage.
National Commission for Backward Classes
1. a Chairperson who is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court;
2. a social scientist;
3. two persons who have special knowledge in matters relating to backward classes; and
4. a Member-Secretary, who is or has been an officer of the Central Government in the rank of a Secretary to the Government of India.