12 October 2020
A) On 15th anniversary of RTI Act, report finds major gaps in implementation.
15 years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force, more than 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions, which are the final courts of appeal under the transparency law. The increasing backlog is exacerbated by the fact that most Commissions are functioning at reduced capacity, including the Central Information Commission (CIC) which has been headless since August. This is according to a report card which wad brought out by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies to mark the anniversary of the Act on Monday and which found that Maharashtra had the highest number of pending appeals, with over 59,000 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (47,923) and the CIC (35,653). The analysis also find out that the government officials face hardly any punishment for violating the law. Analyzing data from 16 commissions in 2019-20, report found that penalties were imposed in only 2.2% of cases that were disposed of, despite previous analysis showing a rate of about 59% violations which should have triggered the process of penalty imposition. The report said that the non-imposition of penalties in deserving cases by commissions sends a signal to public authorities that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences. This destroys the basic framework of incentives built into the RTI law and promotes a culture of impunity.
B) Health experts warn against increased use of sanitisers, antibiotics.
Health experts at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) have warned that the increased use of antibiotics and the widespread use of hand sanitizers and antimicrobial soaps, which has especially increased multi-fold during the Covid-19 pandemic, can worsen the situation of antimicrobial resistance. Stating this at a webinar on Antibiotic resistance: Renewed Fight” earlier this week, Rama Chaudhry, who is the Head of Department of Microbiology, AIIMS, Delhi has said that antibiotic resistant organisms have become rigidly established in our environment with many infections failing to respond to available antimicrobials. Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest challenges of modern medicine. This antimicrobial resistance mounts problems beyond the geographical as well as species barriers and can transmit from animals to humans. AMR needs to be addressed in totality by all sectors including healthcare, veterinary and agricultural domains. This is where one health approach comes into place. Experts added that the pandemic has jolted the entire world with its reach and scale and has impacted the local health facilities. More hospitalization is seen due to
Covid19 related complications with all the resources being focused primarily on dealing with it while many other important health issues such as AMR and other health programmes have taken a back seat.
C) New type of test for Covid diagnosis soon, Health Minister announces
On 11 October, the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the health Ministry will soon roll out the FELUDA paper strip test for Covid-19 diagnosis. This has been developed by CSIR-IGIB and has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch. He added that the test showed 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity. This compares favorably to the current acceptation criteria of ICMR of RT-PCR Kit of at least 95% sensitivity and at least 99% specificity. An exact date on the availability cannot be specified yet. The Health Minister also warned people not to put their lives at risk during the upcoming festive season. There is no need to congregate in large numbers to prove the faith or religion. One can pray to their gods at their homes. He suggested that all of us celebrate festivals with our families. Speaking about a Covid-19 vaccine, he said that it is anticipated that supplies would initially be available in limited quantities. In a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritize vaccine delivery based on various factors such as risk of exposure, co-morbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among Covid-19 cases.
D) GST council to discuss compensation issue again.
The GST Council in its meeting on 12 October is likely to discuss the suggestion of non-BJP ruled States of setting up a ministerial panel to develop consensus on the issue of compensation, the Press Trust of India reports..The Council, which is chaired by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and comprising of State Finance Ministers, will for the third time in a row discuss the issue of funding the shortfall of Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue of States. While some Opposition ruled States are demanding that a Group of Ministers be set up to arrive at a decision on the mechanism for funding compensation shortfall, BJP ruled States, which have already opted for the borrowing option given by the Centre, are of the view that they should be given a go ahead so that they can get money quickly. In its previous meeting last week, the Council had decided to extend the surcharge on taxes on luxury goods such as cars and tobacco products beyond June 2022, but failed to reach a consensus on ways to compensate States for loss of tax revenue. The projected total compensation shortfall in current fiscal stands at ₹2.35 lakh crore.
A) China backs Iran nuclear deal, calls for new West Asia forum.
The Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi has called for a new forum to defuse tensions in the West Asia after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart where he reiterated the support of Beijing for Tehran. Mr. Wang and Javad Zarif also reaffirmed their commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal of Iran with world powers, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, an implicit rebuke of the U.S. for abandoning the accord during their meeting on 10 October in the southwestern Tengchong city of China. Iran has been locked in an acrimonious relationship with Saudi Arabia, the other major West Asian power, over the war in Yemen, Iranian influence in Iraq and Saudi support for Washington’s sanctions on Tehran.
B) China grants $90 million to Sri Lanka after visit by official
On 11 October, China has announced that it was providing a $90 million grant to Sri Lanka, 2 days after the President of island nation sought help from a visiting Chinese delegation in disproving a perception that China-funded megaprojects are debt traps. Calling the financial assistance a timely grant, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo said that it would be used for medical care, education and water supplies in Sri Lanka’s rural areas. and that it would contribute to the well-being of (Sri Lankans) in a post-COVID era. During talks with Mr. Yang, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa asked China to help him in disproving a perception that China Funded megaprojects are ” debt traps aimed at gaining influence in local affairs.
China considers Sri Lanka to be a critical link in its massive “Belt and Road” global infrastructure building in initiative and has provided billions of dollars in loans for Sri Lankan projects over the past decade. The projects include a seaport, airport, port-city, highways and power stations.
Critics say that the Chinese-funded projects are not financially viable and that Sri Lanka will face difficulties in repaying the loans.
In 2017, Sri Lanka leased out a Chinese-built port located near busy shipping routes to a Chinese company for 99 years to recover from the heavy burden of repaying the Chinese loan the country received to build it.
The facility is part of Beijing’s plan for a line of ports stretching from Chinese waters to the Persian Gulf. Chie na has also agreed to provide a $989 million loan to Sri Lanka to build an expressway that will connect its tea-growing central region to the Chinese-run seaport.
China’s economic influence over Sri Lanka has worried its closest neighbour, India, which considers the Indian Ocean region to be its strategic backyard.