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Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC PDF Download

Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC


Context: A recent publication in The Lancet Global Health titled "Estimating the Health Effects of Covid-19-Related Immunization Disruptions in 112 Countries During 2020–30: A Modelling Study" underscores the decline in global immunization during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to increased disease burden and outbreak risks worldwide.

Key Highlights from the Report:

Decline in Global Immunization:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a global decline in immunization coverage, heightening disease burden and outbreak risks across numerous countries.
  • Disruptions to vaccinations against diseases such as Measles, Rubella, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B, Meningitis A, and yellow fever are estimated to contribute to approximately 49,119 additional deaths from 2020 to 2030, with measles being the primary contributor to this rise in mortality.

Projected Impact:

  • Disruptions in vaccination coverage for all 14 pathogens could lead to a 2.66% reduction in the long-term effect from 2020 to 2030, resulting in a decrease in the number of deaths prevented.

Importance of Catch-Up Vaccines:

  • The report emphasizes the significance of catch-up vaccines, particularly for diseases like measles and yellow fever, which experienced a surge in burden post-pandemic. Catch-up activities have proven effective in averting excess deaths, potentially preventing around 79% of additional deaths related to measles, rubella, HPV, hepatitis B, and yellow fever.

Impact on DTP Vaccine Coverage:

  • The pandemic adversely affected coverage for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTP) vaccines, resulting in an additional 6 million children missing out on vaccination globally in 2021.

Resurgence of Measles Cases:

  • A resurgence of measles cases has been observed in various countries, including those previously considered measles-free such as the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2021, nearly 61 million measles vaccine doses were postponed or missed due to Covid-19-related delays, and in 2022, measles cases and deaths globally increased compared to 2021 levels.

Recommendations:

  • Effectiveness of Catch-Up Activities: Implementing catch-up vaccination activities could potentially avert 78.9% of excess deaths between 2023 and 2030, highlighting the critical role of proactive catch-up efforts in mitigating adverse impacts.
  • Timing and Targeting of Catch-Up Activities: Timely implementation of catch-up vaccination activities tailored to specific cohorts and regions most affected by disruptions is crucial to improving vaccine coverage and mitigating under-immunization effects.
  • Continued Immunization Efforts: Sustained immunization efforts, particularly for vaccines like HPV, are vital for preventing diseases like cervical cancer. This underscores the necessity of ongoing vaccination campaigns even amidst disruptions to ensure long-term public health benefits.

Question for Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2
Try yourself:
What is the primary contributor to the rise in mortality due to disruptions in immunization coverage during the Covid-19 pandemic?
View Solution


Banning Cotton Candy

Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC


Context: Himachal Pradesh has recently imposed a one-year ban on the production, sale, and storage of Cotton Candy, also known as Candy Floss, following the discovery of Rhodamine B, a potentially hazardous colouring agent.

  • This ban aligns with similar actions taken by states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Goa, which have implemented restrictions on harmful colouring agents in food products.

Concerns over Health Risks:

  • The consumption of snacks containing these artificial colours raises concerns about long-term health risks, including cancer.

Insights into Cotton Candy:

  • Cotton candy, alternatively known as candy floss or fairy floss in certain regions, is a popular spun sugar confectionery typically found at carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks.
  • It is crafted by heating and liquefying sugar, which is then spun through tiny holes, forming delicate strands that solidify into a fluffy, cotton-like texture when gathered onto a cone or stick.

Understanding Rhodamine B:

  • Rhodamine B is a commonly used colouring agent in industries such as textiles, paper, and leather. Although inexpensive, it poses potential risks to health and is unsuitable for consumption.
  • Exposure to Rhodamine B may result in acute toxicity and can cause eye damage and respiratory tract irritation. While not classified as carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization, studies on rats have demonstrated carcinogenic effects.

Usage in Food Products:

  • While Rhodamine B is not typically added to food products, it is often found in small roadside vendors in smaller cities due to a lack of awareness regarding permissible food dyes. It is frequently "illegally" added to preparations such as gobi manchurian, potato wedges, butter chicken, pomegranate juice, ice creams produced on a small scale, or cotton candies.

Legal Status:

  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has explicitly prohibited the use of Rhodamine B in food products. Any utilization of this chemical in food preparation, processing, or distribution is punishable under the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006.

Approved Food Colors:

  • The FSSAI permits only a limited number of natural and synthetic colours in food items, including carotene, chlorophyll, riboflavin, caramel, annatto, saffron, curcumin, ponceau 4R, carmoisine, erythrosine, tartrazine, sunset yellow FCF, indigo carmine, brilliant blue FCF, and fast green FCF. These colours are used in various food products such as ice creams, biscuits, cakes, confectioneries, fruit syrups and crushes, custard powder, jelly crystals, and carbonated or noncarbonated beverages.

What is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India?

About:

  • FSSAI is an autonomous statutory body established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, of 2006.
  • The Act of 2006, consolidates various laws related to food, such as the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, the Fruit Products Order, 1955, the Meat Food Products Order, 1973, and other acts that were previously handled by different ministries and departments.
  • The Act also aims to establish a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi-level, multi-departmental control to a single line of command.
  • FSSAI is responsible for protecting and promoting public health by regulating and supervising food safety and quality in India, operating under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
  • FSSAI has a headquarters in New Delhi and regional offices in eight zones across the country.
  • The Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of FSSAI, appointed by central government. The Chairperson is in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India.

Functions and Powers:

  • Framing of regulations and standards for food products and additives.
  • Granting of licences and registration to food businesses.
  • Enforcement of food safety laws and regulations.
  • Monitoring and surveillance of food safety and quality.
  • Conducting risk assessment and scientific research on food safety issues.
  • Providing training and awareness on food safety and hygiene.
  • Promoting food fortification and organic food.
  • Coordinating with other agencies and stakeholders on food safety matters.

Question for Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2
Try yourself:
What is the main reason for the ban on Cotton Candy in Himachal Pradesh?
View Solution


Order of the Druk Gyalpo

Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC


Context: During his two-day State visit to Bhutan, the Prime Minister of India was honored with Bhutan's highest civilian award, the 'Order of the Druk Gyalpo'. This accolade marks the first time a foreign Head of Government has received such recognition.

Significance of the 'Order of the Druk Gyalpo' Award:

  • The Order of the Druk Gyalpo is Bhutan's most prestigious civilian honor, bestowed upon individuals who have made exceptional contributions to society, embodying values of service, integrity, and leadership.
  • Recipients are carefully chosen based on their significant achievements and positive impact on society, aligning with Bhutanese values of holistic development, cultural preservation, and regional harmony.

Recognition of Indian PM:

  • The selection of the Indian PM as the inaugural foreign Head of Government to receive this award underscores the strong bilateral relations between India and Bhutan.
  • This recognition highlights his leadership and unwavering commitment to progress, which resonates with Bhutan's vision of achieving Self-Reliance.
  • The Indian PM is hailed as a transformative figure, driving India's ancient civilization towards becoming a hub of technology and innovation.
  • His dedication to environmental conservation and investment in renewable energy showcases India's comprehensive approach to progress.
  • During the visit, India and Bhutan exchanged multiple Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) and signed agreements spanning various sectors such as energy, trade, digital connectivity, space, and agriculture. Additionally, the two nations finalized a crucial MoU regarding the establishment of rail links, further solidifying their cooperation and friendship.

What are the Key Pacts Signed by India and Bhutan?

Establishment of Rail Links:

  • An MoU was finalised on the establishment of rail links between India and Bhutan, including the Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link and Banarhat-Samtse rail link.

Petroleum, Oil, Lubricants (POL):

  • An agreement was made for the general supply of POL and related products from India to Bhutan, facilitating supply through agreed entry/exit points.

Recognition of Bhutan Food And Drug Authority (BFDA):

  • An agreement was reached for the recognition of official control exercised by BFDA by the Food Safety and Standards Authority Of India (FSSAI), promoting ease of doing business and reducing compliance costs.

Cooperation in Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation:

  • An MoU aimed to assist Bhutan in enhancing energy efficiency in the household sector through various measures such as promoting a star labelling program and institutionalising training of energy auditors.

Pharmacopoeia, Vigilance, and Testing of Medicinal Products:

  • This MoU aimed to enhance cooperation and exchange information in the regulation of medicines, allowing for the acceptance of Indian Pharmacopoeia by Bhutan and the supply of generic medicines at affordable prices.

Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) on Space Cooperation:

  • A concrete roadmap was established for further developing space cooperation through exchange programs and training.

Digital Connectivity:

  • Both countries signed for renewal of the MoU on Peering Arrangement between the National Knowledge Network of India (NKN) and the Druk Research And Education Network of Bhutan.
  • This MoU aims to enhance digital connectivity between India and Bhutan and will benefit the scholars and research institutions of Bhutan.
  • What are the Implications of Indian PM’s Visit to Bhutan at a Time of Regional Challenges?

Strengthening Bilateral Ties:

  • The visit underscores India's commitment to strengthening its bilateral relationship with Bhutan, especially during a period of regional uncertainty and challenges.
  • This reaffirms the enduring friendship between the two nations and emphasises mutual support in the face of external pressures.
  • The announcement of India’s doubling of support for Bhutan’s Five Year Plan, from Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore, was significant in this regard.

Counterbalancing Chinese Influence:

  • Against the backdrop of China's increasing engagement with Bhutan, the Indian PM’s visit serves to reinforce India's presence and influence in the region.
  • By showcasing support for Bhutan's development and security interests, India aims to counterbalance any attempts by China to expand its influence in Bhutan.

Enhancing Strategic Cooperation:

  • The visit included discussions on strategic cooperation, including defence and security cooperation, to address common regional challenges such as border security and terrorism.
  • Strengthening cooperation in these areas can contribute to regional stability and security.

Promoting Economic Partnerships:

  • The visit has also focused on promoting economic partnerships between India and Bhutan. This could involve initiatives to boost trade, investment, and infrastructure development, which are essential for both countries' economic growth and development.

Addressing Regional Security Concerns:

  • Given the geopolitical dynamics in South Asia, the Indian PM’s visit has addressed regional security concerns, including cross-border terrorism and the need for cooperation among neighbouring countries to maintain peace and stability in the region.

Way Forward

  • It is imperative for both nations to continue underlining the enduring strength of their ties and presenting a united front, particularly in light of external challenges. This solidarity serves as a cornerstone for preserving the enduring nature of their relationship amid evolving regional dynamics and uncertainties.
  • India must reaffirm its unwavering support for Bhutan's interests, particularly in the context of ongoing boundary discussions with China. India's steadfast commitment to standing alongside Bhutan is essential to safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity throughout the negotiation process.
  • Enhancing communication and coordination between the diplomatic and security establishments of India and Bhutan holds paramount importance. This entails fostering robust channels for intelligence sharing, conducting joint assessments, and devising cohesive strategies to address shared challenges, especially those pertaining to regional security concerns.

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024

Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC


Context: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in India recently introduced amendments to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, through the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024. These amendments mark a significant step towards tackling plastic pollution in India, particularly by addressing microplastics and imposing stricter criteria for biodegradable plastics.

Key Highlights of the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2024:

Definition of Biodegradable Plastics:

  • Biodegradable plastics are now defined as materials capable of degradation through biological processes in specific environments like soil and landfills, without leaving any microplastics.
  • Microplastics, defined as solid plastic particles insoluble in water, with dimensions between 1 micron and 1,000 microns, have emerged as a major source of pollution in recent years, adversely affecting rivers and oceans.

Microplastics Testing:

  • The rules do not specify which chemical tests can establish the absence of microplastics or the extent to which microplastics must be reduced for elimination.

Expanded Definition of "Importer":

  • The revised definition now encompasses imports of various plastic-related materials such as packaging, carry bags, sheets, raw materials, and intermediate materials used in plastic manufacturing for commercial purposes.

Inclusive Definition of "Manufacturer":

  • The scope now extends to those involved in the production of plastic raw materials, compostable plastics, and biodegradable plastics, reflecting a broader range of entities covered under this term.

Extended Scope of "Producer":

  • In addition to manufacturing plastic packaging, the definition now includes the production of intermediate materials used in plastic packaging and contract manufacturing for brand owners.

Certification Requirement:

  • Manufacturers intending to produce carry bags and commodities from compostable or biodegradable plastics must obtain a certificate from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) before marketing or selling their products.

What are the Recent Plastic Waste Management Rules in India?

Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016:

  • The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, mandate the generators of plastic waste to take steps to minimise the generation of plastic waste, not to litter the plastic waste, ensure segregated storage of waste at source & hand over segregated waste in accordance with rules.
  • The PWM Rules, 2016 cast Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) on Producer, Importer, and Brand Owner and EPR shall be applicable to both pre-consumer and post-consumer plastic packaging waste.
  • Increased the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags from 40 microns to 50 microns and stipulated a minimum thickness of 50 microns for plastic sheets.

Expand the jurisdiction of applicability from municipal areas to rural areas.

  • Responsibility for implementation of the rules is given to Gram Panchayat in rural areas.
  • Introduction of waste segregation at source for individual and bulk generators

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2018:

  • Phasing out of multi-layered plastic (MLP) (material used or to be used for packaging and having at least one layer of plastic) is now applicable to MLP which are "non-recyclable, or non-energy recoverable, or with no alternate use."
  • Prescribed a central registration system for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner of plastics.
  • The centralised registration system will be evolved by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner.
  • The rules aim to streamline the registration process for producers, importers, and brand owners, while also providing a mechanism for phasing out non-recyclable multi-layered plastics.

Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021:

  • Prohibits identified single-use plastic items that have low utility and high littering potential by 2022.
  • Prohibition of manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of certain single-use plastic items including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene from 1st July 2022.
  • Plastic packaging waste not covered by the phase-out of single-use plastic items will be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way through Extended Producer Responsibility.
  • This responsibility is legally enforced through the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.
  • Increase in the thickness of plastic carry bags from 50 microns to 75 microns with effect from 30th September 2021, and to 120 microns with effect from 31st December 2022.

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2022:

  • Introduced guidelines on EPR for plastic packaging. These guidelines set mandatory targets for EPR, recycling of plastic packaging waste, reuse of rigid plastic packaging, and the use of recycled plastic content.
  • Environmental compensation will be imposed on those who fail to meet EPR targets, based on the polluter pays principle.
  • This is to protect and improve the environment, and prevent, control, and reduce pollution.
  • The principle holds polluters responsible for compensating for the damage caused to the environment, regardless of their intent.
  • The guidelines provide a framework to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste.

Question for Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2
Try yourself:
What is the significance of the 'Order of the Druk Gyalpo' Award?
View Solution


Black Carbon Emissions and PMUY

Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC


Context: India's commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2070, declared during the UNFCCC COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021, positions the country as a prominent contender in the global pursuit of carbon neutrality.

  • According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India has surpassed a renewable energy capacity of 180 GW by 2023 and is on track to meet its ambitious target of reaching 500 GW by 2030.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), a government scheme, holds significant potential to contribute to achieving net-zero emissions by mitigating black carbon emissions.

Understanding Black Carbon (BC):

  • Black carbon (BC) is a dark, sooty material emitted alongside other pollutants when biomass and fossil fuels are incompletely combusted.
  • As the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide (CO2), BC is a short-lived pollutant that can be quickly eliminated from the atmosphere if emissions cease.
  • Despite its short lifespan, BC poses significant risks, including contributing to global warming and adverse health effects such as heart disease, birth complications, and premature death.

Sources and Impacts:

  • In India, most black carbon emissions stem from burning biomass in traditional cookstoves, along with emissions from gas and diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, and other fossil fuel-burning sources.
  • These emissions significantly contribute to particulate matter (PM) pollution, with the residential sector alone accounting for 47% of India's total black carbon emissions, followed by industries (22%) and diesel vehicles (17%).
  • The adverse impacts of black carbon extend beyond climate change, with direct links to health risks and environmental degradation, including the acceleration of snow and ice melting due to reduced surface reflectivity (albedo).
  • The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), which aims to provide clean cooking fuel to households, represents a crucial step in mitigating black carbon emissions by transitioning away from traditional biomass-burning cookstoves to cleaner energy sources, thus contributing significantly to India's journey towards achieving net-zero emissions.

What is Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY)?

About:

  • The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG), introduced the ‘Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana’ (PMUY) in 2016 as a flagship scheme with the objective of making clean cooking fuel such as LPG available to the rural and deprived households which were otherwise using traditional cooking fuels such as firewood, coal, cow-dung cakes etc.
  • Usage of traditional cooking fuels had detrimental impacts on the health of rural women as well as on the environment due to huge emission of particulate matter and black carbon.

Objectives:

  • Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel which emits more black carbon.
  • Preventing young children from a significant number of acute respiratory illnesses caused due to indoor air pollution by burning fossil fuel and black carbon emission.
  • To make clean cooking fuel available to rural and poor households and reduce their dependence on traditional cooking fuels.
  • To set up infrastructure to accompany LPG connections, which includes providing complimentary gas stoves, deposits for LPG cylinders, and establishing a distribution network.

Features:

  • The scheme provides a financial support of Rs 1600 for each LPG connection to the BPL households.
  • Along with a deposit-free LPG connection, Ujjwala 2.0 provides the first refill and a hotplate free of cost to the beneficiaries.
  • Challenges of the Scheme in BC Emission Mitigation:
  • Energy Needs and Traditional Fuels: Up to half of the energy needs of households benefiting from the PMUY are still met by traditional fuels, emitting high levels of black carbon.
  • In 2022-23, 25% of all PMUY beneficiaries availed either zero LPG refill or only one LPG refill, according to RTI data, meaning they still relied entirely on traditional biomass for cooking which aggravates the emission of black carbon.
  • Impact on Health and Well-being: A shortage of LPG and increased reliance on traditional fuels disproportionately affects women and children, leading to elevated indoor air pollution due to black carbon and other pollutants, health concerns, and premature deaths.
  • LPG Subsidy and Affordability: In October 2023, the government increased the LPG subsidy to ₹300 from ₹200. However, despite this adjustment, the cost of a 14.2-kg LPG cylinder remains around ₹600, posing affordability challenges for many PMUY beneficiaries compared to free alternatives like cow dung and firewood.
    • Cow dung and firewood are more affordable to PMUY beneficiaries so its use is more prevalent, intensifying the problem of black carbon.
  • Last-Mile Connectivity Hindrance: The lack of last-mile connectivity in the LPG distribution network poses a significant challenge to the success of PMUY in reducing the black carbon emission, especially impacting remote rural areas heavily reliant on biomass burning which is a significant source of black carbon.

Way Forward

  • Coal-Bed Methane (CBM): A potential approach to address this challenge involves locally producing coal-bed methane (CBM) gas through biomass composting. CBM presents a cleaner fuel option with reduced black-carbon emissions and investment requirements.
    • Local initiatives led by Panchayats can spearhead CBM gas production at the village level, guaranteeing that every rural household can access clean cooking fuel.
  • Promoting LPG Usage: Launching awareness campaigns to underscore the advantages of LPG compared to traditional fuels, highlighting its positive effects on health and the environment.
  • Enhancing Supply Chain Efficiency: Making investments in infrastructure development to bolster the last-mile connectivity within the LPG distribution network, ensuring consistent access to clean cooking fuel, especially in remote rural regions.
  • Expanding Clean Energy Options: Investigating alternative clean energy sources like biogas or solar energy for cooking purposes, particularly in areas with limited LPG accessibility.
  • Community Involvement: Involving local communities, particularly women and youth, in the decision-making processes concerning the adoption of clean energy, ensuring their needs and preferences are duly considered.

The document Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly.
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FAQs on Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st March 2024) Part - 2 - Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

1. What are the potential health effects of disruptions in Covid-19 related immunisation?
Ans. Disruptions in Covid-19 related immunisation can lead to a decrease in immunity levels, allowing for the resurgence of the virus and potential outbreaks. It can also result in a higher number of Covid-19 cases, severe illness, and even deaths among the population.
2. How does banning cotton candy impact public health?
Ans. Banning cotton candy can lead to a reduction in the consumption of sugary treats, which can help in lowering the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other related health issues. It can also promote healthier eating habits among individuals.
3. What is the significance of the Order of the Druk Gyalpo?
Ans. The Order of the Druk Gyalpo is a prestigious award in Bhutan conferred by the King to individuals for their exceptional contributions to the country. It recognizes and honors those who have made significant contributions in various fields for the betterment of society.
4. How do the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024 impact environmental sustainability?
Ans. The Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024 aim to strengthen regulations on plastic waste management, leading to better waste disposal practices, reduced plastic pollution, and improved environmental sustainability. It promotes recycling and proper disposal of plastic waste.
5. What is the connection between Black Carbon Emissions and PMUY?
Ans. Black Carbon Emissions from sources like biomass burning can contribute to air pollution and have adverse effects on public health. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) aims to provide clean cooking fuel to households, reducing their reliance on biomass fuels and consequently lowering black carbon emissions.
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