Current Affair – May 4, 2021

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CURRENT AFFAIRS

National Hu­man Rights Commission

  • Justice Prafulla Chandra Pant, a former Supreme Court judge, has been ap­pointed the Acting Chair­person of  the National Hu­man Rights Commission (NHRC). The post of Chairperson has been vacant since the former Chief Justice of In­dia H.L. Dattu completed his tenure on December 2.

About National Human Rights Commission (NHRC):

  • NHRC was established on 12th October, 1993 under the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993.
  • The Act also provides for the creation of the State Human Rights Commission..

Composition:

  • The chairperson is a retired chief justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court.
  • They are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a six-member committee consisting of:

                          Prime Minister (head)

                          Speaker of the Lok Sabha

                          Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha

                         Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament

                           Union Home Minister

Term of office

  • They hold office for a term of3 years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
  • The President can remove them from the office under specific circumstances.

Human Rights

  • Section 2(1)(d) of the PHRA defines Human Rights as the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.
Source: The Hindu

Asian Development Outlook 2021

  • Asian Development Outlook Report for the year 2021 has been released by Asian Development Bank (ADB). It is a forecast of growth in different economies.
  • India was one of the 45 economies across Asia and the Pacific that were assessed by the report.
Excluding the second wave, India’s economy, was expected to grow 11% in fiscal year 2021 amid a strong vaccine drive.
India’s gross domestic product (GDP) was expected to expand 7%  in 2022.

What does the Report say

  • The  ongoing ‘second wave’ the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic could put India’s economic recovery at risk.
  • This year, South Asia’s gross domestic product growth was expected to rebound to 9.5%.
  • The 45 economies that excluded Japan, Australia and New Zealand, were to grow 7.3% this year, supported by a healthy global recovery and early progress on COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The region’s growth is forecast to moderate to 5.3% in 2022. Excluding high income newly industrialised economies, a growth of 7.7%  is forecast for this year and 5.6% for next year,” the report said.

Tendency of Growth

  • While growth was forecast to be the strongest in east and south Asia, central and southeast Asia as well as the Pacific were to see more moderate growth.
  • Rising exports were boosting some economies in Asia, amid strengthening global economic activity, including a rebound in manufacturing.
  • Average inflation in the region was forecast to fall to 2.3%  in 2021, from 2.8% in 2020.
  • The report said that the pandemic was the biggest threat to Asia and the Pacific (including India). This was mainly due to delay in vaccine rollouts or major new outbreaks.
Source: Downtoearth

Unpaid work: Recognise, Reduce, Redistribute

  • Various proposals for  ‘women empowerment’ have been put forward by various parties to reach out to women voters during the state assembly election campaign .
  • The promises have sparked a debate on the issue of care work and possible solutions to address the disparities therein.

Housework and the economy

  • Unpaid care work, according to the OECD, refers to all unpaid services provided within a household for its members, including care of persons, housework and voluntary community work. These activities are considered work because theoretically one could pay a third person to perform them.
  • Standard measures of economic activity do not take into account a large portion of this work, much of which is done by women and girls.
  • McKinsey estimating that women do 75% of the world’s total unpaid care work.

India

  • In India, women spend 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services while men spend 97 minutes, according to the 2019 NSS report on time use. This inequality has a direct correlation with participation in the formal economy.
  • India has slipped 28 places to rank 140th among 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. A decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, which fell from 24.8% to 22.3%, is Amon the drivers for slippage 
  • Gender Gap report also estimated that earned income of women in India is only one-fifth of men’s, which puts the country among the bottom 10 globally on this indicator.
  • The economic contribution of women is 17% of India’s GDP — less than half the global average.

Impact of Covid-19

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. By November 2020, while most men got their jobs back, women had a much tougher time.
  • About 49% of total job losses by that time were of women, CMIE has estimated.

Significance of  unpaid work

  • Women spend a disproportionate amount of time (compared to men) on unpaid domestic work.
  • It is ironically the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps economies, businesses and societies running and contributes significantly to individual well-being.
  • While this work is foundational for societies, it is mostly invisible, undervalued and unaccounted worldwide.
  • The ILO estimates that if such services were to be valued on the basis of an hourly minimum wage, they would amount to 9% of global GDP (US$11 trillion).
  • According to an ILO report on ‘Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work’, unpaid care work is the main barrier preventing women from getting into, remaining and progressing in the labour force.
  • Therefore, policies should address the rising need for care and tackle the huge disparity between women’s and men’s care responsibilities. This is especially true for India, given that a major challenge on the economic front is getting more women into the formal workforce.

Measuring and monetising care work

  • The classic economic indicators like GDP and unemployment rates do not take into account the allocation of labour and time resources by households and their impact on livelihoods and well-being.
  • The value of unpaid work can be estimated by calculating the amount of time spent on it – through time use surveys – and then putting a price on it by calculating the opportunity cost or replacement cost, or by measuring the labour inputs that go into the activity.

Challenges

  • According to an Oxfam survey, care work is often not considered ‘work’ and done ‘automatically’, hence respondents are less likely to report time spent on care.
  • It is also difficult to capture the whole spectrum of care work as multitasking is common. For example, women might look after children while cooking or engaging in farm work.
  • Variation and seasonality of work is also difficult to capture.
  • Issue of  accounting for unpaid work in national accounts, and its international harmonisation. The System of National Accounts (SNA) puts unpaid labour in the category of ‘own-account services’, and excludes it from the activities in the production account.

Way forward

  • Recognise: The first step in addressing the inequalities in unpaid care work is to recognise its value. This requires data, especially on time-use. More data will make more unpaid care work visible and help frame targeted policies. The ‘NSS Report- Time Use in India 2019’ was the first such countrywide survey to be conducted in India.
  • Reduce: The next step would be reducing unpaid care work by investment in physical infrastructure like clean water and sanitation, energy and public transport, and in social infrastructure such as care and health services and education.
  • Redistribute: Redistribution of care work between men and women, and between families and the state. Investments in and expansion of care services for children and childhood education, for example, have the potential to generate jobs, many of which could be taken up by women. More equitable childcare and maternity policies could help reduce the ‘motherhood penalty’.
Source: Indian Express

Variants of  SARS-CoV-2 Virus

  • The Two variants from the B.1.617 lineage or the so-called Indian variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been identified and are being monitored as Variants Under Investigation (VUI) by UK.
  • Earlier, India’s Health Ministry said that a new “double mutant variant” of the coronavirus had been detected in addition to many other strains or variants of concern (VOCs) found in the country.

What is a variant?

  • Variants of a virus have one or more mutations that differentiate it from the other variants that are in circulation.
  • While most mutations are deleterious for the virus, some make it easier for the virus to survive.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 virus is evolving fast because of the scale at which it has infected people around the world. High levels of circulation mean it is easier for the virus to change as it is able to replicate faster.

Indian variant

  • The B.1.617 variant of the virus has two mutations, referred to as E484Q and L452R. Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but they have been reported together for the first time in India.
  • This variant is classified as a VOI by the WHO as well.
  • The WHO has said that laboratory studies suggest that samples from individuals who had natural infection may have reduced neutralisation against variants which have the E484Q mutation.

How are variants of the coronavirus being classified and what does it mean?

  • If the variants of SARS-CoV-2 are considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, they are raised for formal investigation Variants Under Investigation (VUI).
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on the other hand classifies variants into three categories– variant of interest (VOI), variant of concern (VOC) and variant of high consequence.

VOI: A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.

VOC: A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.

Source: Indian Express

Biofuel

  • Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel flagged off the first supply of UCO (Used Cooking Oil) based Biodiesel blended Diesel under the EOI Scheme from Indian Oil’s Tikrikalan Terminal, Delhi.

About the initiative

  • Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Steel, along with Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, had initiated Expressions of Interest for “Procurement of Bio-diesel produced from Used Cooking Oil” on the occasion of World Biofuel Day on 10th August 2019.
  • Such“Expressions of Interest”are being periodically released by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs). Under this initiative, OMCs offer periodically incremental price guarantees for 5 years and extend off-take guarantees for 10 years to prospective entrepreneurs.

Significance of initiative

  • It aims to create an eco-system for collection and conversion of UCO into Biodiesel and developing entrepreneurship opportunities.
  • This initiative will garner substantial economic benefits for the nation by shoring up indigenous Biodiesel supply, reducing import dependence, and generating rural employment.
  • Feedstock availability in Biodiesel is a challenge, and leveraging UCO can be a major breakthrough.
  • It has tendency to enable us to reach the target of 5% Biodiesel blending.
  • It will also help divert the unhealthy used oil from the food chain to a more productive purpose.

What is a biodiesel?

  • Biodiesel is an alternative fuel, similar to conventional or ‘fossil’ diesel.
  • It can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats, tallow and waste cooking oil.
  • A significant advantage of Biodiesel is its carbon-neutrality, i.e. the oilseed absorbs the same amount of CO2 as is released when the fuel is combusted in a vehicle.
  •  Biodiesel is rapidly biodegradable and completely non-toxic.
Source: PIB

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