Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
- Compulsory Licensing
- Ophicordyceps nutans
- Detecting RNA virus in saliva samples using Raman spectroscopy
- Serological Test
- Multi-modal transportation of Goods Act
- Kawasaki Symptoms
- G4EA H1N1
- Chinese App bans
- Private Trains
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
Context: China had objected to a grant request for Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan’s Trashigang district at a meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
- Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) is a 650 kmsquare national park in the far eastern region of Bhutan, bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is located mostly located in Trashigang District
- It is one of the country’s protected areas. It is listed as a tentative site in Bhutan’s Tentative List for UNESCO inclusion.
- The sanctuary is adorned with a diverse ecosystem ranging from warm broadleaf forests to alpine meadows. It is home to some of the rarest wildlife species in the country, such as the Red Panda and Himalayan Monal Pheasant. It also protects several endemic species including the eastern blue pine and the black-rumped magpie
- From the two largest villages in the sanctuary, Merak and Sakteng, hails Bhutan’s most prominent highlanders, the semi-nomadic people called Brokpas, also known as “men of pastures”. Brokpas have a unique lifestyle and culture.
About the Issue
- The boundary between China and Bhutan has never been delimited.
- There have been disputes over the eastern, central and western sectors for a long time.
- In the 24 previous rounds of boundary negotiations held between the two countries, between 1984 and 2016 there is no mention of eastern Bhutan, or Trashigang Dzongkhag (district).
- The talks have been about three specific areas, including Jakarlung and Pasamlung in the north, and the Chumbi Valley, where Doklam is situated, in west Bhutan.
- Beijing now claims that the sanctuary is located in a disputed area between Bhutan and China.
- The Sakteng sanctuary has in the past, too, received grants from GEF, including in 2018-2019 for a project on preventing soil erosion, without any objection from China.
- Now Beijing has doubled down on its claims including Bhutan’s “eastern sectors” to the boundary dispute between the two countries for the first time.
- Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan and at no point during the boundary discussions between Bhutan and China has it featured as a disputed area
- Bhutan has always maintained a discreet silence on its boundary negotiations with China, and it does not have any formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.
How will this impact India?
- This latest instance is a continuation of the Chinese strategy to pressurise Bhutan — which has close relations with India — and challenge India’s relations with it as both the countries are treaty-bound to work closely with each other on issues of national interests.
- Under the 2007 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty (the 1949 Treaty was upgraded in 2007), both the countries have agreed to “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests”.
- The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems.
- The GEF is A UNIQUE PARTNERSHIP of 18 agencies — including United Nations agencies, multilateral development banks, national entities and international NGOs — working with 183 countries to address the world’s most challenging environmental issues.
- The GEF has a large network of civil society organizations, works closely with the private sector around the world, and receives continuous inputs from an independent evaluation office and a world-class scientific panel.
- The GEF has a unique governing structure organized around an Assembly, the Council, the Secretariat, 18 Agencies, a Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) and the Evaluation Office.
- Since its inception the GEF has provided close to $20.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $112 billion in co-financing for more than 4,800 projects in 170 countries.
- Through its Small Grants Programme, the GEF has provided support to nearly 24,000 civil society and community initiatives in 133 countries.
- The UNDP Global Environmental Finance (UNDP-GEF) Unit partners with environmental vertical funds to support countries with simultaneous eradication of poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion, by catalysing environmental finance for sustainable development.
- It is a FINANCIAL MECHANISM for five major international environmental conventions:
- the Minamata Convention on Mercury
- the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD)
- the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
- It also provides grants to developing countries for projects that benefit the global environment and promote sustainable livelihoods in local communities. GEF projects address six designated focal areas: Biodiversity, Climate Change, International Waters, Ozone Depletion, Land Degradation and Persistent Organic Pollutants.
- GEF is also an INNOVATOR AND CATALYST that supports multi-stakeholder alliances to preserve threatened ecosystems on land and in the oceans, build greener cities, boost food security and promote clean energy for a more prosperous, climate-resilient world; leveraging $5.2 in additional financing for every $1 invested.
India and GEF
- India has formed a permanent Constituency in the Executive Council of the GEF together with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives.
- The Council Meetings are held semi-annually or as frequently necessary. At each meeting, the Council elects a Chairperson from among its members for the duration of that meeting. India’s Executive Director in the World Bank represents the GEF Council from our Constituency.
- India is both a donor and a recipient of GEF.
- It has been a leading developing country participant in the GEF since its inception in 1991 and has played a major role in shaping the restructuring of the GEF.
- India has pledged an amount of US $ 9.0 million towards the resources of each of the Five GEF replenishments.
- Ministry of Finance is the political focal point while Ministry of Environment & Forests is the Operational Focal Point for the GEF Projects.
2 . Compulsory Licensing
Context : The Polit Bureau of the CPI (Marxist) on Sunday said the government should issue compulsory licences for the manufacture of a generic version of Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug being used to treat COVID-19 patients.
What is Compulsory Licensing
- Compulsory licensing is when a government allows someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner or plans to use the patent-protected invention itself. It is one of the flexibilities in the field of patent protection included in the WTO’s agreement on intellectual property — the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement. It is mainly provided in the Pharmaceutical sector
- Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health confirms that countries are free to determine the grounds for granting compulsory licences, and to determine what constitutes a national emergency.
- The patent owner still has rights over the patent, including a right to be paid for copies of the products made under the compulsory licence.
Compulsory Licensing in India
- Compulsory licences are granted according to the provisions of the Patents Act, 1970 and the term ‘Mandatory Licence’ is not used under the Act.
- Till date, one Compulsory Licence has been granted by the Controller of Patents under Section 84 of the Patents Act 1970 to M/s. NATCO Pharma for Indian Patent No. 215758 (Carboxyaryl substituted diphenyl ureas) which was granted to M/s. Bayer Corporation
- The drug covered under this patent is “Sorafenibtosylate” and sold under the brand name “NEXAVAR”, isused for the treatment of kidney and liver cancer.
Section Pertaining to the Compulsory License in India
Section 84 (1)
(1) At any time after the expiration of three years from the date of the grant of a patent, any person interested may make an application to the Controller for grant of compulsory licence on patent on any of the following grounds, namely:—
- (a) that the reasonable requirements of the public with respect to the patented invention have not been satisfied, or
- (b) that the patented invention is not available to the public at a reasonably affordable price, or
- (c) that the patented invention is not worked in the territory of India.
- Further, compulsory licenses can also be issued suo motu by the Controller under section 92, pursuant to a notification issued by the Central Government if there is either a “national emergency” or “extreme urgency” or in cases of “public non-commercial use”.
- The Controller takes into account some more factors like the nature of the invention, the capability of the applicant to use the product for public benefit and the reasonability, but the ultimate discretion lies with him to grant the compulsory license. Even after a compulsory license is granted to a third party, the patent owner still has rights over the patent, including a right to be paid for copies of the products made under the compulsory licence.
3 . Ophicordyceps nutans
Context: Researchers have now found a fungi (Ophicordyceps nutans) for the first time in central India that can infect a stink bug ( this insect is a pest to forest trees and agricultural crops).
About Ophicordyceps nutans
- These fungi have been reported in India only from the Western Ghats.
- The fungus was found on its specific host insect Halyomorpha halys.
- The simple but scary modus operandi of the fungi involves infecting the insect when alive, developing fungal mycelium inside its thorax, and when it is time for the spores to come out, kill the bug.
- The fruiting body sprouts out from between the insect’s thorax and head, and it continues to take nutrition from the dead body.
- The fungi are very host-specific, so the spores travel and infect many more stink bugs.
- It is also called as stink bugs
- It is a pest to forest trees and agricultural crops
- The stink bug is known to damage the flower and fruits of soybean, green beans, apple, pear,
Benefits of the Fungi
- Previous studies have shown that these fungi can be used as a biological pest control agent
- Several species of the Ophiocordyceps fungi have medicinal properties and the reports have shown that China has been traditionally using it.
- In the Western Ghats, the local people use these fungi as an immune stimulator.
- These fungi is rich in biologically active metabolites, vitamin C, phenolic compounds, and also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- They also contain a component called ‘cordycepin’ which has anticancer properties.
- Exploring these fungi as a pesticide will help reduce the harmful effect of chemicals in our fields.
4 . Detecting RNA virus in saliva samples using Raman spectroscopy
Context: A team led by Amit Dutt from the Mumbai-based Tata Memorial Centre has turned to Raman Spectroscopy to detect RNA viruses present in saliva samples.
About the Research
- It has been reported that novel coronavirus is found in sufficient numbers in human saliva and so for the study, the researchers have spiked saliva samples with non-infectious RNA viruses and analysed it with Raman Spectroscopy.
- To minimise variability and automate the analysis of the Raman spectra for RNA viruses, they developed an automated tool — RNA Virus Detector — using a graphical user interface.
- This tool can be used for detecting RNA virus from an individual or a group of samples in an unambiguous and reproducible manner, and is freely downloadable.
- It is first of its kind and takes raw data from a Raman Spectrometer analysis based on the 65-spectra signature and provides an objective output if viral RNA is present or absent in the sample.
Details of the Research Study
- Researchers analysed the raw Raman Spectroscopy data and compared the signals with both viral positive and negative samples.
- Statistical analysis of all the 1,400 spectra obtained for each sample, showed a set of 65 Raman spectral features was adequate to identify the viral positive signal. Interestingly, most of the spectra were specific for the RNA molecule
- Researchers confirmed findings by adding an enzyme that specifically degrades RNA molecule — the RNase — in presence of which the 65 spectra–based feature was completely abrogated that didn’t happen in presence of DNase or proteinase hence it was confirmed that the signal came from the RNA contributed by the intact virions
- This conceptual framework to detect RNA viruses in saliva could form the basis for field application of Raman Spectroscopy in managing viral outbreaks, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- The advantage is that the tool can be taken to the field and people who test positive for RNA virus can be quarantined while another sample may be sent for validation using RT-PC
- This whole process of data acquisition and analysis can be performed within a minute. Since no additional reagent is needed there is no recurring cost.
- A portable Raman spectrophotometer installed at the port of entry such as airports or any point of care can screen passengers within minutes
- Since the tool can only identify RNA viruses and not identify the specific one, it can be used only for screening.
- The RNA virus detected could be a common cold virus as well or any other RNA virus such as HIV. It doesn’t look for COVID-19 viral-specific signature
About Raman Effect
- Raman effect is the inelastic scattering of a photon by molecules which are excited to higher vibrational or rotational energy levels. It is also called Raman scattering.
- The Raman effect forms the basis for Raman spectroscopy which is used by chemists and physicists to gain information about materials.
- Raman Spectroscopy is a non-destructive chemical analysis technique which provides detailed information about chemical structure, phase and polymorphy, crystallinity and molecular interactions. It is based upon the interaction of light with the chemical bonds within a material.
5 . Serological Test
Context: Serological tests to detect antibodies against novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could improve diagnosis of COVID-19 and be a useful tool for epidemiological surveillance. These have been seen as a tool to issue immunity passports or certificates so that already-infected people can move around freely. There has been increasing number of serological tests, and many are being marketed for point-of-care use.
About the Analysis
- The primary outcome of the analysis was to evaluate the overall sensitivity and specificity based on the method of serological testing — ELISA, lateral flow immunoassays (LFIAs), or chemiluminescent immunoassays (CLIAs), and immunoglobulin class (IgG, IgM or both).
- The secondary outcomes of the analysis were to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the tests within subgroups defined by study or participant characteristics, including time since symptom onset.
Details of the Analysis
- The study found high risk of patient selection bias in 98% (48/49 studies) of assessments, and high or unclear risk of bias from performance or interpretation of the serological test in 73% (36/49) of studies. Only as little as 10% (4/40) of studies included outpatients.
- However, the pooled sensitivity and specificity were estimated for each serological tests. The pooled sensitivity of ELISA measuring IgG or IgM was just 84.3%. But for all methods of serological testing, the sensitivity increased — 69.9% to 98.9% — when the testing was carried out at least three weeks after symptom onset compared with within the first week (from 13.4% to 50.3%).
- But they warn that even when the sensitivity estimates were higher at later time points — third week or later — important false negative rates were found. “In people with COVID-19 who are tested three weeks after symptom onset, ELISA IgG will misclassify 18% as not having been infected and LFIA IgG will misclassify 30%,” they write.
- “For each test method, the type of immunoglobulin being measured — IgM, IgG, or both — was not associated with diagnostic accuracy. Pooled sensitivities were lower with commercial kits and in the first and second week after symptom onset compared with the third week or later. Pooled specificities of each test method were high
- The study found many shortcomings in the case of LFIA serological tests, leading to say that LFIA should not be used beyond research and evaluation purposes.
What is a serological test?
- Serological tests work on blood samples rather than nasal swabs. These types of test for coronavirus are being developed by a number of labs around the world.
- The blood of someone who has been exposed should be full of antibodies against the virus. It’s the presence, or absence, of such antibodies that the new tests measure.
How does it work?
- To make their version of a test, the Icahn team produced copies of the telltale “spike” protein on the virus’s surface. That protein is highly immunogenic, meaning that people’s immune systems see it and start making antibodies that can lock onto it. The test involves exposing a sample of blood to bits of the spike protein. If the test lights up, it means that you have the antibodies.
- To check their results, the team inspected blood samples collected before covid-19 came out of China this year, as well as blood from three actual coronavirus cases. According to Krammer, the test can pick up the body’s response to infection “as early as three days post symptom onset.”
What impact could testing have on treatment?
- Serological testing could have immediate implications for treatment by helping locate survivors, who could then donate their antibody-rich blood to people in ICUs to help boost their immunity.
- What’s more, doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers could learn if they’ve already been exposed. Those who have—assuming they are now immune—could safely rush to the front lines and perform the riskiest tasks, like intubating a person with the virus, without worrying about getting infected or bringing the disease home to their families. But tests could have a bigger impact too.
What else can it tell us?
- Serological tests, if they are done widely and quickly enough, could give an accurate picture of how many people have ever been infected. And that is the figure disease modelers and governments urgently need to gauge how deep society’s shutdown needs to be.
6 . Multi-modal transportation of Goods Act
Context : The Commerce Ministry is considering replacing the Multi-Modal Transportation of Goods Act (MMTG) with a full-fledged national logistics law with a view to promote growth of the sector, a senior government official said on Saturday.
About Multimodal Transportation of Goods Act, 1993 (MMTG)
- The Multimodal Transportation of Goods Act, 1993 (MMTG) provides for the regulation of Multimodal Transportation of Goods from any place in India to any place outside India involving two or more modes of Transport on the basis of a single Multimodal Transport Contract.
- This act came into force from 2.4.1993 and it provides for Registration of a person a Multimodal Transport operator and Multimodal Transportation can be carried out only by persons registered as MTO under MMTG Act, 1993.
- The Director General of Shipping has been notified as the competent authority to perform functions under the Act including registration of MTOs.
- The MTO registration is valid for period of 1 year and may be renewed for further period of one year from time to time.
- The Director General of Shipping has, after obtaining the prior approval of Ministry of Surface Transport, prescribed the Multimodal Transport Document under Rule 3 of Multimodal Transport Document Rules, 1994.
- The Multimodal Transportation of Goods Act, 1993 was introduced to facilitate the exporters and give them a sense of security in transporting their goods.
- The concept of door to door delivery, which is MULTIMODAL Transportation is all about, is catching up fast in international trade. Reduction of logistics costs is one of the important aspects of Multimodal Transportation, thereby reducing the overall cost to the exporter and making his products more competitive in the international market.
- It is in this context that the Government of India thought it necessary to codify the rules and regulations governing Multimodal Transportation and enacted the Multimodal Transportation of Goods Act, 1993 based on the UNCTAD/ICC rules which have gained widespread acceptance.
About the News
- National Logistics Efficiency and Advancement Predictability and Safety Act (NLEAPS) is under consideration and this law tends to define various participants of the logistics space and create a light regulatory ecosystem.
- There is a to need to clearly define what the logistics sector is and what the various elements in it are hence it is under consideration to replace the current act with a full-fledged national logistics law.
- The move assumes significance as high logistics cost impacts the competitiveness of domestic goods in the international market.
- Effective implementation of the policy would help provide an impetus to trade, enhance export competitiveness, and improve India’s ranking in the Logistics Performance Index.
- India’s logistics sector is highly fragmented and the government aims to reduce the logistics cost from the present 14% of the Gross Domestic Product to less than 10%.
- According to an earlier statement from the Ministry, the sector is complex, with more than 20 government agencies, 40 partnering agencies, 37 export promotion councils, 500 certifications and 10,000 commodities.
7 . Kawasaki symptoms
Context : Around the world, including in India since recently, children with Covid-19 infection have often shown some symptoms similar to those associated with a rare illness called Kawasaki disease — such as rashes and inflammation — while other symptoms of Kawasaki disease have been absent. In fact, such symptoms have also shown in children who tested negative for Covid-19.
What is Kawasaki disease?
- It affects children. Its symptoms include red eyes, rashes, and a swollen tongue with reddened lips — often termed strawberry tongue — and an inflamed blood vessel system all over the body. There is constant high fever for at least five days. The disease also affects coronary functions in the heart.
- The disease derives its name from a Japanese paediatrician, Tomisaku Kawasaki, who reported the first case in 1961 — a four-year-old boy — and later found similar cases in other children. The doctor, 95, died on June 5 this year in Tokyo.
- What causes Kawasaki disease is not yet known. “What we do know is that it is an immunological reaction to an infection or a virus. A child’s immunity system responds to a particular infection and develops these symptoms
What is the link with Covid-19?
- Children with Covid-19 are mostly asymptomatic or develop mild symptoms. It has been in rare cases that children with Covid-19 have shown symptoms similar to those of Kawasaki disease, 2-3 weeks after getting infected with coronavirus.
- In India, too, the cases (including some children who tested negative for Covid-19) that have been coming up have shown some of the symptoms associated with Kawasaki disease, but with some differences.
What have these symptoms been?
- Common symptoms are rashes and high fever like Kawasaki, but other symptoms like red eyes, red tongue are not present. Heart may be swollen but coronary functions are not affected like in Kawasaki.
- Other symptoms include inflammation in entire blood vessel system
- Kawasaki typically affects children aged under five. In Covid-19 cases, even adolescents are presenting these symptoms. While Kawasaki involves coronary changes, this has not been the case with all Covid-19-positive children with Kawasaki-like symptoms. The strawberry tongue may or may not be present in those with Covid-19.
So, it is not exactly Kawasaki?
- The Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health (RCPCH) has observed that this syndrome shares symptoms with other inflammatory syndromes in children like “Kawasaki disease, staphylococcal and streptococcal toxic shock syndromes, bacterial sepsis and macrophage activation syndromes”. “It can also present with unusual abdominal symptoms,” it says.
- The RCPCH says that in multisystem inflammatory syndrome, children may or may not test positive for Covid-19 and show inflammation, persistent fever, single or multi-organ dysfunction. The cases seen in Wadia Hospital match these criteria.
- “It is currently unknown if multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) is specific to children or if it also occurs in adults,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US. The CDC has taken note of cases in the UK and New York, where children with recent or current Covid-19 infection developed inflammation. “There is limited information currently available about risk factors, pathogenesis, clinical course, and treatment for MIS-C,” CDC says.
- A few things are clear— it is seen in patients aged less than 19; inflammation, abdominal pain, diarrhoea are common; heart attack and septic shock may happen. The WHO says there also will be a history of contact with a positive case of Covid-19.
8 . G4EA H1N1
Context: In a new research, scientists from China – which has the largest population of pigs in the world – have identified a “recently emerged” strain of influenza virus that is infecting Chinese pigs and that has the potential of triggering a pandemic. Named G4, the swine flu strain has genes similar to those in the virus that caused the 2009 flu pandemic. The study was published in the US science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PANS).
What is a pandemic?
- Simply put, a pandemic is a measure of the spread of a disease. When a new disease spreads over a vast geographical area covering several countries and continents, and most people do not have immunity against it, the outbreak is termed a pandemic. It implies a higher level of concern than an epidemic, which the US Centers of Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) defines as the spread of a disease in a localised area or country.
- There is no fixed number of cases or deaths that determine when an outbreak becomes a pandemic. The Ebola virus, which killed thousands in West Africa, is an epidemic as it is yet to mark its presence on other continents. Other outbreaks caused by coronaviruses such as MERS (2012) and SARS (2002), which spread to 27 and 26 countries respectively, were not labelled pandemics because they were eventually contained.
Which outbreaks have been declared pandemics in the past?
- A major example is the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, which killed between 20-50 million. Cholera pandemics have been declared multiple times between 1817 and 1975. In 1968, an pandemic was declared for H3N2 that caused about a million deaths. The last pandemic declared by the WHO was in 2009, for H1N1.
What have the scientists said?
- The scientists identified the virus through surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs that they carried out from 2011 to 2018 in ten provinces of China.
- During this time, more than 29,000 nasal swabs were collected from slaughtered pigs and over 1,000 swabs or lung tissues were collected from farmed pigs that had signs of respiratory disease.
- Out of these samples, the researchers isolated 179 swine flu viruses, the majority of which belonged to the newly identified G4 strain.
- They also found that the G4 strain has the capability of binding to human-type receptors (like, the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to ACE2 receptors in humans), was able to copy itself in human airway epithelial cells, and it showed effective infectivity and aerosol transmission in ferrets.
But why study pigs?
- The scientists report that the new strain (G4) has descended from the H1N1 strain that was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic. “Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of pandemic influenza virus. Thus, systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is a key measure for pre-warning the emergence of the next pandemic influenza,” states the study. It cannot be said if this new strain, if transmitted from pigs to humans, can transmit from one human to another.
- The scientists suggest that controlling the prevailing G4 Eurasian-Avian like (EA) H1N1 viruses in pigs and closely monitoring human populations, especially workers in the swine industry, should be “urgently implemented”.
The 2009 swine flu pandemic
- The WHO declared the outbreak of type A H1N1 influenza virus a pandemic in 2009 when there were around 30,000 cases globally. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines swine flu as, “a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Influenza viruses that commonly circulate in swine are called “swine influenza viruses” or “swine flu viruses”. Like human influenza viruses, there are different sub-types and strains of swine influenza viruses”.
- Essentially, swine flu is a virus that pigs can get infected by. While humans typically do not get infected by such a virus that circulates among pigs, when they do, it is called “variant influenza virus”.
- Human-to-human transmission among variant influenza viruses is limited. As per the CDC, most commonly, humans may get infected by such viruses due to exposure from infected pigs.
- The 2009 pandemic was caused by a strain of the swine flu called the H1N1 virus, which was transmitted from human to human. The symptoms of swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue.
9 . Chinese apps ban
Context: In the wake of the face-off with Chinese forces on the India-China border in Ladakh, and a violent clash on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, the Indian government on June 29 banned 59 apps of Chinese origin, citing data security and national sovereignty concerns. These include popular ones such as TikTok, SHAREIt, UC Browser, CamScanner, Helo, Weibo, WeChat and Club Factory.
Why were the Chinese apps banned?
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asserted that it had received many complaints from various sources, including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India.
- The government had received concerns from several citizens regarding security of data and loss of privacy in using these apps.
- The Ministry had also received exhaustive recommendations from the Home Ministry’s Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre.
- And after all these concerns the decision was taken to safeguard the “sovereignty and integrity of India”, invoking powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.
How large is the user base in India for these banned apps?
- Estimates by Sensor Tower show the video-sharing social networking app, TikTok has seen about 611 million downloads in India over the app’s lifetime, while estimates of active users vary with the highest pegged at 200 million.
- According to media reports, file-sharing tool SHAREIt has about 400 million users.
- Statcounter places the Alibaba-owned UC Browser second in India market share at 10.19%, after Google Chrome (78.2%). Other reports estimate its user base at 130 million.
How will users be affected?
- Installed apps may continue to exist on mobile devices.
- But now that the latest versions of the apps have been removed from Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, users will not be able to access updated versions in future.
- If a notice goes out to internet service providers asking that data flow from these apps be halted, that could impact the functioning of existing, installed apps.
How does the ban affect Chinese app providers?
- There is a potential loss of advertising revenue that will impact app-makers.
What has China’s response been to the ban?
- China has said that it suspects India’s actions could be in violation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
- The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi has said that India’s measure selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and [is suspected] of violating the WTO rules. It also goes against the general trend of international trade and e-commerce, and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India.
- The Chinese government’s comments indicate that it could file a formal complaint at the WTO.
Will the move hurt India?
- It could, in terms of investments and employment.
- ByteDance Ltd. had talked of upcoming investments worth $1 billion in India. That will probably remain suspended till further clarity emerges, potentially impacting job creation.
What legal options does the Indian government have?
- In terms of process, there are two options available to the government under Section 69A of the IT Act to issue ban orders — normal and emergency.
- In the case of the ban on the 59 apps, based on the use of the phrase “interim order” in the statement issued by TikTok, it appears that the government may have adopted the emergency route.
- The emergency route allows content to be blocked on the directions of the Secretary, Department of IT, who must consider the impugned content and record his reasons for doing so.
- In the normal course, an order to block content requires: (a) a decision to be made by a government committee (b) relevant intermediaries to be given an opportunity to be heard by this committee.
- These processes are not required when emergency provisions are used.
- However, in the case of emergencies, the order of the Secretary, Department of IT, must be placed before the government committee within 48 hours. Based on the recommendations of this committee, the order can then be finalised or vacated.
Can the order be challenged in an Indian court?
- Though it is unlikely that the companies concerned may take such a step immediately, either they or any affected individual in India could challenge the blocking orders in court.
- The courts will then decide whether the government has provided sufficient explanation as to the nexus between what these apps are alleged to be doing and the reasons adduced by the government such as protection of national security and strategic interests.
- Courts will also consider if the ban is a proportionate and necessary step to be taken, given the facts at hand.
10 . Private Trains
Context: Indian Railways has launched the process of opening up train operations to private entities on 109 origin destination(OD) pairs of routes using 151 modern trains. It has invited Request for Qualifications proposals, for scrutiny of vendor capabilities, from those who can bring modern trains for operations on existing rail infrastructure.
About the News
- The Railway Board has moved ahead with a long-pending plan, setting a tentative schedule for private train operations, expected to begin in 2023 and in 12 clusters.
- In December 2019, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had said that a Group of Secretaries had gone into the question of allowing private train services. There was no proposal to allow more Tejas trains from Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), the Minister said.
- The IRCTC, in which the government is the majority shareholder, was given pilot Tejas operations in the New Delhi-Lucknow, and Mumbai-Ahmedabad sectors. These were the first trains allowed to be run by a ‘non-Railway’ operator.
- The present move takes another step towards competing passenger train operations, bringing new-generation trains and attracting investments of an estimated ₹30,000 crore.
What is the background to the decision?
- Several committees have gone into the expansion and the modernisation of Indian Railways.
- In 2015, the expert panel chaired by Bibek Debroy constituted by the Ministry of Railways a year earlier, recommended that the way forward for the railways was “liberalisation and not privatisation” in order to allow entry of new operators “to encourage growth and improve services.”
- It also made it clear that a regulatory mechanism was a prerequisite to promote healthy competition and protect the interests of all stakeholders.
- The present invitation for private operators to submit qualification bids for 151 trains would be, in the assessment of the Railway Board, only for a fraction of the total train operations — 5% of the 2,800 Mail and Express services operated by Indian Railways.
- The overall objective is to introduce a new train travel experience for passengers who are used to travelling by aircraft and air-conditioned buses.
- From a passenger perspective, there is a need for more train services, particularly between big cities.
- The Railway Board says five crore intending passengers could not be accommodated during 2019-20 for want of capacity, and there was 13.3% travel demand in excess of supply during summer and festival seasons. Without an expansion, and with growth of road travel, the share of the Railways would steadily decline in coming years.
Why is the move significant for Indian Railways?
- The Railways is one of the largest organisations in the country operating not just trains for passengers and freight, but also social institutions such as hospitals and schools, it represents a radical change.
- According to data maintained by the World Bank, in 2018 India had 68,443 route kilometres of railways.
- It is among the four largest rail networks in the world, along with the United States, China, and Russia, although every kilometre of track in India covers geographical area much less than Germany, Russia, China or Canada, indicating scope for expansion.
- An analysis of passenger and freight operations in the Railways showed that a steady shift to other modes of travel for both categories was affecting economic growth: by as much as 4.5% of GDP-equivalent.
- It was estimated that a one rupee push in the railway sector would have a forward linkage effect of increasing output in other sectors by ₹2.50.
- The Debroy committee found this significant to take the ‘Make in India’ objective forward. The panel also noted that passengers were willing to pay more, if they had guaranteed and better quality of travel and ease of access. The move to augment capacity virtually overnight through private capital in train operations pursues this line of reasoning.
Are private train operations sustainable?
- Train services operated by Indian Railways cover several classes of passengers, meeting the social service obligation to connect remote locations, and adopting the philosophy of cross-subsidy for passengers in low-cost trains through higher freight tariffs.
- In more recent years, it has focused on revenue generation through dynamic demand-based pricing.
- Private operators are not expected to shoulder the burden of universal service norms, and will focus on revenue.
- Even the first IRCTC-run trains have a higher cost of travel between Lucknow and Delhi than a Shatabdi train on the same route that almost matches it for speed. So private operators would have to raise the level of their offering even higher, to justify higher fares, and attract a segment of the population that is ready to pay for this difference.
- The government would have to explain that it has monetised its expensive fixed assets such as track, signalling and stations adequately for the taxpayer, who has paid for them.
- The key piece in the scheme is the independent regulator, recommended by expert committees.
- The Government of India is planning to set up a Rail Development Authority as a “recommendatory/advisory” body, advising government on, among other things, promoting competition, efficiency and economy, and protecting consumer interests.
- Private rail operations can thus be seen as a government-led pilot plan, not a full programme for unbundling of the monolithic Indian Railways, although the more attractive parts are being opened for private exploitation.