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Sunday, July 21, 2019


Government e Marketplace (GeM)
Context: A government meeting was recently held to review and formulate an action plan for Government e Marketplace (GeM) to achieve a target for Rs. lakh crore Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) on GeM in FY 2019-20.

About GeM:
What is it? GeM is a state-of-the-art national public procurement platform of Ministry of Commerce and Industries, that has used technology to remove entry barriers for bonafide sellers and has created a vibrant e-marketplace with a wide range of goods and services.
Aim: GeM aims to enhance transparency, efficiency and speed in public procurement.
Features: It facilitates online procurement of common use Goods & Services required by various Government Departments / Organisations / PSUs. It provides the tools of e-bidding, reverse e-auction and demand aggregation to facilitate the government users, achieve the best value for their money.

Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Context: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that amends the Right to Information Act, 2005 has been introduced in Lok Sabha.

What does the RTI Act do?  
Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning. 
This includes: (i) disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure, (ii) powers and duties of its officers and employees, and (iii) financial information. 

Need:
The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information. The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.  

Who is included in the ambit of ‘Public Authorities’? 
‘Public Authorities’ include bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification.  For instance, these include Ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators.  It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government.

How is the right to information enforced under the Act?
The Act has established a three tier structure for enforcing the right to information guaranteed under the Act
Public Authorities designate some of their officers as Public Information Officers
The first request for information goes to Central/State Assistant Public Information Officer and Central/State Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities. These Officers are required to provide information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of the request.  
Appeals from their decisions go to an Appellate Authority

Information Commissions:
Appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority go to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission. 
These Information Commissions consists of a Chief Information Commissioner, and up to 10 Information Commissioners.
   
What does the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 propose?
The Bill changes the terms and conditions of service of the CIC and Information Commissioners at the centre and in states. 
The Bill states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
The Bill states that the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs will be determined by the central government.

Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Context: Rajya Sabha recently passed the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2019
The Bill amends the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008

Background:
The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008 established the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERA)
Functions: AERA regulates tariffs and other charges for aeronautical services provided at civilian airports with annual traffic above 15 lakh passengers.  It also monitors the performance standard of services across these airports. 

Why was AERA created, and what is its role? 
To ensure that private airport operators do not misuse their monopoly, the need for an independent tariff regulator in the airport sector was felt. Consequently, the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008 (AERA Act) was passed which set up AERA.  

What changes are being proposed in the Bill?
The Bill seeks to do two things:
  1. Definition of major airports: Currently, the AERA Act defines a major airport as one with annual passenger traffic over 15 lakh, or any other airports as notified by the central government.  The Bill increases the threshold of annual passenger traffic for major airports to over 35 lakh.  
  2. Tariff determination by AERA: Under the Act, AERA is responsible for determining the: (i) tariff for aeronautical services every five years, (ii) development fees, and (iii) passengers service fee.  It can also amend the tariffs in the interim period.  The Bill adds that AERA will not determine: (i) tariff, (ii) tariff structures, or (iii) development fees, in certain cases.  These cases include those where such tariff amounts were a part of the bid document on the basis of which the airport operations were awarded.  AERA will be consulted (by the concessioning authority, the Ministry of Civil Aviation) before incorporating such tariffs in the bid document, and such tariffs must be notified. 

Why is the Act getting amended?
The exponential growth of the sector has put tremendous pressure on AERA, while its resources are limited.  Therefore, if too many airports come under the purview of AERA, it will not be able to perform its functions efficiently. 

How would the Bill affect the regulatory regime?
Currently, there are 32 major airports (annual traffic above 15 lakh), and AERA regulates tariffs at 27 of these.  As per the Bill, AERA will regulate 16 major airports (annual traffic above 35 lakh).  The remaining 16 airports will be regulated by AAI.  Till 2030-31, air traffic in the country is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 10-11%.  This implies that in a few years, the traffic at the other 16 airports will increase to over 35 lakh and they will again fall under the purview of AERA.  This may lead to constant changes in the regulatory regime at these airports.  The table below provides the current list of major airports:
Chandipura virus:
Context: Chandipura virus detected in Gujarat.
What is it?
Named after the Maharashtra village where the virus was first discovered, the likely vector (carrier) of the virus is the female phlebotomine sandfly. It has been detected in sand flies in Senegal and Nigeria, apart from India. The virus is known to cause inflammation of the brain, and progresses rapidly from an influenza-like illness to coma and death.
Chandipura virus (CHPV) belongs to the Rhabdoviridae family in the order Mononegavirales of the genus Vesiculovirus. Interestingly, its continuing mutating trend has enhanced its lethality to cause human infections, unlike its genetic cousin, the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV).

Symptoms:
  • Sudden high fever accompanied by headaches and altered consciousness.
  • Convulsions.
  • Vomiting and nausea.
  • Unconsciousness

Key facts:
The virus predominantly infects children between the ages of 2-16, spreading through the bite of a sandfly, and in some cases, even the mosquito during the monsoon and pre-monsoon season.
It is distantly related to the virus that causes rabies and is known to have a case fatality between 55-75 per cent.

Sources: the Hindu.
Protection of Human Rights (Amendments) Bill, 2019
ContextProtection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019 passed in Lok Sabha.
The bill aims to accelerate the process of appointment of chairperson and members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Salient Features of the Bill:
The Bill amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The Act provides for a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), as well as Human Rights Courts.
Composition of NHRC: Under the Act, the chairperson of the NHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a Judge of the Supreme Court will be the chairperson of the NHRC. 
Inclusion of woman member: The Act provides for two persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC. The Bill amends this to allow three members to be appointed, of which at least one will be a woman. 
Other members: Under the Act, chairpersons of various commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and National Commission for Women are members of the NHRC.  The Bill provides for including the chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as members of the NHRC.
Chairperson of SHRC: Under the Act, the chairperson of a SHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of a High Court.  The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice or Judge of a High Court will be chairperson of a SHRC.  
Term of office: The Act states that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC will hold office for five years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.  The Bill reduces the term of office to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.  Further, the Act allows for the reappointment of members of the NHRC and SHRCs for a period of five years.  The Bill removes the five-year limit for reappointment.   
Powers of Secretary-General: The Act provides for a Secretary-General of the NHRC and a Secretary of a SHRC, who exercise powers as may be delegated to them.  The Bill amends this and allows the Secretary-General and Secretary to exercise all administrative and financial powers (except judicial functions), subject to the respective chairperson’s control.
Union Territories: The Bill provides that the central government may confer on a SHRC human rights functions being discharged by Union Territories.  Functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.             

Benefits:
  1. The Amendment will strengthen the Human Rights Institutions of India further for effective discharge of their mandates, roles and responsibilities.
  2. Moreover, the amended Act will be in perfect sync with the agreed global standards and benchmarks towards ensuring the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual in the country.
  3. The amendment will also make National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) more compliant with the Paris Principle concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide-ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights.

Sources: the Hindu.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Context: The latest update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species shows that more and more species assessed are being threatened with extinction.
  • The IUCN Red List assesses 1,05,732 species. The current update breaks the 1,00,000 species barrier, making it the largest such assessment of species.
  • According to the new updated list, 28,338 species are threatened with extinction

Key findings:
  1. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.
  2. According to the global assessment, one million animal and plant species are under extinction. Moreover, thousands of these would extinct within decades.
  3. The new list brings out an alarming rate of decline of freshwater and deep-sea species. For example, over 50 per cent of Japan’s endemic freshwater fishes are under extinction. The main drivers of this decline are the loss of free-flowing rivers and increasing agricultural and urban pollution.

About IUCN red list of threatened species:
  • The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species.
  • It uses a set of quantitative criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species. These criteria are relevant to most species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, The IUCN Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity.

The IUCN Red List Categories:
The IUCN Red List Categories define the extinction risk of species assessed. Nine categories extend from NE (Not Evaluated) to EX (Extinct).
Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) and Vulnerable (VU) species are considered to be threatened with extinction.

The IUCN system uses a set of five quantitative criteria to assess the extinction risk of a given species. In general, these criteria consider:
  • The rate of population decline.
  • The geographic range.
  • Whether the species already possesses a small population size.
  • Whether the species is very small or lives in a restricted area.
  • Whether the results of a quantitative analysis indicate a high probability of extinction in the wild.

Significance:
The IUCN Red List brings into focus the ongoing decline of Earth’s biodiversity and the influence humans have on life on the planet. It provides a globally accepted standard with which to measure the conservation status of species over time.
Scientists can analyze the percentage of species in a given category and how these percentages change over time; they can also analyze the threats and conservation measures that underpin the observed trends.

Sources: the hindu.

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