National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021
Why in News?
- Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recently approved the “National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021”.
- The policy provides financial support of up to Rs 20 lakh, under Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi, for the treatment of rare diseases (RD) listed under group 1 (amenable to one time treatment- either hematopoietic stem cell transplant or organ transplant).
- Beneficiaries for such financial assistance would not be limited to BPL families, but extended to about 40% of the population, who are eligible as per Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, for their treatment in government tertiary hospitals only.
- However, the NPRD does not provide any financial support for patients of Group 3 diseases, which have a definite treatment but is life-long and expensive.
- It is estimated that for a child weighing 10 kg, the annual cost of treatment for some rare diseases may vary from Rs 10 lakh to more than Rs 1 crore per year with treatment being lifelong and drug dose and cost increasing with age and weight.
- For such patients, the government will set up a crowd-funding platform where volunteers, both corporate and individuals, can donate money for their treatment.
- As per WHO, diseases that affect less than 5 people per 10,000 are referred to as rare, and there are about 7,000-8,000 such diseases.
- Rare diseases impact about 7 crore Indians. Less than 5% of RDs can be treated and where drugs are available they are prohibitively expensive, placing immense strain on resources.
- About 80% of RDs are genetic in nature and particularly impact children, causing 35% of deaths before the age of one.
- The central government will notify selected ‘centres of excellence’ (COE), which will be premier government tertiary hospitals with facilities for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of rare diseases.
- Also states the government’s intent to create more awareness around screening of RDs and also develop R&D for production of expensive medicines needed for treatment of Group 3 RDs.
Stand-Up India Scheme
Why in News?
- More than Rs 25,586 crore sanctioned to over 1,14,322 accounts by the Banks under Stand-Up India Scheme in 5 years.
Why this Scheme was Launched?
- Aspiring SC, ST and women entrepreneurs are energetic and enthusiastic but may face challenges in converting their dream to reality.
- Recognizing these challenges, Stand up India Scheme was launched on 5th April 2016 to promote entrepreneurship at grassroot level focusing on economic empowerment and job creation.
- This scheme has been extended up to the year 2025.
- To promote entrepreneurship amongst women, Scheduled Castes (SC) & Scheduled Tribes (ST) categories, to help them in starting a greenfield enterprise in trading, manufacturing and services sector, by both ready and trainee borrowers.
The purpose of Stand-Up India is to:
- Promote entrepreneurship amongst women, SC & ST category.
- Provide loans for setting up greenfield enterprises in manufacturing, services or the trading sector & activities allied to agriculture by both ready and trainee borrowers
- Facilitate bank loans between Rs.10 lakh to Rs.1 crore to at least one Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe borrower and at least one woman borrower per bank branch of Scheduled Commercial Banks
Why Stand-Up India?
- The Stand-Up India scheme is based on recognition of the challenges faced by SC, ST and women entrepreneurs in setting up enterprises, obtaining loans and other support needed from time to time for succeeding in business.
- The scheme therefore endeavors to create an eco-system which facilitates and continues to provide a supportive environment for doing business.
- The scheme seeks to give access to loans from bank branches to borrowers to help them set up their own enterprise.
The scheme, which covers all branches of Scheduled Commercial Banks, will be accessed in three potential ways:
- Directly at the branch or,
- Through Stand-Up India Portal (www.standupmitra.in) or,
- Through the Lead District Manager (LDM).
Who all are eligible for a loan?
- SC/ST and/or women entrepreneurs, above 18 years of age.
- Loans under the scheme are available for only green field projects. Green field signifies, in this context, the first time venture of the beneficiary in the manufacturing, services or the trading sector & activities allied to agriculture
- In case of non-individual enterprises, 51% of the shareholding and controlling stake should be held by either SC/ST and/or Women Entrepreneur.
- Borrowers should not be in default to any bank/financial institution.
Why in News?
- The eCommittee Supreme Court has prepared the draft vision document for Phase III of the eCourts Project under the auspices of the Supreme Court of India. E-Courts Project is a mission mode project undertaken by the Department of Justice, Government of India.
- The eCommittee Supreme Court of India released the Draft Vision document for Phase III of the aforementioned e-Courts Project.
- The eCommittee of the Supreme Court has been overseeing the implementation of the eCourts Project, conceptualized under the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary-2005”.
- The eCommittee has evolved in terms of its roles and responsibilities over the last fifteen years.
- The objectives of the eCommittee include:Interlinking of all courts across the country; ICT enablement of the Indian judicial system; Enabling courts to enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively and quantitatively; Making the justice delivery system accessible, cost-effective, transparent and accountable; and Providing citizen-centric services.
- Phase III of the eCourts Project in India is rooted in two central facets—access and inclusion.
- Phase III of the eCourts Project envisions a judicial system that is more easily accessible irrespective of geographical distances, efficient and equitable for every individual who seeks justice, makes more efficient use of human and other resources, and absorbs the latest technology for a positive environmental impact.
This vision for Phase III is sought to be built on the following four building blocks:
- Core Values: Phase III must strive for a modern judicial system, governed by core values of trust, empathy, sustainability and transparency which, while simplifying procedures, will maximise the positives of technology and minimise its risks and challenges.
- Whole-of-system approach: Phase III must aim to make processes more efficient across all three components of dispute management i.e. dispute avoidance, containment and resolution. Each of these components will require technological integration with different institutions.
- Adoption frameworks: Phase III must focus on building strong adoption frameworks. Such frameworks must include behavioural nudges, adequate training and skill set development, feedback loops, along with the requisite mandate of law.
- Governance framework: From a governance perspective, while numerous judicial decisions have validated the use of technology in judicial processes, Phase III must address the accompanying administrative structures.
- The key goals and strategy of Phase III prioritise the creation of a core digital infrastructure that can enable the development of services for dispute resolution by the judiciary and services of solutions for dispute containment and resolution by the ecosystem.
SANKALP SE SIDDH
Why in News?
- TRIFED under Ministry of Tribal Affairs has launched “Sankalp se Siddhi” – Village & Digital Connect Drive.
- Starting from April 1, 2021, this 100 day drive will entail 150 teams (10 in each region from TRIFED and State Implementation Agencies/Mentoring Agencies/Partners) visiting ten villages each. 100 villages in each region and 1500 villages in the country will be covered in the next 100 days.
- The main aim of this drive is to activate the Van Dhan Vikas Kendras in these villages.
Objective of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Minor Forest Produce (MFP) scheme
- To establish a framework for ensuring fair prices for the tribal gatherers, primary processing, storage, transportation etc. while ensuring sustainability of the resource base addressing the problems tribals are facing such as perishable nature of the produce, lack of holding capacity, lack of marketing infrastructure, exploitation by middle men, and timely government intervention.
- Rs 200 crore Sales during the next 12 months is targeted as a result of this initiative once the VDVKs are activated in these 1500 villages.
- The visiting teams will also identify locations and shortlist potential VDVKs for clustering as TRIFOOD, and SFURTI units as larger enterprises.
- They will also identify tribal artisans and other groups and empanel them as suppliers so that they can have access to larger markets through the Tribes India network – both physical outlets and TribesIndia.com.
Vulnerable Sections of Society
Why in News?
- Supreme Court said the most vulnerable sections of society often fall prey to human rights atrocities from either the state or anti-social elements.
- Justice Ramana, the seniormost apex court judge who has been recommended for appointment as the 48th Chief Justice of India, urged young lawyers to educate the poor and the vulnerable about their rights.
- Young lawyers, should raise their voice against atrocities committed against the poor by the state and criminal elements.
- Drawing a link between sub-standard legal education and pendency, Justice Ramana said the “true duty” of a lawyer is to unite people rather than bring every dispute to court. Lawyers should give proper legal advice and not drag people to court in disputes which could be settled amicably outside courtrooms.
Why in News?
- Humans are polluting not just the planet, but also the space around it. Space, especially the Low Earth Orbit, is filled with space debris, which includes thousands of pieces of defunct satellites. Space agencies are scrambling to develop technologies to mitigate the threats posed by the debris.
- One such initiative, called Elsa-D, was launched recently.
- Human journey into space began in 1957, when the Soviet Union (today’s Russia) launched Sputnik, the first ever artificial satellite.
- Since then, thousands of rockets have been launched, which have put into space numerous satellites, spacecraft, and space stations.
- Not all of them are functional today, nor has everything been brought back to Earth. Several of them, their parts, and random objects such as nuts and bolts are still up there as space junk.
- Worse, they are tumbling through space at a high speed putting functional satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at risk.
- There are fears that collisions between debris could set off a chain reaction, with the result that LEO would become unusable.
- A Japanese company launched one such initiative recently. Called Elsa-D, the mission intends to demonstrate a space debris removal system.
- On March 22, 2021, a Soyuz rocket put 38 payloads into space. Among them was ‘The End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration mission’ (Elsa-D), developed by a Japanese company called Astroscale.
- It is the world’s first commercial mission to demonstrate a space debris removal system.
- Elsa-D consists of two spacecraft: a 175-kg “servicer” and a 17-kg “client”.
- Client is the fake debris that the ‘servicer’ will have to release, grab, and repeat.
What is the solution?
- The solution involves steps to clean up the mess, mitigate damage, and avoid future debris. There are systems in place to track the debris and avert disasters. Various space organisations have been working on reducing the amount of trash by adopting better designs of rockets and other objects. For example, making rockets reusable could vastly cut down waste.
- The UK’s TechDemoSat-1 (TDS-1), launched in 2014, was designed in such a way that once its mission is over, a system, like a parachute, would drag the satellite to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up. Some satellites at the end of their lifecyle are made to fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere, provided they still have fuel left in them for the descent. Some satellites are sent even farther away from Earth.
- Technologies to remove space junk are also being developed. Cleaning the debris that already exists comes at a high cost, because it will take multiple trips to remove objects from space. Other proposals include the use of a laser to remove debris by changing their course and making them fall towards the atmosphere of Earth and later burn up.
- In December 2019, the European Space Agency awarded the first contract to clean up space debris. ClearSpace-1 is slated to launch in 2025. It aims to remove a 100-kg VEga Secondary Payload Adapter left by the rocket Vega flight VV02 in an 800-km orbit in 2013. A “chaser” will grab the junk with four robotic arms and drag it down to Earth’s atmosphere where both will burn up.
Expiry of the Trump-era visa ban
Why in News?
- Last June, the administration of former President Donald Trump, a Republican, halted the issuance of non-immigrant work visas of several types, including the skilled worker visa, or H-1B.
- At the time, stated that the aim of the policy was to stop foreign workers from cornering American jobs during the economic distress and consequent shortage of economic opportunities brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Now, the 46th and current U.S. President, Democrat Joe Biden, has allowed the ban on H-1B visa issuance to expire, potentially bringing relief to a large number of Indian nationals, especially IT workers who are prospective applicants for the visa.
What will be the impact of the ban’s expiry on Indian corporations?
- Given that the order banning H-1B visa issuance expired recently, all H-1B applicants will now be in a position to receive a visa and travel to the U.S. to begin or resume work as full-time employees or independent contractors.
- In time, that will lead to a steady increase in the size of the talent pool available to IT companies with U.S. operations.
- This would also benefit Indian IT companies with U.S. operations.
- The opening up of H-1B visa availability is also premised on U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide resuming new visa issuance to appropriately qualified skilled workers.
COVID-19 patients can be categorised into three groups
Why in News?
- Scientists have identified three different types of COVID-19 disease traits in patients, depending on their comorbidities, complications, and clinical outcomes, an advance that may help target future interventions to the most risk-prone individuals.
- Close to 60% of the patients included in the research presented with what the researchers called “phenotype II.”
- About 23% of the patients presented with “phenotype I,” or the “adverse phenotype,” which was associated with the worst clinical outcomes.
- The researchers said these patients had the highest level of comorbidies related to heart and kidney dysfunction.
- According to the study, 16.9 % presented with “phenotype III,” or the “favorable phenotype,” which was associated with the best clinical outcomes.
- While this group had the lowest complication rate and mortality,these patients had the highest rate of respiratory comorbidities as well as a 10% greater risk of hospital readmission compared to the other phenotypes.
- Overall, phenotypes I and II were associated with 7.30-fold and 2.57-fold increases in hazard of death relative to phenotype III.
Asian desert dust enhances Indian summer monsoon
Why in News?
- A new study now details how dust coming from the deserts in the West, Central and East Asia plays an important role in the Indian Summer Monsoon.
- The researchers also explain how the Indian Summer Monsoon has a reverse effect and can increase the winds in West Asia to produce yet more dust.
- Dust swarms from the desert when lifted by strong winds can absorb solar radiation and become hot.
- This can cause heating of the atmosphere, change the air pressure, wind circulation patterns, influence moisture transport and increase precipitation and rainfall.
- A strong monsoon can also transport air to West Asia and again pick up a lot of dust. The researchers say this is a positive feedback loop.
- Not just the dust from the Middle East [West Asia], the Iranian Plateau also influences the Indian Summer Monsoon.
- The hot air over the Iranian Plateau can heat the atmosphere over the plateau, strengthen the circulation over the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula and increase dust emission from the Middle East [West Asia].
- The dust aerosols from deserts in West China such as the Taklamakan desert and the Gobi Desert can be transported eastward to eastern China and can influence the East Asia summer monsoon.
- And in the southwest United States, we have some small deserts that influence the North African monsoon.
Why study dust?
- Many studies have shown that the dust emission scheme is extremely sensitive to climate change and understanding these mechanisms and effects of dust will help understand our monsoon systems in the face of global climate change.
Why in News?
- Uttarakhand has witnessed over 1,000 incidents of forest fire over the last six months, including 45 in the last 24 hours alone, and has reached out to the Centre for helicopters and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
- Since the start of 2021, there has been a series of forest fires in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, including in wildlife sanctuaries. April-May is the season when forest fires take place in various parts of the country.
How prone to fire are India’s forests?
- As of 2019, about 21.67% (7,12,249 sq km) of the country’s geographical area is identified as forest, according to the India State of Forest Report 2019 (ISFR) released by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), Dehradun. Tree cover makes up another 2.89% (95, 027 sq km).
- Based on previous fire incidents and recorded events, forests of the Northeast and central India regions are the most vulnerable areas to forest fires
- Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as ‘extremely prone’ to forest fire.
- States with large forest areas under the ‘very highly prone’ category include Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
- Western Maharashtra, Southern Chhattisgarh and areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, along with central Odisha, are turning into ‘extremely prone’ forest fire hotspots, the 2020-2021 annual report of the MoEFCC said.
- Areas under the ‘highly prone’ and ‘moderately prone’ categories make up about 26.2% of the total forest cover.
What causes forest fires?
- Forest fires can be caused by a number of natural causes, but o many major fires in India are triggered mainly by human activities.
- Emerging studies link climate change to rising instances of fires globally, especially the massive fires of the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia in the last two years.
- Fires of longer duration, increasing intensity, higher frequency and highly inflammable nature are all being linked to climate change.
- In India, forest fires are most commonly reported during March and April, when the ground has large quantities of dry wood, logs, dead leaves, stumps, dry grass and weeds that can make forests easily go up in flames if there is a trigger.
- Under natural circumstances, extreme heat and dryness, friction created by rubbing of branches with each other also have been known to initiate fire.
- In Uttarakhand, the lack of soil moisture too is being seen as a key factor. In two consecutive monsoon seasons (2019 and 2020), rainfall has been deficient by 18% and 20% of the seasonal average, respectively.
- But, forest officials say most fires are man-made, sometimes even deliberately caused. Even a small spark from a cigarette butt, or a carelessly discarded lit matchstick can set the fire going. For example, in Odisha, which saw a major fire last month in Simlipal forest, villagers are known to set dry leaves to fire in order to collect mahua flowers, which go into preparation of a local drink.
What factors make forest fires a concern?
- Forests play an important role in mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
- They act as a sink, reservoir and source of carbon.
- A healthy forest stores and sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
- In India, with 1.70 lakh villages in close proximity to forests (Census 2011), the livelihood of several crores of people is dependent on fuelwood, bamboo, fodder, and small timber.
- Forest fires can have multiple adverse effects on the forest cover, soil, tree growth, vegetation, and the overall flora and fauna. Fires render several hectares of forest useless and leave behind ash, making it unfit for any vegetation growth.
- Heat generated during the fire destroys animal habitats.
- Soil quality decreases with the alteration in their compositions.
- Soil moisture and fertility, too, is affected. Thus forests can shrink in size.
- The trees that survive fire often remain stunted and growth is severely affected.
What efforts are being taken to protect forests from fire?
- Since 2004, the FSI developed the Forest Fire Alert System to monitor forest fires in real time. In its advanced version launched in January 2019, the system now uses satellite information gathered from NASA and ISRO.
- Real-time fire information from identified fire hotspots is gathered using MODIS sensors (1km by 1km grid) and electronically transmitted to FSI.
- This information is then relayed via email at state, district, circle, division, range, beat levels. Users of this system in the locality are issued SMS alerts. The FSI system in January 2019 had over 66,000 users.
Digital Currency in China
Why in News?
- China in February launched the latest round of pilot trials of its new digital currency, with reported plans of a major roll-out by the end of the year and ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022.
How does China’s digital currency work?
- Officially titled the Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), the digital RMB (or Renminbi, China’s currency) is, as its name suggests, a digital version of China’s currency.
- It can be downloaded and exchanged via an application authorised by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank. China is among a small group of countries that have begun pilot trials; others include Sweden, South Korea and Thailand.
How is it different from an e-wallet?
- Unlike an e-wallet such as Paytm in India, or Alipay or WeChat Pay, which are the two dominant apps in China, the Digital RMB does not involve a third party.
- For users, the experience may broadly feel the same. But from a “legal perspective”, the digital currency is “very, very different”.
- This is legal tender guaranteed by the central bank, not a payment guaranteed by a third-party operator. There is no third-party transaction, and hence, no transaction fee.
- Unlike e-wallets, the digital currency does not require Internet connectivity.
- The payment is made through Near-field Communication (NFC) technology.
- Also, unlike non-bank payment platforms that require users to link bank accounts, this can be opened with a personal identification number.
Uranus emitting X-rays
Why in News?
- Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun is reflecting X-rays, says a new study by scientists.
- This is the first time astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus, which is also known as the ‘sideways planet’ because it rotates on its side, unlike any other planet in our solar system.
- As part of this new study, scientists compared observations of the Chandra Space Telescope dating back to 2002 and 2017.
- The Chandra program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and is a vital source of information for scientists examining the solar system, along with the Hubble Space Telescope.
- The Sun could cause Uranus to emit X-rays. This is not entirely uncommon since scientists have already established that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light given off by the sun.
- The phenomenon is not much different from how Earth’s atmosphere scatters the light of the Sun.
- In the case of Saturn, scientists say the planet’s rings themselves produce X-rays. This could also be the case with Uranus since its rings collide with charged particles such as electrons and protons that could cause the rings to glow in X-rays.
- While the rotation and magnetic field axes of other planets in our solar system are almost perpendicular to the plane of their orbit, the rotation axis of Uranus is nearly parallel to its path around the Sun.