Current Affairs | National | International | SSC | UPSC - 24th December 2023


National News 

1.Cash transfers help Bengal women take financial decisions, says study 

  • A study by Amartya Sen's Pratichi Trust on Lakshmir Bhandar, one of the flagship schemes of the West Bengal government, points out that the cash incentives have increased the women beneficiary's ability to make financial decisions and position in the family, but larger issues of child marriage and domestic violence require special attention. 
  • From the gender per spective, although issues of security, dignity, and freedom of choice for women are being addressed to a certain extent through Lakshmir Bhandar, larger background realities like child marriage, and dom- estic violence still need special attention," the report by Pratichi Trust said. 
  • The study published recently pointed out that 85.55% of women report that they decide how to spend the money themselves, followed by joint decision-making with their husbands at 10.76%. 
  • Another interesting figure that the study points out is that the majority of the respondents report that their position in their family is enhanced due to Lakshmir Bhandar (Yes-61.07%, No-38.93%). The picture across social groups is also mostly equitable (though the perception of STs might demand more probing). 
  • Lakshmir Bhandar, a flagship programme to provide financial assistance to women from economically weaker sections of society in the 25-60 age group, provides 21,000 every month to women from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households and ₹500 a month for other categories. The scheme was announced by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in February 2021 during the Assembly election campaign. The West Bengal government annually spends over 15,000 crore on the scheme and the number of beneficiaries has increased to about 2 crore. 
  • The study published recently points out that from the "policy point of view, it is important to ensure that there is conversation and awareness regarding the conflicting realities of domestic violence, child marriage and genderbased discrimination on the one hand and the be nefits or freedom that accrue to women as a result of direct cash transfer programmes on the other". 
  • Child marriage an issue Despite schemes such as Lakshmir Bhandar and Kanyashree (scheme providing cash incentives for school-going girls) child marriage continues to be a challenge for the policy makers in West Bengal. In its report, the researchers of the Pratichi Trust have pointed out that Lakshmir Bhandar has presented before women of "modest background con- siderable promises for making a difference to their quotidian lives". The study emphasised that entitlement, however small but regular and steady, has a multiplier effect on the lives of the beneficiaries. 
  • "How 'small' an amount is may not be measured only in terms of its quantity, but also with respect to its qualitative potential. One indication of this far reaching potential of the scheme that we have gleaned from the grassroots is that some of the recipients talk about their entitlements to both welfare and workfare," the publication added. 
  • Primary survey shows that the enrolment of STs in this scheme is still low in comparison to the proportion of their population. Concerted efforts need to be taken to augment their participation. Duare Sarkar outreach programmes may be arranged in tribal settlements to address the issue of their spatial isolation," the study points out. The trust set up by Mr. Sen has held studies and come up with reports on Duare Sarkar (an outreach programme of the West Bengal government) and the grievance redressal cell of the State government.

2.Tea Board issues order to growers on pesticide use

  • The Tea Board has asked tea estates and small tea growers across India to avoid using on their plantations chemicals or pesti elders that have no label claim. 
  • Rajnigandha Beal Nas kar, the Tea Board's Controller of Licensing, Issued a directive on December 21 advising the growers against the use of 20 banned insecticides specified by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (PSSAD). 
  • These insecticides do not carry any label informing users whether or not they are suitable for tea bushes. "The presence of such banned insecticides or any other chemicals having no label claim for tea shall be viewed seriously by the Tea Board, as deemed fit, for further action," the directive said. 
  • The Board also urged all tea producers' associations and small tea growers' associations to sensitise their members accordingly. The Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers' Associations has sought extensive awareness campaigns among the small tea farmers, who contribute 55% to the national tea production. 
  • Associations of larger tea producers, however, said the Tea Board should have conducted research for suitable alternatives before taking action. 

3.Ensure proper healthcare in jails, HC tells Delhi govt. 

  • The High Court here has directed the Delhi government to ensure that proper medical infrastructure is maintained in jails, noting that it cannot allow an inadequate prison health-care system to violate an inmate's right to timely medical care. 
  • The High Court, in an order on Friday, also directed the constitution of a committee, which will give suggestions to it within one month regarding improving healthcare facilities in prisons and ways to promote equal healthcare to all prisoners. 
  • "The committee will also specifically inform the court as to whether facilities are available in the jail hospital to deal with emergency situations such as cardiac arrest and haemorrhage as the first few minutes in such an eventuality are crucial to save the life of a person," the court observed. 
  • The court order came while dealing with two applications filed by city-based businessman Amandeep Singh Dhall, arrested by the CBI and the ED in separate cases lodged by them in connection with alleged irregularities in the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy. Mr. Dhall in the applications has sought an interim bail for 12 weeks on medical grounds. 
  • The accused has said that the medical staff at the jail hospital was not able to provide physiotherapy sessions and epidural steroid injection prescribed by his doctor after his surgery. 
  • The court directed that he be admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital, which is a referral hospital according to the Jail Referral Policy, for two weeks. 
  • The court observed that this case has brought to light a critical issue concerning the standard of medical treatment within correctional facilities, shedding light on the alarming inadequacies in the healthcare infrastructure for prison inmates. 

4.No extreme curbs for now, will wait for NCR air quality about to improve: Central body 

  • The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQMD on Saturday said it will wait for the air quality to improve in the National Capital Region (NCR) before imposing more severe measures to tackle rising pollution levels.
  • The statement by the Central pollution monitoring body came even as the air quality deteriorated sharply in the region, prompting the authorities to impose Stage 3 of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). 
  • For now, non-essential construction and demolition activities remain banned while the plying of BS-III petrol and BS-IV diesel four-wheelers has been prohibited in Delhi and NCR districts of Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, and Gautam Buddha Nagar. 
  • According to the com mission, several meteorological factors besides slow wind speed are behind the rise in the pollution levels, with the reading on the air quality index (AQI) hovering around 450, the severe category. 
  • The Stage 3 of GRAP has just been invoked and it's only reasonable to await the impact of the intensified restrictive actions on the average AQI, the CAQM said in a statement. It added that forecasts also indicate a gradual improvement in the air quality. 
  • Inspections ordered Meanwhile, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said he has instructed officials to conduct frequent inspections to monitor the ban on activities. construction 
  • "During winter, the wind speed slows down and due to a drop in temperature, pollution in Delhi increases," Mr. Rai said explaining the cause for the poor air quality. 
  • He added that some establishments are being exempted from the ban on construction and demolition activities but they will have to follow the guidelines issued regarding it. 
  • Those exempted from the ban include railway stations, metros, airports, sites related to national security, inter-State bus stands and hospitals. 
  • The air quality deteriorates sharply in the national capital in winter, largely due to meteorological factors and stubble burning in north Indian States. 
  • The GRAP Stage 4 restrictions were earlier imposed this year as air pollution spiked due to stubble burning. These measures were later lifted by the authorities after the air quality improved. 

International News 

5.Yemen's warring factions have agreed to implement a new ceasefire, says UN 

  • Yemen's warring parties have committed to a new ceasefire and agreed to engage in a UN-led peace process to end the war, the UN envoy for Yemen said Saturday. 
  • The announcement by UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, marks the latest step to end the deadly nine-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and triggered one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. 
  • It follows recent meetings by Grundberg in Saudi Arabia and Oman with Rashad Al-Alimi, head of Yemen's Saudi-backed presidential council and Mohammed Abdul Salam, the chief negotiator of the Iran Backed Houthi rebels. 
  • Mr. Grundberg said he "welcomes the parties' commitment to a set of measures to implement a nation-wide ceasefire…and (to) engage in preparations for the resumption of an inclusive political process" according to a statement. 
  • Yemen has been gripped by conflict since the Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering a Saudi-led military intervention in support of the beleaguered government the following year. 
  • A UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect in April 2022 brought a sharp reduction in hostilities. The truce expired in October last year, though fighting largely remains on hold. 

Defence News 

6.Vessel with 20 Indians on board hit by drone; Navy, Coast Guard step in

  • In what could be the crisis in the Red Sea spilling close to Indian waters, a Liberia-flagged merchant vessel, Chem Pluto, was hit by a suspected drone on Saturday just outside the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 
  • The Coast Guard and the Navy swung into action to assist the vessel that suffered significant damage, though the crew were reported safe. The vessel is now heading towards Mumbai. 
  • The ship with 21 crew members-20 Indians and one Vietnamese national was located around 217 nautical miles from the Porbandar coast in the Arabian Sea when it was hit. 
  • "The vessel has started making its way towards Mumbai post undertaking damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems. The vessel is likely to enter Mumbai and has sought escort assistance due to steering issues. ICGS Vikram will be escorting the ship during its passage," Commandant Niranjan Pratap Singh, PRO, Indian Coast Guard, said in a statement. 
  • Earlier in the day, the Coast Guard directed ICGS Vikram, which was on-deployment in the Indian EEZ, towards the merchant vessel. The Liberia-flagged tanker was moving from Saudi Arabia to Mangalore with crude, as per marine tracking portals. 
  • A Coast Guard Dornier aircraft reached the location for visual inspection and established communication with Chem Pluto, Commandant Singh said. 
  • The Navy dispatched a maritime patrol aircraft which arrived overhead the merchant vessel and ascertained the safety of the crew. 
  • "A warship has also been despatched to provide any assistance as required," a Navy official said on the day giving an update on the situation. 
  • Chem Pluto reportedly commenced its voyage from the UAE on December 19 and was scheduled to arrive at the New Mangalore Port on December 25, the Coast Guard stated 

Business News 

7.India's $60 billion man-made textile sector reels from Chinese imports glut

  • For almost a year now, India's major textile hubs of Ludhiana, Surat, and Erode have been fighting an almost insurmountable challenge: rising imports, or arguably large-scale dumping, of man-made fibre (MMF) fabrics that is affecting a sector valued at about $60 billion. 
  • China dumps fabric and this creates problems, asserts Ashok Jirawala, president of the Federation of Gujarat Weavers Association. "We ran our weaving units to full capacity and now we have unsold stocks. So, we plan to cut production by 20%. 
  • In the last three years, MMF fabric imports, which attract mostly 20% duty, have doubled and most of it is knitted synthetic fabrics, contends R.K. Vij, secretary general of the Polyester Textile Apparel Industry Association. 
  • According to data shared by Mr. Vij, in 2019-2020 (April to March), about 325 tonnes of fabric were imported every day from China at $4.61 a kg. The volume increased to 887 tonnes a day in the April-June quarter of this fiscal and the average value was about $2.90 a kg. Of this, the value of knitted or crocheted dyed fabrics made of synthetic fibre was just $1.4 (about 118) a kg. It is not just imports, but under invoicing of imported finished fabrics that is a major issue, notes Mr. Vij. "The government should issue a notice to Customs, stopping clearance of fabrics that are priced below a certain va- lue at the ports," he urges. Rising import of MMF fabric and relatively higher domestic prices of MMF fibres are severely impacting local spinners, knitters, weavers and processors as they are unable to supply at competitive prices. This has hit both the local and export manufacturers, and the downstream industry is said to be operating at only 70% capacity. 
  • Quick trade estimates for November from the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) show that export of manmade yarn, fabrics, and made-ups were 7.33% lower year-on-year. For April November, the decline was 23.2%.
  • In 2017-18, fabrics dominated India's total MMF exports with 33% share, while yarn made up 32%, as per a study on the Ministry of Textiles website. India's share in global MMF trade was 2.7% in 2019. "Indian textiles is predominantly cotton based," says a Tamil Nadu-based viscose products producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We could not bring much innovation in MMF products. China, Thailand, Korea have been the innovators," he adds. We were out-priced on the raw material front for the last 15 years. 
  • We do small value additions. WithThe government has introduced QCOs on polyester raw materials, polyester fibre and yarn, and viscose fibre, making Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification mandatory for these products, even if they are importedAny textile mill that produces MMF yarn (polyester or viscose) should get the yarn tested for BIS standards. "How can a small-scale mill spend lakhs on testing." asks a small-scale textile mill owner, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It should not be mandatory at the yarn Stage,”he adds.

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