1. What is Article 131, on which Kerala has based its challenge to the CAA?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

On Tuesday (January 14), the Kerala government moved the Supreme Court against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, the first state to challenge the law, filed a petition under Article 131 of the Constitution and asked for the law to be declared unconstitutional and in violation of Articles 14 (equality before law), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion).

What is Article 131 of the Constitution?

The Article vests the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction over disputes occurring between states or between states and the Centre. The original jurisdiction of a court means the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, in which the court reviews the decision of a lower court.

Unlike the original jurisdiction under Article 32 (which gives the top court the power to issue writs, etc.), the jurisdiction in Article 131 is exclusive, meaning it is only the Supreme Court which has this authority. Under Article 226, the High Courts too have the power to issue writs, directions etc.

Article 131 reads, “Original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. — Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute —

(a) between the Government of India and one or more States; or

(b) between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or

(c) between two or more States,

if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends:

Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad, or other similar instrument which, having been entered into or executed before the commencement of this Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement, or which provides, that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute.”

Source: The Indian Express

2. How is a language declared ‘classical’ in India, what benefits it enjoys

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Social Issues

At the recently concluded 93rd edition of the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, a resolution was passed demanding the declaration of Marathi as a ‘Classical’ language. In many of its conventions in the past, the body has made this demand. The Sammelan, an annual conference of Marathi writers, was started in 1878.

What are ‘Classical’ languages in India, and how are they classified?

Currently, six languages enjoy the ‘Classical’ status: Tamil (declared in 2004), Sanskrit (2005), Kannada (2008), Telugu (2008), Malayalam (2013), and Odia (2014).

What is the criteria?

According to information provided by the Ministry of Culture in the Rajya Sabha in February 2014, the guidelines for declaring a language as ‘Classical’ are:

“(i) High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years;

(ii) A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers;

(iii) The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community;

(iv) The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.”

How are the Classical languages promoted?

The Human Resource and Development Ministry in its reply to a starred question in the Lok Sabha in July 2014 noted the benefits it provides once a language is notified as a Classical language:

          “i) Two major annual international awards for scholars of eminence in classical Indian languages

          ii) A Centre of Excellence for studies in Classical Languages is set up

         iii) The University Grants Commission is requested to create, to start with at least in the Central Universities, a certain number of Professional Chairs for the Classical Languages so declared.”

In a 2019 Lok Sabha reply, the Ministry of Culture listed the institutions that have been dedicated to Classical languages.

The University Grant Commission (UGC) also awards research projects for promoting these languages. The UGC released funds worth INR 56.74 lakh in 2016-17 and INR 95.67 lakh in 2017-18, the Ministry of Culture said.

Source: The Indian Express

3. What is the Centre’s recent policy for treatment of rare diseases?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recently published a national policy for the treatment of 450 ‘rare diseases’. Among other measures, the policy intends to kickstart a registry of rare diseases, which will be maintained by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The Centre first prepared such a policy in 2017 and appointed a committee in 2018 to review it. The revised policy says assistance of Rs 15 lakh may be provided for the treatment of some such diseases.

What are rare diseases?

Broadly, a ‘rare disease’ is defined as a health condition of low prevalence that affects a small number of people when compared with other prevalent diseases in the general population. While there is no universally accepted definition of rare diseases, countries typically arrive at their own descriptions, taking into consideration disease prevalence, its severity and the existence of alternative therapeutic options.

In the US, for instance, a rare disease is defined as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people. The same definition is used by the National Organisation for Rare Disorders (NORD). The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has listed 7,000 rare diseases. While a majority of rare diseases are believed to be genetic, many — such as some rare cancers and some autoimmune diseases — are not inherited, as per the NIH.

India does not have a definition of rare diseases because there is a lack of epidemiological data on their incidence and prevalence. According to the policy, rare diseases include genetic diseases, rare cancers, infectious tropical diseases, and degenerative diseases. As per the policy, out of all rare diseases in the world, less than five per cent have therapies available to treat them.

In India, roughly 450 rare diseases have been recorded from tertiary hospitals, of which the most common are Haemophilia, Thalassemia, Sickle-cell anemia, auto-immune diseases, Gaucher’s disease, and cystic fibrosis.

The need for such a policy

The policy was created on the direction of the Delhi High Court to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. This was in response to writ petitions for free treatment of such diseases, due to their “prohibitively” high cost of treatment. Hence, a policy was deemed necessary to devise a “multipronged” and “multisectoral” approach to build India’s capacity for tackling such ailments, including by gathering epidemiological data, arriving at a definition and estimating the cost of such diseases.

Rare diseases pose a significant challenge to health care systems because of the difficulty in collecting epidemiological data, which in turn impedes the process of arriving at a disease burden, calculating cost estimations and making correct and timely diagnoses, among other problems.

Many cases of rare diseases may be serious, chronic and life-threatening. In some cases, the affected individuals, mostly children, may also suffer from some form of a handicap. As per the 2017 report, over 50 per cent of new cases are reported in children and these diseases are responsible for 35 per cent of deaths in those below the age of one, 10 per cent of deaths between the ages of one and five, and 12 per cent between five and 15.

How does it work?

While the policy has not yet put down a detailed roadmap of how rare diseases will be treated, it has mentioned some measures, which include creating a patient registry for rare diseases, arriving at a definition for rare diseases that is suited to India, taking legal and other measures to control the prices of their drugs and developing standardised protocols for diagnosis and management of the treatment.

Under the policy, there are three categories of rare diseases — requiring one-time curative treatment, diseases that require long-term treatment but where the cost is low, and those needing long-term treatments with high cost.

Some of the diseases in the first category include osteopetrosis and immune deficiency disorders, among others.

As per the policy, the assistance of Rs 15 lakh will be provided to patients suffering from rare diseases that require a one-time curative treatment under the Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi scheme. The treatment will be limited to the beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.

Source: The Indian Express

4. The big worry — Inflation comes in wake of global increase in food prices

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Consumer food price inflation has hit 14.12 per cent year-on-year in December 2019, the highest after it touched 17.89 per cent reached more than six years ago in November 2013. The rise is recent and sharp — from a mere 2.99 per cent in August to 5.11 per cent in September, 7.89 per cent in October, 10.01 per cent in November and 14.12 per cent in December.

While this was expected, given the seasonality of vegetable prices, what would concern policy makers is that the spike comes alongside a global upswing in food prices. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation’s Food Price Index (base year: 2002-04 = 100) averaged 181.7 points in December 2019, the highest since the 185.8 level of December 2014.

Global Food Price Index Rises 2014-2019

Although nowhere close to the all-time high of 240.1 touched in February 2011 — that was at the height of the global commodity boom — it is still a 21.7 per cent jump over the low of 149.3 in January 2016.

The simultaneous hardening of international prices poses a challenge to the government and the Reserve Bank of India in containing domestic food inflation at a time when the economy is already going through a deep slowdown. The latest overall retail inflation at 7.35 percent, too, is above the Reserve Bank of India’s upper band target of 6 per cent — the first time since August 2014.

The rise in food inflation over the last three months or so has been viewed as transitory, driven largely by the damage to the kharif crop from prolonged unseasonal rains during September to early November. These excess rains have, however, helped recharge groundwater aquifers and fill the country’s major dams to near-full reservoir levels, thereby boosting plantings of the winter/ spring rabi crop due for harvesting from end-March.

But rising global prices can potentially undermine the assumption of food prices cooling off after March, which also complicates RBI’s efforts at monetary easing to address the ongoing slowdown.

According to FAO, the 12.5 per cent annual increase in its Food Price Index in December has been led mainly by edible oils (30.9 per cent), meat (18 per cent) and dairy (17 per cent).

Interestingly, on January 8, the government banned import of RBD (refined, bleached and deodourised) palmolein and palm oil by moving these from the “free” to “restricted” category. The government is also under pressure to open up imports of skimmed milk powder, following a more than doubling of domestic prices to Rs 300-320 per kg in the last one year.

Source: The Indian Express

5. World’s first artificial humans – NEONs

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Among the most-discussed new concepts at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year was NEON. The first project of Samsung’s Star Labs, NEONs are being called the world’s first artificial humans. They look and behave like real humans, and could one day develop memories and emotions — though from behind a 4K display. It won’t be wrong to call them life-size human avatars, or maybe a human interface for whatever you want to do with technology.

So what are NEONs?

The company says NEONs are computationally created virtual humans — the word derives from NEO (new) + humaN. For now the virtual humans can show emotions when manually controlled by their creators. But the idea is for NEONs to become intelligent enough to be

fully autonomous, showing emotions, learning skills, creating memories, and being intelligent on their own. Star Labs thinks they can be “friends, collaborators, and companions”, but all that is a few years away. At CES, the idea was to showcase the concept to the world.

How do the NEONs work?

Star Labs started work on NEONs by trying to replicate a friend of project head. Initially, the models were trained on his face, and there were significant errors. But then, they started getting better, almost indistinguishable from the original.

How could NEONs be used?

Mistry, head of project, sees a world in which NEONs are the interface for technologies and services. They will answer your queries at a bank, welcome you at a restaurant, or read out the breaking news on television at an unearthly hour. Mistry says this form of virtual assistance would be more effective, for example, while teaching languages, as NEONs will be capable of understanding and sympathising.

However, Mistry is clear that a physical form for his NEONs is not possible in the near future. “I don’t think that we are anywhere close to having the physical embodiment of the NEONs in the next 25 or 30 years.” Also, he does not want to enable NEONs on existing robots — but would not mind collaborating with companies like Google, Facebook, and Baidu that have done work in similar fields.

How are NEONs different from Virtual Assistants?

Virtual Assistants now learn from all the data they are plugged into. NEONs will be limited to what they know and learn. Their leaning could potentially be limited to the person they are catering to, and maybe her friends — but not the entire Internet. They will not be an

interface for you to request a song, rather they will be a friend to speak to and share experiences with, says Star Labs.

Source: The Indian Express

6. What is Adani coal-mining project in Australia which Greta Thunberg is opposing?

Relevant for GS Prelims

Siemens, the Germany-based engineering company, Monday (January 13) said it would continue to honour its contract with India’s Adani Power in its upcoming mining project in Australia, defying calls from environmental activists, including Greta Thunberg.

Siemens is supplying signaling systems for a railway line that Adani is building in Australia’s Queensland state. The coal from the project is meant for export and would be burned in India, Reuters reported.

What is the mining project that Adani is developing in Australia?

Adani is building the Carmichael Coal Mine and Carmichael Railroad project at the Galilee Basin in Queensland state. This will be the largest coal-mining project in Australia, and one of the largest in the world. It is located 160 km northwest of Clermont in Central Queensland, a region that is also known as Capricornia.

Valued at USD 16.5 billion, the project is expected to produce 8-10 million tonnes of thermal coal a year. The Australian government approved its construction last year.

The Galilee Basin, which is spread across 247,000 sq km, is one of the largest untapped reserves of coal in the world. Behind Western China, the Galilee Basin forms the second biggest fossil fuel expansion on the planet.

The Adani mine will be connected to the Abbot Point Port near Bowen town, which Adani has been operating for three decades now.

The mine will be connected by the Carmichael Rail Project, which will have an operational capacity of 100 million tonnes per annum, according to the Adani website. The three-diesel locomotive train will have 220 wagons and will carry 23,760 tonnes of coal and will complete a round trip in under a day’s time. Adani has set a 60-year life for the project.

Opposition to Adani’s Carmichael project

Adani has faced country-wide protests in Australia against the Queensland project, and many have run an “Adani go back” campaign to deter the group from moving ahead.

Protesters have raised concerns that the project can possibly increase global warming and also threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef, located off Queensland’s coast in northeastern Australia, consists of thousands of small reefs stretching nearly 2,300 km. The marine ecosystem boasts at least 600 varieties of coral and is considered a paradise for marine species. It is considered one of the most valuable environmental entities on the planet.

Australia is also one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants. Environmentalists say that the continued use of coal will lead to higher greenhouse emissions.

Currently, Australia is witnessing a catastrophic bushfire season, that began months before usual, leaving 28 people dead, and burning over 1.5 crore acres of land, killing an estimated 100 crore animals. Scientists say climate change is one of the causes of the catastrophe.

Source: The Indian Express