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Daily Current affairs 7 January 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

India gets first witness protection scheme

The News

  • The Supreme Court today approved the Centre's draft witness protection scheme

 

Background

  • In 2003, Justice V Malimath Committee on criminal justice system had recommended enacting a separate witness protection law.
  • In 2006, the Law Commission of India, in its 198th report, provided for a draft witness protection law.
  • In the recent time, the issue of witness protection scheme had cropped up earlier when the top court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving Asaram Bapu.
  • In April this year, the Centre had informed the top court that it had framed a draft witness protection scheme and it was circulated among the states and Union Territories administration for comments.
  • The court had asked the Centre to finalise the scheme after getting response from the states and Union Territories.
  • On November 19, Attorney General told the top court that the scheme has been finalized and would be made into a law "in due course", but till then the court should direct the states to start implementing it.
  • The Court has now approved the scheme ad ordered the states to implement it till a legislation comes.

 

Highlights of the witness protection scheme

  • The Court has made some changes in the scheme and approved it.
  • It asked all the states to implement it till Parliament comes out with legislation.
  • The draft of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 states that it is the first attempt at the national-level to holistically provide for the protection of the witnesses.
  • The draft witness protection scheme has beenfinalised in consultation with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD):
    • It has three categories of witnesses based on the threat perception.
    • The types of protection measures envisaged under the scheme are to be applied in proportion to the threat.
    • They are not expected to go on for infinite time, but are expected to be for a specific duration on need basis which is to be reviewed regularly.
    • There should be safeguards that witnesses and accused do not come face to face during investigation or trial.
    • Adequate security measures should be there for the safety of the witnesses and all possible steps should be taken for expeditious completion of the trial of cases.
    • The scheme provides for identity protection and giving a new identity to the witness.
    • As per the scheme, police escort will be provided to witnesses who are threatened and, if needed, they would be relocated to a safe house.
    • SC directed that witness deposition complexes be set up in all district courts by the states and union territories within a year.
    • Also says mails and phone calls of the witnesses would be monitored to trace the person threatening them.
    • It said a separate witness protection fund will be created in each state to meet the expenses incurred under the scheme.

 

 

Need for witness protection

  • Victimization of witnesses is a harsh reality, particularly, in those cases where the accused persons/criminals are tried for heinous offences.
  • Moreover, where the accused persons are influential persons or in a dominating position that they make attempts to terrorise or intimidate the witnesses because of which these witnesses either avoid coming to courts or refrain from deposing truthfully.
  • This unfortunate situation prevails because of the reason that the state has not undertaken any protective measure to ensure the safety of these witnesses.
  • All this has created problems of low convictions in India.
  • This has serious repercussions for the criminal justice system itself.
  • On the one hand, it is to be ensured that no innocent person is convicted and thereby deprived of his liberty; it is of equal importance to ensure, on the other hand, that victims of crime get justice by punishing the offender.
  • In this whole process, protection of witnesses assumes significance to enable them to depose fearlessly and truthfully.

 

Status of Witness protection in India and other countries

  • Section 195 A of the Indian Penal Code deals with witness protection.
  • Countries such as USA, United Kingdom, China, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong and Ireland have witness protection scheme.

 

Significance of the approved scheme

  • The witnesses, being eyes and ears of justice, play an important role in bringing perpetrators of crime to justice.
  • This scheme attempts at ensuring that witnesses receive appropriate and adequate protection.
  • This will go a long way in strengthening the criminal justice system in the country and will consequently enhance national security scenario
  • This is the first attempt at the national-level to holistically provide for the protection of the witnesses, which will go a long way in eliminating secondary victimization.
  • The scheme will enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully.

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Section : Polity & Governance

 

Carbon microneedles: Low-cost, painless injections

The News

  • Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur have developed tiny needles which are less than 1 mm in size.
  • When arranged on a patch, the tiny hollow microneedles can be used for painless drug delivery.

About Carbon Microneedles :

  • This process utilizes the scalable and irreversible step of pyrolysis, where prepatterned SU-8 microneedles (precursor) are converted to glassy carbon structures.
  • This is done in an inert atmosphere at high temperature (900 °C) while retaining their original shape upon shrinkage.
  • Once converted to glassy carbon, the microneedles inherit the unique properties of hardness, biocompatibility, and thermal and chemical resistance associated with this material.
  • Microneedles (MNs) are designed to infuse medications transdermally (through the skin) and relatively painlessly during clinical applications.
  • MNs are micron-sized needles that puncture the skin and deliver drugs to transdermal region of the skin, either by manual pressing or by a micropump.
  • To deliver the drug through the skin in the epidermis region, the MNs should be sufficiently long to effectively deliver the drugs while being short enough to avoid causing pain.
  • With the established efficacy and painlessness of MNs, a plethora of research has been directed toward fabricating MNs with different shapes, sizes, and materials.
  • Hollow MNs can painlessly deliver larger quantities of drugs with a controllable flow rate.
  • Additionally, hollow MNs can be attached to a drug reservoir, and micropumps can be employed to push the drug through the MNs

Use of Carbon in Medical field:

  • Carbon has long been used for orthopedic joints, and carbon fibers and composites are used for orthopedic surgeries, surgical instruments, and other applications.
  • Furthermore, carbon has been studied for applications such as artificial heart valves and ear drum repair material.
  • Carbon nanofiber-reinforced composites are promising biomaterials and have been applied in cancer treatment.
  • Moreover, three-dimensional scaffold-like structure generation from carbon nanofibers can induce bone tissue regeneration.
  • Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are another promising biomaterial with safe clinical use.
  • The tailored properties of carbon have made them suitable to fabricate transdermal drug delivery microneedles (MN) for advanced drug and vaccine delivery.

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Section : Science & Tech

 

Detecting ultralow levels of mercury in water

The News

  • A team at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru, has found an innovative way to develop a sensor that operates using Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy and has high sensitivity far better than other methods of detecting mercury in water.

Mercury in drinking water:

  • Mercury is an element (symbol: Hg) that exists in our environment, and it is also known as quicksilver. It mixes with the environment due to both natural (e.g. volcanic activity) and anthropogenic (e.g. electrical appliances such as mercury lamps) activity.
  • With allowed levels of mercury in drinking water and effluents being in the range of 1–10 microgram per litre, it becomes necessary to develop sensors that can measure mercury levels in water with high sensitivity and selectivity.
  • If mercury is put in the drinking water, the effect of it will be dangerous to an individual’s health. It can cause kidney damage and will affect the nervous system.
  • There are two kinds of mercury: Inorganic mercury and organic mercury.
  • Inorganic mercury can cause severe effects on an individual’s health.
  • Children and babies are most likely sensitive to inorganic mercury if exposed to their bodies while the organic mercury is much dangerous to one’s health and it might cause death if it is not treated.

Highlights:

  • Studies have shown that industrial effluents can have higher mercury levels than that allowed by the WHO and Indian guidelines.
  • The small molecule, histidine conjugated perylene diimide (HPH) when dissolved in water shows green fluorescence under laser light.
  • When water contaminated with mercury is added to this solution, the fluorescence is absent, and the molecules form a hydrogel.
  • This method can detect only up to 5 nanomolar (0.1 parts per billion) of mercury in water.

Principle:

  • The small HPH molecules are organised on gold thin films coated on polystyrene beads.
  • The small molecule is a bolamphiphile, because it has both hydrophilic (histidine) units on the surface and hydrophobic (perylene) core units.
  • The molecule has two arm-like projections on either side of the core, one of which binds to the gold surface and the other is free pointing outwards.
  • When mercury contaminated water is added to this mixture, the mercury ions bind to the free ends.
  • When subjected to Raman spectroscopy, the response after mercury has bound to the particles is highly enhanced as compared to before the binding of mercury. This gives a measurable optical response.

Significance:

  • The system is capable of detecting attomolar [concentration], it can detect any concentration above this level with very high accuracy.
  • Although the technique has been demonstrated for water, it can come in useful for detecting mercury elsewhere too.
  • This technique can be used for any other sample, including biofluids or tissue extracts, wherein detection of such low concentration does matter.

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Section : Environment & Ecology

 

MGNREGA scheme faces fund shortage

The news

  • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme is facing a fund crunch.

 

Highlights of the news

  • The MNREGA scheme is facing a fund crunch, with 99% of money allocated already exhausted three months before the end of the financial year.
  • Moreover, 11 States and Union Territories are having a negative net balance.
  • The scheme’s financial statement shows that, the total availability of funds was Rs. 59,032 crore.
  • The total expenditure, including payment due, stands at Rs. 58,701 crore.
  • This leaves a slim margin of only Rs. 331 crore.
  • For 11 States, that margin is non-existent, as their accounts are already in the red.
  • In an independent study, it was also found that employment provided was already 32% lower than work demanded during 2017-18.
  • It can be inferred from the above data that Rs. 76,131 crore is the minimum amount needed to meet the registered work demand last year, almost 30% higher than the current allocation.

Impact of the fund crunch

  • Studies show that the scheme faces difficulties in meeting the demand for work and paying wages on time and these issues are likely to be exacerbated by the current fund crisis.
  • Still there are three more months to go and this is the period of the lean agriculture, when demand for MGNREGA employment peaks.
  • Hence, the current fund crunch would intensify the suffering at a time when work is needed most.
  • Rainfall deficits and drought this year are likely to worsen the situation.
  • On the ground, it has also been found that the State governments and field functionaries are compelled not to register demand for work in order to contain the payment liabilities of the governments.
  • This is against the purpose of the MNREGA scheme.

 

About MNREGA

  • The MGNREGA, also known as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) is Indian legislation enacted on August 25, 2005.
  • The Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Govt of India is monitoring the entire implementation of this scheme in association with state governments.
  • This act was introduced with an aim of improving the purchasing power of the rural people, primarily semi or un-skilled work to people living below poverty line in rural India.
  • It attempts to bridge the gap between the rich and poor in the country.
  • MGNREGA focuses on the economic and social empowerment of women.
  • MGNREGA provides “Green” and “Decent” work.
  • MGNREGA works address the climate change vulnerability and protect the farmers from such risks and conserve natural resources.
  •  

 

Features of the MNREGA Scheme

  • The scheme provides a legal guarantee for one hundred days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage.
  • Individual beneficiary oriented works can be taken up on the cards of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, small or marginal farmers or beneficiaries of land reforms or beneficiaries under the Indira AwaasYojana of the Government of India.
  • Within 15 days of submitting the application or from the day work is demanded, wage employment will be provided to the applicant.
  • The employment will be provided within a radius of 5 km: if it is above 5 km extra wage will be paid.
  • Roughly one-third of the stipulated work force must be women.
  • Right to get unemployment allowance in case employment is not provided within fifteen days of submitting the application or from the date when work is sought.
  • Receipt of wages within fifteen days of work done.
  • Variety of permissible works which can be taken up by the Gram Panchayats.
  • The Gram Sabha is the principal forum for wage seekers to raise their voices and make demands.
  • It is the Gram Sabha and the Gram Panchayat which approves the shelf of works under MGNREGA and fixes their priority.
  • Social Audit of MGNREGA works is mandatory, which lends to accountability and transparency.

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Section : Economics

 

In a first, Mallya declared a ‘fugitive economic offender’

The news

  • Vijay Mallya became the first person to be declared a fugitive economic offender by the special court under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act (FEOA).

 

Background

  • Vijay Mallya is accused by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of defaulting on bank loans to the tune of 9,000 crore and he is also accused of diverting some of the loan amount.
  • He left the country for London in 2016.
  • After he left the country, several non bailable warrants were issued against Mr. Mallya, who was declared a ‘proclaimed offender’ and an ‘absconder’ by the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court.
  • In July 2018, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had filed an application before the court, seeking to declare Mallya a ‘fugitive economic offender’ under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018.
  • Ite also sought to immediately confiscate his assets of over Rs. 12,500 crore.
  • The ED had filed two separate complaints registered under PMLA for investigation of money laundering against Mr. Mallya, Kingfisher Airlines Limited (KAL) and United Breweries Holdings Limited (UBHL).
  • The agency has reported to have attached assets worth more than 4,000 crore, claiming them to be proceeds of crime from both the entities.
  • In early December, 2018, a U.K. court ordered that Mr. Mallya could be extradited.
  • Now, the Special court on prevention of Money laundering has declared Mr. Mallya as a fugitive economic offender.

 

Highlights of the news

  • A special court now declared Mallya a "fugitive economic offender" under Section 12 of the the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act (FEOA).
  • He is the first person to be declared so under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act and government can now confiscate all his properties.
  • The special court’s ruling came on ED plea under FEOA law.
  • The court has partly allowed the Enforcement Directorate’s application, which sought to declare Mr. Mallya a fugitive economic offender and confiscate all his properties, estimated to be worth Rs. 12,500 crore.

 

Significance of the move

  • The verdict is a major breakthrough in the case for India’s investigation agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the enforcement directorate (ED), which has charged Mallya with defrauding loans of up to Rs. 9,000 crore.
  • This would also work a deterrent in the cases where the ED is trying to seek the similar ruling against NiravModi and MehulChoksi- prime accused in over $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case.
  • This would change the course for future potential fugitive economic offenders.

 

About the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act (FEOA)

  • The Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 ("FEOA") was introduced by the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Affairs.
  • The FEOA became a law on July 31, 2018.
  • The main intent of FEOA is to provide for measures to deter fugitive economic offenders from evading the process of law in India by staying outside the jurisdiction of Indian Courts.
  • Since most economic offences pertain to non-payment of loans which have weakened the Indian economy, the FEOA has been put in force to curb the shortcomings in the civil and criminal laws, to deal with such offenders staying offshores.
  • Under the FEOA an individual may be declared as a Fugitive Economic Offender ("FEO") upon two important criterions i.e. if-
    • An arrest warrant has been issued against the person for any Scheduled Offences where the value involved is over Rs 100 crore, and
    • He has left the country and refuses to return to face prosecution.
  • To declare an individual as an FEO, an application has to be filed in a "Special Court" (designated under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002) containing details of the properties to be confiscated, and any information about the individual's whereabouts.
  • A special FEOA court can order the confiscation of a FEO’s properties, including those which are benami, and the proceeds of crime in and outside India.
  • Once properties are confiscated, the Union government has the right over them, and it can dispose them after 90 days.

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Section : Economics

 

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