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AGRICULTURE WATCH-
About Golden Rice( August 7, 2016-The Hindu)

This is hardly a rice ready for cultivation by farmers — it has not even entered the stage of biosafety evaluation by government regulatory institutions.

Recently 110 Nobel Laureates issued a strongly worded plea to Greenpeace to “abandon their campaign against [genetically modified organisms] in general and Golden Rice in particular.” This is not the first time notable scientists have waded into the controversy surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops. What is remarkable about this latest foray, however, is their poor grasp of the facts surrounding Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is an orange-yellow-coloured rice, genetically modified to produce beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A. Advocates claim it is a powerful way to combat Vitamin A deficiency, the cause of diseases like childhood blindness, and deaths, particularly among the poor in Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Golden Rice was first developed around 1999 by two European scientists, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer. The transnational agribusiness corporation Syngenta currently holds commercial rights to it. Moved apparently by humanitarian sentiments, Syngenta decided in 2004 to sub-license it free of charge (subject to several conditions, not all of which are straightforward) to agricultural research institutions in developing countries, through an entity named the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. The project of taking Golden Rice to developing countries is housed within the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Philippines.

The Nobel Laureates argue that the reason this innovation has not started saving lives yet is Greenpeace’s criminal opposition. This narrative of conspiracy glosses over the rather more straightforward explanation: As IRRI itself admits on its website, Golden Rice is not ready for farmers, yet. There are above-board reasons for this which have little to do with anti-GM activists.

The Laureates say that Golden Rice has “the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by Vitamin A deficiency” (emphasis added). This statement begs the question: Under what conditions might that potential be actualised? At least two conditions need to be met for Golden Rice to work as hoped: it should be suitable for cultivation by farmers; and it should be bio-available, that is, the digestive system should be able to extract the beta-carotene and make it available to the body, thus improving Vitamin A levels. Questions remain on both counts.

Suitability for cultivation
The two versions of Golden Rice developed so far, Golden Rice 1 and 2, are both Japonica (sticky, dryland) rices, while people in areas with Vitamin A deficiency in South and Southeast Asia generally cultivate and consume the non-sticky, submerged Indica paddies. Japonica varieties are easier to modify genetically, but do not perform well in Asian fields. IRRI is still in the process of crossing Golden Rice into Indica varieties. In 2014, IRRI stated, “Results of the first round of multi-location trials of Golden Rice showed that… yields of candidate lines were not consistent across locations and seasons, prompting research direction toward assessing [other] Golden Rice versions.” This is hardly a rice ready for cultivation by farmers — it has not even entered the stage of biosafety evaluation by government regulatory institutions.

The question of bioavailability is even more vexed. The body does not necessarily absorb beta-carotene because one eats Golden Rice. The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board’s website quotes a study published in 2012 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition for establishing the effectiveness of Golden Rice. On July 29, 2015, the journal retracted this paper citing ethical concerns.

Even assuming that ethical concerns do not detract from the paper’s findings, the study design merits attention. The study saw middle-income, healthy Chinese children consuming a total of 210 grams of pork and other foods over breakfast and lunch daily, with 40 per cent of their total calorie intake coming from fat. Fats help the body absorb beta-carotene, since the latter dissolves easily in fats. Unlike customary practice, the Golden Rice fed to the children had been stored at minus 70C after drying for three days, to avoid any decline in beta-carotene levels with time. Thus, the study design favoured Golden Rice, rather than reflecting the actual lives and habits of poor Asians and Africans, who generally cannot afford fat-rich meals every day. So far, there is no answer to the real question: How will Golden Rice perform as part of meals that poor people, typically malnourished, actually eat?

The Nobel Laureates accuse Greenpeace’s campaign of raising the regulatory bar for GM crops. The facts above suggest that neither Greenpeace nor regulatory hurdles have delayed Golden Rice’s release. In fact, in 2009, the distinguished biotechnologist, Dr. Swapan Datta, former Deputy Director-General (Crop Science) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, who had worked on Golden Rice at IRRI, categorically stated, “The regulatory system is not the barrier to releasing Golden Rice in India.” IRRI itself, in its last update released in 2014, said: “Golden Rice will only be made available broadly to farmers and consumers if it is successfully developed into rice varieties suitable for Asia, approved by national regulators, and shown to improve Vitamin A status in community conditions.”

Let us, for the moment, ignore the political aspects of Golden Rice and GM crops. Let us overlook the fact that many sciences (other than physics, chemistry, and medicine represented in the letter) have something to contribute to the debate over GM crops — in India, agricultural scientists, ecologists, nutritionists, and sociologists, among others, have insightfully contributed to the debate. Let us instead ask two basic questions. Is Golden Rice ready to be cultivated by farmers? IRRI itself answers no. Does Golden Rice improve Vitamin A levels among people as they actually live and eat? We don’t know yet.

Aniket Aga is Assistant Professor, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Email:aaniket@umich.edu

Keywords: agricultural cultivation, Golden Rice, GM crops, 110 Nobel Laureates, beta-carotene
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Spotlight/News Analysis (9th August 2016): About Swachh Survekshan 2017
>> स्वच्छ सर्वेक्षण 2017
The Swachh Survekshan 2017 (second survey after the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission) was launched recently to assess and rank 500 cities and towns on the basis of the level of sanitation and efforts made respective urban local bodies towards keeping the city clean. The aim is also to capture progress towards Open Defecation Free status. A web portal Swachhta App and Swachhta Helpline 1969 were also launched to associate more citizens in urban areas with Swachh Bharat Mission.

Criteria for Ranking:

The ranking will be based on reports by urban local bodies on progress made towards construction of toilets.
Feedback of citizens and independent observation of sanitation levels.
Cities to be included:
With population of one lakh and above
Heritage and tourism cities
Capital cities with less than one lakh population
The survey being conducted by the Quality Council of India this time has increased its ambit from 73 to 500 cities and incentivizes various players involved by rewarding the cities performing better, rewarding RWAs and workers at the grass root level. This will help in mobilizing and changing the mindset of people towards cleanliness and induce a competitive spirit among them. It is often seen that people attach themselves to their class, language etc. What is most needed here is the fact that people should associate themselves with their city i.e. a city identity which will further help in making the cleanliness campaign successful.

However, it is important to realize that the administrative and technological machinery can work only up to a certain extent. What is needed here is participatory governance seeking commitment from the communities and people as well. For example- Construction of toilets only is not going to ensure cleanliness. There has to be utilization of toilets as well by the people. By and large, the maintenance and management of toilets to make them functional has to be looked upon by people and community. This can be made possible by bringing changes in social, attitudinal and behavioural aspects of the people.

Areas of Concern:

The percentage of household using safe drinking water in the urban areas has decreased a little in the previous years. Therefore, there is a need to monitor and validate the governments results obtained through surveys by community feedback and resource allocation should be done accordingly next time.
States like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat aim to be Open Defecation Free by 2017. It has been seen that the northern states of India are lagging behind. The possible reasons for this are the socio-economic conditions, illiteracy and higher poverty levels in northern part of India. It is expected that with better economic growth and increasing levels of literacy in the coming years, this gap will be bridged to some extent.
Way Ahead:

Education is going to play a major role in determining the success of sanitation and cleanliness programmes. While primary and secondary educations are of utmost importance, educating people through indirect sources like media and newspapers can also be of great help.
Community and people’s participation at large has to be made a reality for implementation of these programmes. Personal health and hygiene not only affects the individual but others around him/her as well. Personal priority on health has to be more than social priority.
Children’s education should be given more importance at school level.
Involving celebrities who have a good social acceptability can further enhance the impact of these programmes.
Civil society organizations can use folk themes and combine healthy entertainment with a strong social message.
‘Asli Tarakki’ campaign has also been launched highlighting the need for construction of toilets and using them well. This campaign is to be mounted on TV channels and in print media soon brings out that having two wheelers, air coolers, TV sets etc., is not ‘Asli Tarakki’ (real development) if such people did not either have toilets or don’t use them.
This whole process will surely bring out positive results in the areas of cleanliness and sanitation and will help the government and people to move in the right direction.

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GST Constitutional Amendment Cleared: What’s The Road Ahead?

The first major milestone has successfully been crossed with the passing of a unified Goods and Services Tax Bill almost unanimously in the Upper House. This is just the beginning of a big task that lies ahead in order to accomplish a significant goal of rolling out GST by 1st April 2017.

Roadmap Ahead:

Some of the processes and steps required now to make “one nation, one tax” a reality are as follows:

Legislative:

Among the first tasks ahead is the drafting of the Central and State GST laws that will again be required to be passed in the Parliament and ratified by more than 50% of the State Legislatures.
Another issue is whether the GST legislation should be a money bill or a financial bill. If it is proposed to be a money bill then the Rajya Sabha can only discuss and not vote on it.
If it is passed as a financial bill, then Rajya Sabha can vote, pass or reject it even if it has not been introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Economic:

It has to be determined what rate structure for tax has to be adopted to incentivize compliance and at the same time generate enough resources. It is a well-known fact that GST is an indirect tax and the most important feature of indirect tax is that it is regressive. Therefore, adopting a particular cap rate becomes vital; otherwise the GST rate can easily go on increasing leading to an increase in India’s income inequality.
Political:

The governance within the GST Council is also going to affect the implementation of GST. The states might have conflict over the issue that an economically larger state contributing more to the GST should have a greater say in the Council.
There is a need to pay attention on the requirements of smaller states. If a high threshold for GST exemption is adopted, then almost all businesses of such states will be exempted from tax.
Technological:

There is a requirement for a sound technological infrastructure as the IT backbone for the new tax regime will aim to reduce taxpayer interface with departments for activities like registration and filing of returns. For rest of the functions as well, it has to be made clear whether there would be coordination between departments at central and state levels.
A Possible Pitfall That Might Happen:

The primary area for concern of states will be to prevent revenue loss at any cost. In this regard, the empowered committee of finance ministers uses a concept Revenue Neutral Rate (RNR). RNR is the uniform rate which when applied will leave all the states with the same revenue as before. Therefore, no state will lose by accepting GST. In order to nullify the fear of states, RNR might be loaded with every possible existing tax (excise duty, octroi etc.). This is going to escalate RNR and hence it might increase inflation in the economy and job losses in the unorganized sector.

Although there are a few major decisions which have to be taken before GST rolls out, but for now it is a matter to rejoice that even after so much delay GST has got consensus and has evolved in a much better shape than expected.

CURRENT EVENTS BASED QUIZ( From 1 Aug 2016- 10 Aug 2016)

1. Question 2 points
Consider the following statements:

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires signatory countries to change their laws to give effect to the rights of persons with mental illnesses
The Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 does not cover mental retardation, but includes mental conditions associated with substance abuse
Which of the statements above is/are incorrect?

a) 1 Only
b) 2 Only
c) Both 1 and 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

Solution: d.

Both statements are correct.

http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/new-mental-health-bill-provisions-rajya-sabha-2964545/

2. Question 2 points
With reference to the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 recently passed by the Rajya Sabha, which of the following statements is/are correct?

It decriminalises suicide
It guarantees every person the right to access mental health care and treatment from the government
It mandates the central and state governments to ensure access to mental health services in every district of the country
It does not address issues related to guardianship of mentally ill persons
Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a) 1, 2 and 3
b) 1 and 2 only
c) 3 and 4 only
d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Solution: d.

“The Bill mandates the central and state governments to ensure access to mental health services in every district. These will include outpatient and inpatient services, hospitals, and community-based rehabilitation establishments. However, the financial memorandum of the Bill does not estimate the expenditure required to meet the obligations under the Bill nor does it provide details of the sharing of expenses between the central and state governments. Without the allocation of adequate funds, the implementation of the Bill could be affected. The Standing Committee examining the Bill had noted that public health is a state subject. Since several states face financial constraints, the central government might have to step in to ensure funds for the implementation of the law.”

“If the Bill is passed by Parliament in its current form, there will be a legal vacuum with regard to provisions of guardianship of mentally ill persons.”

Also: “The Bill does not prescribe specific penalties for non-compliance with several of its provisions.”

http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/new-mental-health-bill-provisions-rajya-sabha-2964545/

3. Question 2 points
Which of the following nations have been granted observer status to the Arctic in the Arctic Council?

India
South Korea
Singapore
Japan
China
Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a) 1 and 5 only
b) 2 and 4 only
c) 1, 2, 4 and 5 only
d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Solution: d.

“There has been a surge of global interest in the Arctic because of its vast reserves of oil, gas and minerals, commercial fishing opportunities, and shortened shipping routes that are now accessible because of global warming. In 2013, India was granted observer status to the Arctic, where India joined China, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea as a non-circumpolar country in the Arctic Council.”

“This year China, Japan and South Korea held talks on Arctic issues in Seoul. India is also an observer state on the same legal ground as the other three countries but so far, we have been remarkably missing from talks such as these.”

http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/arctic-region-opportunities-south-korea-india-2964498/

4. Question 2 points
Shipping traffic in the “Northern Sea Route” (NSR) is expected to keep increasing over the next few years. The NSR runs along

a) The Russian Arctic Coast from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait
b) The North American Arctic Coast (via the Canadian Arctic Archipelago) connecting the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
c) Coastal Europe from the Strait of Dover all the way up to Novaya Zemalya
d) None of the above

Solution: d.

“Through all the proposed projects, sanctions and bail-outs, one thing is certain — that traffic in the Northern Sea Route (NSR) will keep increasing which is evidenced by the increasing number of vessels plying through those waters and the increase in the global production of icebreakers. Currently, oil comes to Asia through the Suez Canal and is stored in Singapore, making Singapore the world’s biggest oil storage hub. When the NSR opens up, it will be a challenge to Singapore because the NSR is a shorter route and piracy issues plague the Suez Canal.”

“The Northern Sea Route (click on it to open Wikipedia page) is a shipping route officially defined by Russian legislation as lying east of Novaya Zemlya and specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait. The entire route lies in Arctic waters and within Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”

Statement ‘a’ refers to the Northeast Passage (this passage includes the NSR)

Statement ‘b’ refers to the Northwest Passage.

Statement ‘c’ is not associated with Arctic shipping routes.
See the double-coloured dash line on the right side in the image.

1234

http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/arctic-region-opportunities-south-korea-india-2964498/

5. Question 2 points
With reference to the art form “Tala Maddale”, which of the following statements is/are incorrect?

It is a variation of Yakshagana theatre
The word is derived from the word ‘tala’ meaning drum beat and ‘maddale’ meaning cymbal
It normally focusses on episodes from the epics – Bhagavata and Puranas
Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a) 1 only
b) 1 and 2 only
c) 2 only
d) 2 and 3 only

Solution: c.

“The word Talamaddale is derived from the word ‘tala’ (Cymbal) and Maddale (the drum).” “Though Tala Maddale normally focusses on episodes from the epics, Bhagavata and puranas, episodes have also been created on other issues, including the Second World War, Tashkent Agreement, and even one against computerisation about a couple of decades ago called Ganakasura Kalaga.”

“A variation of yakshagana theatre, Talamaddale is not a well known art-form outside coastal karnataka. It is called Koota (gathering) as against the costumed performance ata (play). It is also called Baithak (sitting), prasanga (episode), odike (reading ) and Jagara (keep awake). To put it simply, Talamaddale is a Yakshagana minus dance,,costume and stage conventions. It has features which are a combination of puranapravachana (discourse), harikatha and Yakshagana. While the Yakshagana ata has speech, dance and costume and the ballet has dance and costume, talamaddale has only the spoken word. Music is common to all forms.”

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/swarajya-vijaya-in-tala-maddale-on-eve-of-iday/article8971119.ece

6. Question 2 points
The tripartite Assam Accord

a) signified the end of the six-year-long anti-foreigners movement in the state
b) introduced the system of Inner Line Permit for select districts
c) was the precursor of statehood for Assam
d) outlined the steps that would be taken by the Central Government, State Government and residents of the state to mitigate the effects of inevitable flooding of Brahmaputra every monsoon

Solution: a.

“Three decades ago the Government of India(GoI), the State and the students of Assam penned down a document which was to change the way people saw the State. The Assam Accord was signed by the leadership of A.A.S.U, All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad and the Centre in 1985 to signify the end of the six-year-long anti-foreigners movement in the state.”

“The tripartite Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985, talks about the socio-economic development of Assam. The control of flood waters and erosion is crucial to the socio-economic development of Assam since roads, culverts and bridges are regularly swept away in the recurring floods. Unless this issue is addressed, the well-being of the large number of poor families can not be ensured.”

http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/documents/papers/assam_accord_1985.htm#Assam_Accord



http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/assam-heavy-rain-floods-india-monsoon-2966763/

7. Question 2 points
Which among the following form a part of the Government of India’s African engagement?

Dialogue with the tribes of Africa
Food, of which joint agricultural production of crops like pulses is one component
Maritime security
Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a) 1 only
b) 2 and 3 only
c) 1 and 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

Solution: d.

“Adding an unusual layer to India’s African engagement, the Narendra Modi government is sending a senior Minister to hold a dialogue with the tribes of southern Africa later this month. The visit by Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram will begin a new Indian season of political, diplomatic and trade outreach to Africa.”

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/jual-orams-tribal-engagement-to-start-africa-outreachii/article8969902.ece

8. Question 2 points
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to give citizenship to undocumented migrants who are followers of which of the following faiths?

Hindus
Jains
Sikhs
Christians
Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a) 1, 2 and 3 only
b) 1 only
c) 2 and 3 only
d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Solution: d.

“The Opposition parties, led by the Congress, want the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in July, sent to a Standing Committee of Parliament. They say the amendments seek to give the granting of citizenship a religious twist. The original Act, passed in 1955, lists the ways to acquire citizenship, denying to undocumented migrants. The amendments now seek to allow citizenship to undocumented migrants of all faiths barring Islam from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/biased-citizenship-bill-draws-flak-from-mps/article8969974.ece
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