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Here are the topics covered for 25th October 2023:
GS-2: Compensation for Agniveer, Reforms in Special and Local Laws (SLLs)
GS- 3: Dam Safety Act, Gut Fungi and COVID-19
Facts for Prelims: Fast radio bursts (FRBs), Iron Dome
Compensation for Agniveer
- The recent demise of an Agniveer on duty at the Siachen glacier has sparked a controversy regarding the entitlement of pensions and compensation for the families of Agniveers. In 2022, the government introduced the Agnipath Scheme for recruiting soldiers (Agniveers) across the three services – Army, Navy, and Airforce.
Compensation Promised After the Demise of an Agniveer
- Seva Nidhi: An Agniveer’s family is entitled to various forms of compensation, including a non-contributory insurance sum of Rs 48 lakh, Rs 44 lakh as compensation, and 30% of Seva Nidhi contributed by the Agniveer, matched by the government. Interest accrues on these amounts.
- Armed Forces Battle Casualty Fund: The family also receives pay for the remaining tenure from the date of death, amounting to over Rs 13 lakh, along with a contribution of Rs 8 lakh from the Armed Forces Battle Casualty Fund.
- Army Wives Welfare Association: To provide immediate financial assistance, the Army Wives Welfare Association offers Rs 30,000 to the next of kin.
About the Agnipath Scheme
The Agnipath Scheme allows patriotic and motivated youth to serve in the Armed Forces for a period of four years. This scheme aims to recruit around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers annually, most of whom will serve for four years.
- Eligibility Criteria: The scheme is specifically for personnel below officer ranks, targeting individuals who do not join the forces as commissioned officers. Aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years are eligible to apply.
- Objectives: The primary objectives of the Agnipath Scheme are to provide opportunities for patriotic and motivated youth to serve in the Armed Forces, reduce the average age profile of the Indian Armed Forces by about 4 to 5 years, and enable the average age to decrease from 32 to 26 in six to seven years.
- Benefits for Agniveers: Upon completing four years of service, Agniveers are entitled to a one-time ‘Seva Nidhi’ package of Rs 11.71 lakhs, including accrued interest. They also receive a Rs 48 lakh life insurance cover for the four years. In the unfortunate event of death, the payout exceeds Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure. The government also supports the rehabilitation of soldiers who leave the services after four years.
Concerns Related to Agniveers
- Difficulty Finding Another Job: Agniveers recruited under the Agnipath scheme will serve on a temporary four-year contract and will not receive pension benefits. This makes it essential for most of them to seek a second job to support themselves and their families.
- Unutilized Training: The armed forces will lose experienced soldiers, as those joining under the scheme receive technical training to support ongoing operations. Furthermore, women are yet to be inducted under this scheme.
- The government should consider relaxing mandatory licensing regulations for Agniveers to encourage investment in starting a business unit. This move would provide entrepreneurial opportunities and contribute to economic growth.
- Offering attractive interest rates on deposits for Agniveers could stimulate savings and benefit banks. Additionally, providing relaxation in admission criteria for Agniveers pursuing higher education, such as cut-off score reductions, would be an attractive incentive. Highly qualified and disciplined Agniveers would then have ample opportunities available to them.
Reforms in Special and Local Laws (SLLs)
- Recent attention has been given to reforms in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and Indian Evidence Act (IEA), but Special and Local Laws (SLLs) have been somewhat overlooked.
Special and Local Laws (SLLs):
- SLLs are tailored to address region-specific, cultural, or unique legal issues within a particular state or local area.
- They differ from the general laws and regulations outlined in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and are designed to identify criminal activities framed by state governments for specific issues.
- SLLs play a crucial role in India’s Criminal Justice System, covering significant offenses and procedures. They are particularly relevant in the Indian legal landscape.
- Cognisable Offenses: Nearly 39.9% of all cognizable offenses registered in 2021 fell under SLLs. In such cases, officers can arrest suspects without a court warrant if they have “reason to believe” the person committed the offense and that the arrest is necessary based on certain criteria. Within 24 hours, detention must be ratified by a judicial magistrate.
Need for Reforms in Special and Local Laws:
- Ambiguous Definitions: Some SLLs, like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, suffer from unclear and vague definitions of offenses and terms, potentially leading to misuse and misinterpretation, affecting due process.
- Legal Process Variability: SLLs can lead to differential treatment based on geographical location, causing disparities in access to justice and legal protection. This lack of legal consistency can create uncertainty for individuals and businesses.
- Inherent Indiscretion: Absence of thorough considerations can lead to inefficiencies and uncertainties. For example, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012, has been criticized for criminalizing consensual sexual activities between minors.
- Undermining of Due Process: SLLs have increased powers of search and seizure, admissibility of confessions recorded by police officers, and lack robust safeguards for the accused, potentially leading to abuse and compromising individual liberties.
- Restrictive Bail Provisions: SLLs often have exceptionally stringent bail provisions, making it nearly impossible for accused individuals to secure bail.
- SLLs criminalizing conduct should be incorporated into the penal code as separate chapters or be treated as exceptions in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
- The current oversight of SLLs in ongoing reforms is a significant limitation, necessitating a secondary wave of reforms to address these deficiencies.
Dam Safety Act
- India’s numerous aging large dams, with many over 25 years old, pose safety risks. In late 2021, a Dam Safety Act was enacted to address these concerns, but recent disasters in North Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh have highlighted substantial gaps in its implementation and dam safety assurance.
About the Dam Safety Act:
The Dam Safety Act, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2021, aimed to address long-standing issues related to dam safety in India. It laid out several key provisions, including:
- National and State-level Bodies: The Act mandated the creation of a National Committee on Dam Safety and a National Dam Safety Authority to oversee policies, regulations, and implementation at both the national and state levels. The Central Water Commission (CWC) Chairman was tasked with leading national-level dam safety protocols.
- State-level Committees: States were required to establish State Committees on Dam Safety and State Dam Safety Organizations.
- Responsibilities: The Act placed responsibilities on states to classify dams based on hazard risk, conduct regular inspections, develop emergency action plans, establish flood warning systems, and conduct safety reviews and periodic risk assessments.
- Incident Reporting: Importantly, the Act required states to report and record incidents of dam failures, filling a gap in previous legislation.
- Penalties: Non-compliance with the Act could result in imprisonment and fines, with more severe penalties if non-compliance leads to loss of lives.
Challenges and Shortcomings:
Despite the existence of the Dam Safety Act, the recent disasters have highlighted several challenges and shortcomings:
- Inadequate Implementation: The Act’s provisions on risk assessment, inspection, and early warning systems have not been effectively implemented, as seen in the Sikkim incident. There is a lack of proactive measures to prevent disasters.
- Transparency Issues: Transparency in the dam safety process is lacking. The Act should make all relevant information accessible to the public, but this is often obstructed, as national and state bodies often consist of government employees and engineers who were involved in dam projects, raising concerns about bias and accountability.
- Data Availability: Periodic reviews and reports, as mandated by the Act, are not consistently conducted or made easily accessible to the public, hindering public oversight and informed decision-making.
- Non-Standardized Evaluation: The Act requires comprehensive dam safety evaluations but lacks standardization in how these evaluations are conducted and reported.
To address these challenges and enhance dam safety in India, several actions are imperative:
- Robust Implementation: Authorities need to ensure that the provisions of the Dam Safety Act are rigorously implemented, focusing on risk-based decision-making, hazard profiling, and transparent assessment.
- Transparency and Public Access: Emphasis should be placed on transparency, making all information related to dam safety, including reports, decisions, and minutes, readily accessible to the public. The composition of regulatory bodies should be diversified to ensure objective decision-making.
- Standardization: Guidelines and standards for comprehensive dam safety evaluations need to be established and adhered to uniformly across the country.
- Regular Reviews and Updates: Periodic reviews, especially in the face of changing climate patterns and urbanization, should be conducted and findings promptly shared with the public.
- Compliance Enforcement: Authorities should actively monitor compliance with the Dam Safety Act, imposing penalties when necessary to incentivize adherence to safety measures.
Link Between Gut Fungi and COVID-19
- The gut microbiome, the community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, plays an important role in human health and disease. Increasingly, researchers are finding that the gut microbiome is also linked to COVID-19 infection and severity.
About the Study:
- In a recent study published in Nature Immunology, researchers turned their attention to the fungal microbiota, often referred to as the mycobiota. This aspect of the microbiome includes a range of fungal organisms that naturally reside in the gut. Variations in the types or quantities of these fungi have been linked to diseases, mirroring the influence of gut bacteria.
- Patients with COVID-19 had a higher abundance of fungal organisms in their gut compared to those without the virus.
- Antibodies against certain fungi were more prominent in the blood of COVID-19 patients, suggesting a link between these fungal organisms and the severity of the infection, with specific emphasis on two Candida species and S. cerevisiae.
- The presence of Candida albicans, a type of fungus, in the gut was associated with more severe disease.
- Mice colonized with Candida strains from COVID-19 patients exhibited distinct immune responses compared to non-colonized mice, including elevated immune cell counts and inflammation markers.
- While the study provides valuable insights, it has limitations, such as the relatively low number of human participants, especially during the study’s conduction in 2020.
- The COVID-19 landscape has evolved since then, with vaccination and prior exposure impacting the virus’s behavior.
- The study raises many possibilities, including the possibility of using the gut mycobiota as a biomarker to identify people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection.
- The study suggests that antifungal treatments may be beneficial in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infection.
- However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and to develop effective interventions for influencing the gut mycobiota.
Fact for Prelims :
Fast radio bursts (FRBs)
- Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are intense, millisecond-duration flashes of radio waves that come from all over the sky. They are the most energetic events in the universe that we know of, releasing more energy in a millisecond than the sun does in a day.
- FRBs were first discovered in 2007, and since then, hundreds more have been detected.
- The origin of FRBs is one of the most puzzling mysteries in astrophysics. Some possible sources include:
- Colliding neutron stars
- Alien civilizations
- By studying the dispersion of FRB signals, astronomers can learn about the density of intergalactic space. FRBs can also help us to find new galaxies and to study the early universe.
- Some FRBs are “repeating,” meaning they emit multiple bursts from the same source, while others are “non-repeating” and have been observed only once.
- Astronomers and astrophysicists continue to study FRBs with more advanced radio telescopes, like the CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).
- Iron Dome is a short-range anti-rocket, anti-mortar, and anti-artillery system designed to intercept incoming projectiles.
- It was developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems of Israel.
- The Iron Dome system consists of three main components:
- A radar unit that detects incoming rockets and relays information about their speed and trajectory to the battery’s control center.
- A control center that calculates whether the rocket is going to hit a populated area and, if so, sends an intercept command to an interceptor missile launcher.
- An interceptor missile launcher that fires a Tamir interceptor missile at the incoming rocket.
- Range: It is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of 4 to 70 kilometers (2–43 mi) away.
- Israel has at least 10 Iron Dome batteries deployed throughout the country. Each battery is designed to defend a 60-square-mile populated area, and they can be relocated as threats change.
- Israel has reported a high interception rate for Iron Dome, as high as 97%.
- Israel has a four-layered air defense network to defend against a range of projectiles, including short-range mortars, rockets, and long-range ballistic missiles. The layers include Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow II, and Arrow III.