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In news:

Four Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots began training for the country’s maiden manned mission Gaganyaan around the earth’s orbit in 2022 at the Yuri A. Gagarin research and test cosmonaut training centre in Moscow.

In brief:

  • The year-long training, which includes biomedical, physical practices, study of the Soyuz manned spaceship (module) and weightlessness mode aboard the special Ilyushin-76 MDK aircraft began on Monday.
  • In the run-up to the ambitious manned mission, the space agency will launch 2-3 unmanned missions in 2020 and 2021 with humanoids to test the human rating of the propulsion modules, including the crew module and the escape system in the event of emergency in the spacecraft.

About GAGANYAAN:

  • The Gaganyaan programme, an indigenous mission that would take Indian astronauts to space.
  • It is an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft that is intended to send 3 astronauts to space for a minimum of seven days by 2022, as part of the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme.
  • The spacecraft consists of a service module and a crew module, collectively known as the Orbital Module and will be placed in a Low Earth Orbit of 300- 400 km.
  • It is planned to be launched using GSLV MK III
  • After completing its mission the capsule will take 36 hours to return, and will land in the Arabian Sea, just off the coast of Gujarat.
  • Union Cabinet has approved Rs. 10,000 crore for Gaganyaan Programme.

Integrated Air Defence Weapon System

In news:

  • The US has approved the sale of an Integrated Air Defence Weapon System to India for an estimated cost of $1.9 billion.
  • IADWS helps in modernising its armed forces and to expand its existing air defence architecture to counter threats posed by air attacks.

No shortage of funds for siachen

  • Presently, each soldier prior to his induction to Siachen Glacier is given special clothing equipment worth overRs 1 lakh along with auxiliary, medical and mountaineering equipment worth an additional Rs 1.5 lakh as expenditure.
  • This came against the backdrop of the Comptroller and Auditor General report saying that there was an acute shortage of high altitude clothing including snow goggles and boots for troops deployed at the Siachen Glacier and in Ladakh, forcing them to procure old and recycled versions.
  • CAG report had cited standards pertaining to clothing and equipment or mountaineering and sports requirements.
  • But, there are no international benchmark standards for fighting equipment for troop deployment on the glacier and the Indian Army conducts stringent field trials under actual operational conditions to clear suitability for each piece of clothing and equipment.

Fone Tuning The Surrogacy Bill

In News:

A Select Committee has given its report on the Surrogacy Regulation Bill, recommending that surrogacy should not be restricted to close relatives.

In Brief:

  • In a recent report, a Select Committee of Parliament has recommended that the
    contentious clause limiting surrogacy only to “close relatives” be removed from
    the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019.
  • It makes the benefits of modern technology more easily available to infertile
    couples.

Provisions of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill:

  • The Bill proposes to allow altruistic ethical surrogacy to intending infertile Indian married couples in the age groups 23-50 years (women) and 26-55 years (men).
  • The couple should be legally married for at least five years and be Indian citizens.
  • They cannot have a surviving child, either biological or adopted, except when they have a child who is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from a life-threatening disorder with no permanent cure.
  • The Bill has already been scrutinised once earlier by the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare. It requires surrogacy clinics to be registered, and national and state surrogacy boards to be formed, and
  • It makes commercial surrogacy, and abandoning or disowning a surrogate child punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.
  • It was first mooted in 2016 in the wake of repeated reports of exploitation of women who were confined to hostels, not provided adequate post-pregnancy medical care and paid a pittance for repeatedly becoming surrogate mothers to supplement family income

Changes suggested by the select committee:

  • The Select Committee recommended that the “close relatives” clause should be removed, and any “willing” woman should be allowed to become a surrogate mother.
  • It has strongly backed the ban on commercial surrogacy.
  • It has also recommended that divorced and widowed women aged between 35 and 45 years should be able to be a single commissioning parent.
  • It has emphasised the need for a five-year waiting period for childless married couples could be waived if there is a medical certificate that shows that they cannot possibly conceive.
  • It has recommended that persons of Indian origin should be allowed to avail surrogacy services.
  • It has not, however, recommended expanding the definition of commissioning parent to include singles, either men or women.
  • It also recommended that the ART Bill (which deals with assisted reproductive technologies) should be brought before the Surrogacy bill so that all the highly technical and medical aspects could be properly addressed.

What is ART Bill?

  • The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill has been in the making since 2008.
  • It aims to regulate the field through registration of all IVF clinics and sperm banks, segregation of ART clinics and gamete banks etc. It also requires national and state boards to be established for the purpose of regulation of the fertility market.
  • The Select Committee report says: “Surrogacy is a part and parcel of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and hence the Surrogacy Bill should come into force only after the enactment of ART Bill.
  • Bringing Surrogacy Bill before the ART will be irrelevant and also create duplication of Boards. Suggestions have been received to incorporate Surrogacy Bill within the ART Bill as proposed earlier in the draft ART Bill.

How big is India’s surrogacy market?

  • Ballpark estimations by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) put it around 2,000-odd babies per year through commercial surrogacy when a woman is paid an agreed sum for renting her womb.
  • CII figures say surrogacy is a $2.3-billion industry fed by a lack of regulations and poverty.

SC Holds Change To SC/ST Atrocities Law

In brief:

  • The Supreme Court recently upheld the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018, which nullified its own controversial March 20, 2018 judgment diluting the stringent provisions of the Dalit protection law.
  • The Supreme Court had itself earlier recalled the March 20 judgment on October 1, 2019 in a review petition filed by the government.
  • It had said it was wrong on the part of the March 20 judgment to treat all SC/ST community members as “a liar or crook”. It was against “basic human dignity”.
  • The March 20 judgment had diluted the original 1989 legislation, saying they were using its provisions to file false criminal complaints against innocent persons.
  • Even while reserving the case for judgment, the Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and S. Ravindra Bhat had made it clear that it would neither upset the October 1 judgment nor dilute the provisions of the statute.
  • The government had enacted the Amendments, saying the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continued to face the same social stigma, poverty and humiliation which they had been subjected to for centuries.
  • The 2018 Act had nullified a March 20 judgment of the Supreme Court, which allowed anticipatory bail to those booked for committing atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes members.
  • The original 1989 Act bars anticipatory bail. The Supreme Court verdict saw a huge backlash across the country. Several died in ensuing protests and property worth crores of rupees was destroyed. The government reacted by filing a review petition in the Supreme Court and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back into its original form.
  • Several petitions were filed challenging the 2018 Amendment Act. The lead petitioner, had even called the amendments a “blunder” and a violation of the fundamental right to equality and personal liberty.
  • The Supreme Court, however, had refused to stay the implementation of the amendments.The government had responded that there was no decrease in the atrocities committed on members of SC/ST communities despite the laws meant to protect their civil rights.
  • The government had argued that SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 is the least which the country owes to this section of the society who have been denied several civil rights since generations and have been subjected to indignities, humiliations and harassment.

Child Right Body’s Directive Draws Flak

In Brief:

  • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) directive seeking counselling for children at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi, is an attemptat “stifling their voice” and “targeting” their community, argues a reportprepared by educationists and researchers who visited the protest site and recorded the testimonies of many mothers present there.
  • The Report says that Hatred and suspicion targeted at the Muslim community is what children are being exposed to through television and social media. That seems to be a larger reality that NCPCR ought to be concerned about about children living and learning in an environment of communal polarisation and political hate speech that has become the ‘new normal’ especially in times of elections.
  • The study was submitted to the NCPCR.It asserts that the NCPCR has failed to do its job in protecting children from police atrocities in Uttar Pradesh and by remaining silent on the issue of the police questioning schoolchildren on sedition in Karnataka’s Bidar as well as against rampant sexual abuse in the country.
  • The study also says that by ordering the South Delhi District Magistrate to identify children and ensure their counselling on the basis of an “anonymous complaint”, and without conducting its own investigation, the Commission violated its own rules.
  • As per the NCPCR’s rules, a complaint should be “clear and legible and not vague, anonymous or pseudonymous”.The authors say that it is in fact the NCPCR which is subjecting the children to trauma by giving such ‘harmful’ directives.
  • For these children the site is secure, because their parents are there, and the community is there. The children are safe, they are imbibing the best patriotic values and learning the importance of speaking out against perceived injustice. None of this can be equated to trauma.
  • To want to take children for counselling without any kind of assessment, without any kind of discussion is in itself shocking, perhaps traumatic.

MF Assets Rise For Record High In Jan

  • According to the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), debt-oriented schemes recorded strong inflows of around Rs 1.09 lakh crore.
  • Among debt-oriented schemes, liquid funds with investments in cash assets such as treasury bills, certificates of deposit and commercial paper for shorter horizon received flows worth about Rs 59,683 crore, the highest among the fixed-income segment.

CRR Exemption For Retail, Msmes Loans For 5 Years

In News:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced that banks would not be required to maintain the cash reserve ratio (CRR) for five years on their deposits for an amount equivalent to loans given to the MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprises), housing and vehicles sectors between January 31 and July 31.

In Brief:

  • Banks currently maintain 4 per cent on their deposits as CRR.
  • The move will help in bringing down the cost of capital for the lenders and transmission of RBI interest rate cuts easier.
  • Accordingly, banks are allowed to deduct the equivalent amount of incremental credit disbursed by them as retail loans to automobiles, residential housing, and loans to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
  • The move was first announced in the monetary policy last week along with other measures to push growth and lower lending rates to consumers by banks.
  • To ensure cheaper retail loans to borrowers, it relaxed regulatory requirements of lenders and promised to extend long term (1-3 years) funds of up to Rs 1 lakh crore to them at a concessional rate of 5.15%.