31ST OCTOBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR

News: Recently, the President of India has signed ‘The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020’. The Ordinance sets up a statutory authority – the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Areas. Through the Ordinance, the Centre has also dissolved the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) for the NCR.

Background:

  • The monitoring and management of air quality in the Delhi NCR region has been done by multiple bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the state pollution control boards, the state governments in the region, including Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and the EPCA.
  • They, in turn are monitored by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), and the Supreme Court itself, which monitors air pollution as per the judgment in ‘M C Mehta vs Union of India’, 1988.
  • EPCA is a Central Government constituted committee in the year 1998 for the National Capital Region in compliance with the Supreme Court order dated 7thJanuary, 1998.
  • The Ordinance seeks to create an overarching body to consolidate all monitoring bodies, and to bring them on one platform so that air quality management can be carried out in a more comprehensive, efficient, and time-bound manner.

Composition of the New Commission:

  • The Commission will be headed by a full-time chairperson who has been a Secretary to the Government of India, or a Chief Secretary to a State government. The chairperson will hold the post for three years or until s/he attains the age of 70 years.
  • It will have members from several Ministries as well as representatives from the stakeholder States. It will have experts from the CPCB, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Civil Society.

Powers & Functions:

  • In matters of air pollution and air quality management, the Commission will supersede all existing bodies such as the CPCB, and even the state governments of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. It will have the powers to issue directions to the states.
  • CPCB and its State branches have the powers to implement provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 for air, water and land pollution. Their powers  However, in case of dispute or a clash of jurisdictions, the Commission’s writ will prevail specific to matters concerning air pollution.
  • The Commission will also coordinate efforts of state governments to curb air pollution, and will lay down the parameters of air quality for the region.
  • It will have powers to restrict the setting up of industries in vulnerable areas, and will be able to conduct site inspections of industrial units. If its directions are contravened, the Commission will have the power to impose a fine of up to Rs. 1 crore and imprisonment of up to 5 years.
  • Only the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and not civil courts, is authorised to hear cases where the Commission is involved.

Comparison with EPCA

  • The EPCA, which was set up in 1998, looked at the NCR; the purview of the new Commission extends to “adjoining areas as well”.
  • EPCAwas not a statutory body but drew legitimacy from the Supreme Court. It did have the authority to issue fines or directions and guidelines to the governments in other states. However, it had no state representatives, just two permanent members.
  • The Commission, on the other hand, will have representation from the state. It is a permanent and statutory body.

Performance:

  • Experts say that EPCA has failed miserably in cleaning the air even after being in force for more than 20 years.
  • However, the key contributions of the EPCA include – the notification of the Graded Response Action Planthat lists out measures to be taken in case of worsening pollution, the construction of the Regional Rapid Transport System and early adoption of BS-VI fuel standards, among other measures.
  • The new Commission’s performance will be gauged by changes in the status quo when it comes to ground implementation and strict action on polluters.

Challenges ahead:

  • The multiplicity of laws and institutions will create more confusion on the one hand and friction on the other. For eg, we already have EPCA, NGT, CPCB and SPCB no one is clear as to what needs to be done.
  • The lack of law is not a problem in India, whether it is about paddy stubble burning, providing subsidies or penalising the polluter. The problem lies in the fact that political will is missing when it comes to implementation.

Way forward

  • If the government is keen to resolve the issue, it must undertake a thorough review of the various laws and institutions in order to look at their efficacy and utility.
  • should have detailed consultation with all relevant stakeholders, especially those outside Delhi, which includes farmers’ groups and small scale industries and the public at large.”

2. SERB-POWER

News: Recently, the Union Minister for Science and Technology has launched SERB-POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Exploratory Research) Scheme, which has two components of fellowship and research grants. The Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), is a statutory body of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India.

Background:

  • Integration of the gender dimension in research design has gained considerable attention in the global scenario. Enhancement of participation and promotion of women in the research workforce has to be one of the prime priorities.

Details:

  • It is a scheme designed exclusively for women scientists to mitigate gender disparity in science and engineering research in various science and technology (S&T) programmes in Indian academic institutions and research and development (R&D) laboratories.
  • It will serve as a benchmark of recognition in the national scenario and will empower women scientists and cultivate a women-friendly culture and ensure more women in leadership positions in decision-making bodies.
  • SERB – POWER Scheme will have two components namely (i) SERB-POWER Fellowship (ii) SERB- POWER Research Grants.

SERB-POWER Fellowship

  • Target: Women researchers in 35-55 years of age. Up-to 25 Fellowships per year and not more than 75 at any point in time.
  • Components of support: Fellowship of Rs. 15,000/- per month in addition to regular income; Research grant of Rs. 10 lakh per annum; and Overhead of Rs. 90,000/- per annum.
  • Duration: Three years, without the possibility of extension. Once in a career.

SERB – POWER Research Grants

  • POWER Grants will empower women researchers by funding them under the following two categories:
  • Level I (Applicants from IITs, IISERs, IISc, NITs, Central Universities, and National Labs of Central Government Institutions): The scale of funding is up to 60 lakhs for three years.
  • Level II (Applicants from State Universities / Colleges and Private Academic Institutions): The scale of funding is up to 30 lakhs for three years.

Related Government Initiatives

Vigyan Jyoti Scheme:

  • Launched by the DST, it aims to create a level-playing field for the meritorious girls in high school to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in their higher education.

Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions Scheme:

  • GATI Scheme will develop a comprehensive charter and a framework for assessing gender equality in STEM.

Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing Scheme:

  • Started by the DST, KIRAN scheme aims to bring gender parity in the S&T sector by inducting more women talent in the R&D domain.

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme:

  • BBBP Scheme is the joint initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development to ensure survival, protection, and empowerment of the girl child.

National Science Day 2020:

  • It was celebrated on 28thFebruary 2020 with the theme ‘Women In Science’.
  • Dr Niti Kumar, a senior scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Central Drug Research Institute(CSIR-CDRI), Lucknow received SERB Women Excellence Award-2020 on this occasion.

3. Mandatory Jute Packaging

News: Cabinet approves Extension of Norms for Mandatory Packaging in Jute Materials. Now, 100% of the foodgrains and 20% of the sugar shall be mandatorily packed in diversified jute bags.

Details:

  • The decision mandates that initially 10% of the orders of jute bags for packing food grains would be placed through a reverse auction on the GeM portal, which will gradually help in a regime of price discovery.
  • In a reverse auction, the sellers compete to obtain business from the buyer and prices will typically decrease as the sellers underbid each other.
  • Price discovery is the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace through the interactions of buyers and sellers.

Statutory Provision:

  • Government has expanded the scope of mandatory packaging norms under the Jute Packaging Materials (Compulsory Use in Packing Commodities) Act, 1987, also known as the JPM Act.
  • Under it, the Government is required to consider and provide for the compulsory use of jute packaging material in the supply and distribution of certain commodities.

Government Dependent Sector:

  • The jute industry is predominantly dependent on the Government sector which purchases jute bags of value of more than Rs. 7,500 crore every year for packing foodgrains.
  • This is done in order to sustain the core demand for the jute sector and to support the livelihood of the workers and farmers dependent on the sector.
  • Nearly 3.7 lakh workers and several lakh farm families are dependent for their livelihood on the jute sectors so the government has been making concerted efforts for the development of the jute sector by:
  1. Increasing the quality and productivity of raw jute.
  2. Diversifying the jute sector.
  3. Boosting and sustaining demand for jute products.

Benefits:

  • Nearly 3.7 lakh workers and several lakh farm families are dependent for their livelihood on the jute sectors. This decision will give an impetus to the diversification of the jute industry.
  • It will also benefit farmers and workers located in the Eastern and North Eastern regions of the country.

About Jute:

  • Known as the ‘golden fibre’,jute is one of the longest and most used natural fibre for various textile applications. It thrives in tropical lowland areas with humidity of 60% to 90%. Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticides. India is the world’s largest producer of raw jute and jute goods.
  • The cultivation of jute in India is mainly confined to the eastern region of the country.
  • The first jute mill was established at Rishra (Bengal – now in West Bengal), on the river Hooghly near Calcutta in the year 1855, by Mr. George Aclend. In 1959, the first power driven weaving factory was set up.

4. Threats of Deepfakes to AI

Understanding deepfakes

  • Deepfakes are the digital media (video, audio, and images) manipulated using Artificial Intelligence.
  • This synthetic media content is referred to as deepfakes. They make it possible to fabricate media — swap faces, lip-syncing, and puppeteer.
  • Access to commodity cloud computingalgorithms, and abundant data has created a perfect storm to democratise media creation and manipulation.
  • Synthetic media can create possibilities and opportunities for all people. But as with any new innovative technology, it can be weaponised to inflict harm.

Associated threats to deep fakes

New Front of Warfare: 

  • A deepfake could act as a powerful tool by a nation-state to undermine public safety and create uncertainty and chaos in the target country.
  • Nation-state actors with geopolitical aspirations, ideological believers, violent extremists, and economically motivated enterprises can manipulate media narratives using deepfakes.
  • It can be used by insurgent groups and terrorist organisations, to represent their adversaries as making inflammatory speeches or engaging in provocative actions to stir up anti-state sentiments among people.

Targeting Women: 

  • The malicious use of a deepfake can be seen in pornography, inflicting emotional, reputational, and in some cases, violence towards the individual.
  • Pornographic deep fakes can threaten, intimidate, and inflict psychological harm and reduce women to sexual objects. Deepfake pornography majorly targets women.

Damage to Personal Reputation:

  • Deepfake can depict a person indulging in antisocial behaviours and saying vile things.
  • These can have severe implications on their reputation, sabotaging their professional and personal life.
  • Even if the victim could debunk the deep fake, it may come too late to remedy the initial harm.
  • Further, Deepfakes can be deployed to extract money, confidential information, or exact favours from individuals.

Undermining Democracy: 

  • A deepfake can also aid in altering the democratic discourse and undermine trust in institutions and impair diplomacy.
  • False information about institutions, public policy, and politicians powered by a deepfake can be exploited to spin the story and manipulate belief.

Disrupting Electioneering: 

  • A deepfake of a political candidate can sabotage their image and reputation. A well-executed one, a few days before polling, of a political candidate spewing out racial epithets or indulging in an unethical act can damage their campaign.
  • A high-quality deepfake can inject compelling false information that can cast a shadow of illegitimacy over the voting process and election results.
  • Leaders can also use them to increase populism and consolidate power.
  • Deepfakes can become a very effective tool to sow the seeds of polarisation, amplifying division in society, and suppressing dissent.

Solution to the problem

  • Media literacy for consumers and journalists is the most effective tool to combat disinformation and deepfakes. Improving media literacy is a precursor to addressing the challenges presented by deepfakes.
  • Meaningful regulations with a collaborative discussion with the technology industry, civil society, and policymakers can facilitate disincentivising the creation and distribution of malicious deepfakes.
  • We also need easy-to-use and accessible technology solutions to detect deepfakes, authenticate media, and amplify authoritative sources.

Conclusion

  • Deepfakes can create possibilities for all people. However, as access to synthetic media technology increases, so does the risk of exploitation. To counter the menace of deepfakes, we all must take the responsibility to be a critical consumer of media on the Internet, think and pause before we share on social media, and be part of the solution to this infodemic.