Daily Current Affairs for 27th May 2020

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Airlines make Aarogya Setu mandatory

Paper: II

Mains: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Why in News?

All airlines have made the government’s contact tracing app Aarogya Setu a mandatory pre-requisite for booking a flight despite concerns over privacy and data surveillance due to ambiguities in the Centre’s guidelines for resumption of air travel from May 25.

 Key points:

  • IndiGo, the largest airline in the country, requires passengers to “download the Aarogya Setu app on your phone to be able to fly”. Additionally, passengers will also have to “fill an online health declaration before being issued the online boarding pass,” it said in a mail to customers.
  • Vistara, SpiceJet and AirAsia India, too, announced similar measures. All airlines, barring GoAir, have opened flight bookings.
  • The move by airlines come despite Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri clarifying at a press conference a day earlier: “If you don’t have the app or the phone instrument is not compatible, it doesn’t mean you will be deprived of air travel. You will be given a self declaration form to fill.”
  • Puri was responding to a question on ambiguities in the guidelines prescribed by the Ministry for reopening flight operations, which at certain stages of the journey, provides travellers an option to fill up a self-declaration form and at other stages, prescribes mandatory use of the app. This has also resulted in each airline interpreting the advisory differently.
  • A senior official of the Ministry said while the app was not compulsory, passengers would be “nudged” to download it.
  • The preface to the guidelines issued on May 21 by the Ministry states, “a self-declaration/Aarogya Setu App status (for compatible device) would also be obtained that the passenger is free of COVID-19 symptoms. Passengers with “Red” status in Aarogya Setu App would not be permitted to travel.”
  • Similarly, in the section for measures to be adopted by airlines, the preface recommends, “airlines should devise a system that web-check-in or tele check-in is possible only when the passenger certifies the status of their health through the Aarogya Setu App or a self-declaration form.”
  • But contrary to these protocols, if a passenger does not have the app when he or she reaches the airport, then “the passenger should be facilitated to go to a counter provided by the airport where Aarogya Setu can be downloaded. Children below fourteen years of age would be exempt from this requirement,” according to the measures suggested for airports to follow.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs on May 17 backtracked on the app being mandatory and suggested that employers ensure that it is downloaded “on best effort basis”, whereas in its May 1 guidelines it was made mandatory for all employees, whether in a public or private workplace.

About Aarogya Setu app:

  • Aarogya Setu is a mobile application developed by the Government of India to connect essential health services with the people of India in our combined fight against COVID-19.
  • The App is aimed at augmenting the initiatives of the Government of India, particularly the Department of Health, in proactively reaching out to and informing the users of the app regarding risks, best practices and relevant advisories pertaining to the containment of COVID-19.

Aarogya Setu is designed to keep track of other app users that a person came in contact with. It then alerts app users if any of the contacts tests positive for COVID-19.

China warns US of retaliation if punished for Hong Kong law

Paper: II

Mains: china-.hong kong relation and its impact on india.

Why in News?

China threatened counter-measures against the U.S. if it was punished for plans to impose a sedition law on Hong Kong that the business hub’s security chief hailed as a new tool that would defeat “terrorism”.

Key points:

  • Beijing plans to pass a new security law for Hong Kong that bans treason, subversion and sedition after months of massive, often-violent pro-democracy protests last year.
  • But many Hong Kongers, business groups and Western nations fear the proposal could be a death blow to the city’s treasured freedoms and thousands took to the streets on Sunday despite a ban on mass gatherings introduced to combat corona virus.
  • As police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannon, Washington’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien warned the new law could cost the city its preferential U.S. trading status.
  • But China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing would react to any sanctions from Washington. “If the U.S. insists on hurting China’s interests, China will have to take every necessary measure to counter and oppose this,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Monday.
  • Hong Kong has become the latest flashpoint in soaring tensions between the world’s two super powers which China has likened to “the brink of a new Cold War”.
  • The refusal to grant Hong Kongers democracy has sparked rare bipartisan support in an otherwise bitterly divided Washington during the Donald Trump administration.

Foreign-backed plot

  • Beijing portrays the city’s protests as a foreign-backed plot to destabilize the motherland and says other nations have no right to interfere in how the international business hub is run.
  • Protesters, who have hit the streets in their millions, say they are motivated by years of Beijing chipping away at the city’s freedoms since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
  • Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland, as well as its own legal system and trade status.
  • Campaigners view the security law proposal as the most brazen move yet by Beijing to end free speech and the city’s ability to make its own laws. Of particular concern is a provision allowing Chinese security agents to operate in Hong Kong, with fears it could spark a crackdown on those voicing dissent against China’s communist rulers.
  • The proposed law, which China’s rubber-stamp legislature is expected to act on quickly, will also bypass Hong Kong’s own legislature.
  • The city’s influential Bar Association on Monday described the proposed motion as “worrying and problematic” — and warned it may even breach the territory’s mini-constitution. The proposal has spooked investors with Hong Kong’s stock exchange suffering its largest drop in five years on Friday.
  • Hong Kong’s government has welcomed the law.
  • “Terrorism is growing in the city and activities which harm national security, such as ‘Hong Kong independence’, become more rampant,” Security Minister John Lee said in a statement.

U.S. sanctions

  • Meanwhile, in a separate development that signals rising tensions between China and the U.S., Beijing vowed to shield a Chinese government institute and eight companies sanctioned by the U.S. over alleged human rights violations in the restive Xinjiang region, where China is accused of mass repression of mostly Muslim minorities.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced the sanctions on Friday, saying they were triggered by human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang in China’s far northwest. Beijing urged Washington to reverse the decision, saying the Commerce Department had “stretched the concept of national security” to “meddle in China’s affairs and harm China’s interests”.

Persons with Disability badly affected Due to Lockdown

Paper: II

Prelims: acts and organization related to disability

Mains : Social Justice

Why in News?

Limited access to doorstep delivery of essentials, government helplines and financial assistance from the government were among the key problems faced by persons with disability, according to a report on ‘status of persons with disabilities in India during the COVID-19 crisis’, released by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) on 21-5-2020.

Key points:

  • The report included a survey of 1,067 respondents and responses from 19 disability sector leaders across the States and recommended enforcing the government guidelines and securing financial support to all persons with disabilities.
  • Many of the challenges confronting persons with disabilities during the lockdown could have been addressed had the government duly enforced its own directives.
  • The report comprised data from a survey of 1,067 (approx. 73% male, 27% female) persons with disabilities, which showed that over 73% of those interviewed were facing severe challenges on account of the lockdown.
  • Interviews with a sub-sample of 201 persons with disabilities from across India showed that 67% had no access to doorstep delivery of essentials, and only 22% confirmed that they have access to essentials. 48% had no access to a government helpline, and 63% had not received the financial assistance for persons with disabilities announced by the Finance Ministry.
  • The report stated that these and other similar issues could have been taken care of if the ‘Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines’ issued by the Central Government’s Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) had been uniformly enforced across the country.
  • The guidelines provided for such critical requirements as ensuring that “persons with disabilities are given access to essential food, water, medicine, and, to the extent possible, such items should be delivered at their residence or place where they have been quarantined.”
  • As per the NCPEDP report, some States, including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland and Assam did provide good support to those with disabilities.

Rights of Person with Disabilities and India:

  • India signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and subsequently ratified the same on October 1, 2007.
  • The UNCRPD proclaims that disability results from an interaction of impairments with attitudinal and environmental barriers which hinders full and active participation in society on an equal basis.
  • Further, the convention also mandates the signatories to change their national laws, to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers, and to comply with the terms of the UNCRPD.
  • In this regard, the Government of India initially undertook the amendment of laws such as Persons with Disability Act, 1995 (PWD Act 1995). The Rights of PWD Act, 2016 (RPWD Act 2016) replaced the PWD Act 1995 to comply with the UNCRPD.
  • The new act was fine-tuned considering the socio-cultural and local needs of the society, and the available resources. Persons with Mental Illness (PMI) are often stigmatized and discriminated, which hinders their full and active participation in society.
  • This is a much larger issue, especially in women, gender minorities, backward communities, and the poor and the migrated populations.
  • Adding to the complexities, PMIs are often not aware of their illness, refuse the much-needed treatment and often are not in a place to exercise their rights.
  • There is an urgent need to address this issue of attitudinal barrier so that the rights of PMI are upheld.

Way forwards:

The persons with disabilities were particularly vulnerable during periods of lockdown or other emergencies as their usual difficulties in securing services or procuring essential goods were greatly amplified. It was absolutely essential that the civic administration paid special attention to their needs and ensured prompt services and support. Usual caregivers too were immobile during a lockdown and even persons with low levels of dependency were hindered by the restraint imposed by the lockdown. “The attention we pay to the pressing needs of persons with disability is the hallmark of a sensitive society and the symbol of caring administration. The government must secure inclusive response and mitigation not just in the present crisis, but also in any ‘subsequent wave that may well hit us sooner than we think’.

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