Monthly Current Affairs for Prelims: January 2021

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Table of Contents

 

Art And Culture

Festivals & Culture:

Kalaripayattu

  • Context:
    • Lessons in one of the Kalaripayattu will now be taught to the new generation at the facility which will come up at Kerala Tourism’s Vellar Crafts Village en route to Kovalam.
  • Kalaripayattu:
    • It is a Malayalam word that signifies a kind of gymnasium.
    • Kalaripayattu, also known simply as Kalari, is an Indian martial art that originated in modern-day Kerala.
    • Kalaripayattu is held in high regard by martial artists due to its long-standing history within Indian martial arts.
    • It is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India.
    • It is also considered to be among the oldest martial arts still in existence, with its origin in the martial arts timeline dating back to at least the 3rd century BCE.
    • The place where this martial art is practiced is called a 'Kalari'.
    • Kalari literally means 'threshing floor' or 'battlefield'.
    • The word Kalari first appears in the Tamil Sangam literature to describe both a battlefield and combat arena.

Magh Bihu

  • Context:
    • Magh Bihu, Bhogali Bihu, or Maghar Domahi is a harvest festival celebrated in Assam and marks the end of the harvesting season in the region.
  • About:
    • The festival is observed on the first day of Magh month, according to the Bengali almanac.
      • The equivalent of Sankranti in Assam, the celebrations last for a week. In 2021, Magh Bihu is being celebrated on 15 January.
    • According to Drikpanchang, the festival of Magh Bihu is dedicated to Agni, the Lord of Fire.
      • In contrast, the rest of India celebrates Sankranti, which is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God.
    • The celebration of Magh Bihu is synonymous with feasts and bonfires.
    • The day before Magh Bihu is known as Uruka, the last day of the month of Poush as per the Assamese calendar.
    • On Uruka, people erect makeshift huts called Meji from bamboo, leaves, and thatch.
      • The food for the feast is prepared in the Meji with a community gathering.
      • The next morning, the Meji is burned down and the ashes scattered on the farmlands to increase the fertility of the soil.
    • Bihu is a set of three important Assamese festivals which include Rongali or Bohag Bihu in April, Kongali or Kati Bihu in October, and Bhogali or Magh Bihu, observed in January.
    • Magh Bihu is also known as Bhogali Bihu and the word Bhog means eating, referring to the festival where one eats with the community.

Jallikattu

  • Context:
    • Recently, events of Jallikattu were organized in many parts of Tamil Nadu.

  • What is Jallikattu?
    • Jallikattu is considered a traditional way for the peasant community to preserve their pure-breed native bulls.
    • At a time when cattle breeding is often an artificial process, conservationists and peasants argue that Jallikattu is a way to protect these male animals which are otherwise used only for meat if not for plowing.
    • Kangayam, Pulikulam, Umbalachery, Barugur, and Malai Maadu are among the popular native cattle breeds used for Jallikattu.
    • The owners of these premium breeds command respect locally.
    • The bull-taming sport is popular in Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai, and Dindigul districts — known as the Jallikattu belt.
  • Importance of Jallikattu in Tamil culture:
    • Jallikattu is celebrated in the second week of January, during the Tamil harvest festival, Pongal.
    • A tradition over 2,000 years old, Jallikattu is a competitive sport as well as an event to honor bull owners who rear them for mating.
      • In an age when the farm sector is largely mechanized, there are no major monetary benefits for bull owners in breeding Jallikattu bulls other than the prizes they get during the Jallikattu events.
      • Traditionally, these used to be a dhoti, a towel, betel leaves, bananas, and a cash prize of Rs 101. Over the last two decades, the prizes have included grinders, a fridge, and small furniture.
  • Legal battles:Jallikattu
    • Jallikattu first came under legal scrutiny in 2007 when the Animal Welfare Board of India and the animal rights group PETA moved petitions in the Supreme Court against Jallikattu as well as bullock cart races.
    • The Tamil Nadu government, however, worked its way out of the ban by passing a law in 2009.
    • In 2011, the Centre added bulls to the list of animals whose training and exhibition is prohibited.
    • In May 2014, the Supreme Court banned the bull-taming sport, ruling on a petition that cited the 2011 notification.
    • Although, The state government has legalized these events, which has been challenged in the court.
      • Like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka too passed a law to save a similar sport, called Kambala. 
      • Except in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where bull-taming and racing continue to be organized, these sports remain banned in all other states including Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Maharashtra due to the 2014 ban order from the Supreme Court.

Anubhava Mantapa

  • Context:
    • Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa laid the foundation stone for the ‘New Anubhava Mantapa’ in Basavakalyan, the place where 12th-century poet-philosopher Basavanna lived for most of his life.
  • About:
    • It will be a six-floor structure in the midst of the 7.5-acre plot and represent various principles of Basaveshwara’s philosophy.
    • It will showcase the 12th Century Anubhava Mantapa (often referred to as the “first Parliament of the world”) established by Basaveshwara in Basavakalyan where philosophers and social reformers held debates.
    • The building will adopt the Kalyana Chalukya style of architecture.

  • About Basavanna and contributions:
    • Basavanna was a 12th-century philosopher, statesman, Kannada poet, and social reformer during the reign of the Kalachuri-dynasty king Bijjala I in Karnataka.
    • Basavanna spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas.
    • Basavanna rejected gender or social discrimination, superstitions, and rituals.
    • He introduced new public institutions such as the Anubhava Mantapa (or, the “hall of spiritual experience”), which welcomed men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds to discuss spiritual and mundane questions of life, in open.
    • As a leader, he developed and inspired a new devotional movement named Virashaivas, or “ardent, heroic worshippers of Shiva”.
      • This movement shared its roots in the ongoing Tamil Bhakti movement, particularly the Shaiva Nayanars traditions, over the 7th- to 11th-century.
    • Basava championed devotional worship that rejected temple worship and rituals led by Brahmins and replaced it with personalized direct worship of Shiva through practices such as individually worn icons and symbols like a small linga.
    • Basaveshwara is the first Kannadiga in whose honor a commemorative coin has been minted in recognition of his social reforms.
  • Basavanna and Sharana movement:
    • The Sharana movement he presided over attracted people from all castes, and like most strands of the Bhakti movement, produced a corpus of literature, the vachanas, that unveiled the spiritual universe of the Veerashaiva saints.
    • The egalitarianism of Basavanna’s Sharana movement was too radical for its times.
    • He set up the Anubhava Mandapa, where the Sharanas, drawn from different castes and communities, gathered and engaged in learning and discussions.
    • Sharanas challenged the final bastion of the caste order: they organized a wedding where the bridegroom was from a lower caste, and the bride a Brahmin.

Makaravilakku Festival

  • Context:
    • All arrangements for the Makaravilakku festival at Sabarimala, with COVID-19 restrictions, have been completed.
  • Makaravilakku festival in Sabarimala:
    • It is celebrated at the sacred grove of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.
    • It is an annual seven-day festival, beginning on the day of Makara Sankranti when the sun is in the summer solstice.
    • The highlight of the festival is the appearance of Makarajyothi- a celestial star that appears on the day of Makara Sankranthi on top of Kantamala Hills.
    • Makara Vilakku ends with the ritual called 'Guruthi', an offering made to appease the god and goddesses of the wilderness.

 

Risa: Tripura's traditional textile

  • Context:
    • Tripura government is now eyeing to promote Risa as the signature textile of Tripura nationally.

  • What is 'Risa'?
    • Risa is one of the three parts of customary Tripuri female attire, the other two being the Rignai and Rikutu.
    • The Risa, which is essentially a customary hand-woven cloth, is used as headgear, stole, female upper cloth, or presented to honor a distinguished recipient.
    • The Rignai is primarily used to cover the lower part of the body and literally translates into ‘to wear’. The Rituku covers the upper half of the body, wrapping it all around.
    • However, it is also used as a ‘chunri’ or a ‘pallu’ of the Indian saree. It is also used to cover the head of newly married Tripuri women.
  • Significance:
    • Apart from its beautiful designs, the Risa plays a host of crucial social utilities.
    • Adolescent Tripuri girls are first given Risa to wear when she reaches 12-14 years in an event called Risa Sormani.
    • The event involves prayers to a Lampra god, where her elder women pray for her wellbeing throughout her life.
    • However, it is also used in religious festivals like the Garia Puja, a customary festival of the tribal communities, or as a head turban by male folks during weddings and festivals, as a cummerbund over dhoti or headscarf.
    • The cloth is even used as a makeshift baby carrier on the mother’s back.

Republic day celebration

  • Context:
    • India celebrated 72nd Republic Day on 26th January 2021.
  • Cultural Highlights
    • Baredi Folk Dance:
    • The contingent from South Central Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur, presented the Baredi Folk Dance.
      • The Baredi dance is performed by the dancers of Aheer community of Madhya Pradesh. They are also called Yadavas.
      • The dance is believed to have originated by Krishna who belonged to this community of cowherds.
      • It is performed every year just the day after the Diwali festival and danced every day for a fortnight, i.e. till the night of the full moon.   
      • The songs that accompany the dance usually pray to God to protect and increase the cows and to bestow prosperity in the community.
      • The instrumental music is provided by drums called dhol and nagada and flutes. At times mridang is played instead of dbol.
    • Kettukazhcha:
    • The Kerala tableau depicting the tradition of Kettukazhcha.
      • Kettukazhcha, a post-harvest float festival, is a spectacular confluence of art, culture, architecture, and dedicated human endeavor.
      • The festival is held as a thanksgiving to the Goddess Bhadrakali, for a rich harvest and protection from diseases and calamities.
      • It begins on the day of Shivarathri and concludes on the Bharani day of the Kumbha month of the Malayalam calendar (during February or early March). 
    • Sun Temple at Modhera:
    • A replica of the Sun Temple at Modhera displayed on the Gujarat tableau
      • The Sun Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the solar deity Surya located at Modhera village of Mehsana district, Gujarat, India.
      • It is situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati.
      • It was built after 1026-27 CE during the reign of Bhima I of the Chalukyas dynasty.
      • No worship is offered now and is a protected monument maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
      • The temple complex has three components:
        • Gudhamandapa, the shrine hall;
        • Sabhamandapa, the assembly hall, and
        • Kunda, the reservoir.
      • The halls have intricately carved exterior and pillars.
      • The reservoir has steps to reach the bottom and numerous small shrines.

Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:

Renaming Aurngabad as Sambhaji Nagar

  • Context:
    • There is a long-standing demand of the Shiv Sena for renaming Aurangabad city in Maharashtra as Sambahji Nagar.
  • About Aurangabad:
    • Aurangabad is a city in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
    • The city is popular for historical destinations like the Ajanta and Ellora caves lying on its outskirts, both of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983.
    • Other attractions include the Aurangabad Caves, Daulatabad Fort, Grishneshwar Temple, Jama Mosque, Bibi Ka Maqbara, Himayat Bagh, Panchakki, and Salim Ali Lake. 
    • In 1653 when Mughal prince Aurangzeb was appointed the Viceroy of the Deccan for the second time, he made Fatehnagar his capital and renamed it Aurangabad.
    • Aurangabad is sometimes referred to as Khujista Bunyad by the Chroniclers of Aurangzeb's reign.

World's oldest cave painting

  • Context: 
    • Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known cave art, a life-sized picture of a wild pig that was painted at least 45,500 years ago in Indonesia.
  • About the findings:
    • The cave painting uncovered in South Sulawesi consists of a figurative depiction of a warty pig, a wild boar that is endemic to this Indonesian island.
      • The central Indonesian island, which occupies an area of over 174,000 sq. km, is situated between Asia and Australia and has a long history of human occupation.
    • Painted using red ochre pigment, the pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs.

  • Significance of the cave painting:
    • The archaeologists note that the dated painting of the Sulawesi warty pig seems to be the world’s oldest surviving representational image of an animal.
    • The team came across this painting in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge while conducting field research.
      • These pigs have been hunted by humans for tens of thousands of years and are the most commonly depicted animal in the ice age rock art of the island, which suggests that they have long been used as food and form a “focus of creative thinking and artistic expression” for people of that time.
    • The previously oldest dated rock art ‘scene’ at least 43,900 years old, was a depiction of hybrid human-animal beings hunting Sulawesi warty pigs and dwarf bovids.
    • The book, “The Archaeology of Sulawesi”, published by the Australian National University press in 2018 mentions that the Sulawesi island contains some of the oldest directly dated rock art in the world and also some of the oldest evidence for the presence of hominins beyond the southeastern limits of the Ice Age Asian continent.
      • Hominins include modern humans, the extinct human species, and our immediate ancestors. Homo sapiens are the first modern humans who evolved from their hominid predecessors between 200,000-300,000 years ago. It is estimated that these modern humans started migrating outside of Africa some 70,000-100,000 years ago.
    • Conclusion:
      • The early rock art of this island yield even more significant discoveries.

Exotic food exchange in the second millennium BCE

  • Context:
    • Trade and cultural ties took place between the east and the west even in the Bronze age.
  • Background:
    • Trade flourished long before the Silk Routes were established.
    • Trade and cultural ties were prominent between the East and the West during Bronze Age (3000 BCE). 
    • People from the Mediterranean region were trading with those in Central, South, and East Asia, introducing horses, camels, and donkeys, and likewise from India through the Gulf region. 
    • Exchange of non-native food items such as wheat, rice, pulses, sesame, banana, soybean, and turmeric was taking place.
    • Exchange of fruit trees such as melons, citrus fruits, and others from the Southern Asian region during the Bronze Age (2000–1500 BCE) was present.
    • Trading between the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Southern Asian region such as from Indonesia to the Southern Levant, in particular the Middle Bronze Age sites such as in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria used to take place.
    • Trade routes existed during the Bronze Age (3000–1200 BCE) and the Iron Age (500 BCE) between the Southeast and the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea-Dead Sea regions.
  • Silk route:
     
    • The Silk Road was a network of trade routes developed during the Han Dynasty of China, which linked the regions of the ancient world in commerce.
    • The network was used regularly from 130 BCE, when the Han officially opened trade with the west, to 1453 CE, when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with the west and closed the routes.
    • The Silk Road routes stretched through China, India, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the African continent, Greece, Rome, and Britain.
    • The northern Mesopotamian region (Iran) became China’s closest partner in trade, as part of the Parthian Empire, initiating important cultural exchanges. 
    • Paper, which had been invented by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty, and gunpowder, also a Chinese invention, had a much greater impact on culture than did silk.
    • The rich spices of the east, also, contributed more than the fashion which grew up from the silk industry.
    • Even so, by the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE) trade between China and the west was firmly established and silk was the most sought-after commodity in Egypt, Greece, and, especially, in Rome.

The Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple

  • Context:
    • Recently, the overclouded sky impacted the annual phenomenon called Surya Majjana in Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple (Karnataka). 
  • What is Surya Majjana?
    • It is an annual phenomenon every Makar Sankranti.
    • The ancient cave temple said to be renovated by Kempegowda I, is built in such a way that the sun’s rays fall on the south-facing idol on Sankranti day when the sun begins to move northwards with respect to Earth.

  • About Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple:
    • Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple also Gavipuram Cave Temple, an example of Indian rock-cut architecture, is located in Bangalore in the state of Karnataka in India.
    • The temple is famous for its mysterious stone discs in the forecourt and the exact planning allowing the sun to shine on a shrine at a certain time of the year.
    • It was built in the 16th century by Kempe Gowda I, the founder of the city.
    • This cave temple dedicated to Shiva and cut into a monolithic stone.
    • Built by Gautama Maharshi and Bharadwaja Muni in the Vedic period.
    • Renovated in the 16th century AD by Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bengaluru, Temple Gavi Gangadhareshwara is an architectural marvel that attracts the faithful by the hordes.
    • The temple is also known for its four monolithic pillars, representing Damaru, Trishul, and two fans on the patio.
    • The courtyard of the temple here contains several monolithic sculptures.
    • The main attractions of the Gavi Gangadhareshvara temple are two granite pillars that support the giant disk of the sun and moon, while the other two have a number of Nandi at the top.
    • On the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the temple witnesses a unique phenomenon in the evening sunlight passes through an arc between the horns of Nandi and falls directly on the linga inside the cave and illuminating the interior idol.
    • The temple shrine is a protected monument under the Karnataka Ancient and Historical Monuments, and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1961.

History

Famous Personalities:

Netaji’s birth anniversary to be celebrated as ‘Parakram Divas’

  • Context:
    • The Government declared that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Birth Anniversary is to be celebrated as 'Parakram Divas' every year.
  • Subhash Chandra Bose:
    • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (23 January 1897 – 18 August 1945) is one of the most celebrated freedom fighters of India.
    • In 1942, he earned the title ‘Netaji’, in Germany by the Indian soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj.
    • Bose is credited with the very famous slogan, “Give me blood, and I shall give you freedom!” as well as “Jai Hind”.
    • He is also credited to be the first man to call Mahatma Gandhi “Father of the Nation”, in his address from Singapore.
  • Subhash Chandra Bose’s Role in Indian Independence Struggle:
    • Bose was sent to prison in Mandalay for nationalist activities in 1925. He was released in 1927 and became the INC’s general secretary.
    • Subhash Chandra Bose was twice elected President of the Indian National Congress, (1938-Haripur and 1939-Tripuri).
    • He resigned from the Congress Presidentship in 1939 and organized the All India Forward Bloc a faction within the Congress in Bengal.
    • He advocated complete Swaraj and was in favor of the use of force to gain it.
    • He had differences with Gandhi and he wasn’t keen on non-violence as a tool for independence.
    • At the start of the Second World War, Bose protested against the government for not consulting Indians before dragging them into the war.
    • He was arrested when he organized protests in Calcutta for the removal of the monument memorializing the Black Hole of Calcutta.
    • He founded the Indian Legion out of about 4500 Indian soldiers who were in the British army and had been taken prisoners by the Germans from North Africa.
    • In 1943, he left Germany for Japan disillusioned with the lukewarm German support for Azad Hind.
    • Bose’s arrival in Japan revived the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) which had been formed earlier with Japanese help.
    • Azad Hind or the Provisional Government of Free India was established as a government-in-exile with Bose as the head. Its headquarters was in Singapore. The INA was its military.
    • Bose motivated the troops with his fiery speeches. His famous quote is, “Give me blood, and I shall give you freedom!”
    • The INA supported the Japanese army in its invasion of northeast India and also took control of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, they were forced to retreat by the British forces following the Battles of Kohima and Imphal in 1944.

The Padma awardee

  • Context:
    • The Government announced the Padma awards.
  • About:
    • The Padma Awards are one of the highest civilian honors of India announced annually on the eve of Republic Day.
    • The Awards are given in three categories:
      • Padma Vibhushan (for exceptional and distinguished service),
      • Padma Bhushan (distinguished service of higher-order) and
      • Padma Shri (distinguished service).
    • The award seeks to recognize achievements in all fields of activities or disciplines where an element of public service is involved.
    • The Padma Awards are conferred on the recommendations made by the Padma Awards Committee, which is constituted by the Prime Minister every year.
    • The nomination process is open to the public. Even self-nomination can be made.
    • Padma Awards, which were instituted in the year 1954, is announced every year on the occasion of Republic Day except for brief interruption(s) during the years 1978 and 1979 and 1993 to 1997.
    • All persons without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex are eligible for these awards.
    • However, Government servants including those working with PSUs, except doctors and scientists, are not eligible for these awards.
    • The total number of awards to be given in a year (excluding posthumous awards and to NRI/foreigners/OCIs) should not be more than 120.
    • The award does not amount to a title and cannot be used as a suffix or prefix to the awardees' name.
    • This year the President of India has approved the conferment of Padma Awards to 89 persons.
      • The list comprises 7 Padma Vibhushan, 7 Padma Bhushan, and 75 Padma Shri Awardees.
      • 19 of the awardees are women and the list also includes 5 persons from the category of foreigners, NRIs, PIOs, and 6 Posthumous awardees.

Battles And Organization:

Patharughat Uprising

  • Context:
    • Every year on January 28, the government and local people pay respects to the martyrs of the Patharughat uprising.
  • About:
    • Nearly 140 unarmed peasants were killed by the British on 28 January 1894 in Assam for protesting against the high taxation and land revenue levied by the colonial administration, when the military opened fire.
    • Today a 'martyr's column' stands where the incident had taken place — Patharughat, a small village in Darrang district.

  • What led to the peasant's revolt in Patharughat?
    • High taxation:
      • The British began to impose land taxes after the annexation of Assam in 1826.
      • They decided to increase agricultural land tax reportedly by 70-80% in 1893.
    • Repression:
      • Across Assam, peasants began protesting the move by organizing Raij Mels, or peaceful peoples' conventions.
      • But the British perceived these gatherings as breeding grounds for sedition.
  • What happened on January 28, 1894:
    • When the British officers were refusing to listen to the farmers’ grievances, things heated up and there was a lathi charge, followed by an open firing which killed many of the peasants present.
    • Official records, as mentioned in the Darrang District Gazette, 1905, placed the casualties in the Patharughat incident as 15 killed and 37 wounded.
  • Significance:
    • For the larger Assamese community, Patharughat comes second only to the Battle of Saraighat, when the Ahoms defeated the Mughals in 1671.
    • It is extremely inspirational for the Assamese community, as a national awakening.
    • While many often refer to the episode as the “Patharughat Ron” or the “Battle of Patharughat” but it's a “misnomer”.
      • It was a peaceful protest and a precursor to the Civil Disobedience movement, which was later propagated by Mahatma Gandhi.

Bhima Koregaon Battle

  • Context:
    • The people of Dalit communities gather in Bhima Koregaon in large numbers on 1 January every year to pay tribute to the Dalit heroes who died in the war between the British and the Peshwas on 1 January 1818.
  • Historical Background:
    • The Battle of Koregaon (also called the Battle of Koregaon Bhima, after the river Bhima that flows close to it) was fought on 1 January 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy, at Koregaon Bhima.
    • The battle was part of the Third Anglo Maratha war, a series of battles. 
    • The Company troops of Indian origin included Mahars, Marathas, Rajputs, Muslims, and Jews.
  • Significance:
    • The battle resulted in losses to the Maratha Empire, then under Peshwa rule, and control over most of western, central, and southern India by the British East India Company.
    • The battle has been seen as a symbol of Dalit pride because a large number of soldiers in the Company forces were the Mahar Dalits, the same oppressed community to which Babasaheb Ambedkar belonged.
    • After centuries of inhumane treatment, this battle was the first time that Mahars had been included in a battle in which they won.

Assam's Jerenga Pothar

  • Context:
    • PM Narendra Modi addressed an event at Sivasagar's Jerenga Pothar, an open field where the legendary Joymati sacrificed her life for her husband in the 17th century.
  • The historical significance of Jerenga Pothar:
    • Jerenga Pothar, an open field in Sivasagar town, is popularly connected to the valour of 17th century Ahom princess Joymoti.
    • Formerly known as Rangpur, Sivasagar was the seat of the powerful Ahom dynasty, which ruled Assam for six centuries (1228-1826).
    • Chaolumg Sukapha founded the Ahom kingdom.
    • From 1671 to 1681, the Ahom kingdom was undergoing a period of turmoil, it was at this time that Prince Godapani (Joymoti’s husband) escaped to the Naga Hills before enemies could capture him.
    • But his enemies captured his wife Joymoti, hoping she would tell them about his whereabouts, however, despite being tortured for days, tied to a thorny plant, in an open field, Joymoti refused to divulge any information.
    • She died, sacrificing her life for her husband, who ultimately became the king, ushering in an era of stability and peace in Assam.
    • The place Joymoti was tortured to death was Jerenga Pothar.
  • Significance:
    • While the Jerenga Pothar itself is not a protected archaeological site, its vicinity includes a number of protected sites, including the Na Pukhuri tank to its east and the Pohu Garh, a natural zoo built during the Ahom era, to its west.
    • Close by is the large Joysagar tank, built by Ahom king Swargadeo Rudra Singha in 1697, and the Vishnu Dol temple.
    • In 2017, the field was used for the centenary celebrations of the apex and influential literary body, the Asam Sahitya Sabha.

Geography

2020 was the 8th warmest year in India since 1901

  • Context:
    • The India Meteorological Department (IMD) released a report titled 'The Statement on Climate of India During 2020', which states that the year 2020 was the eighth warmest year on record since nation-wide records commenced in 1901.
    • As per the IMD, the five warmest years on record in order were 2016, 2009, 2017, 2010, and 2015.
  • Trend:
    • The country averaged annual mean temperature during 1901-2020 showed an increasing trend of 0.62°C /100 years.
      • With a significant increasing trend in maximum temperature (0.99°C /100 years)
      • And a relatively lower increasing trend (0.24°C /100 years) in minimum temperature.
    • 2020 Observation:
      • During the year 2020, the annual mean land surface air temperature averaged over the country was 0.29° Celsius above normal (based on the data of 1981-2010).
      • The year 2020 was the eighth warmest year on record since nation-wide records commenced in 1901.
      • However, this is substantially lower than the highest warming observed over India during 2016 (plus 0.71° Celsius)
  • Impact:
    • With the continuous rise in average temperature, the incidence of natural calamities mainly heavy rain, floods, landslides,  thunderstorms, lightning, and cold wave events.
      • Bihar and Uttar Pradesh recorded the maximum number of deaths due to adverse weather conditions mainly due to thunderstorms, lightning, and cold wave events.
      • Cold wave conditions mainly prevailed over central parts of the country especially in the month of January.
  • Reason:
    • El-Nino and La-Nina anomaly:
      • 2020 is the La-Nina year.
        • The average temperature increase in 2020 is just 0.29° Celsius, which is much lower than the 2016 temperature rise of 0.71° Celsius, but it points out to a very worrying future as 2016 was the year of El-Nino.
          • El-Nino and La-Nina are the two natural phenomena related to the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean.
        • During the El-Nino years, the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean is above average, leading to increased rainfall and drought in countries such as India, Indonesia, Australia, and South America.
          • This causes El-Nino to increase the average temperature of the earth.
        • While La-Nina year lowers the average temperature of the earth as well as the regions mentioned above, but alas the worry is that in the year 2020, the average temperature in India has gone up.
    • Global warming impact:
      • In 2020, due to Covid-19 most businesses were closed in all countries around the world leading to a significant decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases from transportation, industries, institutions, and the like.
      • Despite the nominal emission of greenhouse gases that contribute a larger share to global warming during the lockdown in 2020, an increase in temperature means that the effect of already existing gases in the atmosphere will continue to be felt even after their zero-emission.
    • Deforestation
      • In India, even above average rainfall from monsoons in 2020 has failed to control the rise in temperature.
      • The main reasons for the rise in average temperature in the country are the economic growth model and indiscriminate deforestation.
      • According to the Forest Survey of India's, “The State of Forest Report 2019”, forest cover has increased by 0.13% over 2017, but according to the Global Forest Watch, India forest cover has declined by 3.3% between 2001 to 2019, which has released 153 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
      • According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 6,944,608 trees have been cut down during the period 2016-19.
      • According to Wetland International, an NGO, one-third of India's wetlands have been depleted in the last four decades.
      • Thus rapidly depleting ecosystems are releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

What is Cold Wave?

  • A rapid fall in temperature within 24 hours to a level requiring substantially increased protection to agriculture, industry, commerce, and social activities.
  • Cold Wave Conditions:
    • For the plains, a cold wave is declared when the minimum temperature is 10 degrees Celsius or below and is 4.5° Celsius (C) less than normal for two consecutive days.
    • For coastal stations, the threshold value of the minimum temperature of 10° Celsius is rarely reached.
    • However, the local people feel discomfort due to the wind chill factor which reduces the minimum temperature by a few degrees depending upon the wind speed.

Unseasonal rain showers woes on Karnataka farmers

  • Context:
    • The unseasonal rain that lashed various parts of Chidambaram and Kattumannarkovil blocks has turned out to be a bane for farmers damaging standing paddy crops on thousands of acres.
  • What are the concerns of the farmers?
    • The present unseasonal showers create few concerns over coffee that are in the maturity or harvesting stages.
  • Impact of the unseasonal shower during January on Rabi crops:
    • Negative impact:
      • Heavy rains during this period have a negative impact on the mustard, chana (chickpea), and potato crops that are about to mature or in the early-harvesting stage.
    • Positive impact:
      • The positive impact of winter rainfall can be predicted for Wheat, as this crop is sown by mid-November and currently would be in the late-tillering stage when it produces multiple side stems.
      • In fact, rains will have the following benefits for the timely or late-sown wheat crops.
      • It will provide an additional round of irrigation to the crops.
      • It will reduce the temperatures and prolong the winter, which is good for yields.

Vanadium sources in Arunachal Pradesh

  • Context:
    • The Geological Survey of India(GSI) has found concentrations of vanadium in the palaeo-proterozoic carbonaceous phyllite rocks in the Depo and Tamang areas of Papum Pare district in Arunachal Pradesh. 
  • What is vanadium?
    • Vanadium is a chemical element with the symbol V.
    • It is a scarce element, hard, silvery grey, ductile and malleable transition metal with good structural strength.
    • Transition metals are all the elements in groups 3–12 of the periodic table.
    • These are superior conductors of heat as well as electricity.
    • Ores: Patronite, vanadinite, roscoelite and carnotite.
    • Vanadium alloys are durable in extreme temperatures and environments and are corrosion-resistant.
    • Its addition improves the tensile strength of steel and of reinforcing bars used for buildings, tunnels, and bridges.
  • India:
    • India is a significant consumer of vanadium but is not a primary producer of the strategic metal.
    • It is recovered as a by-product from the slag collected from the processing of vanadiferous magnetite ores (iron ore).
    • According to data provided by GSI, India consumed 4% of about 84,000 metric tonnes of vanadium produced across the globe in 2017. 
  • Largest Deposits:
    • The largest deposits of vanadium in the world are in China, followed by Russia and South Africa. China, which produces 57% of the world’s vanadium consumed 44% of the metal in 2017.
  • Vanadium in Arunachal Pradesh:
    • Vanadium found in Arunachal Pradesh is geologically similar to the stone coal vanadium deposits of China hosted in carbonaceous shale.
    • This high vanadium content is associated with graphite, with a fixed carbon content of up to 16%.

New Monsoon forecast model

  • Context:
    • The India Meteorological Department (IMD) may introduce new monsoon models this year to better forecast changes in rainfall.
  • Background
    • India’s new monsoon model, called the Monsoon Mission Coupled Forecast Model (CFS), has failed to forecast the excess rainfall received during August-September 2019.
    • It was deployed by the IMD (India Meteorological Department) under National Monsoon Mission (NMM).
    • CFS model was developed as part of a ‘Monsoon mission’ that was underway for over 10 years and was meant to improve both short terms as well as long-term forecasts.
    • While in 2019, India recorded its highest monsoon rain in 25 years, an analysis suggests that CFS don’t do better than the older ones in long-range forecasting.
  • About Coupled Forecast Model (CFS)
    • It is a dynamic model which is also called Climate Forecast Model (CFS).
    • It has been developed based on a climate model developed by National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), U.S. and it has been implemented on Prithvi High-Performance Computers (HPC) at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune.
    • The Dynamical models employ a different approach to forecasting monsoon i.e. they roughly rely on capturing the interactions between land, ocean, and atmosphere and tracking how the changes in each affect the other.
    • The land, atmosphere, and ocean state at a particulate time (generally March) is mathematically simulated on supercomputers and extrapolated into monsoon months.
  • About National Monsoon Mission (NMM):
    • This Mission was launched by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) in 2012 with a vision to develop a state-of-the-art dynamical prediction system for monsoon rainfall on different time scales.
    • Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune is vested with the responsibility of execution and coordination of this mission.
    • Climate Forecast System (CFS) of USA has been identified as the basic modeling system for the above purpose, as it is one of the best among the currently available coupled models.
  • The objective of the Mission:
    • To build an ocean-atmospheric model for – improved prediction of monsoon rainfall on the extended range to seasonal time scale (16 days to one season) and improved prediction of temperature, rainfall, and extreme weather events on short to medium range time scale (up to 15 days).

India to expand research, tourism in the Arctic

  • Context:
    • India has unveiled a new draft ‘Arctic’ policy that, commits to expanding scientific research, “sustainable tourism” and mineral oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region.
  • Highlights of the Policy:
    • The policy commits to expanding scientific research, “sustainable tourism” and mineral oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region.
    • The draft spells out goals in India’s Arctic Mission such as to better understand the scientific and climate-related linkages between the Arctic and the Indian monsoons.
    • It also seeks to harmonize polar research with the third pole (the Himalayas) and to advance the study and understanding of the Arctic within India.
    • The policy calls for exploration opportunities for responsible exploration of natural resources and minerals from the Arctic and identifying opportunities for investment in Arctic infrastructure in areas such as “offshore exploration/mining, ports, railways, and airports.
  • India’s Arctic Policy Roadmap For Sustainable Engagement draft rides on five pillars:
    • Science and research activities.
    • Economic and human development cooperation.
    • Transportation and connectivity.
    • Governance and international cooperation.
    • National capacity building.
  • Significance:
    • Climate change has meant that seasons in the Arctic influence tropical weather.
    • The Arctic influences the atmospheric, oceanographic, and biogeochemical cycles of the earth’s ecosystem.
    • The loss of sea ice, ice caps, and warming of the ocean and atmosphere would lower salinity in the ocean, increase the temperature differential between land and oceans in the tropical regions, dry subtropical areas and increase precipitation at higher latitudes.
    • Arctic research will help India’s scientific community to study the melting rates of the third pole — the Himalayan glaciers, which are endowed with the largest freshwater reserves in the world outside the geographic poles.
  • Arctic region:
    • Five Arctic littoral states:
      • Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the USA (Alaska), and three other Arctic nations Finland, Sweden, and Iceland form the Arctic Council.
    • The Arctic is home to almost four million inhabitants, of which approximately one-tenth are considered indigenous people.
  • India’s engagement in the Arctic:
    • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic in 2007 and set up a research station ‘Himadri’ in the international Arctic research base at Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
    • It has two other observatories in Kongsforden and Gruvebadet.
    • Himadri is manned for about 180 days a year.
    • Since its establishment, over 300 Indian researchers have worked in the station.
    • India has sent 13 expeditions to the Arctic since 2007 and runs 23 active projects.

Flash droughts

  • Context:
    • A recent study has pointed out that India could experience more flash droughts by the end of this century.
  • What are Flash Droughts?
    • Flash droughts refer to a severe drought kind of situation that develops very quickly and is characterized by rapid soil moisture depletion. 
    • Normally, drought conditions take months to develop and are caused by a prolonged lack of precipitation or rains.
    • But Flash droughts are extreme climate phenomena that happen within a week or in two weeks’ time and intensify very quickly.
    • In India, most of the flash droughts occur during the Monsoon Season.
    • Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar identified 39 flash droughts during 1951-2018 and found that 82% of those occurred during the monsoon season.

  • Causes of Flash Droughts
    • Several factors including atmospheric anomalies, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions play an important role.
    • A considerably long dry spell with significantly low precipitation anomalies during the monsoon results in an increase in air temperature. 
    • Increased air temperature and precipitation deficit together cause a rapid depletion of soil moisture leading to flash drought. 
    • Therefore, flash droughts in the monsoon season are primarily caused by the monsoon breaks.
    • However, flash droughts can also occur due to the delayed onset of the summer.
    • In India, prolonged dry spells during the monsoon season are leading to a flash drought. This happens because rains stay away for 15-20 days at a stretch.
  • Prevention and Mitigation Measures
    • Early-warning systems (EWS) that could identify trends in climate and sources of water were needed to detect the emergence of the probability of the occurrence of flash droughts.
    • EWS and drought monitoring help in formulating an effective, proactive drought policy.
    • If the Paris Agreement goals are met and global warming is restricted to well below 2° C, the numbers and frequency of the projected flash droughts may go down.

Tropical cyclones move closer to land except for Atlantic hurricanes

  • Context:
    • As per a new study, Tropical cyclones across the globe, except Atlantic hurricanes, are moving closer to land in recent decades.
  • Trend:
    • Tropical cyclones generally have been moving westward by about 30 kilometers per decade since 1982, putting them closer to land and making them more dangerous.
    • Each decade since the 1980s, an additional two cyclones have come within 200 kilometers of land.
  • Atlantic zone
    • It's mysterious that, unlike other areas, the Atlantic hurricane basin didn’t show any significant westward shift, but that could be because the Atlantic hurricane zone is more closely surrounded by continents.
    • The busiest tropical cyclone basin is in the western Pacific, where there are the most landfalls and the shift westward is twice as big as the global average.
    • Storms generally move east to west because of trade winds in the tropics, so a greater westward shift usually puts them closer to where the land is.

Society

Education:

Institutions of Eminence (IoEs)

  • Context:
    • In News- Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) amended its regulations, allowing Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) to set up campuses abroad.
  • About:
    • Amendments made:
      • Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) can set up campuses abroad with a maximum of three in five years after receiving no-objection certificates from the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs. 
      • The move is in line with the government’s new National Education Policy, which says that high-performing universities should be encouraged to set up campuses abroad.
      • The functioning of the offshore campuses shall be reviewed by an Empowered Experts Committee “independently and/or along with the IOE”.
  • About Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) scheme:
    • The Ministry of Education launched the IoE scheme in 2018 as per which 20 institutions were to be selected ( 10 public and 10 private ones ) that would enjoy complete academic and administrative autonomy
    • It has been launched to empower the Higher Educational Institutions and to help them in becoming world-class teaching and research institutions.
    • This will enhance affordable access to high-quality education for ordinary Indians.
    • Objectives- To develop the capacity of the students and researchers to compete in the global tertiary education marketplace through the acquisition and creation of advanced knowledge in those areas.
  • About National Education Policy 2020:
    • It replaced a 34 years old National Policy on Education which was framed in 1986.
    • The aim of the policy is to create an education system that contributes directly to transforming the country, providing high-quality education to all, and making India a global knowledge superpower.
    • It aims for an inclusive & equitable Education System by 2030  and to achieve 100 per cent youth and adult literacy in India.
    • It aims to increase the public investment in the Education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest.
  • Evolution of Education Policy:
    • University Education Commission (1948-49)
    • Secondary Education Commission (1952-53)
    • Education Commission (1964-66) under Dr D. S. Kothari
    • National Policy on Education, 1968
    • 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976- Education in Concurrent List
    • National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986
  • Constitutional Provisions:
    • Article 45 and Article 39 (f) of Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), has a provision for state-funded as well as equitable and accessible education. Education is on the concurrent list. 
    • The 86th Amendment in 2002 made education an enforceable right under Article 21-A.
    • Right To Education (RTE) Act, 2009 aims to provide primary education to all children aged 6 to 14 years and enforces education as a Fundamental Right.
    • It mandates 25% reservation for disadvantaged sections of the society where disadvantaged groups.

School Bag Policy, 2020

  • Context:
    • The Directorate of Education has issued a circular asking schools to follow the new ‘School Bag Policy, 2020’ released by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
  • Why is there a need for a School Bag Policy?
    • Heavy school bags are a serious threat to the health and well-being of students. The heavy school bag has severe/adverse physical effects on growing children which can cause damage to their vertebral column and knees.
  • Key Features of the School Bag Policy,2020:
    • School Teachers should inform the students in advance about the books and notebooks to be brought to school on a particular day and frequently check their bags to ensure that they are not carrying unnecessary material.
    • Weight of School Bags: The weight of the school bags should be 1.6 to 2.2 kg for students of Classes I and II, 1.7 to 2.5 kg for Classes III, IV, and V, 2 to 3 kg for Classes VI and VII, 2.5 to 4 kg for Class VIII, 2.5 to 4.5 kg for Classes IX and X and 3.5 to 5 kg for Classes XI and XII.
    • Responsibility of Teachers: Teachers should take the responsibility of checking the weight of school bags of the students every three months on a day selected for the whole class and any information about heavy bags should be communicated to the parents.
    • Responsibility of School Management: It is the duty and the responsibility of the school management to provide quality potable water in sufficient quantities to all the students in the school so that they do not need to carry water bottles from their homes.

Social Issues:

Special Marriage Act

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Allahabad High Court has struck down the provisions under Section 5 of the Special Marriage Act that required parties to give a 30-day mandatory public notice of their intention to marry.

  • Key Points
    • Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954:
      • The Special Marriage Act is central legislation made to validate and register interreligious and inter-caste marriages in India.
      • The original Special Marriage Act was enacted in 1872. It was moved by an eminent jurist and Legislative Council member named Henry Maine.
      • It was enacted following a campaign launched in 1860 by Brahmo Samaj, especially Keshab Chandra Sen, for simpler marriage ceremonies.
      • But it required that two people of different faiths who wish to get married must renounce their respective religions.
      • Its requirement of renouncing one’s religion was not compatible with modern ideas of liberalism, individualism, and autonomy of the individual. So the 1954 law replaced this 1872 Act.
      • The new Act allows two individuals to solemnize their marriage through a civil contract.
      • No religious formalities are needed to be carried out under the Act.
  • Provisions of the Special Marriage Act:
    • Section 4:
      • There are certain conditions laid down in Section 4 of the Act:
      • It says that neither of the parties should have a spouse living.
      • Both the parties should be capable of giving consent; should be sane at the time of marriage.
      • The parties shall not be within the prohibited degree of relations as prescribed under their law.
      • While considering the age, the male must be at least 21 and the female be 18 at least.
    • Section 5 and 6:
      • Under these sections, the parties wishing to marry are supposed to give a notice for their marriage to the Marriage Officer in an area where one of the spouses has been living for the last 30 days. Then, the marriage officer publishes the notice of marriage in his office.
      • Anyone having any objection to the marriage can file against it within a period of 30 days. If any such objection against the marriage is sustained by the marriage officer, the marriage can be rejected.
  • Details of the verdict
    • The provision for mandatory publication of the notice, derived through “simplistic reading” of the particular law, “would invade the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy, including within its sphere freedom to choose for marriage without interference from state and non-state actors, of the persons concerned”.
    • The court also noted that despite the secular law for marriage, a majority of marriages in the country happen as per religious customs. It said that when marriages under personal law do not require a notice or invitation for objections, such a requirement is obsolete in secular law and cannot be forced on a couple.
    • Publishing marriage details made optional: The court made it optional for the parties to the intended marriage to make a request in writing to the Marriage Officer to publish or not to publish a notice under Section 5 and 6 of the Act of 1954.
    • Directives for Marriage officer: In case the parties do not make such a request for publication of notice in writing, the Marriage Officer shall not publish any such notice or entertain objections to the intended marriage and proceed with the solemnization of the marriage. However, in case the officer has any doubt, he could ask for appropriate details/proof as per the facts of the case.
  • Basis of Judgement is progressive rulings by the Supreme Court:
    • Aadhaar case (2017) made the right to privacy a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
    • Hadiya Marriage Case (2018) held that the right to choose a partner is a fundamental right.
    • Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India case (2018) in which the court decriminalised homosexuality striking down Section 377 of IPC.
  • Benefits of the verdict
    • It would decrease the cases of conversion for marriage, as the delay under the special marriage Act 1954 was forcing many couples to marry by converting.
    • It shall remove hindrances to inter-faith and inter-caste marriages, and thus could promote ideals of secularism and egalitarianism.
    • It shall provide relief to interfaith couples from being targeted by vigilante groups.
  • Issue related to the verdict:
    • Doing away with the public notification of the marriage could increase the cases of cheating, for example, cases of duping by a married spouse.
    • It can facilitate anti-social activities such as forceful conversion.
  • Analysis of the Special Marriage Act:
    • 1872 Act allows the solemnisation of marriages between any two individuals without religious customs, rituals, or ceremonial requirements.
    • The 1954 Act critically creates provisions for the marriage of interfaith couples without religious conversions — a requirement for marriages under personal laws such as the Hindu or the Muslim marriage acts.
    • There exist some critical fundamental differences between civil marriages under the Special Marriage Act when compared to marriages under personal laws. These provisions are most problematic for couples who wish to marry against the wishes of their families.
    • So, those going for an inter¬faith marriage, as well as others, could register under the SMA. The effect of the SMA is that once your marriage is registered under it, your religion’s personal laws won’t apply.
    • Marriage under the Special Marriage Act requires an extra witness – three, instead of two in the case of marriage registration under personal laws. This extra responsibility might make one think twice before agreeing to be a witness, adding an extra layer of complexity in the overall process.
    • Despite these issues, couples who choose to use the Special Marriage Act find that there is a complete lack of transparency around the process. A lack of this can result in corruption and potential harassment by middlemen, especially in the case of interfaith couples.
  • Intersection Of Special Marriage Act And ‘Love Jihad’:
    • The Uttar Pradesh government cleared a law against forceful religious conversions. The law is now being used to target consenting interfaith couples, including those whose parents’ agree to the marriage.
    • Madhya Pradesh and Haryana are also contemplating laws on ‘Love Jihad’ or ‘anti-conversion’, which use the garb of forced conversions to target inter-faith marriages and require individuals to take special permissions if they wish to convert their religion in order to marry under personal laws.
    • Contrary to the premise of the Special Marriage Act that accepts the existence of interfaith relationships, the current ‘Love Jihad’ laws create scenarios that suggest that every case of inter-faith marriage is actually a case of forced conversion.

POCSO Act

  • Context:
    • The Bombay High Court has acquitted a man of sexual assault charges under the POCSO Act for groping a child; instead convicted him under the IPC for a lesser offence.
    • Besides drawing criticism for its restricted interpretation of the offence, the ruling highlights the concept of mandatory minimum sentencing in legislation, including POCSO.
  • What is the case about?
    • The convict was accused of luring the 12-year old prosecutrix to his house on the pretext of giving her guava, and pressing her breast, and attempting to remove her salwar.
    • The sessions court had convicted the 39-year-old Bandu Ragde under Section 8 of the POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act.
    • Section 8 prescribes the punishment for the offence of sexual assault defined in Section 7 of the Act.
    • It sentenced him to three years in jail.
    • The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court reversed the decision of the sessions court.
    • The High Court acquitted the man of sexual assault charges under the POCSO Act.
    • The allegation was said to be not serious enough for the greater punishment prescribed under the law.
    • It upheld the conviction under sections that carry a lesser minimum sentence of one year under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Why was he acquitted of charges under the POCSO Act?
    • The offence under POCSO carried a higher punishment.
    • So the court reasoned that a conviction under it would require a higher standard of proof and allegations that were more serious.
  • Section 7 of the Act says –
    • Whoever, with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person or does any other act with sexual intent…
    • The court said that since the convict groped the prosecutrix ‘over her clothes’, this indirect contact would not constitute sexual assault.
  • What is the mandatory minimum sentence?
    • Section 8 of the POCSO Act carries a sentence of rigorous imprisonment of 3 to 5 years.
    • However, imposing the minimum sentence is mandatory.
    • Minimum sentences have been prescribed for all sexual offences under the POCSO Act barring the offence of sexual harassment.
    • If a statute has prescribed a minimum sentence, courts do not have the discretion to pass lighter sentences.
    • This is irrespective of any specific circumstances that the case or the convict might present.
  • What is the need for a mandatory minimum sentence?
    • A mandatory sentence is prescribed to underline the seriousness of the offence.
    • It is often claimed to act as a deterrent to crime.
    • In 2013, criminal law reforms introduced in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang rape prescribed mandatory minimum sentences.
    • It applied for criminal use of force and outraging the modesty of a woman, among other charges.
    • Mandatory minimum sentences are also prescribed in some cases to remove the scope for arbitrariness by judges using their discretion.
  • What are the concerns with mandatory sentencing?
    • Mandatory sentencing regimes are put in place to remove judicial discretion.
    • But it is felt that the discretion is merely shifted within the system to the police, and is not removed.
    • Studies have shown that mandatory sentencing in-laws lead to fewer convictions.
    • When judges perceive that the punishment for the offence is harsh, they might prefer to acquit the accused instead.

Bare Necessities Gap

  • Context:
    • Bare necessities gap between States has narrowed since 2012: Economic Survey
  • Details
    • States such as Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat had the highest access to the bare necessities while it was the lowest in Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Tripura.
    • Poorer states have reduced the gap with rich States when it comes to providing their citizens with access to the basics of daily life — housing, water, power, sanitation, cooking gas — according to a new ‘Bare Necessities Index’ (BNI) in the Economic Survey 2020-21.
    • The index uses existing National Statistical Office (NSO) survey data to show that between 2012 and 2018, serious gains were made in the area of sanitation although equity in housing access still lagged behind.
    • The Richer states such as Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat top the index, while the eastern Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Tripura occupy the lowest rungs. States which showed significant improvement include Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
    • “Inter-State disparities in the access tothe bare necessities’ have declined in 2018 when compared to 2012 across rural and urban areas,” said the survey.
    • “Access to ‘the bare necessities’ has improved disproportionately more for the poorest households when compared to the richest households across rural and urban areas. The improvement in equity is particularly noteworthy because while the rich can seek private alternatives, lobby for better services, or if need be, move to areas where public goods are better provided for, the poor rarely have such choices.” it added.
    • However, the survey noted that there was still a gap between urban and rural India, as well as among income groups.
    • Better Centre-State coordination with local governments is needed, given that they were responsible for civic amenities in urban areas, added the survey. It also suggested that the BNI could be constructed at the district level using large annual household survey data, to show progress.
    • The index attempts to carry forward the ‘Thalinomics’ exercise in the last Economic Survey, which calculated the average Indian’s access to a plate of food. The survey also correlated the BNI to child mortality and school enrolment data to show the link to health and education outcomes.
    • Access to household toilets piped water, and a reduction in air pollution due to the use of clean cooking fuel have an outsize impact on child health. Studies also showed that girls were more likely to go to school if they had access to toilets, and do not need to spend time hauling water for their families every day.

Global Housing Technology Challenge-India

  • Context:
    • The Prime Minister has laid the foundation of LightHouse Projects (LHPs), as part of the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India (GHTC-India) initiative, at six sites across six states via videoconference.
  • Global Housing Technology Challenge-India
    • Objective:
      • GHTC was launched by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in January 2019 to fast-track the construction of affordable housing and meet the target of constructing 1.2 crore houses by 2022.
    • Parent programme:
      • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Urban (PMAY-U).
    • Salient Features:
      • Under it, Centre will offer about ₹150 crores as a technology innovation grant to build 6,000 homes — cheaper, faster, and better — using alternative technologies and materials.
      • The challenge will focus on identifying and mainstreaming proven demonstrable technologies through ASHA (Affordable Sustainable Housing Accelerators) — India.
    • Light House Projects Challenge:
      • Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has published a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the construction of Light House Projects (LHP) at six selected sites under GHTC-India.
      • These LHPs will be constructed at Indore, Rajkot, Chennai, Ranchi, Agartala, and Lucknow.
      • These selected sites will be used as an ‘open laboratory’ for a live demonstration and will receive due attention from policymakers and media apart from felicitation/ recognition in Grand Expo-cum-Conference.

Health:

Trans Fats

  • Context: 
    • FSSAI slashes the limit for trans fat levels in foods.
  • What are Trans fats?
    • Trans fatty acids (TFAs) or Trans fats are the most harmful type of fats which can have much more adverse effects on our body than any other dietary constituent.
    • These fats are largely produced artificially but a small amount also occurs naturally. Thus in our diet, these may be present as Artificial TFAs and/ or Natural TFAs.
    • Artificial TFAs are formed when hydrogen is made to react with the oil to produce fats resembling pure ghee/butter.
    • In our diet, the major sources of artificial TFAs are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVO)/vanaspati/ margarine while natural TFAs are present in meats and dairy products, though in small amounts.
  • Trans Fats – Are They Harmful?
    • Several reviews have concluded that a moderate intake of these fats does not appear harmful.
    • The best-known ruminant trans fat is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in dairy fat.
    • It is believed to be beneficial and is marketed as a dietary supplement.
    • However, artificial trans fats — otherwise known as industrial trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats — are hazardous to our health.
    • These fats occur when vegetable oils are chemically altered to stay solid at room temperature, which gives them a much longer shelf life.
    • All-natural fats and oils are a combination of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids.
    • Our body needs the first two categories of ‘healthy’ fats as apart from being a major source of energy, they help absorb some vitamins and minerals and build cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves.
    • These fats are free-flowing, unlike saturated fatty acids or trans fats, which are considered harmful as they clog arteries and result in hypertension, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular issues.
  • How did India and other nations start acting on it?
    • In 2018, the WHO called for the elimination of industrially-produced TFAs by 2023, and brought out a step-by-step guide called ‘REPLACE’ to help countries frame policies.
    • This prompted accelerated action by member states and other stakeholders
    • In the next five years, Chile and Switzerland banned TFAs too.
    • During the same period, several U.S. States, such as New York, implemented local bans.
    • In its report in 2020, the WHO said that 58 countries had introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from TFAs by the end of 2021.
    • But more than 100 countries still needed to take action.
    • Last year, 11 of the 15 countries that account for two-thirds of deaths linked to trans fats still needed to act.
    • These were Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea.
    • In India, action against trans fats coincided with the setting up of the FSSAI.
    • Though it came into existence in 2006, civil society organisations say that its functioning picked up by 2011-12.
    • It was in 2011 that it imposed a cap of 10% on trans fats in oils and fats in India, which was further revised to 5% in 2015.
  • What next?
    • Civil society organisations in India are pushing for a cap of 3% for 2021 and 2% for 2022 to be imposed not just on trans fats in oils and fats, but in “all” foods.
    • According to those engaging with the government on the subject, a regulation for this is likely soon.
    • The FSSAI will need to pursue local governments to improve surveillance, an inspection of food premises, sampling of food products, regular training of officers, up-gradation of food labs, etc.
    • There are also concerns raised by a Parliamentary panel on the regulator’s ineffectiveness.

Committees on Nutrition

  • Context:
    • The government’s three top committees on nutrition responsible for providing policy directions, monitoring the implementation of various schemes and reviewing the nutritional status of various States and Union Territories have failed to meet even once since the COVID-19 pandemic, while they are required to meet every quarter, despite global warnings of rising levels of hunger, malnutrition and child mortality.
  • The three top committees are:
    • Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog headed National Nutrition Council (NNC), which also includes 12 Union Ministers and five Chief Ministers on a rotational basis;
    • The Executive Committee (EC) of the National Nutrition Mission headed by Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Development; and
    • The National Technical Board on Nutrition (NTBN), headed by Member, NITI Aayog.
    • These committees were set up after the Cabinet approved the National Nutrition Mission in December 2017 and were mandated to meet once every quarter.
    • They have to supervise the policy framework and the implementation of the government programmes, review the performance of various States, give scientific and technical recommendations for the execution of various schemes and propose corrective measures.
  • UNICEF warning:
    • The UNICEF warned in July last that 6.7 million additional children under five could suffer from wasting and there could be nearly 10,000 more under-five deaths a month globally as a result of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
    • The recent National Family Health Survey-5 data shows that even before COVID-19, 16 out of 22 States surveyed had witnessed worsening levels of wasting among under-five children and 13 showed a surge in stunting among children.
    • The Hunger Watch Survey conducted by the Right to Food Campaign also shows that even five months after the lockdown was lifted, people continued to go to bed on an empty stomach, and more than 60% of the 4,000 respondents across 11 States said their consumption of pulses and vegetables had gone down.

POSHAN Abhiyaan

  • The Abhiyaan targets to reduce stunting, undernutrition, anaemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and reduce low birth weight by 2%, 2%, 3%, and 2% per annum respectively.
  • The target of the mission is to bring down stunting among children in the age group 0-6 years from 38.4% to 25% by 2022.
  • POSHAN Abhiyaan aims to ensure service delivery and interventions by use of technology, behavioural change through convergence and lays-down specific targets to be achieved across different monitoring parameters.
  • Under the Abhiyaan, Swasth Bharat Preraks will be deployed one in each district for coordinating with district officials and enabling fast and efficient execution of the Abhiyaan across the country. Swasth Bharat Preraks would function as a catalyst for fast-tracking the implementation of the Abhiyaan.

 

Polity

Legislature:

Can courts stay laws made by the legislature?

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court’s recent order staying the implementation of three farm laws has been criticised in some quarters.
  • Court’s powers in regard to staying enacted law:
    • Under the broad framework of judicial review under the Constitution, the Supreme Court and High Courts have the power to declare any law unconstitutional because :
      • it is ultra vires (or, contrary to any provision of the Constitution) or
      • it violates any of the fundamental rights,
      • or invalid because it is repugnant to a central law on the same subject or has been enacted without legislative jurisdiction. 
  • Why the criticism?
    • The general argument is that unless there are compelling reasons such as flagrant lack of constitutional validity, or absence of legislative competence (that is, the legislative body concerned lacks the jurisdiction to enact the law in question), a law ought not to stay.
    • The main principle is that suspending a law made by the legislature goes against the concept of separation of powers.
    • Courts are expected to defer to the legislature’s wisdom at the threshold of a legal challenge to the validity of a law.
  • The doctrine of Separation of Powers:
    • The doctrine of Separation of powers implies that each pillar of democracy – the executive, legislature, and the judiciary – perform separate functions and act as separate entities. 
    • The executive is vested with the power to make policy decisions and implement laws.  The legislature is empowered to issue enactments. But at the same time, it is responsible to the legislature. (In India)
    • The judiciary is responsible for adjudicating disputes.  The doctrine is a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.
    • Different agencies impose checks and balances upon each other but may not transgress upon each other’s functions.
  • Judicial Activism:
    • The judiciary exercises judicial review over executive and legislative action, and the legislature reviews the functioning of the executive.
    • Judicial activism describes judicial rulings suspected of being based on personal or political considerations rather than on existing law. Sometimes judges appear to exceed their power in deciding cases before the Court. They are supposed to exercise judgment in interpreting the law, according to the Constitution.
    • There have been some cases where the courts have issued laws and policy-related orders through their judgements. 
    • These include the Vishakha case where guidelines on sexual harassment were issued by the Supreme Court, the order of the Court directing the Centre to distribute food grains (2010), and the appointment of the Special Investigation Team to replace the High-Level Committee established by the Centre for investigating black money deposits in Swiss Banks.
    • In 1983 when Justice Bhagwati introduced public interest litigation in India, Justice Pathak in the same judgement warned against the “temptation of crossing into territory which properly pertains to the Legislature or to the Executive Government”
    • Justice Katju in 2007 noted that “Courts cannot create rights where none exist nor can they go on making orders which are incapable of enforcement or violative of other laws or settled legal principles.

Question hour

  • Context:
    • Question Hour, which had been suspended by the government during the monsoon session, will resume when Parliament meets for the budget session.
  • About Question hour:
    • Mentioned in the Rules of Procedure.
    • There are three kinds of questions that can be put during the Question Hour 
    • A starred question (distinguished by an asterisk) requires an oral answer and hence supplementary questions can follow.
    • An unstarred question, on the other hand, requires a written answer and hence, supplementary questions cannot follow.
    • A short notice question is one that is asked by giving a notice of fewer than ten days. It is answered orally.
    • The question should be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India and the questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
  • Final Authority:
    • The presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
  • Exceptions:
    • Question Hour in both Houses is held on all days of the session, but there are two days when an exception is made.
    • There is no Question Hour on the day the President addresses MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall.
    • Question Hour is not scheduled either on the day the Finance Minister presents the Budget.
  • About Zero Hour:
    • Unlike the question hour, the zero-hours is not mentioned in the Rules of Procedure.
    • It is an informal device available to the members of the Parliament to raise matters without any prior notice.
    • The zero hour starts immediately after the question hour and lasts until the agenda for the day is taken up.
    • The time gap between the question hour and the agenda is known as zero hours.
    • It is an Indian innovation in the field of parliamentary procedures and has been in existence since 1962.

Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/parliamentary-scrutiny-in-india/

Executive:

President's Pardoning Power

  • Context:
    • In the dying hours of his presidency, Donald Trump exercised his power under the US Constitution to pardon or commute sentences of 143 individuals.
  • US president's pardoning powers:
    • The US President has the constitutional right to pardon or commute sentences related to federal crimes. The Supreme Court has held that this power is “granted without limit” and cannot be restricted by Congress.
    • Clemency is a broad executive power that is discretionary — meaning the President is not answerable for his pardons and does not have to provide a reason for issuing one. But there are a few limitations.
    • For instance, the President cannot issue a pardon in cases of impeachment of officials. Art II, Sec 2 of the Constitution says Presidents “shall have the power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment”.
    • Also, as stated above, the power is not available for state crimes. This means that those who have been pardoned by the President can still be tried under the laws of individual states.
  • Indian President's Pardoning powers:
    • Unlike the US President, whose powers to grant pardons are almost unfettered, the President of India has to act on the advice of the Cabinet.
    • Under Article 72 of the Constitution, “the President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence where the sentence is a sentence of death”.
    • Under Article 161, the Governor has pardoning powers, but these do not extend to death sentences.
    • The President cannot exercise his power of pardon independent of the government. Rashtrapati Bhawan forwards the mercy plea to the Home Ministry, seeking the Cabinet’s advice. The Ministry in turn forwards this to the concerned state government; based on the reply, it formulates its advice on behalf of the Council of Ministers.
    • Although the President is bound by the Cabinet’s advice, Article 74(1) empowers him to return it for reconsideration once. If the Council of Ministers decides against any change, the President has no option but to accept it. 

President's Address in the House

  • Context:
    • This year's first Parliament session began with President Ram Nath Kovind's address.
  • History & precedent:
    • In India, the practice of the President addressing Parliament can be traced back to the Government of India Act of 1919. This law gave the Governor-General the right of addressing the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State. 
    • After the Constitution came into force, President Rajendra Prasad addressed members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for the first time on January 31, 1950.
    • The President’s address is one of the most solemn occasions in the Parliamentary calendar. It is the only occasion in the year when the entire Parliament, i.e. the President, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha come together. 
  • Constitutional Provisions:
    • The Constitution gives the President the power to address either House or a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. Article 87 provides two special occasions on which the President addresses a joint sitting:
      1. The first is to address the opening session of a new legislature after a general election.
      2. The second is to address the first sitting of Parliament each year. A session of a new or continuing legislature cannot begin without fulfilling this requirement. 
    • When the Constitution came into force, the President was required to address each session of Parliament. So during the provisional Parliament in 1950, President Prasad gave an address before every session.
    • The First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 changed this position and made the President’s address once a year.
  • President's Speech:
    • The speech that the President reads is the viewpoint of the government and is written by it. Usually, in December, the Prime Minister’s Office asks the various ministries to start sending in their inputs for the speech.
    • A message also goes out from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs asking ministries to send information about any legislative proposals that need to be included in the President’s address.
    • All this information is aggregated and shaped into a speech, which is then sent to the President.
    • The government uses the President’s address to make policy and legislative announcements.
  • The motion of Thanks:
    • In the days following the President’s address, a motion is moved in the two Houses thanking the President for his address.
    • This is an occasion for MPs in the two Houses to have a broad debate on governance in the country.
    • The Prime Minister replies to the motion of thanks in both Houses and responds to the issues raised by MPs.
    • The motion is then put to vote and MPs can express their disagreement by moving amendments to the motion.
    • The Motion of Thanks must be passed in the House. Otherwise, it amounts to the defeat of the government. It is one of the ways through which the Lok Sabha can also express a lack of confidence in the government.

Judiciary:

Judicial Review

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court refused to treat the Central Vista project as a unique one requiring a greater or “heightened” judicial review.
    • Further, the Supreme Court gave its clearance to this project which is an envisaged construction of a new Parliament complex, buildings for central ministries, a new enclave for the Vice President, a new office and residence for the Prime Minister, among others. 
  • More about the news:
    • The Supreme Court said the government is “entitled to commit errors or achieve successes” in policy matters without the court’s interference as long as it follows constitutional principles.
    • The government may examine the advantages or disadvantages of a policy at its own end, it may or may not achieve the desired objective. 
    • Judicial review is never meant to venture into the mind of the government and thereby examine the validity of a decision.
    • The SC noted that once the government decides to construct a project and follows the procedure prescribed under law commensurate with the nature of the project, then the court cannot act as a multiplier of regulations and add its own notion as to what ought to be the additional essential procedure for going ahead with a particular project.
    • It also said that the “right to development”, is “a basic human right and no organ of the State is expected to become an impediment in the process of development as long as the government proceeds in accordance with law”.
  • Judicial Review:
    • Judicial review is the power of the courts of a country to examine the actions of the legislative, executive, and administrative arms of the government and to determine whether such actions are consistent with the constitution. Actions judged inconsistent are declared unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void.
    • Relating to that two concepts are important:
      • Procedure Established by Law: It means that a law enacted by the legislature or the concerned body is valid only if the correct procedure has been followed to the letter.
      • Due Process of Law: It is a doctrine that not only checks if there is a law to deprive the life and personal liberty of a person but also ensures that the law is made fair and just.
      • India follows Procedure Established by Law.
    • Judicial review is a part of the basic structure of the constitution (Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain Case 1975).
    • There is no direct mention of the word judicial review in the constitution, but there are provisions empowering the courts to invalidate laws. However, the constitution has imposed definite limitations upon each of the organs, the transgression of which would make the law void.
    • Following are some of the concerned provisions:
      • Article 372 (1) establishes the judicial review of the pre-constitution legislation.
      • Article 13 declares that any law which contravenes any of the provisions of the part of Funda­mental Rights shall be void.
      • Articles 32 and 226 entrust the roles of the protector and guarantor of fundamental rights to the Supreme and High Courts.
      • Article 251 and 254 states that in case of inconsistency between union and state laws, the state law shall be void.

Protection to forest officers

  • Context:
    • Supreme Court tells Centre to arm forest officers to fight poachers and provide them with bullet-proof vests and vehicles when told that India recorded the “greatest number of mortal fatalities” among forest officials in the world.
  • Forest Fatalities:
    • It was found that India accounted for 30% of fatalities among forest rangers in the world.
    • Chief Justice Bobde said forest officials were up against a very powerful force. “Proceeds of crime are in millions of dollars. This is an international crime.
    • Variations were seen across states, as to how the forest officers are equipped
      • Forest rangers in Assam were armed and “no one dares come near them”.
      • But in states like Madhya Pradesh, they roam around with lathis.
      • In Karnataka, forest guards are in chappals and carry just lathis.
  • SC recommendations in this regard:
    • Centre should consider involving premier organisations such as the CBI to help the forest staff.
    • There should even be a separate wing or wildlife division in the Enforcement Directorate with clean officials to track and investigate crimes of the poachers and the proceeds of their crimes.
    • Forest officers above a certain rank need arms for self-protection, bullet-proof vests, helmets and vehicles.

Acts and Bills:

Triple Talaq

  • Context:
    • The offence under the triple talaq law can only be committed by a Muslim man, and his mother cannot be accused of it, the Supreme Court has ruled while granting anticipatory bail to a woman from Kerala.
  • The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019:
    • The Act makes all declarations of talaq, including in written or electronic form, to be void (i.e. not enforceable in law) and illegal. 
    • It defines talaq as talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq pronounced by a Muslim man resulting in instant and irrevocable divorce. Talaq-e-biddat refers to the practice under Muslim personal laws where pronouncement of the word ‘talaq’ thrice in one sitting by a Muslim man to his wife results in an instant and irrevocable divorce. 
    • Offence and penalty:  The Act makes a declaration of talaq a cognizable offence, attracting up to three years’ imprisonment with a fine.  (A cognizable offence is one for which a police officer may arrest an accused person without warrant.) The offence will be cognizable only if information relating to the offence is given by:
      1. the married woman (against whom talaq has been declared), or
      2. any person related to her by blood or marriage.  
    • The Act provides that the Magistrate may grant bail to the accused.  The bail may be granted only after hearing the woman (against whom talaq has been pronounced), and if the Magistrate is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting bail.
    • The offence may be compounded by the Magistrate upon the request of the woman (against whom talaq has been declared).  Compounding refers to the procedure where the two sides agree to stop legal proceedings, and settle the dispute.  The terms and conditions of the compounding of the offence will be determined by the Magistrate.
    • Allowance:  A Muslim woman against whom talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and for her dependent children.  The amount of the allowance will be determined by the Magistrate.
    • Custody:  A Muslim woman against whom such talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek custody of her minor children. The manner of custody will be determined by the Magistrate.

National Human Rights Commission

  • Context:
    • 23 Indian sailors have been stranded on anchorage near Jingtang port in Hebei province of China since last June 13 and 16 Indian crew has been stuck on anchorage near Caofeidian port since September 20 of last year.
    • India asks China for ‘urgent’ help to stranded sailors after NHRC notice.
    • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took suo motu cognizance of the condition of the sailors and asked the Ministry of External Affairs “to ensure immediate relief” for the crew.
  • National Human Rights Commission:
    • NHRC of India is an independent statutory body established on 12 October 1993 as per provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
    • It is the watchdog of human rights in the country, i.e. the rights related to life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Indian Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.
    • It was established in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in Paris (October 1991), and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 December 1993.
  • Recent amendments to the Structure:
    • a person who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court is also made eligible to be appointed as Chairperson of the Commission in addition to the person who has been the Chief Justice of India
    • to increase the Members of the Commission from two to three of which, one shall be a woman;
    • The inclusion of Chairperson of the National Commission for Backward Classes, Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as deemed Members of the Commission;
    • reduction in the term of the Chairperson and Members of the Commission and the State Commissions from five to three years and shall be eligible for re-appointment
    • to provide that a person who has been a Judge of a High Court is also made eligible to be appointed as Chairperson of the State Commission in addition to the person who has been the Chief Justice of the High Court; 
    • To confer upon State Commissions, the functions relating to human rights being discharged by the Union territories, other than the Union territory of Delhi, this will be dealt with by the Commission.
    • Composition:
      • The members are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a six-member committee consisting of:
        1. Prime Minister (head)
        2. Speaker of the Lok Sabha
        3. Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
        4. Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament
        5. Union Home Minister.
    •  Removal:
      • They hold office for a term of three years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier. The President can remove them from the office under specific circumstances.

Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/evolution-and-characteristics-of-human-rights/

Central Drugs and Standards Committee (CDSCO)

  • Context:
    • India approves COVID-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin for emergency use. 
    • This allows the vaccines to be offered to healthcare workers and frontline workers in India; Neither Covishield nor Covaxin has completed a crucial phase-3 trial in India.
  • About CDSCO:
    • The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation(CDSCO)under Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India is the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) of India.
    • Its headquarter is located in New Delhi.
    • It functions under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
    • Major functions are:
      1. approval of Drugs,
      2. Conduct of Clinical Trials,
      3. laying down the standards for Drugs,
      4. control over the quality of imported drugs in the country and
      5. coordination of the activities of State Drug Control Organizations by providing expert advice with a view of bringing about the uniformity in the enforcement of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court said that a provision in the 2017 rule notified by the Centre, allowing the confiscation of the animals of traders and transporters during the pendency of trials in cases under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, is contrary to the latter’s provisions which allow such confiscation only in case of conviction. It asked the government to either change the rule or face a stay from the court.
  • About the 2017 Rules:
    • The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017 have been framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
    • The Rules allow a Magistrate to forfeit the cattle of an owner facing trial under the Act.
    • The animals are then sent to infirmaries, animal shelters, etc.
    • The authorities can further give such animals for “adoption”.
    • SC holds that these rules are contrary to Section 29 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act
  •  Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960:
    • The Act aims to “prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals”.
    • The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was established in 1962 under Section 4 of the Act.
    • This Act provides punishment for causing unnecessary cruelty and suffering to animals. The Act defines animals and different forms of animals.
    • Discusses different forms of cruelty, exceptions, and killing of a suffering animal in case any cruelty has been committed against it, so as to relieve it from further suffering.
    • Provides the guidelines relating to experimentation on animals for scientific purposes.
    • The Act enshrines the provisions relating to the exhibition of the performing animals, and offences committed against the performing animals.
    • This Act provides for the limitation period of 3 months beyond which no prosecution shall lie for any offences under this Act.

Black Magic Act 

  • Context:
    • The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has declared that advertisement of any article using the name of any God and claiming that it has supernatural qualities, is “illegal” and falls under the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act.
  • The need for such laws:
    • Inhuman practices in the name of religion in the country are a cause of worry.
    • In Maharashtra, there were several cases where people murdered or brutally injured others and held them responsible for some deaths in their families, merely on suspicion.
    • So, a law to prevent exploitation in the name of religion is necessary.
  • The judgement:
    • The court held that telemarketers change the names of companies, God and Baba to show that each was a different Yantra.
    • The court went on to say, “The objectives quoted in the Black Magic Act can be achieved mainly through education. Reformists like Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar who worked to remove evil practices and spread awareness against superstition were born on this soil.”
    • The court directed the State and Vigilance Officers to register such crimes, giving reports against persons who make such advertisements and sell such articles. 
  • Similar laws:
    • The state of Karnataka also has such a law called the 'Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act, 2017.

Adultery

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to examine the Central government’s request to keep adultery a crime in the armed forces. 
  • History of  Adultery Law in India:
    • In September 2018, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code that makes adultery a punishable offence for men.
    • In four separate but concurring judgments, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court said the 158-year-old law was unconstitutional and violated Article 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) and Article 14 (Right to equality).
    • The law came under sharp criticism for treating women as possessions rather than human beings.
    • The apex court also declared Section 198(1) and 198(2) of the CrPC, which allows a husband to bring charges against the man with whom his wife committed adultery, unconstitutional.
    • The then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said while adultery could be a ground for civil issues, including dissolution of marriage, it could not be a criminal offence.
  • What does the Ministry of Defence say about this?
    • The Defence Ministry seeks exemption on SC order decriminalising adultery.
    • The Ministry’s plea says that “discipline is the bedrock of the work culture in Defence Services and an essential ingredient for combat operations. 
    • The Ministry also argues that “unlike Section 497 (which made only the man punishable), the Armed Forces do not make a difference between a male or a female, who is subject to the Army Act, if they are guilty of an offence.
    • The National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) called the Defence Ministry’s argument an “insult” to the Armed Forces personnel and their spouses.

Sand mining

  • Context: 
    • SC panel report slams Rajasthan ‘free-for-all loot’, questions leases near rivers
  • About the issue:
    • The SC report talks about an amendment to the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules by the government in December 2017 to grant short-term permits in khatedari lands for excavation of sand only for government or government-supported works.
    • “Almost all the khatedari lessees have misused the e-rawanaas (transit permits) for removal and transport of sand illegally collected.
    • Therefore it is imperative to ensure that all the khatedari leases involved in the misuse of e-ravannas are canceled with immediate effect.
  • About sand regulation in India:
    • Sand is a minor mineral, as defined under section 3(e) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR Act).
    • The MMDR Act empowers state governments to make rules for regulating the grant of mineral concessions in respect of minor minerals and for purposes connected therewith.
    • The regulation of grant of mineral concessions for minor minerals is, therefore, within the legislative and administrative domain of the state governments.
  • Sustainable Sand Management Guidelines 2016:
    • The MoEF has already put in place the Sustainable Sand Management Guidelines 2016, which focus on the management of sand mining in India.
    • However, the officials say that there is an urgent need to have guidelines for effective enforcement of regulatory provisions and their monitoring.
    • These guidelines require the preparation of District Survey Reports (DSR), which is an important initial step before grant of mining lease, the government has found that the DSRs carried out by state and district administrations are often not comprehensive enough. The new framework below seeks to rectify that.
  • Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining 2020:
    • Following a series of orders by the National Green Tribunal in 2018, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change have for the first time released guidelines to monitor and check illegal sand mining in the country.
    • The guidelines include:
      1.  directions to states to carry out river audits,
      2. put detailed survey reports of all mining areas online and in the public domain,
      3. conduct replenishment studies of river beds,
      4. constantly monitor mining with drones, aerial surveys, ground surveys and
      5. set up dedicated task forces at district levels.
    • The guidelines also push for online sales and purchase of sand and other riverbed materials to make the process transparent.
    • They propose night surveillance of mining activity through night-vision drones.
    • The enforcement guidelines focus on the “effective monitoring of sand mining from the identification of sand mineral sources to its dispatch and end-use by consumers and the general public and looks at a uniform protocol for the whole country”.
    • The 2020 guidelines are to be enforced simultaneously with the Sustainable Sand Management Guidelines, 2016, but in instances where the two sets of guidelines may seem to be in conflict, the new set will hold legal precedence.
    • The new guidelines list a detailed procedure of how the DSRs are to be made, including the development of an inventory, for the first time, of river bed material and other sand sources in the district.

Constitutional Provisions:

Right to marry

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court agreed to examine the constitutional validity of a spate of laws enacted by States such as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand that criminalize religious conversion via marriage and mandate prior official clearance before marrying into another faith.
  • About the anti-conversion laws:
    • States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh have enacted these laws which require prior permission to marry.
    • The burden of proof was on the people who marry to show they were not doing so to get converted.
    • Those who are found guilty under these laws stare at a 10-year prison sentence. The offences are non-bailable.
    • There are reports that people are being picked up in the middle of weddings on suspicion of religious conversion.
  • SC verdicts on the Right to marry a person of one's choice:
    • In the Hadiya case, the right to marry a person of one’s choice was part of an adult’s privacy.
    • It essentially means that this right is an integral part of the fundamental right to Life and personal liberty enshrined under Article 21.
    • The Hadiya case verdict underlines that the choice of a life partner, whether by marriage or outside it, was part of an individual’s “personhood and identity”.
    • “Matters of dress and of food, of ideas and ideologies, of love and partnership are within the central aspects of identity.
    • Neither the State nor the law can dictate a choice of partners or limit the free ability of every person to decide on these matters.
    • Also, in the K.S. Puttuswamy case, the court said, “Autonomy of the individual was the ability to make decisions in vital matters of concern to life.”
    • Any interference by the State in an adult’s right to love and marry has a “chilling effect” on freedom.
    • Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which is inviolable and the absolute right of an individual to choose a life partner is not in the least affected by matters of faith.
  • A correction by Allahabad High Court:
    • The Allahabad High Court judgment struck down provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 that make it mandatory for couples to publish a 30-day public notice of their intent to marry — which often exposes them to vigilante and familial violence.
    • A single-judge bench of the high court ruled that the compulsory notice inviting scrutiny and objections encroached on “the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy, including within its sphere freedom to choose for marriage without interference from state and non-state actors, of the persons concerned.”
    • The Law Commission of India report in 2012 had made a similar recommendation to “keep a check on the high-handed and unwarranted interference by caste assemblies in sagotra, inter-caste or inter-religious marriages”.

Right to Privacy

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court agreed to consider after three weeks a petition filed by a group of women against the compulsory nature of sacred confessions to priests in Christianity.
  • About the issue:
    • The Women's petitioners filed a petition saying that confessions are being abused.
    • The court observed: There cannot be a rule to impose confessions on a worshipper. Ladies are forced to confess before the priest. The court has to see whether confessions are an integral part of the religion. This brings into picture the doctrine of Essentiality, which was also used during the Sabarimala Case.
    • A senior lawyer said forced confessions violated the right to privacy.
  • The doctrine of Essentiality:
    • The doctrine of “essentiality” was invented by a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the ‘Shirur Mutt’ case in 1954.
    • The court held that the term “religion” will cover all rituals and practices “integral” to a religion, and took upon itself the responsibility of determining the essential and non-essential practices of a religion.

International Relations

 

Geopolitical Events:

Iran plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at Fordow site

  • Context:
    • Iran has told the United Nations nuclear watchdog, IAEA that it plans to enrich uranium to 20% purity, a level it achieved before its 2015 accord, at its Fordow site buried inside a mountain.
  • About Iran's Plan:
    • Iran announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to further breach the deal, which it started violating in 2019 in retaliation for Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA agreement and the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
    • Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.
    • Fordow was built inside a mountain, apparently to protect it from aerial bombardment, and the 2015 deal does not allow enrichment there. Iran is already enriching at Fordow with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
    • Iran has breached the deal’s 3.67% limit on the purity to which it can enrich uranium, but it has only gone up to 4.5% so far, well short of the 20% it achieved before the deal and the 90% that is weapons-grade.
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
    • Iran agreed to rein in its nuclear programme in a 2015 deal struck with the US, UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany.
    • Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) Tehran agreed to significantly cut its stores of centrifuges, enriched uranium, and heavy-water, all key components for nuclear weapons.
    • The JCPOA established the Joint Commission, with the negotiating parties all represented, to monitor the implementation of the agreement. Iran agreed to the deal as, it had been hit with devastating economic sanctions by the United Nations, United States, and the European Union that are estimated to have cost it tens of billions of pounds a year in lost oil export revenues. Billions in overseas assets had also been frozen.
    • But in 2015 the US pulled out of the deal because:
      • Trump and opponents to the deal say it is flawed because it gives Iran access to billions of dollars but does not address Iran’s support for groups the U.S. considers terrorists, like Hamas and Hezbollah. They note it also doesn’t curb Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and that the deal phases out by 2030. They say Iran has lied about its nuclear program in the past.
  • About IAEA:
    • It was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization in 1957 within the United Nations family.
    • It reports to both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
    • Headquarters: Vienna, Austria.
    • Functions:
      • Works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
      • Seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
    • Initiatives:
      1. Program of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).
      2. Human Health Program.
      3. Water Availability Enhancement Project.
      4. International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles, 2000.

Chenab hydel project

  • Context:
    • The Centre decided to go ahead with the long-pending 850-megawatt Ratle hydroelectric power project on the river Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district, despite objections raised by the Pakistan government over the same.
  • About the project:
    • To be built near Drabshalla village in Kishtwar, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid the foundation stone for the project on June 25, 2013.
    • However, the Pakistan government had objected to the construction of the dam, claiming that it was not in conformity with the Indus Water Treaty.
    • In August 2017, the World Bank allowed India to construct the dam, and the following year, the erstwhile state government approached the Centre with a proposal to resume construction.
    • It will be the first hydel power project in the country from which we will start getting power from the day it gets commissioned.
    • If calculated in terms of money, Jammu and Kashmir will get electricity worth Rs 5,289 crore free of cost. The Union Territory will also get water usage charges worth Rs 9,581 crore over a period of 40 years.
    • The project will generate direct and indirect jobs for 4,000 people in addition to the 2,000 jobs created directly and indirectly in the commissioning of the 540 MW Kwar hydroelectric power project on the Chenab, the MoU for which was signed recently.
  • Indus Water Treaty:
    • September 19, 2020, marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan.
    • According to this water-sharing treaty, the three western rivers’ (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) went to Pakistan, and the three ‘eastern rivers’ (Sutlej, Ravi, and Beas) were portioned to India.
    • The World Bank, which, as the third party, played a pivotal role in crafting the IWT.
       

US and Section 230

  • Context:
    • Soon after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol, his social media accounts were suspended by Big Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook for his alleged role in inciting violence and spreading misinformation.
  • What is Section 230?
    • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996 and provides legal immunity to internet companies for content that is shared on their websites.
    • The act was first introduced to regulate pornography online.
    • Section 230 is an amendment to the act, which holds users responsible for their comments and posts online.
    • According to the regulation, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
    • This means that online companies, including social media platforms, are not liable for the content shared on their website by their users.
    • So if a user posts something illegal on the website, the company is protected from lawsuits.
    • In addition, the regulation also states that private companies have the right to remove content that violates their guidelines and values. 
  • Sec 69A of India's Information Technology Act, 2000:
    • In India, law enforcement agencies monitor the web and social media and take appropriate action for blocking such unlawful content under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. 
    • Section 69A empowers the authorities to intercept, monitor, or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received, or stored in any computer resource if it is necessary or expedient to do so in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defense of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offense or for investigation of any offence.
    • It also empowers the government to block internet sites in the interests of the nation. The law also contained procedural safeguards for blocking any site.
    • The recent banning of certain Chinese Apps was done citing provisions under Section 69A of the IT Act.

Dialogues and Talks:

India-Russia S-400 deal

  • Context:
    • As India prepares to receive the first batch of S-400 long-range air defence systems by year-end, the first group of Indian military specialists is scheduled to depart for Moscow soon to undergo training courses on the S-400.
  • About the deal:
    • The S-400 Triumf is a mobile, surface-to-air missile system (SAM) designed by Russia.
    • It is the most dangerous operationally deployed modern long-range SAM (MLR SAM) in the world.
    • It is considered to be much ahead of the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
    • India’s acquisition is crucial to counter attacks in a two-front war, including even high-end F-35 US fighter aircraft.
  • About CAATSA:
    • Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a US act, whose core objective is to counter Iran, Russia, and North Korea through punitive measures.
    • Title II of the Act primarily deals with sanctions on Russian interests such as its oil and gas industry, defence and security sector, and financial institutions, in the backdrop of its military intervention in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential elections.
    • CAATSA, if implemented in its stringent form, would have affected India’s defence procurement from Russia. 
    • As per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Arms Transfer Database, during the period 2010-17, Russia was the top arms supplier to India.
    • Apart from the S-400 air defence system, Project 1135.6 frigates and Ka226T helicopters will also be affected.
    • Also, it will impact:
      • joint ventures, like Indo Russian Aviation Ltd,
      • Multi-Role Transport Aircraft Ltd and Brahmos Aerospace.
      • India’s purchase of spare parts, components, raw materials and other assistance.

India's Vaccine Diplomacy

  • Context:
    • Large consignments of Covishield vaccine doses were flown in special Indian aircraft to Seychelles, Mauritius, and Myanmar.
  • Vaccine Diplomacy:
    • Vaccine diplomacy is the branch of global health diplomacy in which a nation uses the development or delivery of vaccines to strengthen ties with other nations.
    • India gifted 49 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and other friendly nations as part of its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ drive.
    • 1 million and 2 million doses were sent to Nepal and Bangladesh respectively. This act has earned high praise from neighbours and other nations.
    • The Wallstreet Journal said, “In Covid-19 Diplomacy, India Emerges as a Vaccine Superpower”
    • As a member of the COVAX facility — the initiative for equitable vaccine distribution created by the Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunization (Gavi), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO — India is both a recipient of vaccines from the facility as well as a supplier of vaccines.
  • About Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI):
    • It was launched at Davos 2017 
    • A result of a consensus that a coordinated, international, and intergovernmental plan was needed to develop and deploy new vaccines to prevent future epidemics. 
    •  It is a global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations
    • It is working to:
      • accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and 
      • enable equitable access to these vaccines for affected populations during outbreaks. 
      • establish investigational vaccine stockpiles before epidemics begin 
      • will fund new and innovative platform technologies with the potential to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines against previously unknown pathogens  
    • The current members of the Joint Coordination Group include WHO, GAVI, EMA, FDA, MSF, UNICEF, IFRC, AVAREF, NIBSC, and Wellcome.

H1B Visas

  • Context:
    • The new wage-based work visa regime will now give priority in the selection of visas to applications of those employers where the “proffered wage equals or exceeds” the prevailing level in that area of employment.
  • What are H-1B work visas?
    • In 1952, after the US started expanding its presence in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, it felt the need to hire quality workers who could help the country achieve innovation in these areas at reasonable costs. This need to hire workers paved the way for the introduction of the H-1 work visa system.
    • This work visa system was further subdivided into H-1B, H-2B, L1, O1, and E1 visas, depending on the qualification required and the area for which workers were sought. Of these, the H-1B visa remains the most popular due to the relatively better wage chance it offers.
    • Lack of jobs in their home countries meant that the STEM(computer science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates were willing to work in the US at relatively low costs, which proved to be a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee, thereby making the H-1B work visas the most popular.
    • The new wage-based work visa regime will now give priority in the selection of visas to applications of those employers where the “proffered wage equals or exceeds” the prevailing level in that area of employment.
    • The proffered wage is the wage that the employer intends to pay the beneficiary.
    • This regime will also take into account the skill set that the respective worker brings to the country and cross-check whether such skill set is available at the same cost among the US workers.

Organizations and Conventions:

Gulf Co-operation Council

  • Context:
    • Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours have agreed last week to suspend three years of intense hostilities.
    • Nudged by the United States and local mediation from Kuwait, the Arab Quartet — Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — lifted their unsuccessful blockade against Qatar at the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The agreement to normalise relations was part of the shared commitment to “solidarity and stability”.
  • About GCC:
    • The GCC was formed in 1981 by an agreement among Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was concluded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
    • It is an economic and political union comprising of all the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf except Iraq.
    • Although its current official name is the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, it is still popularly and unofficially known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, its former official name.
    • The grouping was formed in view of the similar political establishments in the countries based on Islamic principles, their geographical proximity, joint destiny, and common objectives.
    • Members: The six members of the GCC are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
    • The Secretariat is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 

United Nations Security Council

  • Context:
    • India was approaching its two-year term on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with “a strong commitment to reformed multilateralism”, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti said in news.
  • About UNSC:
    • The Security Council was established by the UN Charter in 1945. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations.
    • Its primary responsibility is to work to maintain international peace and security.
    • The council has 15 members5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms.
    • The five permanent members are the United States, the Russian Federation, France, China, and the United Kingdom.
    • The non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
    • Five members of the UNSC are replaced every year.
    • The members are selected from all the regions of the world. Three members are from Africa, while Asia, Western Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean have two members each.
    • The new incoming members whose flags were installed this year are India, Ireland, Mexico, Kenya, and Norway. Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Vietnam are its other current non-permanent members.
    • Each member of the Security Council has one vote. Decisions of the Security Council on matters are made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members.
    • A “No” vote from one of the five permanent members blocks the passage of the resolution.
    • Any member of the United Nations who is not a member of the Security Council may participate, without a vote, in the discussion of any question brought before the Security Council whenever the latter considers that the interests of that Member are especially affected.
    • The council's presidency is a capacity that rotates every month among its 15 members.
    • Its headquarter is in New York.
  • India at UNSC:
    • India has served in the UN Security Council seven times previously.
    • In 1950-51, India, as President of UNSC, presided over the adoption of resolutions calling for the cessation of hostilities during the Korean War and for assistance to the Republic of Korea.
    • In 1977-78, India was a strong voice for Africa in the UNSC and spoke against apartheid. Then External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke in UNSC for Namibia’s independence in 1978.
    • India played an active role in discussions on all issues related to international peace and security, including several new challenges which the UNSC was called upon to deal with in Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

G4

  • Context:
    • India and 3 other G4 nations seek single text for UNSC reforms
  • About:
    • The G4 nations comprise Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan.
    • The primary aim of G4 is the reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the attainment of a permanent seat for its member(s).
    • The group has insisted on an expansion of both permanent and non-permanent members and an improvement in the working method of the UNSC.
    • The four nations have declared their candidature for a permanent seat within an expanded UNSC and, have supported the candidature of each other for the same position.
    • The formation of the G4 led to the formation of the informal group of ‘Coffee Club’ or ‘Uniting for Consensus’.
    • It is a group of nations that are selectively opposed to the four members due to regional rivalry and includes countries that consider the expansion of UNSC as un-necessary for global governance.
    • Italy has united with members of the Coffee Club and is calling for a consensus before any decision is reached on the form and size of the Security Council.
    • Italy has opposed Germany’s bid and prefers a seat for the European Union.
    • Similarly, Italy has not supported India’s bid for a permanent seat in UNSC.

EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION (EAEU)

  • Context:
    • Uzbekistan Takes Further Steps Toward Eurasian Economic Union.
  • About:
    • The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is an economic union of states located in Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and Central Asia.
    • Founded in 2015, the EAEU is a free trade bloc consisting of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The union has a market of 183 million people and a combined gross domestic product of over $1.9 trillion.
    • The EAEU has focused much of its efforts on building economic ties with Asia, signing free trade deals with Vietnam in 2015 and Singapore in 2019. It is currently negotiating with Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, and Cambodia.
    • Russia is also pushing for India’s entry into EAEU.
    • India and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are discussing the possibility of signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

ECONOMY

Banking and finance:

Bad bank

  • Context:
    • RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das indicated that the central bank can consider the idea of a bad bank to tackle non-performing assets (NPAs) and advised banks and non-banks to adopt appropriate compliance culture and identify risks early.
  • What is a bad bank?
    • A bad bank buys the bad loans and other illiquid holdings of other banks and financial institutions, which clears their balance sheet.
    • A bad bank conveys the impression that it will function as a bank but has bad assets to start with.
    • Technically, a bad bank is an asset reconstruction company (ARC) or an asset management company that takes over the bad loans of commercial banks, manages them, and finally recovers the money over a period of time.
    • The bad bank is not involved in lending and taking deposits, but helps commercial banks clean up their balance sheets and resolve bad loans.
    • The takeover of bad loans is normally below the book value of the loan and the bad bank tries to recover as much as possible subsequently.

Mutual funds risk-o-meter

  • Context:
    • In a move that will help investors to make a more informed investment decision, capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has made it mandatory for mutual funds to assign a risk level to schemes, based on certain parameters.
  • About:
    • SEBI’s decision on the “risk-o-meter”, which it announced on October 5, 2020, came into effect on January 1.
    • In its circular issued on October 5, the regulator made it mandatory for mutual fund houses to characterize the risk level of their schemes on a six-stage scale from “Low” to “Very High”.
    • The risk-o-meter must be evaluated every month.
    • Fund houses are required to disclose the risk-o-meter risk level along with the portfolio disclosure for all their schemes on their own websites as well as the website of the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) within 10 days of the close of each month.
    • Since the risk value and risk levels would be arrived at after taking into account critical parameters such as credit risk, interest rate risk, and liquidity risk in case of a debt scheme, and parameters such as market capitalization, volatility, and impact cost in case of an equity scheme, industry experts feel that the risk-o-meter will now provide a more objective assessment of the riskiness of a particular scheme to potential investors.

Section 32 A of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC)

  • Context:
    • In recent judgment, SC upholds IBC’s Section 32A
  • What is section 32A?
    • Section 32A provides immunity to the corporate debtor and its property when there is the approval of the resolution plan resulting in the change of management of control of the corporate debtor.
    • This is subject to the successful resolution applicant being not involved in the commission of the offense.
  • About the judgment:
    • The Supreme Court held that the successful bidders for a corporate debtor under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) would be immune from any investigations being conducted either by any investigating agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or other statutory bodies such as Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
    • The court also said it was important for the IBC to attract bidders who would offer reasonable and fair value for the corporate debtor to ensure the timely completion of the corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRP).
    • Such bidders, however, must also be granted protection from any misdeeds of the past since they had nothing to do with it.
    • Such protection, the court said, must also extend to the assets of a corporate debtor, which form a crucial attraction for potential bidders and helps them in assessing and placing a fair bid for the company, which, in turn, will help banks clean up their books of bad loans.

Pre-packs

  • Context:
    • The government is likely to amend the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to introduce pre-packs as a resolution mechanism.
  • About pre-pack:
    • A pre-pack is an agreement for a distressed company’s debt resolution between secured creditors and investors instead of a public bidding process, as under the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) of the IBC.
    • The mechanism that will need to be initiated after approval by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) will allow 90 days for creditors to agree with a potential bidder and a further 30 days for approval by the NCLT
  • Benefits of pre-pack:
    • Non-adherence of prescribed timelines under the IBC is a key criticism that the government is seeking to address through the inclusion of pre-packs under the IBC, with 1,442 of a total 1,942 ongoing insolvency proceedings having passed the 270-day mark.
    • The inclusion of pre-packs should certainly help in expediting the insolvency resolution, which has significantly exceeded prescribed timelines in many cases under the CIRP
    • Pre-packs may also offer an alternative for creditors to initiate insolvency proceedings as the government has suspended initiation of fresh cases for any defaults occurring post-March 24.
  • Criticism of pre-pack:
    • Experts noted that the process is relatively opaque, compared to the CIRP – under which any eligible party is permitted to place a bid that is considered by a Committee of Creditors (CoC).
  • Sahoo committee recommendations:
    • The Corporate Affairs Ministry, last year, formed a committee led by MS Sahoo, chairperson of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India, to look into including pre-packs as a resolution mechanism under the IBC.
    • The Sahoo Committee report has recommended that all pre-pack agreements in which operational creditors are set to receive less than a full recovery be open to a Swiss challenge, under which any eligible third party would be permitted to offer an improved bid.
    • The initial bidder would, in such cases, have the option to match the improved bid to get approval for the pre-packaged agreement.
    • In cases where operational creditors are set to receive 100% recovery, however, the decision on whether to open the agreement to a swiss challenge will be left to the CoC, which would comprise financial creditors as in the case of the CIRP.
    • The inclusion of the swiss challenge was likely aimed at preventing future litigation from operational creditors, who receive marginal recoveries under the insolvency resolution process.

Non-performing asset (NPA)

  • Context:
    • After losses in two consecutive years, India’s scheduled commercial banks turned profitable in 2019-20. 
  • About:
    • Reserve Bank of India defines NPA as any advance or loan that is overdue for more than 90 days.
    • “An asset becomes non-performing when it ceases to generate income for the bank,” said RBI in a circular form 2007.
  • When were NPAs at dangerously high levels?
    • In March 2018, bad loans peaked at over ₹10 lakh crore — around 11.5% of all loans.
    • What former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian had called India’s ‘twin balance sheet problem’ in the Economic Survey for 2016-17, had sent banks down a slippery slope, beset by dangerously high levels of non-performing assets.
    • A large part of the problem started in the latter half of the 2010s, as assumptions of persistently high economic growth made several large corporates overzealous in their investment ambitions, thus over-leveraging themselves in the process.
    • And lenders, led by public sector banks, fuelled these plans through easy money on credit.
    • The problem was particularly acute in the infrastructure sector, where high-stakes bets on several projects unraveled as growth (and demand) fizzled out following the global financial crisis of 2008.
    • The stress from stretched corporate balance sheets infected banks’ own books and underwhelmed their capacity for fresh lending.
    • This vicious cycle was interrupted to an extent by the IBC, which, along with tighter recognition norms for bad loans, helped correct the course over time.
  • Present status:
    • “Given the uncertainty induced by COVID-19 and its real economic impact, the asset quality of the banking system may deteriorate sharply, going forward,” the RBI report stated.
    • Had the central bank’s normal loan classification norms been followed instead of the COVID-19 relief measures, bad loans would have been higher, the RBI has argued. 
    • RBI also warned about large-scale loan defaults looming over housing finance companies, which have been hit by delays in completion of housing projects, cost overruns due to reverse migration of laborers, and delayed investments by buyers in the affordable housing sector as incomes shrank and jobs were lost.

Budget and taxation:

Green tax

  • Context:
    • The central government approved a proposal to levy a “Green Tax” on old vehicles that are considered polluting to the environment. 
  • About:
    • The tax has been proposed to dissuade people from using vehicles that damage the environment, motivate them to switch to newer, less polluting vehicles, and reduce overall pollution levels, and make the polluters pay for it.
    • The proposal will now go to the states for consultation before it is formally notified.
    • “Revenue collected from the Green Tax to be kept in a separate account and used for tackling pollution, and for states to set up state-of-art facilities for emission monitoring,” a press release by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways says.
    • It is estimated that commercial vehicles, which constitute about 5% of the total vehicle fleet, contribute about 65-70% of total vehicular pollution.
    • The older fleet, typically manufactured before the year 2000 constitutes less than 1% of the total fleet but contributes around 15% of total vehicular pollution.
    • These older vehicles pollute 10-25 times more than modern vehicles.

Sections 69 and 132 of the Central Goods and Service Tax (CGST) Act

  • Context:
    • The Delhi High Court has upheld the controversial provisions in the Central Goods and Service Tax (CGST) Act that gives power to authorities to arrest any person if there is “reason to believe” that he has committed tax evasion.
  • About:
    • The petitioners claimed that Section 69 being of criminal nature, could not have been enacted under Article 246A of the Constitution.
    • However, the High Court ruled “…the pith and substance of the CGST Act are on a topic, upon which Parliament has the power to legislate as the power to arrest and prosecute are ancillary and/or incidental to the power to levy and collect Goods and Services Tax”.
    • It opined that both Sections 69 and 132 of the CGST Act are “constitutional and fall within the legislative competence of Parliament”.
    • The court remarked that the scope of Article 246A is “significantly wide” as it not only empowers both Parliament and State Legislatures to levy or enact GST Act but also grants the power to make all laws concerning GST.

Faceless tax scheme 

  • Context:
    • The government’s faceless tax assessment scheme, an attempt to remove individual tax officials’ discretion and potential harassment for income taxpayers, has managed to deliver about 24,000 final orders since its introduction in August 2020.
  • About:
    • In the Union Budget 2019, the Finance Minister proposed the introduction of a scheme of faceless e-assessment.
    • The scheme seeks to eliminate the human interface between the taxpayer and the income tax department.
    • The scheme lays down the procedure to carry out a faceless assessment through electronic mode.
    • It is an attempt to remove individual tax officials’ discretion and potential harassment for income taxpayers.
    • The scheme allows for appropriate cases where a certain hearing is necessary, so then after following protocols, a hearing is given.
    • The main objective is to remove physical interaction as much as possible.

Internal and extra-Budgetary resources (IEBR)

  • Context:
    • With a shortfall in non-tax receipts, the concern is of excess reliance on off-balance-sheet borrowing through internal and extra-Budgetary resources (IEBR), which is deployed by Central Public Sector Enterprises and departmental undertakings.
  • About:
    • IEBR is an important part of the Central plan of the Government of India and constitutes the resources raised by the PSUs through profits, loans, and equity.
    • In the last few years, the IEBR route has been increasingly used by the central government to finance even revenue expenditures such as the bills for the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for procurement purposes.
    • While earlier the amount of capital spending through IEBR used to be lesser than the gross budgetary support, since 2014-15, this trend has reversed, with capital spending by CPSUs exceeding the amounts budgeted for capital expenditure.
    • For 2019-20, IEBR was estimated at Rs 7.1 lakh crore, 16.9% higher than Rs 6.07 lakh crore raised in 2018-19.
    • For 2020-21, the government has estimated it to come down by 5.3% to Rs 6.72 lakh crore.

'V-shaped' economic recovery

  • Context:
    • The Economic Survey 2020-21 has predicted a 'V-shaped' economic recovery for India and estimated FY22 GDP growth at 11%.
  • About:
    • In a V-shaped recession, the economy suffers a sharp but brief period of economic decline with a clearly defined trough, followed by a strong recovery.
    • V-shapes are the normal shape for a recession, as the strength of the economic recovery is typically closely related to the severity of the preceding recession.

K-shaped recovery

  • Context:
    • Chief India Economist at JP Morgan, states the prospects of a K-shaped recovery from COVID are increasing both in India and across the world.
  • About:
    • A K-shaped recovery happens when different sections of an economy recover at starkly different rates.
    • It means the growing gap between ‘winners and losers’.
    • An example in India is the stock market being healthy while millions have lost their jobs.
    • Households at the top of the pyramid are likely to have seen their in- comes largely protected, and savings rates forced up during the lockdown, increasing ‘fuel in the tank’ to drive future consumption.
    • Meanwhile, households at the bottom are likely to have witnessed permanent hits to jobs and incomes.

External sector:

India-China trade

  • Context:
    • India’s trade with China in 2020 fell to the lowest since 2017, with the trade imbalance declining to a five-year low on the back of a slump in India’s imports from China.
  • About:
    • Two-way trade in 2020 reached $87.6 billion, down by 5.6%.
    • India’s imports from China accounted for $66.7 billion, declining by 10.8% year-on-year and the lowest figure since 2016.
    • India’s exports to China, however, rose to the highest figure on record, for the first time crossing the $20 billion-mark and growing 16% last year to $20.86 billion.
    • The trade deficit, a source of friction between India and China, declined to a five-year-low of $45.8 billion, the lowest since 2015.
    • India’s biggest import in 2019 was electrical machinery and equipment, worth $20.17 billion.
    • Other major imports in 2019 were organic chemicals ($8.39 billion) and fertilizers ($1.67 billion), while India’s top exports were iron ore, organic chemicals, cotton, and unfinished diamonds.

Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

  • Context:
    • FATF had deferred its once-a-decade evaluation of India’s anti-money laundering regime scheduled for this year, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, and indicated that the onsite review to be conducted by global experts may now take place in early 2021.
  • Financial Action Task Force (FATF):
    • The Financial Action Task Force is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1989 on the initiative of the G7 to develop policies to combat money laundering.
    • In 2001, its mandate was expanded to include terrorism financing.
    • The inter-governmental body sets international standards that aim to prevent these illegal activities and the harm they cause to society.
    • The FATF undertakes peer reviews of each member on an ongoing basis to assess the implementation of its recommendations and provides a detailed analysis of each country's system for preventing criminal abuse of the financial system.

Agriculture:

Minimum support price (MSP)

  • Context:
    • Farmer unions protesting on Delhi’s borders are raising two fundamental demands. One of them is to provide a legal guarantee for the minimum support prices (MSPs) that the Centre declares for various crops every year.
  • What is MSP?
    • The MSP is a minimum price guarantee that acts as a safety net or insurance for farmers when they sell particular crops.
    • These crops are procured by government agencies at a promised price to farmers and the MSP cannot be altered in any given situation.
    • The concept of MSP, therefore, protects the farmers in the country in situations where crop prices fall drastically.
    • Wheat and rice are among the top crops that are procured by the government at MSP from the country’s farmers.
    • A total of 22-23 crops are procured under MSP. 
  • Who Sets MSP?
    • The MSP is set by the central government for select crops, based on recommendations it receives from the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP)
  • How did MSP come into existence?
    • MSP-based procurement by the government has its origin in the rationing system introduced by the British during World War II.
    • A department of food came up in 1942.
    • After Independence, it was upgraded into the ministry of food.
    • Those were the times when India faced acute food shortages.
    • When the Green Revolution started in the 1960s, India was actively looking to shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.
    • The MSP system finally started in 1966-67 for wheat and was expanded further to include other essential food crops.
    • This was then sold to the poor under subsidized rates under the public distribution system.
  • MSP and law:
    • MSP finds no mention in any law even if it has been around for decades.
    • While the government does declare the MSP twice a year, there is no law making MSP mandatory.
    • What this technically means is that the government, though it buys at MSP from farmers, is not obliged by law to do so.
    • As a matter of fact, no law says that MSP can be imposed on private traders as well.
  • Present issue:
    • The three farm bills that have been introduced by the government have little to do with MSP.
    • Farmers are demanding a written promise on MSP from the government as they are afraid that corporates will start exploiting them in the absence of a minimum support price.

Wheat exports

  • Context:
    • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) upped its forecast of Indian wheat exports for 2020-21 (July-June) to 1.8 million tonnes (mt), as against its earlier estimate of one mt.
    • That would be the highest ever in the last six years.
  • About:
    • After rice, India is set to turn a major exporter of wheat as well – thanks to surging international prices from Chinese stockpiling and ultra-low interest rate money increasingly finding its way into agri-commodity markets.
    • The trebling of shipments this year is mainly on the back of rising global prices.
  • The issue of MSP:
    • Traders, however, believe that Indian wheat is still not competitive at the government’s minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 19,750 per tonne
    • The export price of wheat bought in Gujarat at that rate – after adding roughly Rs 1,200 towards the cost of cleaning, bagging, loading, and transport to Kandla or Mundra port – would be Rs 20,950 per tonne.
    • That works out to $286 per tonne or $290-plus, after adding exporter margins.
    • The above price is higher than the $275-280 that major exporters such as Australia, France, the US, Russia, and Canada are quoting for March-April shipments. 
    • In all, given our MSP, we are $25 or so per tonne costlier today.

World food price index

  • Context:
    • World food prices rose for a seventh consecutive month in December, with all the major categories, barring sugar, posting gains last month, the United Nations food agency said.
  • About:
    • The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities.
    • It consists of the average of five commodity group price indices [cereal, vegetable, dairy, meat, and sugar], weighted with the average export shares.
    • It is composed of 55 commodity quotations and updated monthly.

Manufacturing:

Toy manufacturing

  • Context:
    • The Centre launched a hackathon for students, teachers, and start-ups to design and develop toys and games “based on Indian culture and ethos, local folklore and heroes, and Indian value systems.”
  • About:
    • The Global Toy Industry is more than 7 lakh crore rupees but India's share is very little in this.
    • The toy market in India is worth $1 billion, 80% of toys are imported.
    • The toy manufacturers in India are mostly located in NCR, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and clusters across central Indian states.
    • The sector is fragmented with 90% of the market being unorganized and 4,000 toy industry units from the MSME sector.
    • In August 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann ki Baat address spoke about developing India as a toy hub.

Eight core sectors

  • Context:
    • The output from India’s eight core sectors hit a three-month low in November, contracting 2.6% in the festive month, with coal, fertilizers, and electricity the only sectors to record positive growth on a year-on-year basis, suggesting the economy is still not out of the woods.
  • Index of Eight Core Industries (ICI):
    • It is a production volume index.
    • ICI measures the collective and individual performance of production in selected eight core industries viz. Coal, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Refinery Products, Fertilizers, Steel, Cement, and Electricity.
    • It is compiled and released by the Office of the Economic Adviser (OEA), Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP), and Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
    • The weights of these eight industries are largely in alignment with the respective weight of these industries in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).
    • The base year of the ICI has been revised to 2011-12 from 2004-05 in alignment with the new series of IIP.
    • The combined weight of these eight-core industries is 40.27% of IIP with base 2011-12.

Infrastructure:

Global Housing Technology Challenge

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for six Light House Projects (LHPs) under the Global Housing Technology Challenge (GHTC) and distributed the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) Urban and ASHA India awards.
  • About:
    • GHTC- India intends to get the best globally available innovative construction technologies through a challenging process.
    • It seeks to demonstrate and deliver ready-to-live-in houses in a shorter time, with lower cost and quality construction in a sustainable manner.
    • It also seeks to promote future technologies, to foster an environment of research and development in the country.
    • The conventional system of housing construction is time-consuming as well as resource-intensive, there is a need to look for new emerging, disaster-resilient, environment-friendly, cost-effective, and speedy construction technologies.
    • The shift in technology transition will also address the challenges of large-scale housing construction in minimum time and cost with optimum use of resources and environment-friendly practices.
    • GHTC-India has been conceptualized to enable the paradigm shift required in the construction sector in the country.
    • GHTC-India will bring change, both in the perception as well as how the construction of houses is done.
    • The challenge has three components viz.
      1. Conduct of Grand Expo-cum-Conference
      2. Identifying Proven Demonstrable Technologies from across the world
      3. Promoting Potential Technologies through setting up incubation centers at selected IITs and organizing accelerator workshops under the Affordable Sustainable Housing Accelerators- India (ASHA-India) Program.

Gas-based economy

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister inaugurated 450-km Kochi-Mangaluru natural gas pipeline.
  • About:
    • The government has a concrete plan to move towards a gas-based economy that would be cheaper, convenient, and environment-friendly.
    • Prime Minister said that as part of efforts to making India a natural gas-based economy, 10,000 more CNG (compressed natural gas) stations would be opened and several lakh PNG (piped natural gas) household connections given in the coming days.
    • The plan was to increase the share of natural gas in the energy sector from the present 6% to 15% by 2030.
    • While 15,000 km of LNG pipeline was laid between 1978 (when the first inter-State pipeline was commissioned) and 2014, work on 16,000 km of a new pipeline that started in 2014 would be completed in the next four years.
    • As against 900 CNG stations between 1992 and 2014, 1,500 new stations were built thereafter and the numbers would increase to 10,000 soon.
    • As against 25 lakh PNG connections till 2014, 72 lakh PNG connections were given till date.
    • The Kochi-Mangaluru pipeline would provide another 21 lakh PNG connections.
  • About Kochi-Mangaluru natural gas pipeline:
    • The facility was part of the government’s “one nation-one gas grid” policy.
    • The new pipeline would have international importance, wherein the carbon footprint would get substantially reduced.
    • It was a classic example of cooperative federalism.
  • Other initiatives related to energy:
    • The government had definite plans for the future to make the country energy-sufficient and reduce expenditure on the foreign exchange through diversification of energy requirements.
    • The focus was being given to increasing ethanol production to increase ethanol content in petrol to 20% from the present 5%.
    • The world’s largest hybrid energy plant (wind and solar) was coming up in Gujarat.
    • The electric mobility sector too was being encouraged.
    • Through these, alternative, cheap and pollution-free fuel and energy would be made available to people.

Environment

Species in news:

Name Of Species: Information:

Pangolin

  • Context: 
    • The Odisha Forest Department has stressed the need for stricter monitoring of social media platforms to check pangolin poaching and trading.
  • Background:
    • During the past few years, instances of pangolin poaching have been reported at regular intervals from different parts of Odisha.
    • Investigations revealed that the accused were trading pangolin and scales online by forming WhatsApp groups in which videos and photos were shared with potential customers, often based outside the country, and details communicated in codes to conceal the transactions.
    • Poaching is pushing the endangered species into extinction.
  • About Pangolin:
    • Sometimes called scaly anteaters, they are the only mammals in the world to be covered in protective scales.
    • Their scales are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails.
    • Pangolins lap up ants and termites with their long sticky tongues.
    • The giant pangolin, found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa, is the biggest, measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 75lbs.
    • The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world.
    • Its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no medical benefit for their use, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.
  • India is home to two pangolin species:
    • Indian Pangolin and
    • Chinese Pangolin
  • While the former is found across the Himalayan foothills and southern India, the latter dwells in the north-eastern region of the country.
  • There are eight species of pangolin found in Asia and Africa:
    • Four species live in Africa: 
      • Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), and Temminck’s Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii).
    • The four species found in Asia:
      • Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).
      • The Indian Pangolin is distributed in other parts of the country as well as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
  • According to the laws of our land, both the Indian and the Chinese pangolin species are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Poaching, trading, or any other form of their exploitation would attract a prison term of three to seven years and a fine of not less than INR 10,000.
  • Even internationally, their trade is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which lists the two pangolin species in Appendix II.

Gangetic Dolphin

  • Context:
    • A Gangetic dolphin was beaten to death by three men who used axes and sticks to maul the animal in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh last month. 
  • Ganga River Dolphin (Platanista Gangetica)
    • The Ganges river dolphin is found in parts of the Ganges-Meghna-Brahmaputra and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
    • The Gangetic river dolphin is India's national aquatic animal and is popularly known as ‘Susu’.
    • It is among the four freshwater dolphins in the world- the other three are:
      • The ‘Baiji’ now likely extinct from the Yangtze River in China,
      • The ‘Bhulan’ of the Indus in Pakistan, and
      • The ‘Boto’ of the Amazon River in Latin America.
    • These four species live only in rivers and lakes.
    • Its presence indicates the health of the riverine ecosystem.
  • Protection Status
    • IUCN Status: Endangered
    • It is listed on CITES Appendix-I.
    • It is classified under Schedule 1, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 providing absolute protection as offenses under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
    • Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district is India’s only sanctuary for its national aquatic animal.

Asian Houbara

  • Context: 
    • Pakistan has issued special permits to Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the crown prince, and five other members of their family to hunt the Houbara bustard during the 2020-21 hunting season.
  • About Houbara bustard:
    • Bustards are large, terrestrial birds that belong to several species, including some of the largest flying birds.
    • Two Distinct Species of Houbara Bustard: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes two distinct species found in:
      • North Africa (Chlamydotis undulata) and
      • Asia (Chlamydotis macqueenii).
    • The population of the Asian houbara bustards extends from northeast Asia, across central Asia, the Middle East, and the Arabian Peninsula to reach the Sinai desert (Egypt).
    • After breeding in the spring, the Asian bustards migrate south to spend the winter in Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and nearby Southwest Asia.
    • Reasons for Decline: Poaching, unregulated hunting, along degradation of its natural habitat.
    • Its IUCN status is Vulnerable.

Fruit flies

  • Context:
    • A study reveals Fruit flies evolve in response to the environment.
  • Drosophila/Fruit flies
    • Drosophila is a genus of two-winged flies commonly known as fruit flies that are used in evolutionary and developmental studies.
    • It is a genus of flies, belonging to the family Drosophilidae, whose members are often called “small fruit flies” or pomace flies, vinegar flies, or wine flies, a reference to the characteristic of many species to linger around overripe or rotting fruit.
    • It is one of the most widely-used and preferred model organisms in biological research across the world for the last 100 years.
    • Several discoveries in biology have been made using this. Its genome is entirely sequenced and there is enormous information available about its biochemistry, physiology, and behavior.

 

Pollution And Conservation:

Exposure to PM 2.5 raises anemia risk in kids under 5: IIT-Delhi study

  • Context: 
    • A study, titled ‘The Association Between Ambient PM 2.5 Exposure and Anaemia Outcomes Among Children Under Five Years of Age in India’, published in the journal Environmental Epidemiology, conducted by IIT-Delhi has found that extended periods of exposure to PM 2.5 can lead to anaemia among children under the age of 5 years.
  • Findings:
    • The study has found that for every 10 micrograms per meter cube increase in PM2.5 levels exposure, there is a decrease of 0.07 grams per dL in average haemoglobin levels.
    • This is the first study to have been carried out in India, where an association between exposure to PM 2.5 and anaemia in children under the age of 5 years in India has been examined and established, even as numerous other studies have looked at other detrimental health impacts of particulate matter.
    • The study is important because so far anaemia has been looked at through the prism of nutrition deficiency, specifically that of iron.
    • But even if government programmes like Poshan Abhiyan were strengthened, till air pollution is curtailed or exposure of children to PM 2.5 is brought down, anaemia is likely to continue to persist.
    • Children with anaemia were on average slightly younger compared with children without anaemia, tended to be from lower wealth index levels, and had higher percentages of maternal anaemia.
    • Studies linking anaemia to PM2.5 have been few and those that have been carried out have been mostly in the US, Europe, and China.
  • NHFS Data:
    • According to the India National Family and Health Survey 2015–2016 (NFHS-4), 53.1% of women in India with 15–49 years of age and 58.5% of children under five were anaemic.
    • The introduction of the National Iron Plus Initiative in 2011 sought to expand the beneficiaries of the National Nutritional Anaemia Prophylaxis Program to children with 6–59 months of age and although anaemia decreased by about 11% between 2006 and 2016, it remains a major issue.

Green tax

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Centre announced its plans to impose a “green tax” on older vehicles in a move to disincentive the use of polluting vehicles and to curb pollution in the country.
  • What is Green Tax?
    • Personal vehicles will be charged a tax at the time of renewal of Registration Certification after 15 years.
    • The policy will come into effect from April 1, 2022.
    • The levy may differ depending on fuel (petrol/diesel) and type of vehicle.
    • The proposal will now go to the States for consultation before it is formally notified.
    • It includes 10-25% of road tax on transport vehicles older than eight years at the time of renewal of fitness certificate.
    • The proposal on green tax also includes a steeper penalty of up to 50% of road tax for older vehicles registered in some of the highly polluted cities in the country.
    • Revenue collected from this tax will be kept in a separate account and will be used for tackling pollution, and for States to set up state-of-art facilities for emission monitoring.
    • Exemptions:
      • Vehicles like strong hybrids, electric vehicles, and those running on alternate fuels like CNG, ethanol, and LPG and vehicles used in farming, such as tractors, harvesters, and tillers will be exempted.

Gujarat's river pollution

  • Context: 
    • The MoEF claims Gujarat has 20 polluted rivers and streams, including big rivers like Sabarmati, Narmada, and Mahi.
  • Present situation:
    • The unchecked flow of untreated industrial effluent into rivers in Gujarat has led to increasing pollution in the Sabarmati, Mahisagar, Narmada, Vishwamitri, and Bhadar.
    • As per the official parameters, if the chemical oxygen demand (COD), which indicates organic pollutant load, is higher than 250 mg per litre, then it should not be released into the rivers.
    • In most of the Gujarat rivers where the effluents are dumped into, the COD level is in the range of 700 to 1000 mg per litre.
    • While the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) level (indicating the health of a river) in perennial rivers like Mahisgar should be in the range of 6 to 8 mg per litre, it is actually below 2.9 mg per litre.

Environment:

Dzukou valley wildfire

  • Context:
    • The Indian Air Force has engaged a Mi-17V5 helicopter to tame a massive wildfire in Dzukou Valley, a popular trekking destination on the Manipur-Nagaland border.
  • About Dzukou Valley:
    • The Dzüko Valley is a valley located at the borders of the states of Nagaland and Manipur in Northeast India.
    • This valley is well known for its natural environment, seasonal flowers, and flora and fauna.
    • It is situated at an altitude of 2452 m above sea level.
    • The valley is famous for its wide range of flowers in every season but the most famous one is the Dzüko Lily and it is found only in this valley.
    • The valley is located around 30km from Nagaland’s capital Kohima.
    • It is a famed sanctuary endangered Blyth’s tragopan – Nagaland’s State Bird.
    • Blyth’s tragopan: Nagaland’s State Bird.
    • Rivers: Dzüko River
    • As the wildfire was spreading very alarmingly and needed immediate attention before it spread towards Mt Iso.

Elephant corridor

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court appointed conservationist Nandita Hazarika as Member of a Technical Committee constituted by it on October 14, 2020 to hear complaints by land owners against the action taken by the Nilgris Collector, which included sealing of their buildings and allegations about the “arbitrary variance in acreage of the elephant corridor.”
  • Background:
    • In 2011, the Madras HC upheld the validity of the Tamil Nadu government’s notification (of 2010) declaring an ‘Elephant Corridor’ in the Sigur Plateau of Nilgiris District.
    • Government is fully empowered under the 'Project Elephant' of the Union government as well as Article 51 A(g) of the Constitution to notify the elephant corridor in the state’s Nilgiris district.
    • The corridor is situated in the ecologically fragile Sigur plateau, which connects the Western and the Eastern Ghats and sustains elephant populations and their genetic diversity.
    • It is situated near the Mudumalai National Park in the Nilgiris district.
    • It has the Nilgiri Hills on its southwestern side and the Moyar River Valley on its north-eastern side.
    • The elephants cross the plateau in search of food and water.
    • There are about 100 elephant corridors in India of which almost 70% are used regularly.
  • Elephant Corridors
    • Elephant corridors are narrow strips of land that connect two large habitats of elephants.
    • Elephant corridors are crucial to reduce animal fatalities due to accidents and other reasons.
    • So fragmentation of forests makes it all the more important to preserve migratory corridors.

“Atmosphere & Climate Research-Modelling Observing Systems & Services (ACROSS)” scheme

  • Context:
    • The scheme was recently reviewed by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • ACROSS Scheme:
    • ACROSS scheme pertains to the atmospheric science programs of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
    • It addresses different aspects of weather and climate services, which includes warnings for cyclone, storm surges, heatwaves, thunderstorms, etc.
    • Each of these aspects is incorporated as nine sub-schemes under the umbrella scheme “ACROSS” and is implemented in an integrated.
  • Benefits of the Scheme:
    • The scheme will provide improved weather, climate, and ocean forecast and services, thereby ensuring the transfer of commensurate benefits to the various services.
    • It will also provide a sizable number of scientific and technical staff along with requisite administrative support, thereby generating employment.
    • To ensure last-mile connectivity of the weather-based services to the end-user, a large number of agencies like the Krishi Vigyana Kendras of ICAR, Universities, and local municipalities are roped in thus generating employment opportunities for many people.

Why forest fires are common in Himachal Pradesh?

  • Context:
    • Himachal Pradesh frequently witnesses forest fires during dry weather conditions. This month, a forest fire that started near Kullu raged for several days before being brought under control. Forest fires were also reported in Shimla and other parts of the state.
  • What is the forest cover of Himachal Pradesh?
    • Although two-thirds of the total geographical area of Himachal Pradesh is legally classified as a forest area, much of this area is permanently under snow, glaciers, cold desert, or alpine meadows and is above the tree line.
    • This leaves an effective forest cover of around 28% of the total area which amounts to 15,434 square kilometers, as per the Forest Survey of India.
    • Chir Pine, Deodar, Oak, Kail, Fir, and Spruce are some of the common trees found here.
  • What causes the fire?
    • Natural causes such as lightning or rubbing of dry bamboos with each other can sometimes result in fires, but forest officials maintain that almost all forest fires can be attributed to human factors.
    • When the grass is dry, even a small spark, such as someone dropping a burning matchstick, torchwood, or a bidi/cigarette, can cause a massive fire.
    • A spark can also be produced when dry pine needles or leaves fall on an electric pole.
    • People who frequently pass through a forest to gather minor produce, take their animals for grazing or for other purposes may set up a temporary hearth to cook food or warm themselves.
    • If they leave behind a smouldering fire, it can develop into a forest fire. Also, when people burn their fields to clear them of stubble, dry grass, or undergrowth, the fire sometimes spreads to the adjoining forest.
  • Steps to prevent and control forest fires:
    • Forecasting fire-prone days using meteorological data, clearing camping sites of dried biomass, early burning of dry litter on the forest floor, growing strips of fire-hardy plant species within the forest, and creating fire lines in the forests are some of the methods to prevent fires (fire lines are strips in the forest kept clear of vegetation to prevent the fire from spreading).
    • Once a fire starts, early detection and quick action by fire-fighting squads are crucial.
    • For such activities, the state forest department has a fire protection and fire control unit.
    • In 1999, the state government notified forest fire rules which restrict or regulate certain activities in and around forest areas such as lighting a fire, burning agricultural stubble or undergrowth (ghasnis), and stacking inflammable forest produce such as dried leaves and firewood.

Assam throws a lifeline to its only Ramsar site

  • Context: 
    • The Kamrup (Metropolitan) district administration authorities have banned community fishing in Deepor Beel to prevent over-exploitation and preserve the only Ramsar site of Assam.
  • Deepor Beel:
    • Deepor Beel is located in the south-west of Guwahati city, in the Kamrup district of Assam, India.
    • It is a permanent freshwater lake, in a former channel of the Brahmaputra River, to the south of the main river.
    • It is a wetland under the Ramsar Convention which has listed since November 2002, for undertaking conservation measures on the basis of its biological and environmental importance.
    • Considered as one of the largest beels in the Brahmaputra valley of Lower Assam, it is categorized as a representative of the wetland type under the Burma monsoon forest biogeographic region.
    • It is also an important bird sanctuary habituating many migrant species.
    • Freshwater fish is a vital protein and source of income for these communities; the health of these people is stated to be directly dependent on the health of this wetland ecosystem.
  • Threats to Ramsar site:
    • Losing connectivity with small rivers such as Kalmoni, Khonajan, and Basistha that used to flow via the Mora Bharalu channel through Guwahati has also contributed significantly to the shrinkage.
    • Expansion of the city, encroachment upon the natural channels through Guwahati and from the hills around, and a municipal waste dump at Boragaon almost on the edge of the wetland were the other factors.

Birds conservation

  • Context:
    • Habitat management of birds, preventing breeding inside airports, and discouraging people from dumping waste near airports and airfields can reduce hazards posed by birds to aircraft, a publication by the Salim Ali Centre For Ornithology and Natural History (SACON).
  • Key Highlights:
    • The document, “Best Practices for Mitigation of the Hazards Posed by Birds to Aircraft”, made public by SACON.
    • Location-specific habitat management information is needed to reduce the number of bird-aircraft conflicts.
    • The habitat management is aimed at reducing the attractiveness of sites for challenging bird species by reducing the availability of food, water, cover, and roosting sites.
    • The document states that water flows related to irrigation and water stagnation of any type should be prevented.
    • The experts also recommend that a database be prepared of all bird species within the 10 km radius of airports.
    • They suggest that there is a need for awareness creation and public participation in reducing the hazards posed by birds.
    • Feeding of birds by people close to airports (within a radius of 2 km) should be discouraged and stopped.
    • The scientists also call for discouraging slaughterhouses and dumping of waste very close to airports to avoid carnivorous birds such as kites.
    • The document suggests that to discourage black kites, which are high soarers and pose danger during landing and take-off, airfields must be clear of any animal or bird carcasses.

Asian waterbird census

  • Context:
    • The two-day Asian Waterbird Census-2020 has commenced in Andhra Pradesh under the aegis of experts from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
  • About Asian Waterbird Census:
    • The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) is an international program that focuses on monitoring the status of waterbirds and wetlands.
    • It also aims to increase public awareness on issues related to wetland and waterbird conservation.
    • The census is carried out each January as a voluntary activity at the national and local levels.
    • The AWC is co-coordinated by Wetlands International- as part of the global program, the “International Waterbird Census”.
    • The census has three major objectives:
      • To obtain information on an annual basis of waterbird populations at wetlands in the region during the non-breeding period of most species (January), as a basis for evaluation of sites and monitoring of populations
      • To monitor on an annual basis the status and condition of wetlands
      • To encourage greater interest in waterbirds and wetlands amongst people, and thereby promote the conservation of wetlands and waterbirds in the region.
    • The data collected for the AWC is being used to provide information on wetlands and waterbirds and to encourage local or national conservation measures for important wetlands.
    • The primary role of Wetlands International in coordinating the census is to raise awareness on the importance of waterbirds and wetlands at the international level and for this, it collates information at the regional level.
    • The census is primarily carried out by volunteers from all walks of life: university and school staff and students, nature club members, amateur and professional ornithologists, government and non-governmental agencies, and others.
    • Sites covered include rivers, lakes, reservoirs, tanks, swamps, coastal sites, mangroves and mudflats, reefs, sandy beaches, etc.
    • All species of waterbirds associated with wetlands are entered onto standardized count forms.
    • In India, the AWC is annually coordinated by the Bombay Natural history Society (BNHS) and Wetlands International.
  • Bombay Natural history Society (BNHS):
    • BNHS is a non-government Organisation (NGO) founded in the year 1883.
    • It engages itself in the conservation of nature and natural resources and also in the research and conservation of endangered species.
    • Its mission is to conserve nature, primarily biological diversity through action based on research, education, and public awareness.

Tiger translocation

  • Context:
    • A six-year-old tiger was translocated from the buffer zone of Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve to Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.
  • Need for tigers translocations:
    • The western portion of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, which occupies more than 60% of the total reserve area has only two tigresses presumed to be unfit for reproduction as they are above 18 years.
    • Despite Rajaji having 37 tigers, the eastern part cannot boost numbers in the western portion as the two are divided by a traffic corridor which makes it difficult for the big cats to migrate.
    • Hence, with this relocation, a rise in tiger numbers can be expected in the western part.
  • About Rajaji Tiger Reserve:
    • It is a national park and tiger reserve that encompasses the Shivaliks, near the foothills of the Himalayas.
    • It was declared as a tiger reserve in 2015 and is the second tiger reserve in the Uttarakhand and 48th Tiger Reserve of India.
    • The park extends over the Shivalik Range in the north-west to the Rawasan River in the southeast with the Ganges dividing it into two parts.
    • Some of the basic features of the Shivalik formations are to be seen in the park and is rightly known as a veritable storehouse of Shivalik biodiversity and ecosystems.
    • The western part of the Park consists of the Ramgarh, Kansrao, Motichur, Hardwar, Dholkhand, and Chillawali Ranges.

  • About Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve:
    • It was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park- the first national park in India.
    • It is located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. The Corbett national park has the highest tiger count from the single reserve in the recent Tiger census(carried once in 4 years)
    • The park was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1973- the first to come under the Project Tiger initiative.
    • The tiger reserve is situated in the Shivalik hills of the Himalayas while administratively it spreads over Pauri Garhwal, Nainital, and Almora districts of Uttarakhand State in India.

Harike Wetland

  • Context:
    • Winter migratory waterbirds using the central Asian flyway have started making a beeline to Punjab’s Harike wetland.
  • Harike Wetland:
    • Harike Wetland also is the largest wetland in northern India on the border of the Tarn Taran Sahib district and Ferozepur district of Punjab.
    • The wetland and the lake were formed by constructing the headworks across the Sutlej River in 1953.
    • The headworks is located downstream of the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers just south of Harike village.
    • The rich biodiversity of the wetland plays a vital role in maintaining the precious hydrological balance in the catchment with its vast concentration of migratory fauna.
    • It was accorded as a wetland in 1990, by the Ramsar Convention, as one of the Ramsar sites in India, for the conservation, development, and preservation of the ecosystem.


  • Central Asian flyway:
    • The Central Asian Flyway covers a large continental area of Eurasia between the Arctic and Indian Oceans and the associated island chains.
    • The CAF comprises several important migration routes of waterbirds, most of which extend from the northernmost breeding grounds in Siberia to the southernmost non-breeding wintering grounds in West Asia, India, the Maldives, and British Indian Ocean Territory.
    • India has a strategic role in the flyway, as it provides critical stopover sites to over 90% of the bird species known to use this migratory route.

Sunderbans home to 428 species of birds

  • Context:
    • Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has released a study titled “Birds of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve”. 
  • Key Findings:
    • Out of 428 birds listed, some, like the Masked Finfoot and Buffy fish owl, are recorded only from the Sunderbans.
    • The area is home to nine out of 12 species of kingfishers found in the country as well as rare species such as the Goliath heron and Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
    • India has over 1,300 species of birds and if 428 species of birds are from Sunderbans.
    • It means that one in every three birds in the country is found in the unique ecosystem.
  • Sunderbans:
    • The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world (140,000 ha), lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal.
    • The Indian Sunderbans, which covers 4,200 sq km, comprises the Sunderban Tiger Reserve of 2,585 sq km, home to about 96 Royal Bengal Tigers (as per the last census in 2020 ), is also a world heritage site and a Ramsar Site.
    • It is adjacent to the border of India’s Sundarbans World Heritage site inscribed in 1987.
    • The site is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats, and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests, and presents an excellent example of ongoing ecological processes.
    • The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.

Science And Technology

New Technology:

Draft Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2020

  • Context:
    • The Government of India has released the Draft Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2020.
  • Prepared by:
    • The policy is initiated jointly by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (Office of PSA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
  • Aim:
    • The policy aims to reorient Science Technology & Innovation (STI) in terms of priorities, sectoral focus, and strategies.
  • Why India needs a new STI Policy now?
    • Since 2013 when the last policy was formulated, India made some unprecedented progress in STI.
    • STI in India is undergoing rapid transformation in recent years in terms of relevance, scope, and scale
    • COVID-19 is likely to have a short and medium-term impact on STI Resources, Strategies and Priorities
    • Prime Minister gave a clarion call for achieving an “Atmanirbhar Bharat” that might need a greater focus on the development of indigenous technologies and encouragement to grass root level innovation
    • Rise of disruptive and impactful technologies and challenges, opportunities
    • Strongly connecting S&T to Innovation, Industry, and Society.
  • Important Provisions:
    • STI Observatory and Centralised Database:
      • STIP will lead to the establishment of a National STI Observatory that will act as a central repository for all kinds of data related to and generated from the STI ecosystem. 
      • It will encompass an open centralised database platform for all financial schemes, programmes, grants, and incentives existing in the ecosystem. 
      • The Observatory will be centrally coordinated and organized in distributed, networked and interoperable manner among relevant stakeholders. 
    • Child and Elderly Care:
      • Child-care benefits are proposed to be made gender-neutral, and flexible work timings and adequate parental leave are to be offered to cater to maternity, childbirth, and child care.
      • All publicly-funded research institutions and universities will be asked to provide day-care centres for children of employees, and also have a provision for elderly care.
    • For Disabled:
      • For the benefit of people with disabilities, the policy asks all publicly-funded scientific institutions to make “structural and cultural changes” to support their inclusion.
    • Open Science Policy (One Nation, One Subscription):
      • To make scientific knowledge and data available to all, the government has proposed:
      • To buy bulk subscriptions of all important scientific journals across the world, and provide everyone in India free access to them.
      • To set up a Science, Technology, and Innovation Observatory that will serve as the central repository of all kinds of data generated from scientific research in the country.
    • Research and Education:
      • It proposes to establish Education Research Centres (ERCs) and Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs) to provide research inputs to policymakers and bring together stakeholders.
      • Research and Innovation Excellence Frameworks (RIEF) will be developed to enhance the quality of research along with the promotion of engagements with the relevant stakeholders.
      • A dedicated portal to provide access to the outputs of such publicly-funded research will be created through the Indian Science and Technology Archive of Research (INDSTA).
      • To set up Infrastructure to boost local Research and Development capabilities and reduce large-scale import in selected sectors of domestic importance such as electronic hardware for home appliances, railways, intelligent transport, cleantech, defence, etc.
    • For Strengthening India's Strategic Position:
      • To achieve technological self-reliance and position India among the top three scientific superpowers in the decade to come.
      • To double the number of Full-Time Equivalents (FTE) researchers, Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) and private sector contribution to the GERD every 5 years.
      • Establishment of a Strategic Technology Board that will bridge all strategic government departments, and monitor and recommend technologies to be bought or indigenously made.

5G Technology

  • Context:
    • The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has sought inputs from tele-companies and other industry experts on the sale and use of radiofrequency spectrum over the next 10 years, including the 5G bands.
  • What is 5G technology?
    • 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks. 5G mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum.
    • While the low band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second). 
    • The mid-band spectrum, on the other hand, offers higher speeds compared to the low band but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
    • The high-band spectrum offers the highest speed of all three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength. Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.
  • What are the differences between the previous generations of mobile networks and 5G? 
    • The previous generations of mobile networks are 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.
  • First-generation – 1G
    • The 1980s: 1G delivered analog voice.
  • Second generation – 2G
    • In the early 1990s: 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access).
  • Third generation – 3G
    • In the early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).
  • Fourth-generation – 4G LTE
    • The 2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband.

  • 5G is a unified, more capable air interface. It has been designed with an extended capacity to enable next-generation user experiences, empower new deployment models, and deliver new services.
  • With high speeds, superior reliability, and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms. 5G will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitized logistics — and more — a reality.
  • What are its uses?
    • Advancing societies 
      • 5G opens cutting-edge ways of improving safety and sustainability.
      • Smarter electricity grids for greatly reduced carbon emissions
      • More connected vehicles sharing data to prevent road collisions
      • Faster deployment of emergency services to accidents
      • Connected sensors that can detect and warn of natural disasters early
      • Drones becoming a key tool to accelerate and support emergency situation response
      • Remote expertise with specialists smoothly consulting/diagnosing patients elsewhere
    • Transforming industries 
      • 5G is the foundation for flexible, efficient, and responsible business.
      • Production lines autonomously reacting to supply and demand
      • Digital replicas that can warn about real machinery faults ahead of time
      • Logistic networks autonomously routing goods based on real-world conditions
      • Full traceability down to the individual item at warehouses and ports
      • Remote access to powerful robots and vehicles for improved safety in risky environments
      • Increased use of IoT in agriculture to efficiently grow crops
    • Elevating experiences 
      • 5G sets the stage for more immersive entertainment and more engaging education.
      • Greater realism in VR, AR, and extended reality (XR) with lighter devices
      • Delivering sensory experiences, like touch, through devices
      • More engaging methods of teaching through immersive content
      • Immersive virtual meetings to boost remote team productivity
      • Stable and reliable connectivity in crowded spaces
      • New angles and interactions for live and remote event spectators
      • It is further used across three main types of connected services, including enhanced mobile broadband, mission-critical communications, and massive IoT. 

Space:

Supernovas – Massive Explosions

  • Context: 
    • Researching the mechanisms of Type II supernovas, a team from IIT Guwahati has come up with new insights into the part played by neutrinos in this dramatic death of massive stars.

  • More Info:
    • Many stars, towards the end of their lifetimes, form supernovas – massive explosions that send their outer layers shooting into the surrounding space.
    • Most of the energy of the supernova is carried away by neutrinos – tiny particles with no charge and which interact weakly with matter. 
    • The collaboration includes astrophysicists from Max Planck Institute, Munich, Germany; Northwestern University, Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley, in the U.S.
    • All-stars burn nuclear fuel in their cores to produce energy.
    • The heat generates internal pressure which pushes outwards and prevents the star from collapsing inward due to the action of gravity on its own mass.
    • But when the star ages and runs out of fuel to burn, it starts to cool inside.
    • This causes a lowering of its internal pressure and therefore the force of gravity wins; the star starts to collapse inwards.
    • This builds up shock waves because it happens very suddenly, and the shock wave sends the outer material of the star flying. This is what is perceived as a supernova. This happens in very massive stars.
    • In stars that are more than eight times as massive as the Sun, the supernova is accompanied by a collapsing of the inner material of the dying star – this is also known as core-collapse supernova or Type II supernova.
    • The collapsing core may form a black hole or a neutron star, according to its mass.
  • Three flavours
    • Neutrinos come in three ‘flavours’, another name for ‘types’, and each flavour is associated with a light elementary particle.
    • For instance, the electron-neutrino is associated with the electron; the muon-neutrino with the muon, and the tau-neutrino with the tau particle.
    • As they spew out of the raging supernova, the neutrinos can change from one flavour to another in a process known as neutrino oscillations.
  • Fast oscillations
    • The fast oscillations are important because the researchers find that these can decide the flavour information of the supernova neutrinos.
    • Understanding this is important when one wants to measure the influence of neutrinos and their oscillations on supernova mechanism and heavy element synthesis in stellar environments.

Health:

Bird Flu or Avian Influenza

  • Context:
    • In a bid to curb the spread of the bird flu or avian flu viruses, Central Government has set up a control room in the national capital to monitor the situation and take stock on a daily basis of the preventive and control measures undertaken by the state authorities.

  • What is Bird Flu or Avian Influenza? 
    • It is a highly contagious viral disease caused by Influenza Type A viruses which generally affects poultry birds such as chickens and turkeys.
  • How does the bird flu spread?
    • Wild aquatic birds such as ducks and geese are the natural reservoir of influenza A viruses and the central players in the ecology of these viruses.
    • Many birds carry the flu without developing sickness and shed it in their droppings. Since birds excrete even while flying, they also provide a nice aerosol of influenza virus, shedding it all over the world.
  • Treatment:
    • Antiviral drugs, especially oseltamivir, improve the prospects of survival in humans.
  • Bird Flu in India:
    • India notified the first outbreak of avian influenza in 2006. Infection in humans is not yet reported in India though the disease is zoonotic. 
    • In India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming into India during winter months i.e. from September – October to February – March. The secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out.
  • Action Plan for Prevention, Control & Containment of Avian Influenza:
    • Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) had prepared an action plan in 2005 which was revised in 2006, 2012, 2015 and 2021 for the guidance of State Government for prevention, control and containment of Avian Influenza in India. The action plan calls for:
      • Strengthening the biosecurity of poultry farms, disinfection of affected areas, proper disposal of dead birds/carcasses
      • Timely collection and submission of samples for confirmation and further surveillance
      • Intensification of surveillance plan, as well as the general guidelines for the prevention of disease, spread from affected birds to poultry and humans.
      • Coordination with the forest department for reporting any unusual mortality of birds was also suggested to the States.
      • To keep a vigil on any unusual mortality amongst birds and to report immediately to take necessary measures.

The H5N8 strain

  • The presence of the H5N8 subtype of the Influenza A virus was reported in ducks in parts of Kerala.
  • While it can prove lethal for birds, the H5N8 strain of avian influenza has a lower likelihood of spreading to humans compared to H5N1.
  • While the source of infection is yet to be pinpointed, the role of migratory birds in passing on the virus is suspected.

World's Largest Vaccination Program

  • Context:
    • India began the “World's Largest Vaccination Program”
    • The Prime Minister of India said that India is entering a decisive phase of vaccination in the fight against COVID-19, with the approval of two made-in-India COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Key Points
    • It is India's first-ever adult vaccination drive.
    • The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has granted emergency-use approval for two indigenous vaccines: COVISHIELD by Serum Institute of India and COVAXIN by Bharat Biotech.
    • The two vaccines are found to be safe and no major side effects are expected. However, little pain or redness in the skin can be observed.
    • The vaccines have gone through preclinical animal experiments on animals like rabbits, mice, and hamsters followed by non-human primates.
    • Out of the two vaccines, Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine whereas Covishield is a live vaccine.
    • In the first phase of vaccination, the first 3 crore people to be vaccinated include the healthcare workers and frontline workers.
    • The cost of vaccination for these people will be borne by the government.
  • Government Strategy For Smooth and Effective Drive:
  • Preparatory measures:
    • The key preparatory aspects that have been undertaken include the physical infrastructure, human resources, and training of the vaccinators.
  • The digital aspect:
    • The government has launched the Co-WIN application for the registration of the citizens and to generate digital certificates of vaccination.
  • Community participation:
    • Besides preparatory aspects, community participation has also been emphasised by the Prime Minister. He has urged all to come forward and help in eliminating vaccine hesitancy.
  • Beneficiary identification:
    • Separate templates have been developed for healthcare workers and frontline workers.
    • People above the age of 50 who have comorbidities will be the next to be vaccinated.
    • Aadhar will also be used for beneficiary identification.

The Co-WIN Application

  • To monitor the inoculation drive and track the listed beneficiaries for vaccination on a real-time basis, the central government has developed Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network or Co-WIN application.
  • Co-WIN will facilitate real-time information of vaccine stocks and storage temperature during the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
  • The app will be used as a back-end software during the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
  • The self-registration module of the Co-WIN App has not been released yet.

Covaxin

  • Context:
    • India approves COVID-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin for emergency use
    • It is India’s only indigenous Covid-19 vaccine.
  • Produced By:
    • Developed by Bharat Biotech, Hyderabad in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, Pune
  • Constituents and Action:
    • It is an inactivated vaccine that is developed by inactivating (killing) the live microorganisms that cause the disease.
    • This destroys the ability of the pathogen to replicate but keeps it intact so that the immune system can still recognise it and produce an immune response.
    • It is expected to target more than just the spike protein.
    • It also aims to develop an immune response to the nucleocapsid protein (the shell of the virus that encloses its genetic material).
  • Significance:
    • COVAXIN is more likely to work against newer variants of the virus, including the UK variant, as it contains immunogens (epitopes) from other genes in addition to those from Spike protein.
    • Immunogen is a stimulus that produces a humoral or cell-mediated immune response, whereas antigens are any substance that binds specifically to an antibody.
    • All immunogens are antigens, but all antigens may not be immunogens.
    • Approval of COVAXIN ensures India has an additional vaccine shield especially against potential mutant strains in a dynamic pandemic situation.

Lower breathing frequency

  • Context:
    • In a new study published in Physics of Fluids, a journal of the American Institute of Physics, IIT Madras researchers have found that a lower breathing frequency — and holding one’s breath — increases the risk of virus-laden droplets reaching the deep lung.
  • The complex lung
    • Our bodies fight off much of the aerosols we inhale before they can deposit themselves in the inner lung.
  • The findings
    • The experiments showed that low breathing frequency — the number of breaths per minute —increases the time the virus stays inside, and therefore increases the chances of deposition and consequently infection.
    • The research found a correlation between deposition and the aspect ratio of the capillaries, suggesting that droplets are likely to deposit in longer bronchioles.
    • Diffusion and impaction are two of the three mechanisms by which aerosols are deposited in various regions of the lung, the third being sedimentation (under the effect of gravity).
    • Impaction happens when the droplets are moving so fast that they do not faithfully follow the air, and instead “impact” the walls of the bronchi.  This is aided by the fluctuations in the air causing droplets to move towards bronchiole walls.
    • Turbulence — which is the study associated with deposition by impaction — is the primary mode of deposition in the upper bronchi where the air velocity is high. But once the air reaches the deep lung, it is slowed down significantly, resulting in gas transport aided by diffusion.

Miscellaneous:

Banana Grit 

  • Context:
    • Scientists at the CSIR-National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology(NIIST) in Kerala have come up with a new product called banana grit or granules.
  • Info:
    • The product resembles ‘rava’ and broken wheat. Billed as an ideal ingredient for a healthy diet, banana grit can be used for making a wide range of dishes, according to the NIIST.
  • Purpose:
    • The product has been labelled as an ideal ingredient for a healthy diet as it utilises the presence of resistant starch in bananas which is reported to improve gut health. Hence, the dishes prepared with banana grit and its byproduct improves gut health.
    • community is widely discussing now to maintain health and well-being.
    • Banana Grit or Granules: It has been developed from raw Nendran bananas. 
  • Significance:
    • Developing new uses for Nendran Banana comes as a boon to farmers who have often been struggling against falling prices.
  • Nendran bananas:
    • Chengazhikodan Nendran Banana, also known as Chengazhikode Banana, is among the most popular traditional fruits cultivated in Thrissur district, Kerala.
    • This variety of Nendran Banana is famed for its characteristic taste, bunch shape, and fruit colour.
    • The crop is mainly cultivated in organic mode and the crop duration is 13-14 months.
    • The Chengalikodan Nendran banana grown in Kerala got a Geographical indication (GI) tag in 2014.
  • Where is it cultivated?
    • It is now cultivated on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river. It has got the Geographical indication registration from the Geographical Indications Registry, Chennai.
  • Uses:
    • Generally consumed ripe, it also finds use in typical Kerala dishes such as avial and thoran.

Romulus’ krait

  • Context:
    • A study of snakes in southern and western India has identified a new species of snake.
  • More Info:
    • Named the Romulus’ krait (Bungarus romulusi) after the ‘snake man of India’, Romulus Whittaker, the species has so far remained undetected because of its similarity in appearance to the common krait (B. caeruleus) and only a careful genetic analysis revealed that the two were distinct species.
    • The study also showed that some kraits in Maharashtra that were misidentified as the Wall’s Sind krait were actually the same as the Sind krait which is also found in parts of Pakistan and Rajasthan and has been identified as the snake with the most potent venom in India.
    • “The Romulus’ krait and common krait are so hard to distinguish that even herpetologists with years of experience couldn’t tell that it could be a distinct species through casual observation.
    • The venom of the Sind krait was 12–13 times as potent as that of the common krait, whereas the venom of the Romulus’ krait was about six times as potent.
    • When the Indian antivenoms were tested for their ability to neutralise the venoms of these cryptic kraits, they were found to be ineffective.
    • This is because these antivenoms are made to protect against the bites of the ‘big four’ Indian snakes – the spectacled cobra (Naja naja), common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) and saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus).

Antivenom

  • Antivenom is currently produced by a century-old process — a small amount of venom is injected into a horse (or a sheep), which produces antibodies that are then collected and developed into antivenom.
  • This is expensive, cumbersome, and comes with complications. Some of the antibodies raised from the horse may be completely irrelevant.

Covid-19 Mutant Strain

  • Context:
    • U.K. variant of the virus, with all signature changes, is now successfully isolated and cultured at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) from the clinical specimens collected from UK-returnees.
  • What is the Covid-19 mutant strain?
    • It has been named VUI-202012/01 (the first “Variant Under Investigation” in December 2020) and is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. 
  • How harmful is the new Covid strain?
    • This new variant is showing some 17 changes in the genome, this is a very large change. Due to this change, the transmissibility of this virus has also changed and is 70% more infectious compared to the earlier variant.
    • There is a high possibility that the new strain is still in the UK as it has not been detected in other parts of Europe.
  • What is does culture mean?
    • Culture is the process by which cells are grown under controlled conditions, generally outside their natural environment.

Miscellaneous

Exercise And Operation:

Exercise Name Operation
Exercise Kavach
  • It is a Joint Military exercise involving assets of the Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, and Indian Coast Guard.
  • It is being conducted in the coming week under the aegis of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), the only Joint Forces Command of the country.
  • The tri-services exercise aims to fine-tune joint war-fighting capabilities and SOPs towards enhancing operational synergy.

Defense:

Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas

  • Context:
    • In the biggest indigenous defense deal, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the manufacture of 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) at a cost of around ₹47,000 crores.
    • This deal would be a game-changer for self-reliance in Indian defense manufacturing.
  • About Tejas:
    • Tejas is an Indian single-engine, fourth-generation, multirole light fighter designed Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy.
    • It came from the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program, which began in the 1980s to replace India's aging MiG-21 fighters.
    • In 2003, the LCA was officially named “Tejas”.
    • The Tejas is the second supersonic fighter developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) after the HAL HF-24 Marut.

Pawan Hans disinvestment

  • Context:
    • Centre extends bidding deadlines for Pawan Hans disinvestment
  • About disinvestment:
    • The government had invited expressions of interest from bidders for its 51% stake in mini-Ratna PSU Pawan Hans.
    • The Finance Ministry has extended the bidding deadlines for the strategic disinvestment of Pawan Hans by a month, citing logistical challenges faced by interested bidders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • This marks another setback for the government’s already dented plans to raise ₹2.1 lakh crore through disinvestment in 2020-21, with just about ₹14,000 crores raised so far through minority stake sales.
    • The balance 49% stake in the firm is owned by ONGC, and the successful bidder would get an option to buy out the oil major’s stake on similar price and terms as agreed for the Centre’s stake.
  • About Pawan Hans:
    • Pawan Hans Limited is a helicopter service company based in New Delhi, India. Pawan Hans is a Mini Ratna-I category PSU. 
    • Other than providing helicopter services to ONGC to its off-shore locations, this public sector company is often engaged in providing services to various state governments in India, particularly in North-east India, Inter-island ferry services in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and for the last 26 years service to Lakshadweep Administration in ferrying people from Islands to Kochi Intl airport and inter-island services.
    • These are considered as the backbone of Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands which are far-flung from Indian shores extending up to 400–500 km into the Arabian sea.

Defense budget

  • Context
    • The allocated capital budget for defense has been fully utilized since 2016-17, reversing the previous trends of the surrender of funds, according to the Economic Survey 2020-21.
  • About:
    • The allocation of the defense budget. including civil estimates and pensions for 2020-21, was ₹4,71,378.00 crore.
    • Due to the long procurement process and delays in finalizing deals in time in the past, unused funds had been returned at the end of the financial year.
    • Last year, the armed forces went for a series of emergency procurements since the stand-off with China in May along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.
    • Talking of efforts to boost the indigenization of weapons systems, the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) and Ordnance Factories (OFs) were striving to increase the indigenous content of the equipment and products manufactured by them.
    • The indigenous content [Degree of Indigenisation] as of March 31, 2020, was 74.56%,”.
    • To boost private sector participation in domestic manufacturing the DPSUs and OFs have been outsourcing many of their requirements, and “the value of outsourcing in terms of the value of production for the FY 2019-20 stands at 41.70%.”.
    • Further, over the years, a wide vendor base had been developed that included a large number of medium and small-scale enterprises and large industries.
    • Exports from the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the DPSUs, and the private sector had increased.
    • Since the opening of the defense sector to private participation in 2001, so far 44 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) proposals and Joint Ventures have been approved for the manufacture of various equipment, both in the public and the private sectors.
    • Also, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) had issued 496 industrial licenses to private companies till September 2020 for the manufacture of a wide range of items.

Silent cyber risks

  • Context:
    • Irdai panel proposes norms for rising ‘silent cyber risks’
  • About silent cyber:
    • Silent cyber is the unknown exposure in an insurer’s portfolio created by a cyber peril, which has not been explicitly excluded or included.
    • This is also known as “unintended” or “non-affirmative” cyber coverage.
    • With technology improving and digital business expanding, silent cyber risks, especially in the banking sector, have also increased.
    • A cyber event can trigger losses across various lines of insurance.

Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/cyber-security-challenges-and-way-forward-for-india/

Places in News

 

Place in News Why In News, And Some Information About the Place
Estonia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic
  • Context:
    • Government of India to open three missions in Estonia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic in 2021.
Estonia

  • About:
    • It is the northernmost of the three Baltic states.
    • Baltic states, the northeastern region of Europe containing the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.
    • The Baltic region is not rich in natural resources. Though Estonia is an important producer of oil shale, a large share of mineral and energy resources is imported.
    • Significance: Opening of Indian Missions in these countries will help expand India’s diplomatic footprint, deepen political relations, enable the growth of bilateral trade, investment, and economic engagements, facilitate stronger people-to-people contacts, bolster political outreach in multilateral fora and help garner support for India’s foreign policy objectives.
Paraguay

  • It is a landlocked country in south-central South America.
  • Rivers provide access to the Atlantic Ocean and serve as sites for the hydroelectric power plants that have made Paraguay one of the world’s largest exporters of hydropower.
  • Paraguay is a member of MERCOSUR.
  • The Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR for its Spanish initials) is a regional integration process, initially established by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and subsequently joined by Venezuela and Bolivia.
  • India has a preferential trade agreement with MERCOSUR.
Dominican Republic

  • It is a country of the West Indies that occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, the second-largest island of the Greater Antilles chain in the Caribbean Sea.
  • It had set up its mission in Delhi in 2006.
  • India’s exports to the Dominican Republic are small but growing. Bilateral two-way trade stands at around USD 120 million.
  • The main items of India’s exports are cotton textiles and readymade garments, drugs and pharmaceuticals, furniture, transport equipment, manufactures of metals, chemicals, plastic and linoleum products, tea, processed foods, and marine products.
Argentina

  • Context:
    • Argentina has legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy.
  • About:
    • Argentina, a country of South America, covering most of the southern portion of the continent.
    • The country is bounded by Chile to the south and west, Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, and Brazil, Uruguay, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
Paradip Port

  • Context:
    • Cabinet approves Deepening and Optimization of Inner Harbour Facilities at Paradip Port.
  • About
    • On commissioning of the project, it shall cater to the requirement of coal & limestone imports besides export of granulated slag & finished steel products.
    • The project shall also facilitate (i) de-congestion of the Port, (ii) reduce Sea freight making coal imports cheaper, and (iii) boost the industrial economy in the hinterland of the port leading to the creation of jobs opportunities.
  • Paradip Port:
    • Paradip Port is a natural, deep-water port on the East coast of India in the Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha.
    • It is situated at the confluence of the Mahanadi river and the Bay of Bengal.
    • The port is administered by the Paradip Port Trust (PPT), an autonomous corporation under the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963 functioning under the Ministry of Shipping
Strait of Gibraltar

  • Context:
    • Hours before the Brexit transition period ended on New Year’s Eve, Spain announced it had struck a deal with the  UK to maintain free movement to and from Gibraltar.
  • About:
    • Location: It is located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. it is bordered to the north by Spain.
    • Governance: Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar is self-governing, with some responsibilities, such as defence and foreign relations, remaining with the British government.
    • History: In 1704, Anglo-Dutch forces captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession. The territory was ceded to Great Britain in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
    • Strait of Gibraltar: It is a narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Gibraltar and Peninsular Spain in Europe from Morocco and Ceuta (Spain) in Africa.
Dzukou valley
  • Context:
    • A huge wildfire in Dzukou valley located on the ManipurNagaland border caused severe damage to the environment.
  • About:
    • Location: This valley is located at the border of the states of Nagaland and Manipur.
    • It is a sanctuary for the endangered Blyth's tragopan – Nagaland's State Bird.
    • It is famous for its wide range of flowers in every season. Rare Dzükou Lily is found only in this valley.
    • This valley is the valley of flowers of the Nagaland State.
Thousand Islands (Kepulauan Seribu)

  • Context:
    • On 9 January 2021, a Boeing 737-500 (PK-CLC) operating Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 went missing after taking off from Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta Airport on route to Pontianak Supadio Airport. The aircraft crashed near the Thousand Islands.
  • About:
    • Thousand Islands (Kepulauan Seribu) are a chain of islands north of Jakarta’s coast, Indonesia.
    • There are exactly 110 islands that together form a District, encompassing the Pulau Seribu National Marine Park.
    • These islands are initially caused by volcanoes.
    • Later, the shifting of tectonic plates results in their consolidation as a grouping of small islands in a relatively small area.
Lake Chad

  • Context:
    • India has expressed serious concern over the security situation in the Sahel and Lake Chad region in West Africa.
    • India also condemned terrorist attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region and by Islamic State in West Africa.
  • About:
    • Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in central Africa, which has varied in size over the centuries.
    • The freshwater lake is located in the Sahelian zone of West-central Africa. Lake Chad is mainly in the far west of Chad, bordering on northeastern Nigeria.
    • Lake Chad provides water to more than 30 million people living in the four countries surrounding it (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria) on the central part of the Sahel.
    • It is the largest lake in the Chad Basin.
    • The Chari River, fed by its tributary the Logone, provides over 90% of the lake's water, with a small amount coming from the Yobe River in Nigeria/Niger.
    • Despite high levels of evaporation, the lake is freshwater.
Jiadhal River

  • Context:
    • Thousands descended on the National Highway-15 to protest against the state government’s alleged tardiness to control the erratic flooding of the Jiadhal river.
  • About:
    • It is a Northern Sub-tributary of the river Brahmaputra originates in the sub-Himalayan mountains of Arunachal Pradesh.
    • After passing through a narrow gorge in Arunachal Pradesh, the river enters the plains of Assam in Dhemaji district where it flows in braided channels.
    • The river is known as ‘Kumotiya’ from the Railway line to the Gogamukh – Ghilamara P.W.D. road wherefrom it is known as the river ‘Sampara’.
    • The river finally debouches into the river Brahmaputra near Selamukh.
    • But after the construction of the embankment over the Kherkutiya Suti of the Brahmaputra, the river falls into the Subansiri River.
Pong Dam

  • Context:
    • Nepal and China have announced the revised height of Mount Everest as 8,848.86 metres. The new height is 86 cm more than the previous measurement.
  • About Pong Dam:
    • The Pong Dam is also known as the Beas Dam.
    • It is an earth-fill embankment dam on the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh.
    • The lake created by the dam, Maharana Pratap Sagar, is a renowned bird sanctuary.
    • The purpose of the dam is water storage for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation.
Duqm Port

  • The port is located on Oman’s southern coast and also provides access onward into the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aden.
  • The port is near the Chabahar and Gwadar ports.
  • India and Oman finalized an agreement that will see India gain access to the strategically located port of Duqm.
  • The Indian Navy will be able to use the port for logistics and thereby allowing it to sustain long-term operations in the western Indian Ocean.
  • Moreover, a dry dock will be available to the Indian Navy at Duqm thereby allowing for maintenance without returning vessels to India-based shipyards.
  • A cause of concern for India would be that the SEZ in Duqm is being financed and has a considerable presence in China
  • The Duqm port would enhance the sustainable security network of India in the Indian Ocean region against piracy and the growing presence of China.

 

Index in News

 

International/National Index
India Innovation Index by NITI Aayog
  • Context:
    • The second edition of the NITI Aayog’s India Innovation Index has been released.
  • Performance of various states:
    1. Karnataka is the most innovative state for the second year in a row.
    2. Maharashtra pipped Tamil Nadu to the second spot.
    3. Bihar was featured at the bottom of the list.
  • About the index:
    • The index attempts to create an extensive framework for the continual evaluation of the innovation environment of states and union territories in India and intends to perform the following three functions:
      • Ranking of states and UTs based on their index scores.
      • Recognizing opportunities and challenges.
      • Assisting in tailoring governmental policies to foster innovation.
  • The Index is calculated as the average of the scores of its two dimensions – Enablers and Performance:
    • The Enablers are the factors that underpin innovative capacities, grouped in five pillars: (1) Human Capital, (2) Investment, (3) Knowledge Workers, (4) Business Environment, and (5) Safety and Legal Environment.
    • The Performance dimension captures benefits that a nation derives from the inputs, divided into two pillars: (6) Knowledge Output and (7) Knowledge Diffusion
COVID-19 performance ranking
  • Context:
    • The COVID-19 “performance index” has been put together by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.
  • About the Index:
    • The index seeks “to gauge the relative performance of countries”.
    • The index is based on six different indicators, including confirmed cases and deaths per million people and the scale of testing.
    • Publicly available and comparable data on Covid-19 response was used for this index.
  • How were the countries ranked?
    • Countries were sorted into broad categories on the basis of regions, political systems, population size, and economic development.
    • This was done to determine the variations that may have existed in the way different nations handled the pandemic.
    • China was excluded from the list due to a lack of publicly available data.
  • Performance of various countries:
    1. New Zealand, Vietnam, and Taiwan have been ranked in the top three spots, respectively.
    2. India has ranked 86th.
    3. Sri Lanka was the best faring nation in South Asia, ranking 10.
    4. The Maldives was at 25, Pakistan at 69, Nepal at 70, and Bangladesh at 84.
    5. The lowest score was given to Brazil.
    6. Mexico, Colombia, Iran, and the United States too featured among the bottom five countries in terms of performance.

 

Schemes in News

 

Scheme Concerned Ministry Features
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE & FARMERS WELFARE
  • Context:
    • The scheme completes five years.
  • About PMFBY:
    • Launched in 2016.
    • Merged schemes include National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (MNAIS).
    • It aims to reduce the premium burden on farmers and ensure early settlement of crop assurance claim for the full insured sum.
  • Coverage:
    • The Scheme covers all Food & Oilseeds crops and Annual Commercial/Horticultural Crops for which past yield data is available and for which requisite number of Crop Cutting Experiments (CCEs) are being conducted under General Crop Estimation Survey (GCES).
  • PMFBY to PMFBY 2.0:
    • Completely Voluntary: It has been decided to make enrolment 100% voluntary for all farmers from 2020 Kharif.
    • Limit to Central Subsidy: The Cabinet has decided to cap the Centre’s premium subsidy under these schemes for premium rates up to 30% for unirrigated areas/crops and 25% for irrigated areas/crops.
    • More Flexibility to States: The government has given the flexibility to states/UTs to implement PMFBY and given them the option to select any number of additional risk covers/features like prevented sowing, localised calamity, mid-season adversity, and post-harvest losses.
    • Penalising the Pendency: In the revamped PMFBY, a provision has been incorporated wherein if states don’t release their share before March 31 for the Kharif season and September 30 for rabi, they would not be allowed to participate in the scheme in subsequent seasons.
    • Investing in ICE Activities: Insurance companies have to now spend 0.5% of the total premium collected on information, education, and communication (IEC) activities.
Ayushman Bharat: Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY)
Ministry of health and family welfare
  • Context:
    • The 'Ayushman CAPF' scheme was launched recently, extending the benefit of the central health insurance programme to the personnel of all armed police forces in the country.
  • Key features of the scheme:
    • Under this scheme, around 28 lakh personnel of CAPF, Assam Rifles, and National Security Guard (NSG) and their families will be covered by 'Ayushman Bharat: Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana' (AB PM-JAY)
  • Key Features of PM-JAY:
    1. The world’s largest health insurance/ assurance scheme fully financed by the government.
    2. It provides coverage of 5 lakhs per family per year, for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization across public and private empaneled hospitals in India.
    3. Coverage: Over 10.74 crore poor and vulnerable entitled families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) are eligible for these benefits.
    4. Provides cashless access to health care services for the beneficiary at the point of service.
  • Eligibility:
    • No restrictions on family size, age, or gender.
    • All pre–existing conditions are covered from day one.
    • Covers up to 3 days of pre-hospitalization and 15 days of post-hospitalization expenses such as diagnostics and medicines.
    • The benefits of the scheme are portable across the country.
    • Services include approximately 1,393 procedures covering all the costs related to treatment, including but not limited to drugs, supplies, diagnostic services, physician’s fees, room charges, surgeon charges, OT and ICU charges, etc.
    • Public hospitals are reimbursed for the healthcare services at par with the private hospitals.
Faceless tax scheme
Ministry of Finance
  • Context:
    • The government’s faceless tax assessment scheme has managed to deliver about 24,000 final orders since its introduction in August 2020.
  • About Faceless tax scheme:
    • In the Union Budget 2019, the Finance Minister proposed the introduction of a scheme of faceless assessment.
    • It is an attempt to remove individual tax officials’ discretion and potential harassment for income taxpayers.
    • The scheme allows for appropriate cases where a certain hearing is necessary, so then after following protocols, a hearing is given.
    • The main objective is to remove physical interaction as much as possible.
New Industrial Development Scheme for Jammu & Kashmir (J&K IDS,2021)
Ministry of Commerce & Industry
  • Context:
    • The government of India has formulated New Industrial Development Scheme for Jammu & Kashmir (J&K IDS, 2021) for the development of Industries in the UT of Jammu & Kashmir.
  • About the scheme:
    • J&K IDS, 2021 is a Central Sector Scheme. The scheme aims to take industrial development to the block level in UT of J&K, which is the first time in any Industrial Incentive Scheme of the Government of India.
    • The financial outlay of the proposed scheme is Rs.28400 crore for the scheme period 2020-21 to 2036- 37.
    • Scheme while encouraging new investment, also nurtures the existing industries in J&K by providing them working capital support at the rate of 5% for 5 years.
  • Objective:
    • The main purpose of the scheme is to generate employment which directly leads to the socio-economic development of the region.
    • • It aims at the development of Manufacturing as well as Service Sector Units in J&K.
  • Key Features of the Scheme:
    • The scheme is made attractive for both smaller and larger units.
    • It attempts for a more sustained and balanced industrial growth in the entire UT.
    • The scheme has been simplified on the lines of ease of doing business by bringing one major incentiveGST Linked Incentive- that will ensure less compliance burden without compromising on transparency.
    • It is not a reimbursement or refund of GST but gross GST is used to measure eligibility for industrial incentives to offset the disadvantages that the UT of J&K faces.
PM KISAN
MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE & FARMERS WELFARE
  • Context:
    • ₹1,364 crores given to wrong beneficiaries of PM-Kisan.
  • About Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi:
    • It is implemented as a central sector scheme by the Government of India.
    • This scheme was introduced to augment the source of income of many small and marginal farmers.
    • Under the Scheme, an amount of Rs.6000/- per year is transferred directly into the bank accounts of the farmers, subject to certain exclusion criteria relating to higher-income status.
    • The entire responsibility of identification of beneficiaries rests with the State / UT Governments.
  • Ambit:
    • The Scheme initially provided income support to all Small and Marginal Farmers’ families across the country, holding cultivable land up to 2 hectares. Its ambit was later expanded w.e.f. 01.06.2019 to cover all farmer families in the country irrespective of the size of their landholdings.
  • Exceptions:
    • Affluent farmers have been excluded from the scheme such as Income Taxpayers in the last assessment year, professionals like Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Chartered Accountants, etc and pensioners drawing at least Rs.10,000/- per month (excluding MTS/Class IV/Group D employees).
  • Similar programmes by states:
    • Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana- MP.
    • The Rythu Bandhu scheme- Telangana.
    • Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA)- Odisha.

 



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