Monthly Current Affairs for Prelims: March 2021

Please Share with maximum friends to support the Initiative.





This article was originally a part of Samajho's Corner Premium Content but has been unlocked for you to assess our quality of content.
Join Samajho's Corner Now to get full access to all Premium Articles for 18 months.

Table of Contents

 

Art And Culture

Festivals & Culture:

Bharat Parv

  • Context:
    • The annual event Bharat Parv was celebrated from 26th to 31st January 2021 on a virtual platform created by the Ministry of Tourism.
    • On the occasion, the Ministry dedicated three virtual pavilions – Dekho Apna Desh, Statue of Unity & Incredible India.
  • About the Bharat Parv:
    • It envisages generating patriotic fervor and showcases the rich and varied cultural diversity of the country. This event celebrates the “Essence of India”.
    • The Ministry of Tourism organizes Bharat Parv every year since 2016 in front of the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of Republic Day Celebrations from 26th to 31st January.
    • Bharat Parv 2021 showcased many pavilions of Central Ministries, State Theme Pavilions, Handicrafts, Folk performances from various states and UTs, etc.
  • ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ Campaign:
    • It was launched by the Ministry of Tourism in 2020.
    • It is an initiative to encourage the citizens to travel widely within the country and explore the wonders of India thus enabling the development of Domestic Tourism tourist facilities and infrastructure in tourism spots in the country.
    • The Ministry has also organised a series of webinars on various cities, states, cultures, heritage, wildlife, adventure, etc.
  • Statue of Unity:
    • It is the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel monument in the Narmada district of Gujarat.
    • The Statue of Unity, designed by the Indian sculptor Ram V. Sutar is the world’s tallest statue, with a height of 182 metres.
    • Statue of Unity pavilion also exhibited the idea of ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat (EBSB)’ which aims to:
    • Enhance interaction & promote mutual understanding between people of different States/UTs through the concept of State/UT pairing.
    • Promote a sustained and structured cultural connect in the areas of language learning, culture, traditions & music, tourism & cuisine, sports and sharing of best practices, etc.
  • Incredible India Pavilion:
    • It comprised information on UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
    • India has 38 world heritage sites, including 30 cultural properties, 7 natural properties and 1 mixed site. The latest one included is Jaipur city, Rajasthan.

Kuruba community

  • Context:
    • A massive rally was organised by the Kuruba community to urge the state government of Karnataka to recommend the Centre inclusion of the community in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list.
  • About:
    • From Independence, the community enjoyed the ST status. In 1977, Justice LG Havanur, who headed the backward class commission, moved the Kurubas to the ‘most backward classes’ category from ST list.
    • However, the Commission brought in an area restriction stating that those living in Bidar, Yadgir, Kalaburagi, and Madikeri with Kuruba synonyms can continue to avail the ST benefits.
  • About Kurubas:
    • The Kurubas of Karnataka are a traditional sheep rearing community.
    • Presently, the Kurubas constitute 9.3% of the state’s population and come under the backward classes category.
    • Kurubas are the fourth largest caste in Karnataka after the Lingayats, Vokkaligas and Muslims.
    • Kurubas in other states are known by different names – as Dhangars in Maharashtra, Rabaris or Raikas in Gujarat, Dewasis in Rajasthan and Gadarias in Haryana.
  • Related Developments:
    • Demands by Lingayat Community:
      • Three years earlier, the Lingayat community demanded a separate minority religion tag in Karnataka.
      • The Lingayat sub-sect Panchamasali has also demanded its inclusion in the 2A category of backward classes – which currently provides 15% reservations to backward castes.
  • Justice HN Nagamohan Das Commission:
    • The Justice HN Nagamohan Das Commission was constituted to look into increasing the existing reservation for SCs from 15% to 17% and for the STs from 3% to 7% by not exceeding the overall 50% reservation quota as mandated by the Supreme Court's order of 1992.
    • If Kurubas are to be declared ST as per their demand, the quota for STs will have to be proportionally increased.
  • Challenge:
    • The larger issue is that the State has already hit the apex court set 50% cap on the reservation and any hike poses a challenge.

Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:

St. George’s Orthodox Church

  • Context:
    • The centuries-old St. George’s Orthodox Church at Cheppad in Kerala faced demolition for the widening of National Highway 66 but is now set to become a Centrally-protected monument of national importance with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) recognition.
  • About:
    • St George Orthodox church is believed to be established in AD 950 but some experts say it was built in AD 1050.
    • The church was rebuilt in 1952. But, the eastern part of the church was retained (not rebuilt) to preserve the murals.
    • The mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other permanent surfaces.
  • Significance:
    • The most attractive feature of the church is the murals paintings (around 47). These paintings are considered to be over 600 years old. Further, they reflect the blend between traditional Kerala mural art and Persian art.
  • Monuments of National Importance:
    • Nodal Authority:
      • Monuments of National Importance are designated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
    • What is a National Monument?
      • ‘Ancient Monument’ is defined under the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act,1958.
      • The Act defines Ancient Monument as any structure or monument or any cave, rock sculpture, an inscription that is of historical, archaeological interest. Further, Ancient Monument has to be in existence for not less than 100 years.
      • The Central Government is authorised to maintain, protect and promote the Monuments of National Importance.
      • Currently, 3,691 monuments nationwide are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India(ASI). The highest number of them were in Uttar Pradesh followed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Singorgarh Fort

  • Context:
    • The President of India Ram Nath Kovind laid the foundation stone for the conservation works of Singorgarh Fort in Madhya Pradesh.
  • About:
    • It is located in the Damoh district of Madhya Pradesh.
    • It is an old hill-fort of the Gondwana dynasty which is spread over hills in a forested area.
    • It was a magnificent fort and was the residence of Gond rulers of Central India.
    • In the year 1308, Singorgarh was ruled by Vyaghradev Ji who was the ruler of Kumhari and was under the rulers of Kalinjar.
    • It was Gond ruler Sangramshahi who conquered the Singorgarh fort in the early period of the 16th century.

Sattras

  • Context:
    • As the campaign trails of political parties in poll-bound Assam are in full swing, one place – the Bartadrava Than or Sattra in Nagaon, Assam – figures prominently.
  • About:
    • Sattras are monastic institutions created as part of the 16th-century Neo-Vaishnavite reformist movement started by Vaishnavite saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1596).
    • These Sattras/Thans were established as centres of religious, social, and cultural reforms in the 16th century across Assam.
    • Sattras promulgate Sankardeva’s unique “worship through art” approach with music (borgeet), dance (xattriya) and theatre (bhauna).
    • Each Sattra has a naamghar (worship hall) as its nucleus and is headed by an influential “Sattradhikar”. Monks, known as bhakats, are inducted into Sattras at a young age. They may or may not be celibate, depending on the kind of Sattra they are inducted into.
  • Philosophy of Sankardeva:
    • Sankardeva propagated a form of Bhakti called eka-sharana-naam-dhrama.
    • It rejects focus on Vedic ritualism and focuses on devotion (bhakti) to Krishna in the form of congregational listening and singing his name (instead of idol worship) and deeds (Kirtan and sravan).
    • His dharma was based on the four components of deva (god), naam (prayers), bhakats (devotees), and guru (teacher).
    • He espoused a society based on equality and fraternity, free from caste differences, orthodox Brahmanical rituals, and sacrifices.
    • However, due to ideological differences among his disciples, the Sattras got divided (after his demise) into four independent sectarian divisions, deviating from its basic goal.

History

Famous Personalities:

Maharaja Anangpal II

  • Context:
    • The government has recently formed the Maharaja Anangpal II Memorial Committee to popularize the legacy of 11th-century Tomar king, Anangpal II.

  • What is the committee for?
    • The National Monument Authority has embarked on a mission to present “correct history” to the people through the works of historians, academics, and archaeologists.
    • The present committee aims at crediting Tomar king, Anangpal II by giving Delhi its present name and also repopulating it.
  • Who was Anangpal II?
    • Anangpal II, popularly known as Anangpal Tomar, belonged to the Tomar dynasty.
    • It ruled parts of present-day Delhi and Haryana between the 8th and 12th centuries.
    • The capital of Tomars changed many times.
    • It was initially at Anangpur (near Faridabad) during the reign of Anangpal I (who founded the Tomar dynasty in the 8th century).
    • It later changed to Dhillikapuri (Delhi) during the reign of Anangpal II.
    • The Tomar rule over the region is attested by multiple inscriptions and coins.
    • Their ancestry can be traced to the Pandavas (of the Mahabharata).
    • The excavations between 1992 and 1995 at Lal Kot and Anang Tal (in south Delhi), supposed to be built by Anangpal II, reveal the above.
    • Anangpal Tomar II was succeeded by his grandson Prithviraj Chauhan.
    • Chauhan was defeated by the Ghurid forces in the Battle of Tarain (present-day Haryana) after which the Delhi Sultanate was established in 1192.
  • What was his connection with Delhi?
    • Anangpal II is credited to have established and populated Delhi during his reign in the 11th century.
    • He was instrumental in populating Indraprastha and giving it its present name, Delhi.
    • The region was in ruins when he ascended the throne in the 11th century.
    • It was Anangpal II who built Lal Kot fort and Anangtal Baoli.
    • It was discovered recently that Anangpal II was the founder of Dhillikapuri, which eventually became Delhi.
    • Tomars and their Delhi link find mention in some modern-day literature as well.
    • Noted medieval historian Professor KA Nizami’s Urdu book named Ehd-e-Wusta ki Dilli mentions this.
    • It is translated in English as ‘Delhi in Historical Perspectives.
    • It looks at Delhi across six centuries (from 1300 to 1800), tracing the antecedents of Delhi.
    • It refers to Persian annals that describe Delhi as “Inderpat”.
    • And yet, according to the book, Delhi formally emerged as a city only in the 11th century when Tomar Rajputs took over the mountainous Aravalli region.
  • What is the Committee’s mandate?
    • The aim of the ‘Maharaja Anangpal II Memorial Committee’ is to establish Anangpal II as the founder of Delhi.
    • Its proposals seminar includes building a statue of Anangpal II at the Delhi airport and building a museum dedicated to his legacy in Delhi.
    • An exhibition comprising coins, inscriptions and literature held on the sidelines of the seminar will be taken abroad through the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR).
    • This way, the narrative would take roots outside India as well.
    • There is also a proposal to make Lal Kot an ASI-protected monument.
    • If done so, vertical excavation could be carried out to establish more links between Tomars and Delhi.

England's Black Queen

  • Context:
    • The recent statements by the ‘Sussexes’, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, on Oprah Winfrey’s talkshow –– including allegations of racism within the British royal household –– have led to quite an uproar, with opinion sharply divided for and against the couple both inside and outside Britain.
  • What we do know of Queen Charlotte:
    • According to the official website of UK Royals, born “Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 19 May 1744, she was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Elizabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen.
    • The wedding of Princess Charlotte and King George III took place at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, “within six hours of her arrival in England” on September 8, 1761, and their coronation took place on September 22 of that year.

 

  • Where do the claims of Black ancestry come from:
    • The theory seems to have been first propounded by Jamaican-American author Joel Augustus Rogers in 1940, who claimed Queen Charlotte had the “broad nostrils and heavy lips of the Negroid type”. Horace Walpole (1717-1797), an English nobleman and writer, is also said to have described Charlotte as “The nostrils spreading too wide; the mouth has the same fault.”
    • There are also comments ascribed to various characters from that era talking of the Queen’s “ugliness”, which some believe was the perception then of her African facial characteristics.
    • Charles Dickens, for example, in A Tale of Two Cities, writes, “There was a king with a large jaw, and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England” — a description as inadequate as it is uncharitable.
    • There is also a debate over her various portraits, where some observers have claimed that Queen Charlotte’s paintings by Allan Ramsay, a noted anti-slavery activist of the time, show her African features in the most pronounced manner, which other painters might have obliterated, what with Royal portrait makers concerned more with aesthetic appeal than accuracy.

Bir Chilarai Divas

  • Context:
    • 512th Bir Chilarai Divas would be observed all over Assam.
  • About:
    • It is a regional public holiday in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.
    • To honour the courageous and heroic deeds of Bir Chilarai, his birth anniversary is being observed as Bir Chilarai Divas every year.
    • It falls on the Poornima (full moon) of Magha month which usually falls in February in the western calendar.
  • Bir Chilarai (1510-1571 AD):
    • Also know and the Kite Prince of Assam.
    • He was a Great General of the Koch Royal Dynasty of Assam.
    • By his bravery and heroism, he played a crucial role in expanding the great empire of his elder brother, Maharaja Nara Narayan.
    • Originally named Shukladhwaj, he was the son of the Maharaja Viswa Singha, who founded the Koch royal dynasty in 1515 AD.
    • He gained the title Chilarai which means 'Kite Prince' as his military attacks were noted for their speed, like a chila (kite).
    • He died of smallpox on the bank of the Ganges.
    • From the year 2005, the government of Assam has been conferring Bir Chilarai Award, the highest honour for bravery to individuals.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Prime Minister paid homage to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the classical music vocalist, on his centenary birth anniversary.
  • About:
    • Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was born on February 4, 1922.
    • Important Recognition: He received the Bharat Ratna in 2008.
    • Work: He is remembered for his famous ragas including Shuddha Kalyan, Miyan Ki Todi, Puriya Dhanashri and Multani, etc.
    • He belonged to the Kirana Gharana.
    • Kirana Gharana got its name from a small town called Kerana in Uttar Pradesh. It was founded by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Famous artists such as Abdul Wahid Khan, Suresh Babu Mane, Hira Bai Badodekar, and Roshanara Begum belong to this Gharana.
    • He belonged to the school of Hindustani classical music.
  • Hindustani Music:
    • Origin:
      • Hindustani Music is one of the two distinct schools of Indian Classical Music practiced mainly in North India. The other school of Indian Classical Music is Carnatic music which is practiced mainly in Southern India.
      • The historical roots of both the music types belong to the Bharata’s Natyasastra.
      • Hindustani Music is vocal-centric. The major vocal forms associated with Hindustani classical music are the khayal, Ghazal, dhrupad, dhammar, Tarana, and thumri.
      • Most of the Hindustani musicians trace their descent to Tansen.
  • Gharanas:
    • A Gharana is a system of social organisation linking musicians or dancers by lineage or apprenticeship, and by adherence to a particular musical style.
    • Function in guru-shishya parampara, i.e. disciples learning under a particular guru, transmitting his musical knowledge and style.

Gharana  Place Founder
Gwalior Gwalior Nanthan Khan
Agra  Agra  Hajisujan Khan
Rangeela Agra Faiyyaz Khan
Jaipur Atrauli  Jaipur  Alladiya Khan
Kirana  Awadh Abdul Wahid Khan
Banaras Varanasi  Ram Sahai

Battles And Organization:

Dandi March

  • Context:
    • The Prime Minister has flagged off a commemorative ‘Dandi March’ (on 12th March) to launch the celebrations of the 75th year of Independence – ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’.

  • About Dandi March:
    • The Dandi March was an act of nonviolent civil disobedience in colonial India led by Mahatma Gandhi.
    • The twenty-four-day march lasted from 12 March 1930 to 5 April 1930 as a direct action campaign of tax resistance and nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly.
    • Another reason for this march was that the Civil Disobedience Movement needed a strong inauguration that would inspire more people to follow Gandhi’s example.
    • Growing numbers joined them along the way.
    • When Gandhi broke the British Raj salt laws at 6:30 am on 6 April 1930, it sparked large scale acts of civil disobedience against the salt laws by millions of Indians.
  • Followed by Dharasana Satyagraha:
    • After making the salt at Dandi, Gandhi continued southward along the coast, making salt and addressing meetings on the way.
    • The INC planned to stage a satyagraha at the Dharasana Salt Works, 40 km south of Dandi.
    • However, Gandhi was arrested on the midnight of 4–5 May 1930, just days before the planned action at Dharasana.
    • The Dandi March and the ensuing Dharasana Satyagraha drew worldwide attention to the Indian independence movement through extensive newspaper and newsreel coverage.
    • The satyagraha against the salt tax continued for almost a year, ending with Gandhi’s release from jail and negotiations with Viceroy Lord Irwin at the Second Round Table Conference.
  • Its aftermath:
    • The March to Dandi had a significant influence on American activists Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and others during the Civil Rights Movement for African Americans in the 1960s.
    • The march was the most significant organised challenge to British authority since the Non-cooperation movement of 1920–22.
    • It directly followed the Purna Swaraj declaration of sovereignty and self-rule by the Indian National Congress on 26 January 1930.
    • It gained worldwide attention which gave impetus to the Indian independence movement and started the nationwide Civil Disobedience.
  • Effect of the Movement:
    • Civil Disobedience in different forms continued in different provinces. Special stress was laid on the boycott of foreign goods.
    • In eastern India, payment of chowkidari tax was refused. This no-tax campaign became very popular in Bihar.
    • In Bengal, J.N. Sengupta defied Government laws by reading openly the books banned by the government.
    • Defiance of forest laws assumed a mass character in Maharashtra.
    • The movement had taken a firm hold in provinces of U.P., Orissa. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Assam.
  • Significance:
    • Imports from Britain had fallen considerably. For example, imports of cloth from Britain had fallen by half.
    • The movement was more widespread than the previous one. Mass participation including women, peasants, workers, students, urban elements like merchants, shopkeepers provided the Congress a new all-India status.
    • The support that the movement had garnered from the poor and the illiterate both in the town and countryside was remarkable.
    • For Indian women, the movement was the most liberating experience to date and can truly be said to have marked their entry into the public space.
    • Although Congress withdrew the Civil Disobedience in 1934, the movement received global attention and marked a critically important stage in the progress of the anti-imperialist struggle.

Geography

Whitsun Reef

  • Context: 
    • The Philippines government has claimed that around 220 Chinese boats have been spotted at a reef in the South China Sea waters controlled by Manila.

  • More Info:
    • Whitsun Reef is a reef at the northeast extreme limit of the Union Banks in the Spratly Islands of the West Philippine Sea.
    • It is the largest reef of the Union Banks.
    • The reef is V-shaped with an area of about 10 sq. km.
    • Until at least the 1990s it was submerged most of the time and was visible above the water only during the low tide, at other times the reef could be detected due to the pattern of breaking waves.
    • At the end of the 20th-century small sand dunes had developed on the reef making a territorial claim possible (an International Court of Justice judgment in 2012 stated that “low-tide elevations cannot be appropriated”).
    • The development of the dunes could have occurred naturally, but the rumours had it that the island was being built up by Vietnam and China.
  • Territorial disputes
    • As of 2016, the reef was unclaimed, the reports to the contrary (Chinese control) were based on confusion.
    • However, due to the reef’s strategic importance, it was expected that the reef would be occupied “soon”.
    • On 21 March 2021, about 220 Chinese fishing ships were moored at the reef ostensibly taking shelter due to the sea conditions.
  • Why is the Philippines concerned?
    • The Philippines considers the reef to be a part of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and protested the Chinese presence.
    • Currently, Philippine military aircraft and navy are monitoring the situation daily, and China has been warned that there will be an increased military presence to conduct ‘sovereignty patrols’.
    • If China is successful with its moves, the Philippines may lose another fishing ground, similar to what happened in 2012 when China took control of Scarborough Shoal.
  • The larger dispute
    • China and the Philippines, along with other Southeast Asian countries, have long been part of disputes over sovereign claims over the region’s islands, reefs and seabeds.
    • A third of the world’s maritime trade travels through the South China Sea annually.
    • The seabeds here are believed to be reserves of oil and natural gas while being home to fisheries essential for the food security of millions in South Asia.
    • The majority of the disputes concern the lack of adherence to the international ‘Exclusive Economic Zones’ which stretch up to 200 nautical miles from the coast of any state.
    • China, especially, has been notorious for disregarding the law on various occasions.
  • What does China have to say?
    • On the present matter, the Chinese have reiterated that the vessels are mere fishing boats seeking shelter from unruly weather, though no bad weather has been reported in the area.
    • It is also unlikely that fishermen would have the financial capital to remain stationary for weeks on end.
    • Experts say through their present occupation, China might be looking to create a civilian base on the reef, an artificial island or even just control the airspace.
    • It is widely assessed that the Philippines’s soft approach has further strengthened China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

Disputed Islands in the South China Sea

  • It is a dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, and the Paracels and the Spratlys – two island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries.
  • Alongside the fully-fledged islands, there are dozens of rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal.

Who Claims What?

  • China:
    • Claims by far the largest portion of territory – an area defined by the “nine-dash line” which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan.
  • Vietnam:
    • Hotly disputes China’s historical account, saying China had never claimed sovereignty over the islands before the 1940s. Vietnam says it has actively ruled over both the Paracels and the Spratlys since the 17th Century – and has the documents to prove it.
  • Philippines:
    • Both the Philippines and China lay claim to the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China) – a little more than 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from China.
  • Malaysia and Brunei:
    • They lay claim to territory in the South China Sea that they say falls within their economic exclusion zones, as defined by UNCLOS – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Brunei does not claim any of the disputed islands, but Malaysia claims a small number of islands in the Spratlys.

Ken Betwa Link Project

  • Context:
    • Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh signed a memorandum of agreement to implement the Ken Betwa Link Project (KBLP), the first project of the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers.

  • What is the Ken Betwa Link Project?
    • The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for the interlinking of rivers.
    • Under this project, water from the Ken River will be transferred to the Betwa river. Both these rivers are tributaries of the river Yamuna.
    • The project is expected to provide annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh hectares, drinking water supply to about 62 lakh people and also generate 103 MW of hydropower.
  • The Project has two phases:
    • Under Phase-I, one of the components — The daudhan dam complex and its appurtenances like Low-Level Tunnel, High-Level Tunnel, Ken-Betwa link canal and Powerhouses — will be completed.
    • While in Phase-II, three components — Lower Orr dam, Bina complex project and Kotha barrage — will be constructed.
  • Regions benefitting from KBLP
    • The project lies in Bundelkhand, a drought-prone region, which spreads across 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
    • It will be of immense benefit to the water-starved region of Bundelkhand, especially in the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Raisen of Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.
    • It will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor to development in the country.
  • What about the Panna tiger reserve?
    • Out of the 6,017 ha of forest area coming under submergence of Daudhan dam of Ken Betwa Link Project, 4,206 ha of the area lies within the core tiger habitat of Panna Tiger Reserve.
  • Previous examples of river-linking
    • In the past, several river linking projects have been taken up. For instance, under the Periyar Project, the transfer of water from the Periyar basin to the Vaigai basin was envisaged.
    • It was commissioned in 1895.
    • Similarly, other projects such as Parambikulam Aliyar, Kurnool Cudappah Canal, Telugu Ganga Project, and Ravi-Beas-Sutlej were undertaken.
  • Recent developments on the interlinking of rivers in India
    • In the 1970s, the idea of transferring surplus water from a river to a water-deficit area was mooted by the then Union Irrigation Minister Dr K L Rao. Rao, who himself was an engineer, suggested the construction of a National Water Grid for transferring water from water-rich areas to water-deficit areas.
    • Similarly, Captain Dinshaw J Dastur proposed the Garland Canal to redistribute water from one area to another.
    • However, the government did not pursue these two ideas further.
  • The National Perspective Plan
    • It was in August 1980 that the Ministry of Irrigation prepared a National Perspective Plan (NNP) for water resources development envisaging inter-basin water transfer in the country.
    • The NPP comprised two components: (i) Himalayan Rivers Development; and (ii) Peninsular Rivers Development.
    • Based on the NPP, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) identified 30 river links—16 under the Peninsular component and 14 under the Himalayan Component.
    • Later, the river linking idea was revived under the then Vajpayee Government.
    • Ken Betwa Link Project is one of the 16 river linking projects under the Peninsular component.
    • Clearances required for a river-linking project
    • Generally, 4-5 types of clearances are required for the interlinking of river projects.
    • These are Techno-economic (given by the Central Water Commission); Forest Clearance and Environmental clearance (Ministry of Environment & Forests); Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) Plan of Tribal Population (Ministry of Tribal Affairs) and Wildlife clearance (Central Empowered Committee).

India’s drift

  • Context:
    • Using leaf fossils, researchers have found that the Indian monsoon 25 million years ago resembled present-day Australia’s.

  • More Info
    • About 180 million years ago, India separated from the ancient supercontinent Gondwana and took a long northward journey of about 9,000 km to join Eurasia.
    • During this journey, the subcontinent moved from the southern hemisphere, crossed the Equator to reach its current position in the northern hemisphere.
    • Due to these changing latitudes, it experienced different climatic conditions, and a new study has now tried to map these climatic variations using leaf fossils.
  • Clueless over the evolution of monsoon
    • The evolution of the monsoonal climate in India is still debatable and not fully understood.
    • Though recent data indicates that the monsoon system we experience now dates back to about 25 million years, it is still unclear how the climate was during its long voyage.
  • Indian research
    • The researchers analysed the morphological characters of fossil leaves collected from Deccan Volcanic Province, East Garo Hills of Meghalaya, Gurha mine in Rajasthan and Makum Coalfield in Assam.
    • The four fossil assemblages were found to be from four different geological ages.
    • It has been observed from across the globe that plant leaf morphological characters such as apex, base and shape are ecologically tuned with the prevailing climatic conditions.
    • The research applied this model to characterize the past monsoon from fossil leaves.
  • It’s finding
    • The results indicated that the fossil leaves from India were adapted to an Australian type of monsoon and not the current Indian monsoon system during its voyage.
    • The reconstructed temperature data show that the climate was warm (tropical to subtropical) at all the studied fossil sites with temperatures varying from 16.3–21.3 degrees C.
    • All the fossil sites experienced high rainfall, which varied from 191.6 cm to 232 cm.

Suez Canal

  • Context: 
    • A massive cargo ship has turned sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking traffic in a crucial East-West waterway for global shipping.
  • About:
    • The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez; and dividing Africa and Asia.
    • Constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, it officially opened on 17 November 1869.
    • The canal was earlier controlled by British and French interests in its initial years but was nationalized in 1956 by Egypt’s then leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.
    • It extends from the northern terminus of Port Said to the southern terminus of Port Tewfik at the city of Suez.
    • Its length is 193.30 km including its northern and southern access channels.

  • Its significance
    • The Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo being shipping from East to West.
    • It provides a major shortcut for ships moving between Europe and Asia, who before its construction had to sail around Africa to complete the same journey.
    • Around 10 % of the world’s trade flows through the waterway and it remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners.
    • As per a report, the canal is a major source of income for Egypt’s economy, with the African country earning $5.61 billion in revenues from it last year.

Space hurricane

  • Context
    • Satellite observations have revealed an unprecedented ‘space hurricane’ in Earth’s upper atmosphere, for the first time.
  • About:
    • Scientists have previously documented hurricanes in the lower atmospheres of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
    • Similar phenomena (enormous solar tornadoes) have even been spotted in the Sun.
    • But the existence of space hurricanes, hurricane-like circulation patterns in planets’ upper atmospheres, has been uncertain.
    • The space hurricane was detected on August 20, 2014.
    • Researchers at Shandong University in China used satellite data to identify a space hurricane over Earth’s northern magnetic pole.
    • The phenomenon was noticed during a retrospective analysis led by the researchers at the Shandong University in China.
    • The findings were published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Communications. 
  • The discovery:
    • A 'space hurricane' is a swirling mass of plasma. The space hurricane has been spotted in Earth’s ionosphere.
    • The whole thing lasted nearly eight hours, depositing vast amounts of energy and momentum into the ionosphere.
    • The event was a whirling pattern not in the air, but in plasma, ionized gas that is found throughout the Solar System, including in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
    • The hurricane was spinning in a counterclockwise direction (like hurricanes do in the Northern Hemisphere), had multiple spiral arms, and lasted almost eight hours before gradually breaking down.
    • Like its more mundane counterparts, the space hurricane had a quiet center, multiple spiral arms, and widespread circulation.
    • It also featured precipitation, but of energetic electrons rather than water droplets.
    • The authors found that a 3D model could reproduce the event’s main features and explained its formation.
    • Space hurricanes might be universal phenomena at planetary bodies with magnetic fields and plasma across the Universe.
  • Formation:
    • Space hurricanes are caused by plasma unleashed from the sun as the solar wind. These charged particle clouds travel through space and fuel magnetic storms as they interact with magnetic fields.

Society

Health:

MTP Act,2021

  • Context:
    • Recently, Rajya Sabha passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in March 2020. 
    • The Bill seeks to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
  • Provisions:
    • Termination due to Failure of Contraceptive Method or Device:
      • Under the Act, a pregnancy may be terminated up to 20 weeks by a married woman in the case of failure of contraceptive method or device. The Bill allows unmarried women to also terminate a pregnancy for this reason.
    • Opinion Needed for Termination of Pregnancy:
      • Opinion of one registered medical practitioner (instead of two or more) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation.
      • Gestation is the foetal development period from the time of conception until birth.
      • Opinion of two registered medical practitioners for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
      • Opinion of the State-level medical board is essential for a pregnancy to be terminated after 24 weeks in case of substantial foetal abnormalities.
    • Medical Boards:
      • Every state government is required to constitute a Medical Board.
      • These Medical Boards will consist of the following members:
        1. a gynecologist,
        2. a pediatrician,
        3. a radiologist or sonologist, and
        4. any other number of members, as may be notified by the state government.
    • Upper Gestation Limit for Special Categories:
      • It enhances the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women which will be defined in the amendments to the MTP Rules and would include survivors of rape, victims of incest, and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors), etc.
    • Confidentiality:
      • The “name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed”, except to a person authorized in any law that is currently in force.

Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Nidhi

  • Context:
    • Union Cabinet has approved the creation of Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Nidhi (PMSSN).
  • About the fund:
    • It will be a single non-lapsable reserve fund for a share of Health from the proceeds of Health and Education Cess.
    • The accruals into the PMSSN will be utilised for the flagship schemes of the Health Ministry including Ayushmann Bharat–Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) and National Health Mission and Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) and also disaster preparedness, and responses during health emergencies.
    • In any financial year, the expenditure on such schemes of the Health Ministry would be initially incurred from the PMSSN and thereafter, from Gross Budgetary Support (GBS).
  • Significance:
    • The major benefit will be enhanced access to universal and affordable health care through the availability of earmarked resources while ensuring that the amount does not lapse at the end of the financial year.

National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professionals Bill, 2021

  • Context:
    • National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill passed by Parliament to regulate the practice of allied and healthcare professionals.
  • Key features of the Bill:
    • The Bill seeks to set up a National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions to regulate and standardize the education and practice of allied and healthcare professionals.
    • The functions of the proposed National Commission include framing of standards for education and practice, creating and maintaining an online Central Register of all registered professionals, providing basic standards of education, and providing for a uniform entrance and exit examination.
    • Under the legislation, only those enrolled in a State Register or the National Register as a qualified allied and healthcare practitioner would be allowed to practice as an allied and healthcare practitioner.
  • Definitions:
    1. The Bill defines an ‘allied health professional’ as an associate, technician, or technologist trained to support the diagnosis and treatment of any illness, disease, injury, or impairment. Such a professional should have obtained a diploma or degree under this Bill.
    2. A ‘healthcare professional’ includes a scientist, therapist, or any other professional who studies, advises, researches supervises, or provides preventive, curative, rehabilitative, therapeutic, or promotional health services. Such a professional should have obtained a degree under this Bill.
    3. Allied and healthcare professions that are mentioned in the Bill include professionals working in life sciences, trauma and burn care, surgical and anaesthesia related technology, physiotherapists, and nutrition science.
  • Significance:
    • The legislation will increase employment opportunities for the allied and healthcare professionals and provide dignity to their valuable works.
    • Also, there is an immense demand for qualified healthcare professionals and the legislation will provide the necessary impetus in providing affordable healthcare to the people.

Society and Education:

IIM's and autonomy

  • Context:
    • The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), for decades the brightest jewel in the country’s higher education set-up, are going through a phase of turmoil.
    • The Board of Governors of one of the older IIMs (Calcutta) stripped its Director of important powers and reported that the Director of another old IIM (Ahmedabad) had pushed back against the government last year.
    • Although very different from each other, at the heart of both incidents is the question of the powers of the Director of the IIM, and the degree of autonomy that they, and the institutes themselves, enjoy.
  • What is the controversy at IIM-Ahmedabad?
    • At the heart of the controversy at IIM-Ahmedabad is a Ph.D. dissertation with three essays on electoral democracy.
    • About a year ago, the Ministry of Education asked the Institute for a copy of the thesis after Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had sent a letter to the Prime Minister alleging that the dissertation describes the BJP and BSP as “ethnically constituted” parties.
    • When asked to share a copy of the thesis, however, IIM-A Director Prof Erol D’Souza pushed back. In his reply to the Ministry, he wrote that the government was not an arbiter of complaints regarding a Ph.D. thesis and that there were appropriate academic forums within the Institute to flag complaints.
  • And what is the case at IIM-Calcutta?
    • The Institute’s Board and the Director, Anju Seth, are locked in a turf war, with Seth accusing the Chairman of the Board of infringing on her executive powers and the Board, in turn, accusing her of improper conduct.
    • The confrontation snowballed into a full-blown crisis last week after the Board passed a resolution against Seth and stripped her of the key powers of making appointments and taking disciplinary action.
  • Historically, how autonomous have the IIMs been?
    • Before the enactment of the IIM Act in 2017, when the IIMs functioned as Societies, they had a fair amount of autonomy in academic matters and other issues such as the fixing of fees.
    • Because of the latter power, the older IIMs (Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Bangalore, Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore) were not dependent on the government for funds and were in a better position to assert their autonomy.
    • However, the appointment of Directors and Chairman remained in the government’s hands, and it often used this leverage to influence the IIMs.
    • However, this autonomy was only a product of convention and functioned as long as both sides respected it. When this respect was compromised, friction occurred.
    • The IIM Act cast autonomy in stone. The government cannot reduce it or pass orders which are not in consonance with the Act. The only way to undo anything is through an amendment passed by the legislature.
  • What limits do questions of funding and administration place on the principle of autonomy of higher education institutions?
    • Globally as well as in India, higher education is supported by the government in one form or the other. Normally this should not impact the autonomy of universities
    • However, if the government of the day thinks otherwise, there is no stopping it — irrespective of whether the institutions are funded or not, as has been shown in the recent case of IIM-A, which is financially totally independent.
    • Funding gives the extra handle to the government as Parliament and the CAG have by default the right to know the fate of the funds approved by it.
    • But this interference comes at a price, as universities that lack autonomy are less creative and therefore suffer in terms of quality and reputation.
  • What are the implications of the ongoing turmoil in the IIMs?
    • Many in the IIM community see the ongoing situations at IIM-Calcutta and IIM-Ahmedabad as stemming from the dramatic shift in power dynamics ushered in with the new IIM Act.
    • The government has relinquished control on paper, but the implementation of the Act will face hiccups as the Board assumes greater power in the functioning of the IIMs.
  • Indian Institutes of Management Act, 2017:
    • The Act declares Indian Institutes of Management as institutions of national importance and grants them the power to give degrees.
      • Board of governors:
        • The Act provides for the creation of a board of governors, which would act as the principal executive body for each IIM, and would appoint one director for each IIM.
      • Academic council:
        • The Act provides for the creation of an academic council for each IIM, which is principle academic body under the act and which would decide the:
          (a) academic content;
          (b) criteria and processes for admissions to the course; and
          (c) guidelines for the conduct of examinations.
      • Coordination forum:
        • The Act provides for the creation of a coordination forum, which would discuss matters pertaining to all IIMs.
        • The bill also proposes to incorporate many other changes like an audit of institutes by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Global QS Ranking

  • Context:
    • 25 programs offered by higher education institutions in India ranked among the top 100 in the world in their respective subject categories, according to the latest edition (11th) of the QS World University Rankings by Subject.
  • About the QS World Subject Rankings:
    • Quacquarelli Symonds (QS):
      • It is a leading global career and education network for ambitious professionals looking to further their personal and professional development.
      • QS develops and successfully implements methods of comparative data collection and analysis used to highlight institutions’ strengths.
    • QS World University Rankings:
      • It is an annual publication of university rankings which comprises the global overall and subject rankings.
    • Six parameters and their weightage for the evaluation:
      • Academic Reputation (40%)
      • Employer Reputation (10%)
      • Faculty/Student Ratio (20%)
      • Citations per faculty (20%)
      • International Faculty Ratio (5%)
      • International Student Ratio (5%)
    • QS World University Rankings by Subject:
      • It calculates performance based on four parameters — academic reputation, employer reputation, research impact (citations per paper), and the productivity of an institution’s research faculty.
    • Top Performers:
      • Globally Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT -USA) and Harvard (USA) are among the top performers, Russia and China record best-ever performances.
    • India’s Performance:
      • The 2021 QS’s global university performance comparison offered independent data on the performance of 253 programs at 52 Indian higher education institutions, across 51 academic disciplines.
      • The number of Indian universities/institutes in the top 100 subject rankings has increased from 8 to 12 this year.
        • 12 Indian institutions that have made it to the top 100 of the world – IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, IISC Bangalore, IIT Guwahati, IIM Bangalore, IIM Ahmedabad, JNU, Anna University, the University of Delhi, and OP Jindal University.
        • IIT-Bombay has cornered more top 100 positions than any other Indian institution.
      • Except one, all the 25 programs are in institutions run by either the state or union government. However, last year, this number stood at 26.
      • 17 of the 25 globally ranked Indian programs are in engineering. IIT-Madras’s Petroleum Engineering program registered the best performance among Indian institutes – 30th in the world.
      • The government-run Institutions of Eminence (IoE) remains significantly better-represented in the rankings than the private ones.
      • OP Jindal Global University has entered the global top-100 for law (76th). This is the only top-100 result achieved by a private IoE.
      • IoE: It is a government's scheme to provide the regulatory architecture for setting up or upgrading of 20 Institutions (10 from the public sector and 10 from the private sector) as world-class teaching and research institutions.
      • The All India Institute of Medical Sciences remained the only institution in the top 300 in the area of life sciences and medicine but also dropped more than 10 places.

Happiness Curriculum

  • Context:
    • Uttar Pradesh government is likely to introduce a ‘happiness curriculum’ as a pilot project from this academic session.
    • To be called ‘realisation curriculum’, it would be introduced in Mathura schools this session onwards.
  • Objectives:
    • The purpose to launch the curriculum in UP is to support students in their journey to sustainable happiness through engagement in meaningful and reflective stories and activities.
  • What is Happiness Curriculum?
    • The happiness curriculum was first introduced by the Delhi government in 2018.
    • The curriculum calls for schools to promote development in cognition, language, literacy, numeracy, and the arts along with addressing the wellbeing and happiness of students.
  • How is the curriculum implemented?
    • The curriculum is designed for students of classes nursery through the eighth standard.
    • Group 1 consists of students in nursery and KG, who have bi-weekly classes (45 minutes each for one session, which is supervised by a teacher) involving mindfulness activities and exercise. Children between classes 1-2 attend classes on weekdays, which involves mindfulness activities and exercises along with taking up reflective questions.
    • The second group comprises students from classes 3-5 and the third group is comprised of students from classes 6-8 who apart from the aforementioned activities, take part in self-expression and reflect on their behavioural changes.
  • The learning outcomes of this curriculum are spread across four categories:
    1. Becoming mindful and attentive (developing increased levels of self-awareness, developing active listening, remaining in the present).
    2. Developing critical thinking and reflection (developing strong abilities to reflect on one’s own thoughts and behaviours, thinking beyond stereotypes and assumptions).
    3. Developing social-emotional skills (demonstrating empathy, coping with anxiety and stress.
    4. Developing better communication skills) and developing a confident and pleasant personality (developing a balanced outlook on daily life reflecting self-confidence, becoming responsible, and reflecting awareness towards cleanliness, health, and hygiene).
  • How the assessment is carried out?
    • For the evaluation, no examinations are conducted, neither will marks be awarded. The assessment under this curriculum is qualitative, focusing on the “process rather than the outcome” and noting that each student’s journey is unique and different.

Social Issues:

Transperson in NCC

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Kerala High Court on Monday allowed a transwoman to apply for enrolment into the National Cadet Corps (NCC) in the senior girls' division as per her self-perceived gender identity in a landmark judgment.
  • Background
    • In 2020, a student at the University College in Thiruvananthapuram has filed a writ petition opposing her exclusion from the NCC unit at the college on the basis of her gender.
    • The petition challenged Section 6 of the National Cadet Corps Act, 1948 which only allows either ‘male’ or ‘female’ cadets.
  • The argument in favour of Transgenders to National Cadet Corps (NCC)
    • The petitioner argued that the ‘inclusion of sexual minorities like transgender persons’ is important to address the ‘rampant marginalisation and discrimination’ that they face.
    • The Kerala High Court took exception to the position and stressed that exclusion of transgenders from NCC goes contrary to Kerala’s Transgender Policy and other applicable statutes.
    • The bench held that the integration of persons of the third gender into the armed forces or the NCC cannot be a justification to deny the petitioner’s entry into the NCC.
    • The Judgement highlighted that the provisions of the NCC Act, 1948 cannot preclude the operation of the Transgender Rights Act, 2019.
    • The High Court also ordered the NCC to amend Section 6 of the Act within six months so that the law offers equal opportunities for everyone.
  • The argument against Transgenders to National Cadet Corps (NCC)
    • The NCC had submitted that as per the existing policy, there was no provision for allowing transgender students to get themselves enrolled in the NCC.
    • The Centre argued that before constituting a new division for the third gender, the Centre had to conduct a major exercise in terms of reviewing the infrastructure facilities, modules, and facilities for such a division.
    • It also argued that any induction of a candidate from the transgender community without due deliberations by the authorities would have far-reaching ramifications.
  • What is Kerala’s Transgender policy?
    • Kerala was one of the first states in the country to formulate and implement a welfare policy for transgender persons in 2015.
    • The policy followed the Supreme Court verdict in 2014 in which the right to equality and equal protection for transgender persons under articles 14, 15 and 16 was upheld.
    • The bracket of a ‘third gender’ was allotted to transgender persons.
    • The policy asked for all government offices and public functionaries to extend nondiscriminatory treatment to transgender.
  • The policy promised to provide:
    • Free legal aid to those fighting discrimination,
    • Recording statistics at the local police station level for crimes against transgenders;
    • A 24×7 helpline and crisis management centre;
    • A monthly pension scheme for destitute and those above the age of 55; and
    • Establishing shelter homes

About National Cadet Crop (NCC):

  • The Cadet Corps Committee under the chairmanship of Pt HN Kunzru recommended the establishment of NCC.
  • It came into being by an Act of the Parliament Act No. XXXI of 1948 designated ‘The National Cadet Corps Act 1948’.
  • It aims at developing character, comradeship, discipline, a secular outlook, the spirit of adventure, and ideals of selfless service amongst young citizens.
  • It aims at creating a pool of organized, trained, and motivated youth with leadership qualities in all walks of life.
  • It is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence.

Permanent Commission for Women

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has held that the Army’s “selective” evaluation process discriminates against and disproportionately affects women short service commission officers seeking a permanent commission.
  • What did the Court say?
    • The Court held the view that the evaluation criteria set by the Army constituted systemic discrimination against the petitioners (women officers).
    • The evaluation pattern of women officers has caused them economic and psychological harm.
    • In a series of directions, the court ordered that the cases of women officers who have applied for the permanent commission should be reconsidered in a month and the decision on them should be given in two months.

Background

  • Under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme, women were commissioned into the Army for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years.
  • Women were, however, restricted to roles in specified streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers. These specified streams excluded combat arms such as infantry and armored corps.
  • While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. Women officers were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for a government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer.
  • However, in the February 2019 policy statement, the Government endorsed the permanent commission for SSC women officers in 10 streams of the ‘Combat Support Arms’ and ‘Services’ sections. But it was said that the women officers would not be offered any command appointments, and would serve only in staff posts.

Ease of Living Index

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs releases the rankings of the Ease of Living Index (EoLI) 2020.
  • About Ease of Living Index,2020:
    • Developed by: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in 2018.
    • It is an assessment tool. By this tool, quality of life and the impact of various initiatives on urban development are assessed.
  • Parameters: The index evaluates cities based on the following parameters:
    • Quality of Life (35%):
      • It looks at the indicators for decent urban life.
      • These indicators include affordable housing, access to clean water, basic education, healthcare facilities, safety and security, and recreation avenues.
    • Economic Ability (15%):
      • It captures the economic well-being of citizens. It is done by evaluating the level of economic development and inequalities in a particular city.
    • Sustainability (20%):
      • It evaluates the availability of green spaces, green buildings, level of energy consumption. Moreover, the quality of natural resources such as air, water, and the city’s ability to withstand natural disasters are also assessed.
    • Citizen Perception Survey (30%):
      • It provides a perception of the city residents. Thus, it allows citizens to evaluate the level and quality of development in their respective cities.
    • Coverage: The index assessed 111 cities by bifurcating them into two categories:
      • Million+ populated cities (those with a population of more than a million) and
      • Less than A Million populated cities (those with a population of less than a million) along with all the cities under the Smart Cities Program.
  • Key Findings:
    • Million+ category:
      • Bengaluru has emerged as the top performer.
      • It is followed by Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Surat, Navi Mumbai, Coimbatore, Vadodara, Indore, and Greater Mumbai.
    • Less than Million category:
      • Shimla is at the top in this category. It is followed by Bhubaneswar, Silvassa, Kakinada, Salem, Vellore, Gandhinagar, Gurugram, Davangere, and Tiruchirappalli.
  • Significance of the index:
    • The findings from the index can help guide evidence-based policymaking.
    • It also promotes healthy competition among cities.
    • It encourages cities to learn from each other and advance their development trajectory.

*Municipal Performance Index 2020 discussed at Index in news*

Centre’s meager pensions

  • Context:
    • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development submitted its report to the Lok Sabha recently.
  • Highlights of the report:
    • The report suggests the Centre increase the “meager” pensions provided for poor senior citizens, widows, and disabled people.
    • Assistance under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) has been very low ranging from ₹200 to ₹500 per month under the different components of this Scheme.
    • It also highlighted disparities in the payment of wages and unemployment allowances under the flagship MGNREGA scheme.
  • About National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP):
    • The NSAP is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme under the Ministry of Rural Development. It came into effect from 15th August 1995.
    • It represents a significant step towards the fulfillment of the DPSP in Article 41 of the Constitution (It directs the State to provide public assistance to its citizens in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want within the limit of its economic capacity and development).
    • It aims to provide financial assistance to the elderly, widows, and persons with disabilities in the form of social pensions.
  • Coverage:
    • It currently covers more than three crore people who are below the poverty line (BPL), including about 80 lakh widows, 10 lakh disabled, and 2.2 crores elderly.
  • Presently NSAP comprises of five schemes, namely:
    1. Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS).
    2. Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS).
    3. Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS).
    4. National Family Benefit Scheme NFBS).
    5. Annapurna.

Polity

Executive:

State Election Commission

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court ruled that serving bureaucrats must not be appointed as election commissioners to ensure that the independence of the office of the election commissioner is not compromised.
  • Background:
    • A Bench of the Supreme Court was hearing an appeal by the Goa government against an order of the Bombay High Court.
    • The Bombay High Court had earlier castigated the State Election Commission (SEC) for not acting independently to ensure that the mandate of the Constitution was followed before issuing an election schedule.
    • Also, the Court had issued a stay on certain municipal election notifications issued by the Goa State Election Commission.
    • The territorial jurisdiction of Bombay High Court extends to Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra, and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
    • During the proceedings, it came to notice that the law secretary of the Goa state was given ‘additional charge’ of the State Election Commission.
  • Supreme Court’s Ruling:
    • Independent persons and not government employees should be appointed Election Commissioners.
    • Giving government employees additional charge as Election Commissioners is a mockery of the Constitution.
    • The Directed States to comply with the constitutional scheme of independent and fair functioning of election commissions.
    • If they hold any such office (under the state government), then they have to resign before taking charge of the office of the election commissioner.
    • Ordered all state governments to appoint whole-time election commissioners who will act independently and fairly.
  • About State Election Commissions (SECs):
    • The State Election Commission has been entrusted with the function of conducting free, fair, and impartial elections to the local bodies in the state.
    • Article 243K(1):
      • It states that the superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to the Panchayats (Municipalities under Article 243ZA) shall be vested in a State Election Commission consisting of a State Election Commissioner to be appointed by the Governor.
    • Article 243K(2):
      • It states that the tamienure and appointment will be directed as per the law made by the state legislature.
      • However, State Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his/her office except in the like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of a High Court.

Legislature:

Anti-Defection Law-When nominated Rajya Sabha MP loses membership

  • Context:
    • Nominated MP Swapan Dasgupta has resigned from Rajya Sabha, a year before the completion of his term.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The opposition had raised the issue of his disqualification from Rajya Sabha under the anti-defection law because the BJP had fielded Dasgupta as its candidate for Tarakeswar constituency in the West Bengal Assembly elections.
  • Who are Nominated members?
    • The Rajya Sabha has 12 nominated members from different walks of life.
    • The broad criterion for their nomination is that they should have distinguished themselves in fields like literature, science, art, and social service.
    • The President nominates such individuals as recommended by the Centre.
    • Nominated members have the same rights and privileges as elected members, with one notable difference — they cannot vote in the election of the President.
  • Anti-defection law:
    • In 1985 the Tenth Schedule, popularly known as the anti-defection law, was added to the Constitution.
    • The purpose of the Amendment was to bring stability to governments by deterring MPs and MLAs from changing their political parties on whose ticket they were elected.
    • The penalty for shifting political loyalties is the loss of parliamentary membership and a bar on becoming a minister.
    • The law specifies the circumstances under which changing of political parties by MPs invite action under the law.
    • It covers three types of scenarios with respect to MP switching parties:
      • When an MP who has won his or her seat as an independent candidate after the election joins a political party.
      • When a member elected on the ticket of a political party “voluntarily gives up” membership of such a party or votes in the House contrary to the wishes of the party.
      • For nominated MPs, the law specifies that within six months of being nominated to the House, they can choose to join a political party. But, if they join a party thereafter, then they lose their seat in Parliament.

Right to counsel in custody

  • Context:
    • National Investigation Agency (NIA) told a special court in Mumbai that the arrested assistant police inspector Sachin Waze, now suspended from Mumbai Police, was not cooperating in the probe against him and was insisting on his lawyer being present during interrogation
  • What is the Right to counsel?
    • Right to counsel means a defendant has a right to have the assistance of counsel (i.e., lawyers) and, if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer, requires that the government appoint one or pay the defendant’s legal expenses.
    • The right to counsel is generally regarded as a constituent of the right to a fair trial.
  • What Constitution say?
    • Article 22 of the Constitution of India states that “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”
    • Section 41D of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) states that an accused is entitled to “meet an advocate of his choice during interrogation, though not throughout interrogation”
    • In 2011, the Supreme Court of India ruled that a court could not decide a case without a lawyer present for the defendant, and mandated that a court must appoint a lawyer when the defendant cannot afford one.
    • Public legal assistance is provided through the National Legal Services Authority and state-level legal services organizations.
    • Courts appoint legal aid lawyers in both civil and criminal case

Judiciary:

Revisiting quota template

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court, while examining the constitutional validity of the Maratha reservation, said that it will look into whether the landmark 1992 decision in Indra Sawhney v Union of India needs to be revisited.
    • The potential reconsideration of the 11-judge ruling popularly referred to as the Mandal case could alter the structure of reservations that has been in place for decades.
  • Why is the Supreme Court considering revisiting the Mandal case?
    • A Constitution Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan is currently hearing the challenge to the Maharashtra law providing quotas for Marathas in jobs and admissions in the state.
    • While the Bombay High Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the quota, it said the quota should be reduced from 16% to 12-13%, as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission.
    • The ruling was challenged before a Supreme Court Bench, which referred it to a larger Constitution Bench.
    • There are two main constitutional questions for the court to consider in the challenge to the Martha quota law.
      • The first is whether states can declare a particular caste to be a socially and educationally backward class.
      • The second is whether states can breach the 50% ceiling for “vertical quotas” set by the Supreme Court.
  • What is the Indra Sawhney case that the Bench has referred to?
    • In 1979, the Second Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission) was set up to determine the criteria for defining the socially and educationally backward classes.
    • The Mandal report identified 52% of the population at that time as Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBCs) and recommended 27% reservation for SEBCs in addition to the previously existing 22.5% reservation for SC/STs.
    • In 1990, when the V P Singh led-government set out to implement the Mandal report, it was challenged in court amidst widespread protests against the move.
  • What did the verdict say?
    • The court upheld the office memorandums that essentially implemented the Mandal report.
    • The majority opinion said the executive orders mandating 27% reservation for backward castes were valid and that the reservation was made not just on the basis of caste but on the basis of objective evaluation of social and educational backwardness of classes, which is the criteria previously laid down by the court.
    • To conclude, though prima facie the list of Backward Classes which is under attack before us may be considered to be on the basis of caste, a closer examination will clearly show that it is only a description of the group following the particular occupations or professions, exhaustively referred to by the Commission.
    • Even on the assumption that the list is based exclusively on caste, it is clear from the materials before the Commission and the reasons were given by it in its report that the entire caste is socially and educationally backward and therefore their inclusion in the list of Backward Classes is warranted by Article 15(4).
    • The groups mentioned therein have been included in the list of Backward classes as they satisfy the various tests, which have been laid down by this Court for ascertaining the social and educational backwardness of a class.
    • The landmark Indra Sawhney ruling set two important precedents.
      • First, it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”.
      • Additionally, the court also reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas it had set out in earlier judgments in 1963 (M R Balaji v State of Mysore) and in 1964 (Devadasan v Union of India), reasoning that it was needed to ensure “efficiency” in administration.
    • The court said this 50% limit will apply — unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
    • While the social and educational backwardness criteria stemmed from the interpretation of various constitutional provisions, the 50% limit is often criticized as being an arbitrary limit.
  • How does the Maratha reservation relate to the Indra Sawhney case?
    • Based on the 102nd Amendment to the Constitution, which gives the President powers to notify backward classes, the court will have to look into whether states have similar powers.
    • Since this power flows from the Constitution, whether the President is still required to comply with the criteria set by the Supreme Court in the Mandal case.
    • The relevance of the Indra Sawhney criteria is also under question in another case in which the validity of the 103rd Amendment has been challenged.
    • The 103rd Amendment, passed in 2019, provides for 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the economically weaker section in the unreserved category.
    • Additionally, with the implementation of the Maharashtra law, the vertical quota in the state could go up to 68% which was earlier 52% before the passing of the law.
  • Have any other states breached the 50% ceiling before?
    • States have breached the 50% ceiling before and intend to bring more reservations.
    • The Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and of Appointments or Posts in the Services under the State) Act, 1993, reserves 69% of the seats in colleges and jobs in the state government.
    • However, this was done by amending the Constitution, to place the law in the Ninth Schedule after the Indra Sawhney judgment.
    • The Ninth Schedule provides the law with a “safe harbour” from judicial review under Article 31A of the Constitution.
    • Laws placed in the Ninth Schedule cannot be challenged for reasons of violating any fundamental right protected under the Constitution.
    • However, when the Tamil Nadu law was challenged in 2007 (I R Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu), the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous 9-judge verdict that while laws placed under Ninth Schedule cannot be challenged on the grounds of violation of fundamental rights, they can be challenged on the ground that it violates the basic structure of the Constitution.
    • A later Bench was to decide whether the Tamil Nadu law itself (breaching the 50% ceiling) violates basic structure, based on the I R Coelho verdict. The Bench has not yet been set up.

Amicus Curiae

  • Context:
    • Solicitor General (SG) made an appeal to the Supreme Court to frame guidelines to demarcate the role and ambit of the court’s amici curiae in various cases, especially sensitive ones.
  • About:
    • Amicus Curiae or ‘friend of the court’ are the lawyers appointed by the courts to present diverse views and assist the court in specific cases.
    • They are advocates appointed to assist the court in the adjudication of important cases.
  • Roles and functions:
    • India, thus, if a petition is received from the jail or in any other criminal matter if the accused is unrepresented, then, an Advocate is appointed as amicus curiae by the Court to defend and argue the case of the accused.
    • In civil matters also the Court can appoint an Advocate as amicus curiae if it thinks it necessary in case of an unrepresented party.
    • The Court can also appoint amicus curiae in any matter of general public importance or in which the interest of the public at large is involved.

Adjournment Sine Die

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Rajya Sabha has been adjourned sine die at the end of the Budget session of Parliament after the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die which brought the nearly two-month long Budget session to an end.
  • About:
    • The phenomenon of Adjournment Sine Die means terminating a sitting of Parliament for an indefinite period.
    • It implies that when the House is adjourned without naming a day for reassembly, it is called adjournment sine die.
    • The power of adjournment, as well as adjournment sine, die lies with the presiding officer of the House.
    • The presiding officer can also call a sitting of the House before the date or time to which it has been adjourned or at any time after the House has been adjourned sine die.
    • The presiding officer (Speaker or Chairman) declares the House adjourned sine die when the business of a session is completed.

Acts and Bills:

Haryana Job Quota

  • Context:
    • The Haryana government recently notified a new law that requires 75% of private-sector jobs in the state reserved for local candidates.
  • About Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Bill, 2020:
    • It requires private companies to set aside for domiciles 75% of jobs up to a monthly salary of Rs 50,000 or as may be notified by the government from time to time.
    • The law is applicable to all the companies, societies, trusts, limited liability partnership firms, partnership firms and any person employing 10 or more persons and an entity, as may be notified by the government from time to time shall come under the ambit of this Act.
  • What are the legal issues in such laws?
    • The question of domicile reservation in jobs:
      • While domicile quotas in education are fairly common, courts have been reluctant in expanding this to public employment. It raises questions relating to the fundamental right to equality of citizens.
    • The issue of forcing the private sector to comply with reservations in employment. For mandating reservation in public employment, the state draws its power from Article 16(4) of the Constitution.
    • But, the Constitution has no manifest provision for private employment from which the state draws the power to make laws mandating reservation.
    • It may not be able to withstand judicial scrutiny on the touchstone of Article 19(1)(g).
  • What is the government’s rationale for bringing such laws?
    • Public sector jobs constitute only a minuscule proportion of all jobs. Therefore, talks about extending the legal protections to the private sector to really achieve the constitutional mandate of equality for all citizens have been on.
    • Since private industries use public infrastructure in many ways — from accessing land through subsidized allotment to receiving the credit from public banks, tax exemptions, and in many cases subsidies for fuel, etc, the state has a legitimate right to require them to comply with the reservation policy.

Places of Worship (SpecialProvision) Act, 1991

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court asked the Centre to respond to a plea challenging the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 which freezes the status of places of worship as it was on 15th August 1947.
  • About the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991:
    • It seeks to maintain the “religious character” of places of worship as it was in 1947 except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which was already in court.
  • Purpose:
    • Section 3 of the Act bans the conversion of a place of worship or even a section of it into a place of worship of a different religious denomination or of a different segment of the same religious denomination.
    • Section 4(2) says that all suits, appeals, or other proceedings regarding converting the character of a place of worship (that were pending on 15th August 1947) will come to end when the Act commences and no fresh proceedings can be filed.
    • However, legal proceedings can be initiated if the change of status took place after the cut-off date of 15th August 1947 (after enactment of the Act).
    • The Act also imposes a positive obligation on the State to maintain the religious character of every place of worship as it existed at the time of Independence.
    • This legislative obligation on the State to preserve and protect the equality of all faiths is an essential secular feature and one of the basic features of the Indian Constitution.
  • Exemption:
    • The disputed site at Ayodhya was exempted from the Act.
    • Due to this exemption, the trial in the Ayodhya case proceeded even after the enforcement of this law.
    • Besides the Ayodhya dispute, the Act also exempted:
      • Any place of worship which is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
      • A suit that has been finally settled or disposed of.
      • Any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced.
  • Penalty:
    • Section 6 of the Act prescribes a punishment of a maximum of three-year imprisonment along with a fine for contravening the provisions of the Act.

MMDR Amendment Bill

  • Context:
    • Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021 introduced in Lok Sabha.
  • Highlights of the Bill:
    • Removal of restriction on end-use of minerals:
      • The Bill provides that no mine will be reserved for particular end-use.
    • Sale of minerals by captive mines:
      • The Bill provides that captive mines (other than atomic minerals) may sell up to 50% of their annual mineral production in the open market after meeting their own needs.   
      • The central government may increase this threshold through a notification.
    • Auction by the central government in certain cases:
      • The Bill empowers the central government to specify a time period for completion of the auction process in consultation with the state government.
      • If the state government is unable to complete the auction process within this period, the auctions may be conducted by the central government.
    • Transfer of statutory clearances:
      • The Bill provides that transferred statutory clearances will be valid throughout the lease period of the new lessee.
    • Allocation of mines with expired leases:
      • The Bill says that mines (other than coal, lignite, and atomic minerals), whose lease has expired, may be allocated to a government company in certain cases.
      • The state government may grant a lease for such a mine to a government company for a period of up to 10 years or until the selection of a new lessee, whichever is earlier.
  • Significance:
    • This will speed up the process of implementation of projects, ease of doing business, simplification of procedure, and benefit all the parties in areas where minerals are located.
    • It will create an efficient energy market and bring in more competition as well as reduce coal imports. India imported 235 million tonnes (mt) of coal last year, of which 135 mt valued at Rs 171,000 crore could have been met from domestic reserves.
    • It might also put an end to Coal India Ltd’s monopoly in the sector.
    • It would also help India gain access to high-end technology for underground mining used by miners across the globe.

NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill

  • Context:
    • The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 or the NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021 passed in Parliament.
  • Purpose:
    • It amends certain provisions related to the distribution of powers and responsibilities among the L-G (Lieutenant Governor) and the Delhi legislative assembly.
    • The issue of power tussle between the L-G and the elected government of Delhi has come into the limelight again. It is because of the introduction of this bill.
  • Salient features of the NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021:
    • The NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill mainly aims to amend four clauses of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 (GNCTD Act 1991). They are, 
    • Section 21
      • This section deals with the restrictions on laws passed by the Legislative Assembly concerning certain matters.
      • The Bill provides that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly will imply Lieutenant Governor (L-G).
    • Section 24
      • This section deals with assent to Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly. The L-G will reserve the bills for the consideration of the President in a few matters. It includes bills that diminish the powers of the High Court of Delhi, the President directed the L-G to reserve a bill, etc.
      • The NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill requires the L-G to reserve bills for the President that incidentally cover any of the matters outside the purview of the powers of the Legislative Assembly.
    • Section 33
      • It mentions that the Legislative Assembly will make rules to regulate the procedure and conduct of business in the Assembly.
      • The 2021 NCT bill states that such rules must be consistent with the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha.
    • Section 44
      • It deals with the conduct of business.
        • Accordingly, all executive decisions taken by the elected government should be under the L-G’s name. 
      • The 2021 bill empowers the L-G to specify his suggestions on certain matters. His opinions have to be taken before making any executive action on decisions of the Minister/ Council of Ministers.  

National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill

  • Context:
    • The Parliament has passed the National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill, 2021.
  • About:
    • The legislation seeks to establish the National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NBFID) to support infrastructure financing in the country.
    • This includes the development of bonds and derivatives markets which are necessary for infrastructure financing.
    • The ambit of developmental projects envisaged to be undertaken by the NBFID includes social sector infrastructure projects including Health & Education.
    • The new statutory body is answerable to the Parliament and will be managed by the Government appointed Chairman and board-nominated professionals.
    • There is no provision of CAG audit of the proposed Development financing Bank.
    • The NBFID will be set up as a corporate body with an authorized share capital of one lakh crore rupees, with financial and developmental objectives.
    • Financial objectives will be to directly or indirectly lend, invest, or attract investments for infrastructure projects located entirely or partly in India.
    • Developmental objectives include facilitating the development of the market for bonds, loans, and derivatives for infrastructure financing.
  • Significance:
    • NBFID will prove to be a catalyst for the ecosystem of Infrastructure funding.

Governance:

Lateral Entry in Bureaucracy

  • Context:
    • Earlier this month, the UPSC issued an advertisement seeking applications for the posts of Joint Secretary and Director in central government Departments.
    • These individuals, who would make a “lateral entry” into the government secretariat, would be contracted for three to five years.
    • These posts were “unreserved”, meaning were no quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs.
  • What is ‘Lateral Entry’ into government?
    • NITI Aayog, in 2017 had recommended the induction of personnel at middle and senior management levels in the central government.
    • These ‘lateral entrants’ would be part of the central secretariat which in the normal course has only career bureaucrats from the All India Services/ Central Civil Services.
  • What are the ranks invited for this entry?
    • A Joint Secretary, appointed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), has the third-highest rank (after Secretary and Additional Secretary) in a Department.
    • It functions as the administrative head of a wing in the Department.
    • Directors are a rank below that of Joint Secretary.
  • What is the government’s reasoning for lateral entry?
    • Lateral recruitment is aimed at achieving the twin objectives of bringing in fresh talent as well as augments the availability of manpower.
    • Government has, from time to time, appointed some prominent persons for specific assignments in government, keeping in view their specialized knowledge and expertise in the domain area.
    • Indeed, the first ARC had pointed out the need for specialization as far back as 1965.
    • The Surinder Nath Committee and the Hota Committee followed suit in 2003 and 2004, respectively, as did the second ARC.
    • In 2005, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommended an institutionalized, transparent process for lateral entry at both the Central and state levels.
  • Why is lateral entry sometimes criticized?
    • Groups representing SCs, STs, and OBCs have protested the fact that there is no reservation in these appointments.
    • Some argue that the government is opening back doors to bring its own lobby openly.

Watsapp privacy policy violates IT rules

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has asked the Delhi High Court to step in and restrain WhatsApp from rolling out its new privacy policy.
  • What is the policy about?
    • The controversy relates to WhatsApp’s decision in January 2021 to enforce a new privacy policy.
    • The policy will allow it to share some data about users’ interactions with business accounts with its parent company Facebook.
    • The users will not have an option but to consent to the sharing if they want to keep using the application.
    • The privacy policy also does not provide the opportunity to review or amend the full information submitted by a user.
  • What is the reason for IT Ministry’s demand?
    • The IT Ministry cited several Supreme Court judgments.
    • The Supreme Court has placed a responsibility upon the Ministry to come out with a “regime on data protection and privacy.”
    • In effect, this would “limit the ability of entities” such as WhatsApp to issue “privacy policies which do not align with appropriate standards of security and data protection.”
    • Given this, WhatsApp must be stopped from rolling out the services.
    • Thus, in a counter-affidavit, the IT Ministry has listed five major violations of the current IT rules that the policy of WhatsApp, if rolled out, could entail.
  • What are the violations listed by the IT Ministry?
    • WhatsApp failed to specify the type of sensitive data being collected by it.
    • This is a violation of Rule 4 (1) (ii) of the IT Rules of 2011.
      • It mandates a company to provide a privacy policy for handling of or dealing with personal information including sensitive personal data or information.
      • It also mandates specifying the types of sensitive data being collected.
    • The second violation is with respect to the collection of information.
    • Rule 5 (3) of the IT Rules says that any person or corporate collecting information shall notify the user if it is collecting any sensitive information.
    • It should also inform the purpose for which it is being collected, and the intended recipients of the said information.
    • Besides these, the policy has also failed to provide the user an option to review or amend the users’ information being collected by it.
    • The changes allowed to be made are limited to the name, picture, mobile number, and “about” information.
    • For the policy to be compliant with the recent IT Rules 2021, it must allow the users to exercise this option for all kinds of data collected by WhatsApp.
    • The policy also fails to provide users an option to withdraw consent on data sharing retrospectively and fails to guarantee non-disclosure by third parties.
    • These again violate Rule 5 (7) and Rule 6 (4) of the IT Rules of 2011.

Electrol Bond Scheme

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court flagged the possibility of misuse of money received by political parties through electoral bonds for ulterior objects like funding terror or violent protests.
  • Background:
    • The Electoral Bond Scheme acts as a check against traditional under-the-table donations as it insists on cheque and digital paper trails of transactions, however, several key provisions of the scheme make it highly controversial.
  • Misuse of Electoral Bonds as Pointed Out in the Supreme Court:
    • Anonymity:
      • Neither the donor (who could be an individual or a corporate) nor the political party is obligated to reveal whom the donation comes from.
    • Asymmetrically Opaque:
      • Because the bonds are purchased through the State Bank of India (SBI), the government is always in a position to know who the donor is.
      • This asymmetry of information threatens to color the process in favor of whichever political party is ruling at the time.
    • Black money:
      • Elimination of a cap of 7.5% on corporate donations, elimination of the requirement to reveal political contributions in profit and loss statements, and also the elimination of the provision that a corporation must be three years in existence, undercuts the intent of the scheme.

Electoral Bond

  • Electoral Bond is a financial instrument for making donations to political parties.
  • The bonds are issued in multiples of Rs. 1,000, Rs. 10,000, Rs. 1 lakh, Rs. 10 lakh, and Rs. 1 crore without any maximum limit.
  • State Bank of India is authorized to issue and encash these bonds, which are valid for fifteen days from the date of issuance.
  • These bonds are redeemable in the designated account of a registered political party.
  • The bonds are available for purchase by any person (who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India) for a period of ten days each in the months of January, April, July, and October as may be specified by the Central Government.
    • A person being an individual can buy bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
    • The donor’s name is not mentioned on the bond.

 

International Relations

Dialogues And Talks:

India Pakistan Ceasefire

  • Context:
    • In the wake of registering 5,130 ceasefire violations in 2020, guns on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) fell silent on the intervening night of February 24-25, 2021.
    • The announcement by the two Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) came as a surprise to many, and yet, it underlined the simple fact that all statesmen/women recognise while in office: countries cannot be run by rhetoric alone.

  • Significance of the ceasefire:
    • What makes the February ceasefire significant is the fact that this agreement is different from the routine ceasefire assurances that the two sides made till January 2021.
    • Twice in 2018, for instance, the two sides had agreed to uphold the ceasefire agreement when ceasefire violations were on the rise. But what makes the February 2021 ceasefire different is its two distinct features: one, this was a joint statement by the two DGMOs, and that, unlike the previous declarations, the recent agreement mentions a specific date, i.e., the night of February 24-25, to begin the ceasefire.
    • In that sense then, the February ceasefire is arguably one of the most significant military measures by India and Pakistan in over 18 years to reduce violence along the LoC in Kashmir.
    • The ceasefire is also significant because this helps New Delhi to defuse what was becoming a growing concern for the decision-makers in New Delhi: an ugly two-front situation and a feeling of being boxed in by an inimical Pakistan and an aggressive China.
    • It is easy to talk about a two or ‘two-and-a-half front situation for domestic grandstanding, but dealing with it is neither easy nor practical.
    • That the Indian Army had to redeploy forces from the western border with Pakistan to the northern border with China is indicative of the serious material challenges it could throw up.
  • A brief history:
    • The history of India Pakistan's ceasefire pacts and war termination agreements is both complex and instructive.
    • The Karachi agreement of 1949, which ended the first war between newly formed India and Pakistan, was the first ceasefire agreement between the two countries which, signed under the good offices of the United Nations, created the India Pakistan boundary in Kashmir called the Ceasefire Line or CFL.
    • The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was mandated to monitor the ceasefire along with the CFL.
    • The 1965 India-Pakistan war also ended in a ceasefire, but since the status quo antebellum was restored after the Tashkent Agreement, the CFL in Kashmir remained unaltered.
    • However, the India-Pakistan war of 1971 would change that. The December ceasefire which ended the 1971 war was enshrined into the Simla Agreement the following year.
    • But unlike 1965, status quo ante bellum was not restored by the Simla Agreement, a decision that would have important implications for bilateral relations.
    • The Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972 delineated the ‘line of control’ in Jammu and Kashmir which resulted from the ceasefire of December 1971 thereby renaming the CFL as the LoC.
    • By this smart move, Indian negotiators not only changed the nomenclature of the India-Pakistan dividing line in Kashmir and the physical alignment of the border in Jammu and Kashmir but also made the UNMOGIP presence in Kashmir irrelevant.
    • Recall that the UN force was mandated to ensure a ceasefire on the CFL, but there was no CFL after 1972, and, more so, the UN was not even a party to the Simla Agreement, unlike the Karachi Agreement.
    • The 2003 agreement between the DGsMO, communicated through a telephone call between them, was a reiteration of the December 1971 war termination ceasefire; Technically, therefore, even the February 2021 ceasefire too is a reiteration of the 1971 ceasefire agreement.
  • A form of intent:
    • And yet, a ceasefire does not observe itself — it requires a clearly articulated and mutually agreed-upon set of rules and norms for effective observance along with an intent to observe them.
    • The February ceasefire is an expression of such an intent, but without the rules and norms to enforce it.
    • The Simla Agreement or the Suchetgarh Agreement do not have those rules either.
    • The Karachi Agreement, on the other hand, has clearly laid down provisions on how to manage the CFL which, of course, was overtaken by the LoC.
    • Ironically, therefore, armed forces deployed on either side of the LoC in Kashmir often have to resort to the strictures enshrined in the long-defunct Karachi Agreement to observe the ceasefire mandated by the Simla Agreement.
    • Now that the two DGsMO have declared a joint ceasefire, the next logical step is to arrive at a set of rules to govern that ceasefire.
  • Return to the backchannel:
    • What is also significant to note about the ceasefire agreement between the two DGsMO is that this was preceded by weeks, if not months of, high-level contacts through the backchannel
    • For sure, major agreements of this kind cannot be finalised by army officers especially given the vitiated atmosphere surrounding India-Pakistan relations. More crucially, the fact that this ceasefire has political blessings makes it more durable.

Iran Nuclear Deal

  • Context:
    • Recently, Joe Biden has been sworn as the 46th president of the United States. On the foreign policy front, Biden has promised to move quickly to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran which is also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

  • More About JCPOA
    • JCPOA was signed in 2015, but former US President Trump has withdrawn from it (in 2018) and embarked on a policy of ‘maximum pressure’ to coerce Iran back to the negotiating table.
    • The maximum pressure campaign devastated Iran’s economy but failed to push Iran back to the negotiating table or to curtail its involvement in Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon.
    • Joe Biden has reiterated a return to the JCPOA provided Iran returns to full compliance. The return of the US to JCPOA may be a positive step towards regional peace. However, there are many challenges for the US and Iran to return to the negotiating table.
  • JCPOA: Timeline & Background
    • The JCPOA was the result of prolonged negotiations from 2013 and 2015 between Iran and P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, or the EU).
    • It happened, thanks to the backchannel talks between the U.S.(U.S. President Barack Obama) and Iran, quietly brokered by Oman, in an attempt to repair the accumulated mistrust since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
    • The JCPOA obliged Iran to accept constraints on its enrichment program verified by an intrusive inspection regime in return for a partial lifting of economic sanctions.
    • However, faced with a hostile Republican Senate, President Obama was unable to get the nuclear deal ratified but implemented it on the basis of periodic Executive Orders to keep sanction waivers going.
    • When Donald Trump became president, he withdrew from the deal.
    • The U.S. decision was criticized by all other parties to the JCPOA (including the European allies) because Iran was in compliance with its obligations, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
    • Tensions rose as the U.S. pushed ahead with its unilateral sanctions, widening its scope to cover nearly all Iranian banks connected to the global financial system, industries related to metallurgy, energy, and shipping, individuals related to the defense, intelligence, and nuclear establishments.
    • For the first year after the U.S. withdrawal, Iran’s response was muted as the E-3 (France, Germany, the U.K.) and the EU promised to find ways to mitigate the U.S. decision.
    • The E-3’s promised relief Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), created in 2019 to facilitate limited trade with Iran.
    • However, by May 2019, Iran’s strategic patience ran out as the anticipated economic relief from the E-3/EU failed to materialize. As the sanctions began to hurt, Tehran shifted to a strategy of ‘maximum resistance’.
  • Iran’s Policy of ‘Maximum Resistance’.
    • Beginning in May 2019, Iran began to move away from JCPOA’s constraints incrementally: exceeding the ceilings of 300kg on low-enriched uranium and 130 MT on heavy-water; raising enrichment levels from 3.67% to 4.5%; stepping up research and development on advanced centrifuges; resuming enrichment at Fordow, and violating limits on the number of centrifuges in use.
    • In January 2020, following the drone strike on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qasem Soleiman, Iran announced that it would no longer observe the JCPOA’s restraints.
    • The collapse of the JCPOA drags Iran towards nuclear brinkmanship, like North Korea, which has created major geopolitical instability in the region and beyond.
  • Roadblocks in Restoration of Deal
    • Regional Cold War Between Iran & Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is the cornerstone of US Middle East policy. The US has strengthened its relationship with Saudi Arabia, to act as a counterweight against Iran.
    • However, traditional Shia vs Sunni conflict precipitated into a regional cold war between Iran & Suadi Arabia.
    • Thus, a major challenge for the US to restore the nuclear deal is to maintain peace between the two regional rivals.
    • Iran Gone too Far: The challenge in resuming the agreement in its present form is that Iran is currently in violation of several of its important commitments, such as the limits on stockpiles of enriched uranium.
    • The International Atomic Energy Agency noted that Iran now had more than 2,440 kilograms, which is more than eight times the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal.
    • Further, Iran says it wants the US to pay for the billions of dollars in economic losses it incurred when it pulled the United States out of the Iran deal in 2018 and reinstituted sanctions that it had lifted.
  • Impacts on India For Restoration of JCPOA
    • Restoration of JCPOA may ease many restrictions over the Iranian regime, which may directly or indirectly help India. This can be reflected in the following examples:
      • Boost to Regional Connectivity: Removing sanctions may revive India’s interest in the Chabahar option, Bandar Abbas port, and other plans for regional connectivity.
      • This would further help India to neutralize the Chinese presence in Gwadar port, Pakistan.
      • Apart from Chabahar, India’s interest in the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC), which runs through Iran, which will improve connectivity with five Central Asian republics, may also get a boost.
      • Energy Security: Due to the pressure linked to the US’ Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India has to bring down oil imports to zero.
      • Restoration of ties between the US and Iran will help India to procure cheap Iranian oil and aid in energy security.
  • Conclusion
    • The Iran nuclear deal is a joint effort by several countries. While Trump’s decision to withdraw did not kill the deal, it seriously wounded it. Like Trump, Biden would like the deal to be a key part of his administration’s vision in the Middle East – but this might be tougher than it is anticipated.

India And Bangladesh

  • Context: 
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the birth centenary celebration of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman through a video conference. A two-day-long special session of the Parliament of Bangladesh to mark Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary was held from March 22.

  • A Brief History
    • India played an important role in Bangladesh’s independence. India provided political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian support during Bangladesh’s Liberation War.
    • For example, India lost 3,900 Indian soldiers and provided accommodation to an estimated 10 million Bangladeshi refugees.
    • Following Bangladesh’s Independence, India- Bangladesh bilateral relations have had many high and lows.
    • For example, during President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1st Bangladesh President) India- Bangladesh relations were in full swing.
    • However, after his assassination on August 15, 1975, the relation between India-Bangladesh hit a bottom. Between 1982-1991 a military-led government by General H.M. Ershad ruled the country.
    • But since the last decade India- Bangladesh relation has boosted up. Both countries have moved beyond historical and cultural ties. Cooperation is increasing in areas of trade, connectivity, energy, and defence.
  • What are the positive developments in India- Bangladesh relation?
    • First, finding peaceful solutions to settle Land boundary issues. For example, Both countries ratified the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015.
    • Second, the government of Bangladesh was cooperative in eradicating anti-India insurgency elements from its borders. This has allowed India to make a massive redeployment of resources in other contentious borders. (LAC, LoC)
    • Third, increasing trade relations. For example, Bangladesh is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia. (FY 2018-19- Export- $9.21 billion, Import- $1.04 billion). Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access to multiple Bangladeshi products.
    • Fourth, deepening cooperation in developmental activities. For example, India has extended three lines of credit to Bangladesh in recent years ($8 billion) for the construction of roads, railways, bridges, and ports.
    • Fifth, increasing cooperation in Medical tourism. For example, Bangladesh accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients and contributes more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism.
    • Sixth, cooperation in connectivity has increased many folds. For example,
    • A direct bus service between Kolkata and Agartala running through Bangladesh.
    • Three passenger and freight railway services running between the two countries.
    • Recently, the Maitri Setu bridge was constructed. It connects Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.
    • Improved Connectivity to landlocked Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura states. Bangladesh allows the shipment of goods from its Mongla and Chittagong seaports carried by road, rail, and waterways to Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
  • What are the issues in India- Bangla relations?
    • First, water security is one of the major issue hampering India- Bangladesh relation. For example, the unresolved Teesta water sharing issue.
    • Second, increasing border killings against illegal Bangladeshi cattle traders. For example, the year 2020 saw the highest number of border shootings by the Border Security Force.
    • Third, the implementation of the National Register of Citizens has offended the religious sentiments of Bangladeshis. Also, many of the illegal Muslim immigrants belong to Bangladesh.
    • Fourth, India’s neighbours are increasingly tilting towards China due to its attractiveness of massive trade, infrastructural and defence investments. Despite, India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ approach, India is losing its influence in the south Asian region. For example, Bhutan’s withdrawal from the BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal) motor vehicles’ agreement.
    • Fifth, poor project implementation due to Red tapism in India is hampering developmental activities in Bangladesh. For example, only 51% of the first $800 million lines of credit has been utilised. While the amount from the next two lines of credit worth $6.5 billion has not been mobilised yet.
    • India and Bangladesh need to continue working on the three Cs (cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation) to materilaise the recent gains.
  • Seven Agreements include:
    • The use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for the movement of goods to and from India, particularly from Northeastern India.
    • Use of Bangladesh’s Feni river for drinking water supply in Tripura.
    • However, no progress was reported on the long-pending Teesta water-sharing agreement.
    • Exchange of data and information to prepare a framework of interim sharing agreements for six rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai and Gomati rivers of Tripura and Dharla river of Bangladesh and Dudhkumar river of West Bengal.
    • Daudkanti (Bangladesh)-Sonamura (Tripura) inland water trade route to be included under Protocol of the Inland Water Transit and Trade.
    • Consensus on lifting restrictions on entry and exit from land ports in India for Bangladeshi citizens travelling on valid documents.
    • Implementation of the Lines of Credit (LoCs) committed by India to Bangladesh.
  • Three bilateral development partnership projects include:
    • Import of bulk Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from Bangladesh
    • Inauguration of Vivekananda Bhaban (students hostel) at Ramakrishna Mission, Dhaka.
    • Inauguration of Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute (BIPSDI) at the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh (IDEB), Khulna, Bangladesh.
    • Both sides noted the progress made in the finalization of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Establishment of Coastal Surveillance Radar System in Bangladesh.
    • India has provided such systems to Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives and planning one in Myanmar.
    • The coastal surveillance system will pave way for Indo-Bangladesh White Shipping Agreement in future. This will be useful amid growing terror threats via seas and the growing presence of China in the Bay of Bengal region.
    • Both Leaders agreed to early operationalization of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement for movement of goods and passengers between the member countries who are willing and ready; or to work towards a bilateral India-Bangladesh Motor Vehicles Agreement, as appropriate.
    • The leaders directed their officials to expedite the establishment of twelve Border Haats which have been agreed to by both countries.
    • A feasibility study for the Ganga-Padma barrage project to be conducted as part of an upgraded version of the 1996 Ganga Water Sharing treaty.
    • The Bangladesh Prime Minister raised concerns over the rollout of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, an exercise carried to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam and weed out illegal Bangladeshis.
    • The Bangladesh Prime Minister requested the Indian counterpart to use his “good relations” with the Myanmar government to facilitate the return of all the refugees (Rohingyas) while appreciating the aid India has given to refugees in Bangladesh as well as 250 homes built for them in Myanmar.

QUAD Meeting

  • Context:
    • Recently, India joined Australia, Japan and the United States for a ministerial meeting under the Quadrilateral grouping (Quad) and discussed issues across Indo-Pacific and the military takeover in Myanmar.

  • Key Points
    • Commitment to a free and open Indo-pacific region.
    • Reaffirmation of their commitment to cooperating on Covid-19, security challenges and climate change.
    • Pledge to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyberspace, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as maritime domains commitment to denuclearizing North Korea.
    • Commitment to delivering up to 1 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Indo-Pacific countries by the end of 2022 using Indian manufacturing, U.S. and Japanese funding and Australian logistics.
  • Analysis
    • Each of the leaders has tried to make it clear that it is not an anti-China club, even when it aims to counter the rising Chinese influence.
    • Quad is trying to showcase what democracies can deliver together, both for their own populations and for the broader world.
    • Despite such declarations, the alliance is widely viewed as an effort to combat Beijing's growing military and economic power.
    • It's a group of countries all concerned about China, and all trying to hold the line for an open, democratic non-Chinese way forward
    • The “Quad” is not a formal alliance in the same way as NATO and thus carries no strict duty to defend one another
  • Quad members issues with China
    • Relations between the US and China have deteriorated with clashes over trade, Covid-19, Hong Kong's autonomy, Taiwan and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
    • America has labelled China as America's biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.
    • Japan has had long-standing grievances over contested islands and maritime claims, while Indian and Chinese troops engaged in deadly border clashes over disputed territory in the Himalayas last year.
    • Australia has faced trade pressures from Beijing and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the “Quad” meeting was “a historical moment” and an opportunity to “create a new anchor for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
    • The group's revitalization also gained a boost last year after India invited Australia to join naval exercises with it, the U.S. and Japan.
  • Significance
    • India has been a leading manufacturer of vaccines.
    • This commitment is crucial in the sense that has the support of the governments of these countries.
    • The vaccine collaboration is not just between the leading vaccine manufacturing firms.
    • It will address the demand-supply gap in Indo-Pacific.
    • It’s a success for India's Vaccine diplomacy.
    • The countries are also focussing on the creation of resilient supply chains for materials such as rare earth metals. China produces 60 % of the world's rare earth metals. This collaboration is crucial in countering China's dominance on these metals. They are used in smartphones, automobiles, Electric vehicles and batteries.
    • It reflects continuity in the US Foreign policy.
    • It is the first plurilateral summit attended by Joe Biden after assuming office.

India in UN on Sri Lanka

  • Context:
    • India has abstained from a crucial vote on Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC).
  • About UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka:
    • Firstly, the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC) adopted a resolution titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”.
    • Secondly, the resolution said that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated under the current administration. Further, the resolution also mentions that the rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities are facing problems.
    • Further, the UNHRC resolution provides the UNHRC chief mandate to collect and preserve evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Civil War ended in 2009 with the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.
  • Was the Resolution adopted or rejected?
    • The UNHRC resolution was adopted after 22 states of the 47-member Council voted in its favour.
    • However, 11 countries including Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan voted against the resolution. On the other hand, 14 countries, including India, Indonesia, Japan, and Nepal abstained.
  • Sri Lanka’s Reaction:
    • Sri Lanka rejected the UNHRC resolution. It said that the resolution cannot be implemented without the consent and acceptance of the country concerned.
  • About UNHRC
    • The UNHRC is a United Nations body established in 2006. It replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Geopolitical Events:

Ban on the burqa

  • Context:
    • Srilankan government would soon ban the burqa.
  • Proposals of the government:
    • COVID-19 and Burials: A government rule that Muslims who died of Covid-19 could not be buried saw community leaders go to court. The outrage it caused among Muslim countries and UNHRC led the Sri Lankan government to a rethink
    • Inquiry Committee Report: A Presidential Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the six suicide attacks at churches and hotels in Colombo and in two other places in the country killing 260 people, has submitted its report to the President but has not been made public.
    • Burqa Ban: In the aftermath of the 2018 Easter bombings, the Sri Lankan government had temporarily banned the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, although it had worded that in ambiguous terms like a ban on all face coverings. The burqa ban has been officially linked to national security and Islamist extremism
    • Closure of Madrasas: Along with the Burqa ban, the government has also proposed to shut down 1,000 madrasas. 
    • Draconian Terrorism Law: The government has also armed itself with new regulations under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain for up to two years for the purpose of “deradicalisation” of anyone suspected of harbouring extremist ideas, or for spreading religious, communal or ethnic hatred.
  • Critical analysis of the proposals:
    • Large Section of Minority Population Impacted: In Sri Lanka, where Muslims comprise less than 10% of the 21 million population — they are mostly Tamil speaking and are mainly engaged in trade and commerce.
    • Collective Punishment: The ban is likely to increase the feeling among Sri Lankan Muslims that they are being collectively punished for the actions of a few in the community.
    • Invasive restriction of fundamental freedoms: There is no community edict in Sri Lanka demanding that Muslim women must wear a burqa. But for those who do wear it, as in many other places in the world, it is a matter of personal choice based on identity or just modesty. Imposing restriction through laws is considered an assault on fundamental freedoms.
    • The new widening fault line in Sri Lankan Society: The Easter attacks and the “othering” of Muslims that followed have set on edge a minority community that was once seen as better integrated with the national and political mainstream than the Tamils. The new proposals by the government will further increase the acrimony & distrust between the two communities.
    • Switzerland Model: Sri Lanka’s burqa ban announcement came close on the heels of the March 8 Swiss ban on the garment, which came after a national referendum. In a sharply worded statement, UN Human Rights Council criticised the Swiss ban as “discriminatory” and “deeply regrettable”. Other countries that have banned the burqa include the Netherlands, Denmark and France.

Istanbul Convention

  • Context:
    • Turkey withdraws from the Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women.

  • About Istanbul Convention:
    • Istanbul Convention is also called the Council of Europe Convention. It aims towards preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
    • Adoption: The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted the convention in 2011. It came into force in 2014.
    • Purpose: The convention sets minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. Once ratified the Convention is legally binding on the country.
    • Significance: It is the first legally binding instrument that creates a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combat violence against women.
    • Members of the Istanbul Convention: As of March 2019, 45 countries and the European Union have signed the convention.
  • About Council of Europe:
    • The Council of Europe is an international organisation. It aims to uphold human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe.
    • The council was founded in 1949. It has 47 member states. In that, 27 members are the members of the European Union(EU).
    • Relation with EU: The organisation is distinct from the European Union (EU). Although it is sometimes confused with it.
  • Significance:
    • No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe.
    • The Council of Europe is the United Nations Observer.
    • Headquarters: Strasbourg, France.

Sanctions on China over Uighurs

  • Context:
    • In a coordinated move, many countries imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang province.
  • The Uighurs
    • Xinjiang has a large number of Uighurs, Muslims of Turkic descent.
    • Over the past few decades, more and more Han Chinese has settled in Xinjiang, which saw violent clashes between them and the Uighurs.
    • The sanctions have come after a meeting between the US and Chinese officials in Alaska last week, in what Washington described as “tough and direct talks”.
  • Sanctions on China
    • The European Union, the US, Britain, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese Officials.
    • Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement welcoming the Western action, adding they were concerned about reports of abuses from Xinjiang.
    • China on the other hand has consistently denied all reports of atrocities against Uighurs, maintaining it is only “deradicalising” elements of its population in the interests of security.
  • Retaliation by China
    • Those sanctioned by China include five Members of the European Parliament and the Political and Security Committee, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body, among others.
    • China also summoned the EU ambassador and the UK ambassador to lodge “solemn protests”.
    • Why these sanctions are crucial?
      • This is the first time the EU has imposed sanctions on China since an arms embargo after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. That is still in place.
      • Although the EU sanctions are not very damaging, they show a hardening of stance against its largest trading partner.
      • Also significant is that the Western powers moved together, in what is being seen as a result of the US push to deal with China along with its allies.
      • Nations that claim to be defenders of the faith or self-proclaimed Caliphates are silent on the persecution of Uighurs! They perceived the abrogation of Art. 370 as a doomsday event! This is the height of hypocrisy!
  • Reasons behind: Crackdown on Uighurs
    • China is accused of putting over a million people in internment camps to “de-Muslimise” them and make them integrate better in the Communist country.
    • Allegations are that these people have been forced to leave behind their occupations, properties and families, to stay at the camps.
    • Survivors, human rights organisations, and governments of other countries have alleged physical, psychological and sexual torture.
    • People can be sent to the camps for showing any signs of “extremism” — sporting beards, fasting during Ramzan, dressing differently from the majority, sending Eid greetings, praying “too often” etc. 

Myanmar Refugees

  • Context:
    • Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting with the Myanmar Foreign Minister-in-exile Zin Mar Aung of the National League for Democracy. 

  • Background:
    • Mizoram has been reluctant to send back Myanmarese and sought that they are provided political asylum by the Centre.
    • Zoramthanga wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 18, saying India could not turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us in our own backyard.
    • The Myanmar areas bordering Mizoram are inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically Mizo brethren with close contact throughout all these years even before India became independent.
  • Chin communities:
    • The Chin Hills, or the Indo-Chin hill ranges as they are often called, are a mountainous region in north-western Myanmar.
    • At an elevation of 2100-3000 metres, this heavily forested mountain region was the home of numerous tribes that fall under the Zo umbrella.
    • The Zo people include all the tribes that come under the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group spread across Myanmar, India and Bangladesh including a host of tribes, sub-tribes and clans such as Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi, Paitei, Hmar, Lushei, Ralte, Pawi, Lai, Mara, Gangte, Thadou
    • Believed to have originated in China, the tribes migrated through Tibet to settle in Myanmar, and speak a group of the Tibeto-Burman languages.
  • The bond between the Chin people in India and Myanmar:
    • While they are separated by a 510-km India-Myanmar border, they consider themselves “one people’’ despite past conflicts: the Indo-Chin people.
    • Besides the shared ethnicity, what binds these two peoples together is a shared religion. Mizoram is predominantly Christian, as are the Chin people of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
    • Mizoram officials refer to the refugees’ status as a Christian minority seeking asylum for them, and also the fear of persecution by the junta.
    • Rih Dil in Chin state, Myanmar, is a cultural and spiritual lake for the Mizos, deeply revered in folklore, shaping pre-Christian belief of traditional Mizo views of life after death.
  • India’s policy on asylum seekers:
    • India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and it does not currently have a national law on refugees.
    • In 2011, the Centre circulated to all states and Union Territories a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claimed to be refugees.
    • An illegal immigrant can be a foreign national who enters India on valid travel documents and stays beyond their validity or a foreign national who enters without valid travel documents.
    • Cases that can be prima facie justified on grounds of well-founded fears of persecution can be recommended by states or Union Territories to the Home Ministry for a long-term visa (LTV) after due security verification.
    • LTV-holders are allowed to take up private-sector employment and enrol in any academic institution.

Suez Canal

  • Context:
    • Global trade has been impacted after a container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal.

 

  • About
    • Located in Egypt, the artificial sea-level waterway was built between 1859 and 1869 linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. 
    • It offers the shortest route between the Atlantic Ocean and lands around the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.
    • The canal is one of the busiest waterways in the world, negating the need to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and thus cutting distances by up to 7,000 km.
    • Economic Lifeline: The canal continues to be the lifeline for all trade between the West and East as 10 percent of the global trade passes through it every year. The average 50 ships that pass through it daily carry about $9.5 billion worth of goods, every day.
  • Impact of longest-ever accidental closure of Suez Canal
    • On March 23rd, due to weather obstructions a giant container ship, MV Ever Given, en route from China to the Netherlands ended up getting stuck in one of the canal’s narrow stretches, thus blocking all traffic. 
    • Stress on Global Supply Chain: Over 200 ships were stuck on both sides of the canal putting stress on global supply chains.
    • India- the biggest importer via Suez Canal: India is the top importer of crude oil and products via the Suez Canal, higher than China, South Korea, or Singapore. If the issue is not solved early then it will start to have implications on the bigger trade flow and shipping sectors and will begin to affect refining operations on a broader scale
    • India-US relations: For India, though, the main hit could be seen on the import and export of ethane with the US, and the imports of crude from Latin America, the uptake of which was recently increased. The longer the closure, the more disruptive the impact is likely to be.
    • Global Dependence on this narrow waterway: The incident also raises questions about finding solutions to prevent future accidents and reducing the global dependence on this narrow waterway.

Organizations And Conventions:

International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC)

  • Context:
    • India’s Foreign Minister addresses the Chabahar Day event organized at the Maritime India Summit 2021. During the address, the minister put forward the following proposal with respect to INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor):
      • Inclusion of Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC).
      • Expansion of the INSTC membership by including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

 

  • About the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC):
    • INSTC was first proposed in 2000 to improve connectivity between Russia, Central Asian states, and India.
    • Route: It is a 7,200-km-long multi-modal connectivity project to establish transport networks (ship, rail, and road route). It will be used for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe, and Central Asia. It will cut costs and time in moving cargo.
    • Members: It includes 13 countries namely India, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Oman, Syria, and Ukraine.
    • Dry Runs: Dry runs of two routes were conducted in 2014 to identify and address key bottlenecks. The two routes were:
      • The first was Mumbai to Baku via Bandar Abbas and The second was Mumbai to Astrakhan via Bandar Abbas, Tehran, and Bandar Anzali.
      • However, the project has been slow to take off. Despite a renewed focus on INSTC by India and Russia, work was again hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Significance of INSTC:
    • Increase in Bilateral Trade: It has been predicted that improved transport connectivity will increase bilateral trade volumes between Russia, Central Asia, Iran, and India.
    • Shorter and Cheaper Route: As per the study by the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India, the INSTC route is 30% cheaper and 40% shorter than the current traditional route.
    • Can Counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative: INSTC has economic and strategic relevance to India due to China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road Initiative. Hence, the proposed INSTC trade corridor could help India secure its interests in Central Asia and beyond.
    • Integration with Ashgabat Agreement: The INSTC can integrate with the Ashgabat agreement.
  • Ashgabat Agreement:
    • Ashgabat agreement is a multimodal transport agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Oman.
    • Aim: It aims to create an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

  • Context:
    • Centre signs a $304 million pact with AIIB for power transmission network in Assam.
    • The fund will be utilised for the 'Assam Intra-State Transmission System Enhancement Project', aiming to improve reliability, capacity, and security of the power transmission network in the state.
  • What is AIIB?
    • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a multilateral development bank with a mission to improve social and economic outcomes in Asia and beyond.
    • The Parties (57 founding members) to agreement comprise the Membership of the Bank.
    • It is headquartered in Beijing.
    • It commenced operations in January 2016.
  • Aim:
    • By investing in sustainable infrastructure and other productive sectors today, it aims to connect people, services, and markets that over time will impact the lives of billions and build a better future.
  • Membership:
    • There are more than 100 members now.
    • Fourteen of the G-20 nations are AIIB members including France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
  • Voting Rights:
    • China is the largest shareholder with 26.61 % voting shares in the bank followed by India (7.6%), Russia (6.01%), and Germany (4.2 %).
    • The regional members hold 75% of the total voting power in the Bank.
  • Various organs of AIIB:
    • Board of Governors: The Board of Governors consists of one Governor and one Alternate Governor appointed by each member country. Governors and Alternate Governors serve at the pleasure of the appointing member.
    • Board of Directors: Non-resident Board of Directors is responsible for the direction of the Bank’s general operations, exercising all powers delegated to it by the Board of Governors.
    • International Advisory Panel: The Bank has established an International Advisory Panel (IAP) to support the President and Senior Management on the Bank’s strategies and policies as well as on general operational issues.

OPEC+

  • Context:
    • OPEC+ has agreed not to increase supply in April as they await a more substantial recovery in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Crude prices rose after the announcement and are up 33% this year.
  • Concerns for India:
    • India is the world’s third-biggest oil importer. India imports about 84% of its oil and relies on West Asian supplies to meet over three-fifths of its demand.
    • As one of the largest crude-consuming countries, India is concerned that such actions by producing countries have the potential to undermine consumption-led recovery and more so hurt consumers, especially in our price-sensitive market.
  • What is the Opec+?
    • Opec+ refers to the alliance of crude producers, who have been undertaking corrections in supply in the oil markets since 2017.
    • OPEC plus countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, and Sudan.
  • What is OPEC?
    1. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in Baghdad, Iraq, with the signing of an agreement in September 1960 by five countries namely the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. They were to become the Founder Members of the Organization.
    2. OPEC is a permanent, intergovernmental organization.
    3. OPEC’s objective is to coordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic, and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.
    4. It is headquartered in Vienna, Austria.
    5. OPEC membership is open to any country that is a substantial exporter of oil and which shares the ideals of the organization.

New Development Bank (NDB)

  • Context:
    • Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has urged the New Development Bank (NDB) to consider working closely with India’s new development financing institution for funding infrastructure.
  • Background:
    • NDB has so far approved 18 projects in India, including emergency loans of $2 billion to support health spending and economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • About NDB:
    • It is a multilateral development bank operated by the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
    • It was agreed to by BRICS leaders at the 5th BRICS summit held in Durban, South Africa in 2013.
    • It was established in 2014, at the 6th BRICS Summit at Fortaleza, Brazil.
    • The bank is set up to foster greater financial and development cooperation among the five emerging markets.
    • Headquartered in Shanghai, China.
    • In 2018, the NDB received observer status in the United Nations General Assembly, establishing a firm basis for active and fruitful cooperation with the UN.
  • Voting:
    • Unlike the World Bank, which assigns votes based on capital share, in the New Development Bank, each participant country will be assigned one vote, and none of the countries will have veto power.
  • Roles and functions:
    • The Bank will mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, to supplement existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development.

Economy

Banking and Finance:

Bad Loans

  • Context:
    • The Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) has begun identifying bad loans which can be transferred to the Centre’s proposed bad bank.
  • What’s a bad bank and how does it work?
    • The idea of Bad Bank:
      • 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. 
    • Utility of Bad Bank:
      • The bad bank is not involved in lending and taking deposits, but helps commercial banks clean up their balance sheets and resolve bad loans in 
    • Working of Bad Bank:
      • The takeover of bad loans is normally below the book value of the loan (provides a certain margin to ARC).
      • The bad bank subsequently tries to recover as much as possible using its expertise in stressed asset resolution.
    • Support of Government:
      • The bad bank concept is in some ways similar to an ARC but is funded by the government initially, with banks and other investors co-investing in due course.
      • The presence of the government is seen as a means to speed up the clean-up process. 
      • US-based Mellon Bank created the first bad bank in 1988.
  • What has been the stand of the RBI with regard to resolving stressed loans?
    • Viral Acharya, when he was the RBI Deputy Governor, had said it would be better to limit the objective of these asset management companies to the orderly resolution of stressed assets, followed by a graceful exit. 
    • Acharya suggested two models to solve the problem of stressed assets. 
      • The first is a private asset management company (PAMC), which is said to be suitable for stressed sectors where the assets are likely to have an economic value in the short run, with moderate levels of debt forgiveness. 
      • The second model is the National Asset Management Company (NAMC), which would be necessary for sectors where the problem is not just one of excess capacity but possibly also of economically unviable assets in the short to medium terms.
    • While the RBI did not show much enthusiasm about a bad bank all these years, there are signs that it can look at the idea now. Recently, Governor Das indicated that the RBI can consider the idea of a bad bank.

AT-1 Bonds

  • Context:
    • The decision of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) to slap restrictions on mutual fund (MF) investments in additional tier-1 (AT1) bonds has raised a storm in the MF and banking sectors.
    • The Finance Ministry has asked the regulator to withdraw the changes as it could lead to disruption in the investments of mutual funds and the fund-raising plans of banks.
  • What are AT1 bonds? What’s the total outstanding in these bonds?
    • AT1 Bonds stand for additional tier-1 bonds. 
    • These are unsecured bonds that have perpetual tenure. In other words, the bonds have no maturity date. 
    • They have a call option, which can be used by the banks to buy these bonds back from investors. 
    • These bonds are typically used by banks to bolster their core or tier-1 capital. 
    • AT1 bonds are subordinate to all other debt and only senior to common equity. 
    • Mutual funds (MFs) are among the largest investors in perpetual debt instruments and hold over Rs 35,000 crore of the outstanding additional tier-I bond issuances of Rs 90,000 crore.
  • What action has been taken by the Sebi recently and why?
    • 100-year Instrument:
      • In a recent circular, the Sebi told mutual funds to value these perpetual bonds as a 100-year instrument.
      • This essentially means MFs have to make the assumption that these bonds would be redeemed in 100 years. 
    • Limit Ownership:
      • The regulator also asked MFs to limit the ownership of the bonds to 10% of the assets of a scheme. 
    • Linkage with Yes Bank Crisis:
      • According to the SEBI, these instruments could be riskier than other debt instruments.
      • The SEBI has probably made this decision after the RBI allowed a write-off of Rs 8,400 crore on AT1 bonds issued by Yes Bank Ltd after it was rescued by SBI.
  • What is the impact of this decision?
    • Increased Risk:
      • Typically, MFs have treated the date of the call option on AT1 bonds as the maturity date.
      • Now, if these bonds are treated as 100-year bonds, it raises the risk in these bonds as they become ultra long-term. 
    • Increases Volatility in Bond Prices:
      • This could also lead to volatility in the prices of these bonds as the risk increases the yields on these bonds rise.
      • Bond yields and bond prices move in opposite directions and therefore, the higher yield will drive down the price of bonds, which in turn will lead to a decrease in the net asset value of MF schemes holding these bonds.
    • Push MF to engage in Panic Selling:
      • Moreover, these bonds are not liquid and it will be difficult for MFs to sell these to meet redemption pressure.
      • Potential redemptions on account of this new rule would lead to mutual fund houses engaging in panic selling of the bonds in the secondary market leading to widening of yields
    • Impacts Fund Raising Capability of Banks:
      • AT1 bonds have emerged as the capital instrument of choice for state banks as they strive to shore up capital ratios.
      • If there are restrictions on investments by mutual funds in such bonds, banks will find it tough to raise capital at a time when they need funds in the wake of the soaring bad assets.
  • Why has the Finance Ministry asked SEBI to review the decision?
    • The Finance Ministry has sought withdrawal of valuation norms for AT1 bonds prescribed by the SEBI for mutual fund houses as it might lead to mutual funds making losses and exiting from these bonds, affecting capital raising plans of PSU banks.
    • The government doesn’t want a disruption in the fund mobilization exercise of banks at a time when two PSU banks are on the privatization block. 
    • Banks are yet to receive the proposed capital injection in FY21 although they will need more capital to face the asset-quality challenges in the foreseeable future. 

Prompt Corrective Action Framework

  • Context:
    • The Reserve Bank of India has taken IDBI Bank Ltd out of its prompt corrective action list after it found the state-run lender was not in breach of the central bank's parameters.
  • Background:
    • IDBI Bank was placed under the so-called PCA framework in 2017 over its high bad loans and a negative return on assets, at a time when Indian lenders battled record levels of soured assets, prompting the RBI to tighten thresholds.
    • Now, the bank has provided a written commitment that it would comply with the norms of minimum regulatory capital, Net NPA, and Leverage ratio on an ongoing basis and has apprised the RBI of the structural and systemic improvements that it has put in place which would help the bank in continuing to meet these commitments.
  • What is Prompt Corrective Action (PCA)?
    • PCA is a framework under which banks with weak financial metrics are put under watch by the RBI.
    • The RBI introduced the PCA framework in 2002 as a structured early-intervention mechanism for banks that become undercapitalised due to poor asset quality, or vulnerable due to loss of profitability.
    • It aims to check the problem of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector.
    • The framework was reviewed in 2017 based on the recommendations of the working group of the Financial Stability and Development Council on Resolution Regimes for Financial Institutions in India and the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission.
  • When is the Prompt corrective action framework invoked?
    • The PCA is invoked when certain risk thresholds are breached. There are three risk thresholds which are based on certain levels of asset quality, profitability, capital, and the like.
  • What are the types of restrictions?
    • There are two types of restrictions, mandatory and discretionary. Restrictions on dividend, branch expansion, directors compensation, are mandatory while discretionary restrictions could include curbs on lending and deposit.
  • What will a bank do if PCA is triggered?
    • Banks are not allowed to renew or access costly deposits or take steps to increase their fee-based income.
    • Banks will also have to launch a special drive to reduce the stock of NPAs and contain the generation of fresh NPAs.
    • They will also not be allowed to enter into new lines of business. RBI will also impose restrictions on the bank on borrowings from the interbank market.

Infrastructure:

Fuel price hike

  • Context:
    • Diesel and petrol prices have hit record highs across the country.

  • Fuel price dynamics in India
    • Retail petrol and diesel prices are in theory decontrolled — or linked to global crude oil prices.
    • It means that if crude prices fall retails prices should come down too, and vice versa.
    • But this does not happen in practice, largely because oil price decontrol is a one-way street in India.
    • When global crude oil prices fall and prices slide, the government slaps fresh taxes and levies to ensure that it rakes in extra revenues.
    • The consumer should have ideally benefited by way of lower pump prices, is forced to either shell out what she’s already paying or spend even more for every litre of fuel.
    • The main beneficiary in this subversion of price decontrol is the government.
  • Why crude oil prices are rising now?
    • Prices collapsed in April 2020 after the pandemic spread around the world, and demand fell away.
    • But as economies have reduced travel restrictions and factory output has picked up, global demand has improved, and prices have been recovering.
    • The controlled production of crude amid rising demand has been another key factor in boosting oil prices, with Saudi Arabia voluntarily cutting its daily output.
  • What is the impact of taxes on retail prices of auto fuels?
    • The central government hiked the central excise duty on petrol to Rs 32.98 per litre during the course of last year from Rs 19.98 per litre at the beginning of 2020.
    • It increased the excise duty on diesel to Rs 31.83 per litre from Rs 15.83 over the same period to boost revenues as economic activity fell due to the pandemic.
    • A number of states have also hiked sales tax on petrol and diesel to shore up their revenues.
  • How will these hikes impact inflation?
    • Experts note that the impact of rising fuel inflation has been counterbalanced by declining food inflation, but that consumers with greater expenditure on travel are feeling the pinch of higher prices.
    • Rising fuel inflation may pinch consumers who have to travel further for work and have access to affordable cereals etc.
    • The urban population would be more impacted by rising fuel prices than the rural population — however, a weak monsoon may lead to rural India being hit as farmers are forced to rely more on diesel-powered irrigation.

Ethanol cheaper than petrol

  • Context:
    • As ethanol turns cheaper than petrol, the sugar industry sees opportunity.
  • Background:
    • The government has set targets of 10% bioethanol blending of petrol by 2022 and to raise it to 20% by 2030 under the Ethanol Blended Programme (EBP).
      • The EBP was launched in line with the National Biofuels Policy, 2018.
    • Many countries, including India, have adopted ethanol blending in petrol in order to reduce vehicle exhaust emissions and also to reduce the import burden on account of crude petroleum.
    • Currently, the bioethanol blending in petrol stands at 5%.
  • Reasons for Ethanol Blending:
    • It is estimated that a 5% blending can result in the replacement of around 1.8 million barrels of crude oil.
    • As the ethanol molecule contains oxygen, it allows the engine to more completely combust the fuel, resulting in fewer emissions and thereby reducing the occurrence of environmental pollution.
    • The renewable ethanol content, which is a by-product of the sugar industry, is expected to result in a net reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide (CO), and hydrocarbons (HC).
  • Challenges in Ethanol Blending:
    • Less Production:
      • Currently, domestic production of bioethanol is not sufficient to meet the demand for bio-ethanol for blending with petrol at Indian OMCs.
      • Sugar mills, which are the key domestic suppliers of bio-ethanol to OMCs, were able to supply only 57.6% of the total demand.
      • Sugar mills do not have the financial stability to invest in biofuel plants.
      • There are also concerns among investors on the uncertainty of the price of bioethanol in the future as the prices of both sugarcane and bio-ethanol are set by the central government.
    • Water Footprint:
      • While India has become one of the top producers of ethanol but it lags the top producers, the USA and Brazil, by a huge margin and remains inefficient in terms of water usage.
      • India's water requirements for producing ethanol are not met through rainwater and the groundwater is used for drinking and other purposes.
      • Water footprint, that is water required to produce a litre of ethanol, includes rainwater at the root zone used by ethanol-producing plants such as sugarcane, and surface, groundwater, and freshwater required to wash away pollutants.
    • Limited Sugarcane Availability:
      • Sugarcane is another limited resource that affects ethanol blending in the country.
      • In order to achieve a 20% blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will have to be diverted for sugarcane production. Any such land requirement is likely to put stress on other crops and has the potential to increase food prices.
      • India’s biofuel policy stipulates that fuel requirements must not compete with food requirements and that only surplus food crops should be used for fuel production, if at all.
    • Lack of Alternatives:
      • Producing ethanol from crop residue can be a good alternative but the annual capacity of biorefinery is still not enough to meet the 5% petrol-ethanol blending requirement.
      • Other biofuels such as Jatropha have often proven to be commercially unviable.
    • Handling issues:
      • Ethanol being a highly flammable liquid marks obligatory safety and risk assessment measures during all phases of production, storage, and transportation, thus increasing the cost and risk factor.
  • Way Forward
    • 2G bioethanol not only provided a clean source of energy but also helped to provide greater income to farmers and help meet the aim of doubling the farmer's income by 2020 and prevent them from having to burn agricultural waste which can be a major source of air pollution.
    • The government could provide greater visibility on the price of bioethanol by announcing a mechanism by which the price of bio-ethanol would be decided.
    • Setting a target that a certain percentage of ethanol blending be done using ethanol generated from 2G plants would help boost investment in the area.
    • Also, alternatives like 3rd generation (derived from algae) and 4th generation biofuels (derived from specially engineered plants or biomass) should be encouraged.

Maitri Setu

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Prime Minister inaugurated Bharat Bangla Maitri Bridge in Tripura’s South district.

  • About:
    • The bridge ‘Maitri Setu’ has been built over the Feni river which flows between the Indian boundary in Tripura State and Bangladesh.
    • Feni originates in the South Tripura district. The river passes through Sabroom town on the Indian side and meets the Bay of Bengal after it flows into Bangladesh.
    • The 1.9 Km long bridge joins Sabroom (in Tripura) with Ramgarh (in Bangladesh).
    • The name ‘Maitri Setu’ symbolizes growing bilateral relations and friendly ties between India and Bangladesh.
    • The construction was taken up by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd at a project cost of Rs. 133 crore.
    • The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited is a fully owned company of the Government of India.
      • It is responsible for the development & maintenance of the National Highways & Strategic Roads of India.
  • Significance:
    • Now Agartala (capital of Tripura) will become the nearest city to an international seaport in India.
    • Tripura will become the ‘Gateway of North East’ with access to Chittagong Port of Bangladesh, which is just 80 km from Sabroom.
    • Bangladesh and India have a long-standing and time-tested Protocol on Transit and Trade through inland waterways.
    • It would serve as a new trade corridor between the two countries, helping the Northeast states grow. It will enhance people-to-people contact.

National Monetisation Pipeline

  • Context:
    • The government’s proposing to monetize assets and proposes the idea of an independent commission to carry out the task of monetization.
  • About National Monetisation Pipeline:
    • Finance Minister had introduced a roadmap for monetization of assets in the Union Budget.
    • In the budget, the government proposed to launch a ‘National Monetisation Pipeline’ to assess the potential value of underutilized and unused government assets.
    • A number of countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, France, and China have effectively utilized this policy.
    • In India too, the concept was suggested by a committee led by Vijay Kelkar on the roadmap for fiscal consolidation in 2012.
    • The committee had suggested that the government start monetization as a key instrument to raise resources for development.
    • It asked the government to use these resources for financing infrastructure needs.
  • Why monetization?
    • The global pandemic forced the government to increase spending.
    • Thus, the total expenditure of the government has jumped to ₹34.50 trillion against the target of ₹30.42 trillion.
    • On the flip side, the revenue of the government is shrinking.
    • As a result, total borrowing has increased by 2.3 times, from ₹7.96 trillion to ₹18.49 trillion.
    • An increase in borrowing also increases interest costs.
    • The ratio of interest payment to revenue receipts was 36.3% in 2019-20.
    • As per revised data, it has increased to 44.5% in the current fiscal year and is projected at an all-time high of 45.3% in 2021-22.
    • Almost half of the revenue is going towards servicing old debts. To revive the economy, capital expenditure is indispensable.
  • Background:
    • Against this backdrop, the government has already launched the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), with 6,835 projects in December 2019.
    • The project pipeline has been increased to 7,400.
    • The NIP has its own specific target and the government is committed to achieving it in the coming years.
    • It called for a major increase in funding.
    • For 2021-22, the government has proposed to spend ₹5.54 trillion, which is 34.5% higher than the budgeted amount of 2020-21.
    • Now, the government found that monetization of government- and public sector-owned assets would be an important financing option for new infrastructure construction.
  • Model for monetization of asset: REITs
    • The government is looking at the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) model for the monetization of assets.
    • Under REITs, the land assets are transferred to a trust providing investment opportunities for institutional investors.
    • The government has another option to lease or rent out the assets instead of going for monetization.
    • The government expects monetization will generate ₹2.5 trillion in non-debt capital revenue.
    • The objective of asset monetization is to raise resources for future investment into the sector.
    • A pipeline monetization plan for Indian Oil, GAIL, and Hindustan Petroleum has been drawn up by the government.
    • It is expected that the government will raise ₹0.17 trillion by selling stakes in these three companies.

Vehicle Scrappage Policy

  • Context:
    • Auto majors have welcomed the new vehicle scrappage policy rolled out by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, saying it would encourage people to replace old vehicles while boosting the sector.
  • Objective:
    • The objectives of the policy are to reduce the population of old and defective vehicles, achieve a reduction in vehicular air pollutants to fulfill India’s climate commitments, improve road and vehicular safety, achieve better fuel efficiency, formalize the currently informal vehicle scrapping industry and boost the availability of low-cost raw materials for automotive, steel and electronics industry.
    • The ecosystem is expected to attract additional investments of around Rs. 10,000 Crore and 35,000 job opportunities.
    • The Ministry shall, in the next few weeks, publish draft notifications, which shall be in the public domain for a period of 30 days to solicit comments and views of all involved stakeholders.
    • The criteria for a vehicle to be scrapped is primarily based on the fitness of vehicles through Automated Fitness Centres in case of commercial vehicles and Non-Renewal of Registration in case of private vehicles.
    • The criteria are adapted from international best practices after a comparative study of standards from various countries like Germany, the UK, the USA, and Japan.
    • A Vehicle failing the fitness test or failing to get a renewal of its registration certificate may be declared as End of Life Vehicle. Criteria to determine vehicle fitness will be primarily emission tests, braking, safety equipment, among many other tests which are as per the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989.
  • The Policy proposes the following:
    • It is proposed that commercial vehicles be de-registered after 15 years in case of failure to get the fitness certificate.
    • As a disincentive measure, increased fees for fitness certificates and fitness tests may be applicable for commercial vehicles 15 years onwards from the date of initial registration.
    • It is proposed that Private Vehicles be de-registered after 20 years if found unfit or in case of a failure to renew the registration certificate.
    • As a disincentive measure, increased re-registration fees will be applicable for private vehicles 15 years onwards from the date of initial registration.
    • It is being proposed that all vehicles of the Central Government, State Government, Municipal Corporation, Panchayats, State Transport Undertakings, Public Sector Undertakings, and autonomous bodies with the Union and State Governments may be de-registered and scrapped after 15 years from the date of registration.
    • The scheme shall provide strong incentives to owners of old vehicles to scrap old and unfit vehicles through registered scrapping centers, which shall provide the owners with a scrapping certificate.
    • Some of these incentives include:
      • Scrap Value for the old vehicle given by the scrapping center, which is approximately 4-6% of the ex-showroom price of a new vehicle.
      • The state governments may be advised to offer a road- tax rebate of up to 25% for personal vehicles and up to 15% for commercial vehicles
      • The vehicle manufacturers are also advised for providing a discount of 5% on the purchase of a new vehicle against the scrapping certificate.
      • In addition, the registration fees may also be waived for the purchase of a new vehicle against the scrapping certificate.
  • The tentative timeline for application of the Proposed Scrapping Policy is as follows:
    • Rules for Fitness Tests and Scrapping Centres: 01st October 2021
    • Scrapping of Government and PSU vehicles above 15 years of age: 01st April 2022
    • Mandatory Fitness Testing for Heavy Comm. Vehicles: 01st April 2023
    • Mandatory Fitness-Testing (Phased manner for other categories): 01st June 2024
  • Aim:
    • Reducing the population of old and defective vehicles, bringing down vehicular air pollutants, improving road and vehicular safety.
  • Provisions:
    • Fitness Test:
      • Old vehicles will have to pass a fitness test before re-registration and as per the policy government commercial vehicles more than 15 years old and private vehicles which are over 20 years old will be scrapped.
      • Old vehicles will be tested at the Automated Fitness Centre and the fitness test of the vehicles will be conducted according to international standards.
      • Emission test, braking system, safety components will be tested and the vehicles which fail in the fitness test will be scraped.
      • The Ministry has also issued rules for the registration procedures for scrapping facilities, their powers, and scrapping procedures to be followed.
    • Road Tax Rebate:
      • The state governments may be advised to offer a road-tax rebate of up to 25% for personal vehicles and up to 15% for commercial vehicles to provide incentives to owners of old vehicles to scrap old and unfit vehicles.
    • Vehicle Discount:
      • Vehicle manufacturers will also give a discount of 5% to people who will produce the ‘Scrapping Certificate’ and registration fees will be waived off on the purchase of a new vehicle.
    • Disincentive:
      • As a disincentive, increased re-registration fees would be applicable for vehicles 15 years or older from the initial date of registration.
  • Significance:
    • Creation of Scrap yards:
      • It will lead to the creation of more scrap yards in the country and effective recovery of waste from old vehicles.
    • Employment:
      • In the new fitness centers, 35 thousand people will get employment and an investment of Rs 10,000 crores will be pumped in.
    • Improved Revenue:
      • This will boost sales of heavy and medium commercial vehicles that had been in the contraction zone as a result of the economic slowdown triggered by the bankruptcy of IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services) and the Covid-19 pandemic.
      • The government treasury is expected to get around Rs 30,000 to 40,000 crores of money through Goods and Services Tax (GST)from this policy.
    • Reduction in Prices:
      • Prices of auto components would fall substantially with the recycling of metal and plastic parts.
      • As scrapped materials will get cheaper the production cost of the vehicle manufacturers will also reduce.
    • Reduce Pollution:
      • It will help improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollution.
      • As older vehicles pollute the environment 10 to 12 times more and estimated that 17 lakh medium and heavy commercial vehicles are more than 15 years old.

Manufacturing:

PMI 

  • Context:
    • The seasonally-adjusted IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell marginally to 57.5 in February from 57.7 in January, indicating that even though the pace of growth eased from January it remained sharp in the context of historical data.
  • About Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI):
    • Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is an indicator of business activity – both in the manufacturing and services sectors.
    • It is calculated separately for the manufacturing and services sectors and then a composite index is also constructed.
    • The PMI summarizes whether market conditions as viewed by purchasing managers are expanding, neutral, or contracting.
    • The purpose of the PMI is to provide information about current and future business conditions to company decision-makers, analysts, and investors.
    • The PMI is a number from 0 to 100.
      • PMI above 50 represents an expansion when compared to the previous month;
      • PMI under 50 represents a contraction, and
      • A reading at 50 indicates no change.
    • The PMI is usually released at the start of every month. It is, therefore, considered a good leading indicator of economic activity.
    • The Index (PMI) is compiled by IHS Markit for more than 40 economies worldwide. IHS Markit is a global leader in information, analytics, and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide.

Cargo container manufacturing

  • Context:
    • In a First, India to Foray into Cargo Container Manufacturing to Steer Clear of Chinese Dependence: Report
  • Aim:
    • The move is specifically aimed at freeing the country’s dependency on China and other foreign players in the logistics sector.
  • Background:
    • Prior to this, all cargo containers in India were manufactured by foreign players, mainly Chinese. China is the global leader in cargo containers and routinely wins global tenders to manufacture and supply containers across the world, including in India.
    • India’s external trade grew to USD 838.46 billion in the last financial year, and the increasing trade is translating into higher demand for containerization due to their efficiencies.
    • A Hindu Business Line report says that India will require approximately 60,000 new containers between 2021 and 2026.
    • The government’s move to produce shipping containers in India is part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative and creates an import substitute for the new shipping containers.

Services sector:

Spectrum auction

  • Context:
    • The government has received bids worth ₹77,146 crores on the first day of the auction for telecom airwaves, exceeding its own pre-bid estimates of about ₹45,000 crores.
  • Background:
    • Airwaves worth ₹3.92 lakh crore have been put up for sale across 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, and 2500 MHz frequency bands.

  • What are spectrum auctions?
    • Devices such as cellphones and wireline telephones require signals to connect from one end to another. These signals are carried on airwaves, which must be sent at designated frequencies to avoid any kind of interference.
    • The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves.
    • To sell these assets to companies willing to set up the required infrastructure to transport these waves from one end to another, the central government through the DoT auctions these airwaves from time to time.
    • These airwaves are called a spectrum, which is subdivided into bands that have varying frequencies. All these airwaves are sold for a certain period of time, after which their validity lapses, which is generally set at 20 years.

OTP rules

  • Context:
    • At the beginning of March 2021, around 40 crore SMSes sent by banks, government authorities, e-commerce companies, etc. were not delivered to intended recipients. The SMSes included confirmations of registration, one-time passwords (OTPs), and transaction messages.
  • Why did this happen?
    • This happened after telecom operators enforced a 2018 regulation issued by the sectoral watchdog. Around 100 crore commercial messages on average are sent by companies to customers every day.
  • What are ‘commercial messages’?
    • A commercial message can contain both solicited and unsolicited content. Messages such as OTPs for financial transactions, notifications about a transaction, confirmations for registrations, or orders placed on e-commerce websites are solicited; promotional messages selling financial products and real estate deals, etc. may be seen as unsolicited commercial communications.
    • Mobile phone users have for years complained about unsolicited “pesky” calls and messages.
  • What has TRAI done about spammy communications?
    • Back in 2012, when mobile companies tried to monetize the popularity of SMSes by offering packs that allowed users to send unlimited free messages after buying a special tariff voucher, the telecom regulator had ruled that beyond 100 messages per day, every message would have to cost at least 50 paise.
    • Last June, the regulator did away with this regulation, citing newer technology-based rules to curb spam messages.
    • It also issued ‘do-not-disturb rules, under which consumers could choose the categories of commercial messages and calls they wished to receive and could complain if they received messages from a category they had not chosen.
    • However, these rules did little to reduce unsolicited commercial communications.
  • What did the 2018 regulation do?
    • In 2018, TRAI introduced The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations (TCCCPR), which defined architecture with checkpoints at three ends — the sender of the SMS, the telecom operator, and the customer.
    • To ensure effectiveness, it put in place technology-based requirements at each stage — including “scrubbing” of messages, a consent register to keep a record of the permission given by the customer, and a distributed ledger to maintain a record of all entities registered to carry out telemarketing-related functions.
  • What changed for senders of SMSes?
    • Senders, typically commercial entities, would have to register themselves.
    • This built upon an older requirement under which a message or call from an unregistered number would result in a ban on that number — the entity would now have to register not only itself but also the template in which its content was to be communicated.
  • What would happen at the telecom operators’ end?
    • Operators would examine the list of numbers provided by the sending entity to check whether commercial communications can be sent to the customer after verifying the preference and the consent.
    • This process would also ensure that the messages were being sent as per the registered template.
  • And what would change for customers?
    • They could whitelist certain categories or entities from which they wished to receive commercial messages.
    • However, telemarketers can still call through unregistered mobile or landline numbers — and while these can be banned post facto, a mechanism to fully restrict them is still lacking.

FDI limit in Insurance Sector

  • Context:
    • Insurance Amendment Bill, 2021 was recently passed by Rajya Sabha.
  • Key features of the Bill:
    • The Bill amends the Insurance Act, 1938 to increase the maximum foreign investment allowed in an Indian insurance company.
    • The Bill increases the limit on foreign investment in an Indian insurance company from 49% to 74% and removes restrictions on ownership and control.
    • While control will go to foreign companies, the majority of directors and key management persons will be resident Indians who will be covered by law of the land.
  • Significance:
    • Insurance companies are facing liquidity pressure and the higher limit would help meet the growing capital requirement.
  • Background:
    • Foreign investment in the insurance sector was first permitted in the year 2000 up to 26%.
    • Subsequently, vide an Amendment Act of 2015, this limit was raised to 49% of the paid-up equity capital of such company, which is Indian owned and controlled.

Telecom Licensing amendment

  • Context:
    • The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has amended licensing conditions for telecom companies.
  • Highlights:
    • The norms include defense and national security as parameters in the purchase of telecom equipment for trusted sources.
    • Starting June 15, telcos can use telecom products only from trusted sources in their network.
    • Telcos must take permission from the designated authority if they plan to upgrade their existing network using telecom equipment that has not been designated as the trusted product.
    • National Cyber Security Coordinator has been made the designated authority for deciding on the list of trusted and non-trusted telecom equipment sources and products.
    • NCSC’s decisions will be made based on the approval of a committee headed by the Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA). The committee will also have members from other departments and ministries, and independent experts as well as two members from the industry.
  • Impact on Chinese companies:
    • The move could potentially make it more difficult for Chinese telecom equipment vendors like Huawei and ZTE to supply equipment to Indian telecom players in the future.
  • National Cyber Security Coordinator:
    • In 2014, the Prime Minister’s Office created the position of the National Cyber Security Coordinator.
    • The NCSC office coordinates with different agencies at the national level for cybersecurity matters.

 

Environment

Species in news:

Name Of Species: Information:
Himalayan serow

  • It is a Himalayan mammal, somewhere between a goat and an antelope.
  • It has been confirmed as the newest creature to be spotted in Assam.
  • It was spotted in the 950-sq.km Manas Tiger Reserve on December 3.
  • Categorised as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  • It is listed under Schedule I of The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which provides absolute protection.
Red sanders

  • Red sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus) are known for their rich hue and therapeutic properties.
  • The tree is endemic to several districts in Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.
  • The species was listed in Appendix II of CITES in 1995, and subsequently, the export of red sanders was prohibited in 2004.
  • But, in 2019, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has revised its export policy to permit the export of red sanders if it is obtained from cultivated land.
  • Red Sanders usually grows in the rocky, degraded, and fallow lands with Red Soil and a hot and dry climate.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put it under the category of near threatened from earlier endangered species in the Red List.
Whale shark

  • About:
    • The whale shark is the largest living species of fish and is endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
    • It is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act.
    • The whale shark has a lifespan of around 130 years and has a unique pattern of dots on its body.
    • It can grow up to 10 metres in length and weigh around 20 tonnes.
  • Habitat:
    • Whale sharks are found in all the tropical oceans of the world. Whale sharks are found along the coast of India.
Fishing cats

  • The first-ever survey of the elusive fishing cat in and around Asia’s biggest brackish water lagoon, the Chilika lake in Odisha, started on March 1, 2021.
  • Fishing cats are almost twice the size of the house cat.
  • They are generally found in the marshy wetlands of northern and eastern India and on the mangroves of the east coast.
  • IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.
Great Indian Bustard

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has decided to examine on a priority basis whether overhead power cables in natural habitats of Great Indian Bustards in Rajasthan and Gujarat can be replaced with underground ones to save these birds.
  • What's the issue?
    • The birds are falling dead after colliding with power lines running through their dwindling natural habitats.
  • Great Indian Bustards (GIB):
    • IUCN status: critically endangered.
    • Listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection)Act, 1972, and in the CMS Convention and in Appendix I of CITES.
    • Identified as one of the species for the recovery programme under the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
    • Project Great Indian Bustard — state of Rajasthan — identifying and fencing off bustard breeding grounds in existing protected areas as well as provide secure breeding enclosures in areas outside protected areas.
  • Protected areas:
    • Desert National Park Sanctuary — Rajasthan, Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary – Andhra Pradesh, and Karera Wildlife Sanctuary– Madhya Pradesh.
  • Habitats in India:
    • Only two districts in Rajasthan — Jaisalmer, and Barmer — have a breeding GIB population in the wild.
    • The bird can also be found in very small numbers in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.

Slender-billed gulls

  • Context:
    • An offense under the Wildlife Protection Act was registered against a road contractor for disturbing the natural habitat and nesting site of migratory birds slender-billed gulls in the Greater Rann of Kutch near Khavda village of Kutch district
  • About:
    • The contractor had shifted a few hundred eggs of slender-billed gulls, a schedule IV species under the Wildlife Protection Act, about 800 m away from the road construction site.
    • The permission for this road that passes through the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and the Wild Ass sanctuary was granted by the National Wildlife Board in 2014.
  • Slender-billed Gull
    • It breeds in lagoons and lakes around the Mediterranean Sea and similar locations in countries bordering the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean.
    • Its IUCN conservation status is the least concern (LC).

Cheetah

  • Context:
    • Nearly 70 years after the cheetah was declared locally extinct or extirpated, India will receive its first batch of large cats from Africa by the end of this year.
  • About Cheetah:
    • It is the fastest mammal on land
    • Once found throughout Asia and Africa, cheetahs today are racing toward extinction.
    • Loss of habitat and declining numbers of their prey combine to threaten the future of these cats.
    • Cheetahs live and hunt mainly in open grasslands and bushy areas in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
  • Extinction from India:
    • The animal is believed to have disappeared from the country when Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya hunted and shot the last three recorded Asiatic cheetahs in India in 1947.
    • It was declared extinct by the government in 1952.
    • Over-hunting, the decimation of its relatively narrow prey base and the loss of its grassland-forest habitats are contributing factors for the cheetah going extinct.
    • With India’s emphasis on agriculture at the time of Independence, acquiring and parceling off grasslands for agriculture led to its decline.
  • Relocation from Africa:
    • In the early 1970s, Dr. M K Ranjitsinh carried out negotiations with Iran on behalf of the Indira Gandhi administration.
    • Due to lack of readiness of relocation sites, emergency in India, and change of rule in Iran the attempt failed.
    • While the Persian cheetah was preferred for relocation, being Asiatic, this is no longer possible as the cheetah population in Iran has dwindled to under 50.
    • The current relocation attempt began in 2009 but it is only last year that the Supreme Court gave the green signal to the Centre to relocate African cheetah.
    • Two expert teams — one from Namibia and the other from South Africa — the two countries with the highest cheetah populations in the world, will arrive to train Indian forest officers and wildlife experts on handling, breeding, rehabilitation, medical treatment, and conservation of the animals.
    • This is the first time in the world that a large carnivore will be relocated from one continent to another.
  • Kuno National Park:
    • An expert committee set up by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change identified Kuno National Park as being ready for the relocation.
    • The site has been monitored since 2006 as it had also been identified for relocating the Asiatic Lion.
    • Both animals share the same habitat — semi-arid grasslands that stretch across Gujarat-Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh.
    • In Kuno National Park, because of the lion relocation project, the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department had already relocated several villages and declared it a ‘national park’, which led to “remarkable recovery in its habitat, prey abundance, and reduction of human impacts”.
    • The Park spans 261 sq km and is a part of the Kuno wildlife division with an area of 1,235 sq km.
    • Currently, the leopard and striped hyena are the only larger carnivores within the National Park, with the lone tiger having returned to Ranthambore earlier this year.
  • Importance of conserving Cheetah:
    • As a flagship species, the conservation of the cheetah will revive grasslands and associated biomes and habitat, much like Project Tiger has done for forests and all the species that have seen their numbers go up.
    • While there is a lot of emphasis on the preservation of forests, grasslands are a hugely neglected habitat in the country — we have a forest policy but not a grasslands policy.
    • And yet, the largest number of Schedule I protected animals under the Wildlife Protection Act reside in these grasslands.
    • Endangered species like the caracal will fall under the flagship cheetah project and will be conserved in turn.

Elephant

  • Context:
    • March 13 is marked as the National Thai Elephant Day, also called Chang Thai Day, to draw attention to the importance of the human-elephant relationship in Thailand.
  • About:
    • Elephants are the largest existing land animals.
    • Three species are currently recognized: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant
    • African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, whereas Asian elephants have smaller ears, and convex or level backs.
    • Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes.
    • They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible.
    • They are considered to be keystone species, due to their impact on their environments. 
    • Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. 
    • African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered and African forest elephants as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
    • One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. 
    • The oldest and largest female elephant is the leader of the herd.
    • This herd includes the daughters of the matriarch and their offspring.
    • Elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals, carrying their young for 18 to 22 months before giving birth.
    • Most females give birth for the first time between 14 and 15 years old in African elephants, and slightly later for Asian elephants. 
    • Females over 60 can also give birth
    • In India, Karnataka has the highest number of elephants (6,049), followed by Assam (5,719) and Kerala (3,054). 

 


Pollution And Conservation:

Pollution in Delhi

  • Context:
    • Delhi has been ranked as the world’s most polluted capital in a new report that placed India as having the third-worst air quality out of 106 countries in 2020.
  • World Air Quality report:
    • The World Air Quality report by Swiss technology company IQAir, mentions that 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities globally are in India. 
    • Despite widespread air quality improvements during 2019-20, air pollution in India is still dangerously high.
    • Data for the ranking was derived from ground-based government and private monitoring stations and only PM 2.5 pollutant levels were evaluated.
    • PM 2.5 refers to the ambient airborne particles of size 2.5 micrometers that are emitted from various sources and are linked to negative health effects such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and premature mortality, the report states.
    • Major sources of India’s air pollution include transportation, biomass burning for cooking, electricity generation, industry, construction, waste burning, and episodic agricultural burning.
  • Reasons for pollution in Delhi:
    • Delhi, the world’s second-most populous city, is located southeast of India’s agricultural breadbasket, where open burning is common.
    • It is estimated that as much as 20% to 40% of Delhi’s air pollution originates from Punjab farm fires.
    • During peak burning season, Delhi experienced average PM 2.5 levels of 144 µg/m3 in November and 157 µg/m3 in December, exceeding the WHO’s annual exposure guideline by more than 14 times.
    • The annual exposure limit of PM2.5 set by WHO is 10 µg/m3, lower than 40 µg/m3 set under the Indian National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
    • Dust and vehicular pollution are the two other biggest causes of dipping air quality in Delhi in winters.
  • Why pollution increases in winter?
    • Change in wind direction
      • October usually marks the withdrawal of monsoons in Northwest India.
      • Once monsoon withdraws, the predominant direction of winds changes to northwesterly. 
      • This wind carries dust from Rajasthan and sometimes Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    • Dip in temperature
      • As temperature dips, the inversion height — which is the layer beyond which pollutants cannot disperse into the upper layer of the atmosphere – is lowered.
      • The concentration of pollutants in the air increases when this happens.
    • Dip in wind speed
      • High-speed winds are very effective at dispersing pollutants, but winters bring a dip in wind speed overall as compared to summers.
  • The combination of these meteorological factors makes the region prone to pollution. When factors such as farm fires and dust storms are added to the already high base pollution levels in the city, air quality dips further.

National Green Tribunal (NGT)

  • Context:
    • In 2020, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) dismissed a total of 22 appeals, mostly by residents against green clearances issued to 20 projects.
    • As many as 11, half of these dismissals were on the technical ground that appellants did not approach the Tribunal in time.
  • About NGT:
    • The National Green Tribunal, established in 2010, as per the National Green Tribunal Act is a specialized judicial body equipped with expertise solely to adjudicate environmental cases in the country.
    • The Tribunal is tasked with providing an effective and expeditious remedy in cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources, and enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment.
    • The Tribunal’s orders are binding and it has the power to grant relief in the form of compensation and damages to affected persons.
    • The Tribunal has a presence in five zones and the Principal Bench is situated in the North Zone, headquartered in Delhi.
  • Jurisdiction: Any person seeking relief and compensation for environmental damage involving subjects in the following legislations approach the Tribunal:
    • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
    • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
    • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
    • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
    • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
    • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
    • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • Procedure to challenge clearance:
    • Under the NGT Act, 2010, a clearance can be challenged by an affected party within 30 days while the Tribunal has the authority to condone another 60 days’ delay given “sufficient cause”.
    • This time limit applies from the day of communication as both regulators and developers are legally required to place every project clearance in the public domain.
  • Expert opinion on the present issue:
    • Projects cannot be implemented if their clearances are open to scrutiny indefinitely.
    • But concerns of the project-affected must also be addressed.
    • Over the years, the tribunal has been sensitive to both aspects.
    • There should be no deviation from that approach because the law seeks a balance.

Benzene emission at fuel outlets

  • Context:
    • A joint committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to study air pollution in Kerala has made the following recommendations:
      1. Installation of vapour recovery system at fuelling stations.
      2. Retrofitting of diesel vehicles with particulate filters.
      3. Stringent action to be taken against industrial units that do not comply with emission norms.
      4. Promote battery-operated vehicles and ban old diesel vehicles in a phased manner.
      5. Creation of green buffers along traffic corridors.
  • The short-term measures recommended include:
    1. Strict action against visibly polluting vehicles (to be initiated by the Motor Vehicles Department).
    2. Introduction of wet/mechanised vacuum sweeping of roads.
    3. Controlling dust pollution at construction sites.
    4. Ensuring transport of construction materials in covered vehicles.
  • Need for:
    • Petrol refueling stations are a major source of benzene emissions, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter 2.5 concentration.
    • Therefore, the installation of vapour recovery system is an important step in improving air quality. The committee recommended that this is to be implemented in coordination with the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization [PESO] shortly.
  • Sources of Benzene:
    • Automobile and petroleum industry.
    • Incomplete combustion of coal oil, petrol, and wood.
    • Found in cigarette smoke and charcoal boiled food.
    • Also present in particleboard furniture, plywood, fibreglass, flooring adhesives, paints, wood paneling.

Environment:

Legalization of mining in Aravalis

  • Context:
    • Ahead of a hearing of a petition by the Haryana government seeking permission for mining in Aravalis in Gurugram and Faridabad, in the Supreme Court, environmentalists and the residents are strongly opposed to mining being legalized.
  • About Aravalis:
    • The Aravalli Range is a mountain range in Northwestern India, running approximately 670 km in a southwest direction, starting near Delhi, passing through southern Haryana and Rajasthan, and ending in Gujarat.
    • The highest peak is Guru Shikhar at 1,722 meters
    • Three major rivers and their tributaries flow from the Aravalli, namely Banas and Sahibi rivers which are tributaries of Yamuna, as well as Luni River which flows into the Rann of Kutch.
    • Mining of copper and other metals in the Aravalli range dates back to at least the 5th century BCE, based on carbon dating.
    • Recent research indicates that copper was already mined here during the Sothi-Siswal period going back to c. 4000 BCE.
    • Ancient Kalibangan and Kunal, Haryana settlements obtained copper here.
  • Importance of Aravalis:
    • It is the only natural barrier against desertification.
    • The Aravalis, with their natural cracks and fissures, have the potential to put two million liters of water per hectare in the ground every year.
    • Besides, the mountain range is a biodiversity hotspot with 400-odd species of native trees, shrubs, and herbs; 200-odd native and migratory bird species; 100-odd butterfly species; 20-odd reptile species, and 20-odd mammal species, including leopards.
  • Ban on mining:
    • In 2009, the SC imposed a blanket ban on all mining of major and minor minerals in the eco-sensitive Aravalli hills in Faridabad, Gurugram, and Mewat. 
    • Until now, mining was going on illegally in Haryana.
    • Haryana has the lowest forest cover in India, just 3.62%.
    • Most of this is concentrated in the Aravalli hills in south Haryana and some in the Shivaliks in the north.
    • Legalizing mining in the Aravalis will lead to severe environmental impacts threatening the survival of millions of people living in Gurugram, Faridabad, Delhi-NCR as well as the wildlife that call these forests home.

NITI Aayog vision for Great Nicobar

  • Context:
    • More than 150 sq. km. of land is being made available for Phase I of a NITI Aayog-piloted ‘holistic’ and ‘sustainable’ vision for Great Nicobar Island.
  • About Great Nicobar:
    • It is the southernmost and largest of the Nicobar Islands of India, north of Sumatra. 
    • The island covers 921 km2 but is sparsely inhabited, with a population of 8067, largely being covered by rainforest and known for its diverse wildlife.
    • The island is home to the Shompen people.
    • Mount Thullier, which is part of this range, has the highest elevation of any point in the Nicobars, at 642 m above sea level.
    • Indira Point is the southernmost point of the Great Nicobar Island and India itself. 
    • The majority of the island is designated as the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve— home to many unique and endemic species of plants and animals including the Nicobar scrubfowl, the edible-nest swiftlet, the Nicobar long-tailed macaque, saltwater crocodile, giant leatherback sea turtle, Malayan box turtle, Nicobar tree shrew, reticulated python, and the giant robber crab.
    • It incorporates two National parks of India, which were gazetted in 1992: the larger Campbell Bay National Park on the northern part of the island, and Galathea National Park on the southern interior. 
    • Great Nicobar Island was severely affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami with many deaths and was cut off from all outside contact for more than a day.
  • Proposed plan and associated concerns:
    • Projects to be executed in Phase I include a 22 sq. km. airport complex, a transshipment port (TSP) at South Bay, a parallel-to-the-coast mass rapid transport system, and a free trade zone and warehousing complex on the southwestern coast.
    • The damages that will ensue from this proposal will be extremely damaging to the natural resources which are assets to the archipelago and the islanders' future.

Simlipal forest fire 

  • Context:
    • A massive fire devastated vast tracts of Simlipal National Park and other wildlife habitats nearby, raising concern among environmental activists over its possible impact. 
  • Simlipal Biosphere reserve:
    • Similipal, which derives its name from the ‘Simul’ (silk cotton) tree, is a national park and a tiger reserve situated in the northern part of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.
    • Similipal and the adjoining areas, comprising 5,569 sq km, was declared a biosphere reserve by the Government of India in 1994 and lies in the eastern end of the eastern ghat.
    • Sal is a dominant tree species.
  • How fire-prone is Simlipal forest?
    • Generally, with the onset of summers and towards the end of autumn, the forest area remains vulnerable to forest fires.
    • This duration coincides with the shedding of deciduous forests in the forest areas.
    • The fallen leaves are more vulnerable to catching fire and facilitate the spreading of these forest fires quickly over the entire forest area.
    • They are a recurrent annual phenomenon but are also brought under control due to the short span of precipitation.
  • What causes the fire in Simlipal?
    • Natural causes such as lighting or even soaring temperatures can sometimes result in these fires, but forest officials and activists say most of the fires can be attributed to man-made factors.
    • With dried leaves and tree trunks, even a spark can lead to a raging fire.
    • During instances of poaching and hunting wherein the poachers set a small patch of forest on fire to divert the wild animals can lead to such fires.
    • Jungle areas are also set on fire by villagers to clear the dry leaves on the ground for easy collection of mahua flowers
    • Villagers also believe burning patches of sal trees will lead to better growth when planted again.
    • This year an advanced heatwave with the early onset of summer further deteriorated the condition.
  • How are these forest fires controlled and prevented? 
    • Such fires are generally brought under control by natural rains. Other methods to prevent fires include:
      • Forecasting fire-prone days
      • Including community members to mitigate incidents of fire
      • Creating fire lines
      • Clearing sites of dried biomass
      • Crackdown on poachers

Study on snow leopard in Himachal Pradesh

  • Context:
    • Himachal Pradesh’s high-altitude hilly terrains could be harbouring as many as 73 snow leopards (Panthera uncia), says a recent study based on a scientific enumeration of the elusive animal.
  • Habitats:
    • The snow leopard inhabits the higher Himalayan and trans-Himalayan landscape in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.
    • In Himachal Pradesh, the snow leopard’s habitat covers a greater part of the districts of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur.
    • Its potential habitat also extends into the upper regions of the districts of Shimla, Kullu, Chamba, and Kangra.
    • Most of these areas are remote, with the added challenge of limited accessibility during winter.
  • Suggestions made by the study:
    • Local communities are the strongest allies in conservation if their concerns can be factored into conservation planning.
  • Snow Leopard conservation in India:
    • India has been conserving snow leopard and its habitat through the Project Snow Leopard (PSL).
    • India is also party to the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) Programme since 2013.
    • For conservation, India has identified three large landscapes, namely, Hemis-Spiti across Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh; Nanda Devi – Gangotri in Uttarakhand; and Khangchendzonga – Tawang across Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
    • Project Snow Leopard (PSL) was launched in 2009 to promote an inclusive and participatory approach to conserve snow leopards and their habitat.
    • Snow Leopard is on the list of 21 critically endangered species for the recovery programme of the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change.
  • Protection:
    • Snow leopards are categorized as ‘Vulnerable’ by IUCN and in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
    • They are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), revealing the need for the highest conservation status to the species, both globally and in India.
  • Conservation efforts launched by India are:
    1. Project Snow Leopard (PSL): It promotes an inclusive and participatory approach to conservation that fully involves local communities.
    2. SECURE Himalaya: Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded the project on conservation of high-altitude biodiversity and reducing the dependency of local communities on the natural ecosystem. This project is now operational in four snow leopard range states, namely, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim.

World Wildlife Day:

  • Context:
    • In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 3 March – the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973 – as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.
    • The UNGA resolution also designated the CITES Secretariat as the facilitator for the global observance of World Wildlife Day.
  • The theme this year:
    • “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”.
  • About CITES:
    • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international regulatory treaty between 183 party states.
    • Formed in 1973 and regulates the international trade in over 35,000 wild species of plants and animals.
    • The focus of the convention is not solely on the protection of species. It also promotes controlled trade that is not detrimental to the sustainability of wild species.
  • How does CITES work?
    • The convention works primarily through a system of classification and licensing. Wild species are categorised in Appendices I to III. This often reflects species’ threat status on the Red List of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species first created in 1964.
      1. Appendix I prohibits trade in species classified as highly endangered.
      2. Appendix II allows trade under very specific conditions. This requires exporting countries to obtain a permit, but not the importing country.
      3. Appendix III species require only a certificate of origin to be traded. National CITES management authorities may issue permits once scientific authorities show non-detriment findings.
    • CITES is legally binding on state parties to the convention, which are obliged to adopt their own domestic legislation to implement its goals.

Species Recovery Programme

  • Context:
    • The National Board for Wildlife and Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change last month included the caracal, a medium-sized wildcat found in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, in the list of critically endangered species.
    • The recovery programme for critically endangered species in India now includes 22 wildlife species.
  • About Caracal:
    • Besides India, the caracal is found in several dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, Central, and South Asia.
    • While it flourishes in parts of Africa, its numbers in Asia are declining.
    • The wildcat has long legs, a short face, long canine teeth, and distinctive ears — long and pointy, with tufts of black hair at their tips.
    • The iconic ears are what give the animal its name — caracal comes from the Turkish karakulak, meaning ‘black ears’. In India, it is called siya gosh, a Persian name that translates as ‘black Ear’.
  • Historical Evidence:
    • It finds mention in Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama, like a hunting animal in the time of Akbar (1556-1605). Descriptions and illustrations of the caracal can be found in medieval texts such as the
    • Anvar-i-Suhayli, Tutinama, Khamsa-e-Nizami, and Shahnameh.
  • About the Species Recovery Programme:
    • It is one of the three components of the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH).
    • IDWH was started in 2008-09 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. It is meant for providing support to protected areas (national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation reserves, and community reserves except for tiger reserves), protection of wildlife outside protected areas, and recovery programmes for saving critically endangered species and habitats.

Science And Technology

Space:

Polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) -C51 

  • Context:
    • Recently, the 53rd flight of PSLV-C51 marked the first dedicated mission for New Space India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • More about the Launch:
    • It carried 19 satellites (Including Brazil’s optical earth observation satellite, Amazonia-1, and 18 co-passenger satellites — five from India and 13 from the U.S.).
    • Amazonia-1 is the first fully Brazilian-made satellite, which would help to monitor the Amazon forests.
    • The Amazonia-1 was injected into its precise orbit of 758 km in a sun-synchronous polar orbit.
    • There were 5 Indian satellites on board they are:
      1. UNITYsat (three satellites): They have been deployed to provide Radio relay services. 
      2. SDSAT: Satish Dhawan Satellite (SDSAT) is a nanosatellite intended to study the radiation levels/space weather and demonstrate long-range communication technologies. SDSDAT also has an engraving of the Indian Prime Minister on the top panel of the satellite to show solidarity and gratitude for the Atmanirbhar initiative and space privatization.
      3. SindhuNetra: It was developed by students of Bengaluru-based PES University, which was awarded the Rs. 2.2 crore contract by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
    • A Bhagavad Gita was also sent on board in an SD card to give the scripture, which teaches oneness as the highest form of humanity, the highest honor.
    • Five Indian satellites were built under the new space reforms announced by the Government of India. The approved reforms will boost the private sector participation in the entire range of space activities.
    • Four of the co-passenger satellites were signed for launch by IN-SPACe, ISRO’s small satellites facilitation agency, and 14 were signed up through NSIL for commercial launch.
    • IN-SPACe: It is an independent nodal agency under the Department of Space (DOS) for allowing space activities and usage of DOS-owned facilities by Non-Government private Entities (NGPEs) as well as to prioritize the launch manifest.
    • NSIL: It is the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with the primary responsibility of enabling Indian industries to take up high technology space-related activities. It is also responsible for the promotion and commercial exploitation of the products and services emanating from the Indian space.

Geo Imaging Satellite or GISAT-1

  • Context: 
    • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has revised the launch schedule of geo imaging satellite GISAT-1 onboard GSLV-F10 rocket following a 'minor issue' with the spacecraft.
  • More about GISAT-1
    • GISAT-1 will be placed in a geostationary orbit of around 36,000 km. 
    • All Indian Earth Observing satellites have been placed so far in 600-odd-km orbits and circle the earth pole to pole. 
    • It will apparently be in a fixed spot looking over the Indian continent at all times. 
    • It will have high-resolution cameras that will help monitor any changes in borders and the country's overall geographical condition.
    • GISATs will image in multi-spectral and hyper-spectral bands to provide near real-time pictures of large areas of the country, under cloud-free conditions, at frequent intervals which is, selected field image in every 5 minutes and entire Indian landmass image every 30 minutes at 42 m spatial resolution.
    • Weighing about 2,268kg, GISAT-1 is the first state-of-the-art agile earth observation satellite that will be placed in a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit by GSLV-F10.

GISAT-1 — Geo Imaging Satellite - INSIGHTSIAS

Gravitational waves

  • Context: 
    • The LIGO detectors have been joined in their search for gravitational waves from various sources by the VIRGO detector in Italy and the KAGRA detector in Japan.
  • What are gravitational waves?
    • Gravitational waves are distortions or 'ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe.
    • They transport energy as gravitational radiation and pass-through matter without interacting with it.
    • Gravitational waves were first predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein based on his Theory of General Relativity.
    • The strongest sources of gravitational waves are among enigmatic objects in our universe like black holes, supernovas, neutron stars, and Big Bang.
    • The gravitational wave background consists of an isotropic component and an anisotropic component. The isotropic component is constant when you look in different directions and the anisotropic component depends on the direction.
  • Gravitational-wave detectors:
    • LIGO-The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory-USA.
    • KAGRA-The Kamioka Gravitational Wave Detector-Japan.
    • VIRGO-The Virgo interferometer is a large interferometer-Italy

Gaganyaan Mission

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Union Minister of Science and Technology informed that the human spaceflight module of Gaganyaan will be launched after the second unmanned mission planned in 2022-23.
    • It was initially envisaged that the Rs. 10,000 crore Gaganyaan mission aims to send a three-member crew to space for five to seven days by 2022 when India completes 75 years of independence.
    • The first unmanned mission is planned in December 2021.
    • It has been delayed due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
  • About:
    • Gaganyaan is a mission by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • Under the Gaganyaan schedule:
    • Three flights will be sent into orbit.
    • There will be two unmanned flights and one human spaceflight.
    • The Gaganyaan system module, called the Orbital Module will have three Indian astronauts, including a woman.
    • It will circle Earth at a low earth-orbit at an altitude of 300-400 km from the earth for 5-7 days.
  • Payloads:
    • The payload will consist of:
    • Crew module – spacecraft carrying human beings.
    • Service module – powered by two liquid-propellant engines.
    • It will be equipped with emergency escape and emergency mission abort.
  • Launch:
    • GSLV Mk III, also called the LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3,) the three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle, will be used to launch Gaganyaan as it has the necessary payload capability.
  • Training in Russia:
    • In June 2019, the Human Space Flight Centre of the ISRO and the Russian government-owned Glavkosmos signed a contract for the training, which includes Russian support in the selection of candidates, their medical examination, and space training.
    • The candidates will study in detail the systems of the Soyuz manned spaceship, as well as be trained in short-term weightlessness mode aboard the Il-76MDK aircraft.
    • The Soyuz is a Russian spacecraft. The Soyuz carries people and supplies to and from the space station.
    • The Il-76MDK is a military transport plane specially designed for parabolic flights of trainee astronauts and space tourists.
  • Significance:
    • It will help in the enhancement of science and technology levels in the country and help inspire youth.
    • Gaganyaan will involve numerous agencies, laboratories, disciplines, industries, and departments.
    • It will help in the improvement of industrial growth.
    • Recently, the Government has announced a new organisation, IN-SPACe, part of reforms to increase private participation in the space sector.
    • It will help in the development of technology for social benefits.
    • It will help in improving international collaboration.
    • One International Space Station (ISS) put up by multiple countries may not be enough. Regional ecosystems will be needed and Gaganyaan will focus on regional needs: food, water, and energy security.
  • India’s Other Upcoming Projects:
    • Chandrayaan-3 Mission: India has planned a new moon mission named Chandrayaan-3. It is likely to be launched in early 2021.
    • Shukrayaan Mission: The ISRO is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan.

Health:

AstraZeneca’s vaccine

  • Context: 
    • Reports of blood clots have led to several countries pausing the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Europe's regulator has stressed that the benefits outweigh the risks.
  • Why it was suspended?
    • A person was diagnosed with multiple thromboses (formation of clots within blood vessels) and died 10 days after vaccination.
    • Another person was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism (a blockage in arteries in the lungs) after being vaccinated.
  • Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine:
    • The Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, codenamed AZD1222, and sold under the brand name Covishield and Vaxzevria among others, is a viral vector vaccine for COVID-19.
    • It was developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is given by intramuscular injection, using as a vector the modified chimpanzee adenovirus ChAdOx1.
    • The vaccine has a good safety profile; though more than 10% of recipients during clinical trials reported mild adverse effects including injection site pain, headache, and nausea; all generally resolving within a few days.
  • What is India’s position on these adverse reactions?
    • One of the two vaccines in India’s ongoing program, Covishield from Serum Institute of India, is a version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.
    • World Health Organisation has told that the events are not related to the vaccine. Prima facie there is no association. These clots can present in any organ. Therefore, it has be to seen in the context of the background and not in isolation.

Vaccine wastage in India

  • Context: 
    • Prime Minister raised concerns on vaccine wastage emerging from the Covid-19 inoculation drive.
  • How does vaccine wastage happen?
    • It is broadly divided into two categories: wastage in unopened vials, and in opened vials.
    • Wastage in unopened vials can occur due to six broad reasons: 
      • if the expiry date has been reached; 
      • if the vaccine is exposed to heat; 
      • if the vaccine has been frozen; 
      • breakage; 
      • missing inventory and theft; and 
      • while discarding unused vials returned from the vaccination site.
    • Wastage in opened vials can occur due to five broad reasons: 
      • while discarding remaining doses at the end of the session; 
      • not being able to draw the number of doses in a vial; 
      • submergence of opened vials in the water; 
      • suspected contamination; and 
      • poor vaccine administration practices.
  • At what stages can wastage occur?
    • Wastage occurs at three levels: 
    • during transportation; 
    • during cold chain point; and at a vaccination site — both at service and delivery levels.
  • Why are certain states showing a higher vaccine wastage?
    • At the vaccination site, the wastage of vaccines has a direct relationship with session size — the number of beneficiaries per session — and vial size.
    • The first reason identified by the Centre is inadequate planning of sessions
    • The second reason identified by the Centre is inadequate training.

Explained: Understanding Covid-19 vaccine wastage in India | Explained  News,The Indian Express

 

World Immunisation and Logistics Summit, 2021

  • Context: 
    • Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare digitally participated in a panel discussion on vaccine production and distribution across Asia at the “World Immunisation and Logistics Summit”, 2021.
  • More about the News:
    • The summit has been organized by the Hope Consortium.
    • The virtual conference brought together over 1,000 attendees from around the region and the world in active discussion around tackling key issues facing global supply chains to deliver life-saving vaccines worldwide
  • Hope Consortium:
    • The Hope Consortium has been established to deliver billions of COVID-19 doses around the world by end of 2021.
    • It is an Abu Dhabi-led public-private partnership delivering large quantities of COVID-19 vaccines globally.
    • It is utilizing an internally developed “mUnity” system to ensure full visibility, safety and security, and tamper-proof distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, despite the complexities of their transportation.

 

Hunter Syndrome

  • Context:
    • Two brothers suffering from Mucopolysaccharidosis II or MPS II (Hunter Syndrome, Attenuated Type) have approached the Delhi High Court seeking direction to the Centre and AIIMS to provide them free treatment.
    • MPS II is a rare disease that is passed on in families.
  • About:
    • MPS II mostly affects boys and their bodies cannot break down a kind of sugar that builds bones, skin, tendons, and other tissues.
  • Cause:
    • It is caused by changes (mutations) of the IDS gene that regulates the production of the iduronate 2-sulfatase (I2S) enzyme.
    • This enzyme is needed to break down complex sugars, known as glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), produced in the body.
  • Impact:
    • Lack of I2S enzyme activity leads to the accumulation of GAGs within cells, specifically inside the lysosomes.
    • Lysosomes are compartments in the cell that digest and recycle different types of molecules.
    • Conditions that cause molecules to build up inside the lysosomes, including MPS II, are called lysosomal storage disorders.
    • The accumulation of GAGs increases the size of the lysosomes, which is why many tissues and organs are enlarged in this disorder.
  • Symptoms:
    • It is characterized by distinctive facial features, a large head, enlargement of the liver and spleen (hepatosplenomegaly), hearing loss, etc.
  • Inheritance:
    • MPS II is inherited in an X-linked recessive pattern, which means that this condition occurs almost exclusively in males. Females are generally unaffected carriers of this condition.
    • In a family with more than one affected individual, the mother of the affected males must be a carrier. When a carrier female has a child, there is a 25% (1 in 4) chance that she will have an affected son.
  • Rare Diseases:
    • A rare disease is a health condition of low prevalence that affects a small number of people compared with other prevalent diseases in the general population.
    • Though rare diseases are of low prevalence and individually rare, collectively they affect a considerable proportion of the population.
    • 80% of rare diseases are genetic in origin and hence disproportionately impact children.
    • Recently, the Delhi High Court has directed the Centre to finalise the National Health Policy for Rare Diseases of 2020 by March 2021 and make operational provision of crowdfunding envisaged under the law for treatment of high-cost rare diseases.

Technology:

Helium Crisis to India

  • Context: 
    • India imports helium for its needs, and with the U.S. appearing set to cut off exports of helium since 2021, the Indian industry stands to lose out heavily.
  • More about Helium gas
    • Helium is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2.
    • It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas, the first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. Its boiling point is the lowest among all the elements. 
    • Yet, it finds many applications, mainly in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, in rockets, and in nuclear reactors.
    • Helium is the second lightest and second most abundant element in the observable universe (hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant).
    • Its boiling point is the lowest among all the elements.
    • Helium was discovered in the gaseous atmosphere surrounding the Sun by the French astronomer Pierre Janssen, who detected a bright yellow line in the spectrum of the solar chromosphere during an eclipse in India in the year 1868.
    • The British chemist Sir William Ramsay discovered the existence of helium on Earth in 1895.
  • Helium in India: 
    • In 1906 a young Englishman by the name of Morris Travers extracted helium in small quantities by heating up monazite sand abundantly available in Kerala beach, in a pioneering effort.
    • India’s Rajmahal volcanic basin is the storehouse of helium trapped for billions of years, since the very birth of our Earth from the Sun.
    • Every year, India imports helium worth Rs 55,000 crores from the U.S. to meet its needs.
  • Why the USA has a monopoly? 
    • After discovering that helium was concentrated in large quantities under the American Great Plains. The USA became the most important exporter of helium across the world.
    • It was soon realized that the USA was also the biggest storehouse of helium.
  • What is the alternative for India?
    • Qatar is a possible exporter but acute political and diplomatic wrangles have made Qatar unreliable.
    • India needs to diversify its energy needs to meet our energy demands.

Dead sea scrolls

  • Context:
    •  For the first time in 60 years, archaeologists have discovered a new fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a cache of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts uncovered in the Qumran Caves(Judean Desert) on the northern shore of the Dead Sea.
  • More about the Dead sea Scrolls:
    • The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient manuscripts that include the earliest existing copies of books from the Hebrew Bible, date from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD.
    • Around 900 scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in the Qumran caves above the Dead Sea. 
    • Israeli scholars have recently deciphered one of the previously unread manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    • The arid conditions of the Judean Desert provided a unique environment for the natural preservation of artifacts and organic materials that would ordinarily not have withstood the test of time.

Mapping genomes in the Indian Ocean

  • Context: 
    • A team of scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) will spend the next three months traversing the course of over 10,000 nautical miles in the Indian Ocean to understand it at a cellular level.
  • What is the Project about?
    • The first-of-its-kind research project in the country is aimed at understanding the biochemistry and the response of the ocean to climate change, nutrient stress, and increasing pollution. 
    • Scientists course the Indian Ocean from India’s east coast, all the way to Australia, then onward towards Port Louis in Mauritius and up to the border of Pakistan, off India’s west coast, gathering samples for genome mapping of microorganisms in the Indian Ocean.
    • Just like gene mapping is carried out on blood samples collected from humans, the scientists will map these in the bacteria, microbes found in the ocean.
    • The mapping of the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA) will show the nutrients present in them, and also those lacking in different parts of the ocean.
    • The ocean has several micronutrients like nitrates, sulphates, and silicates, minerals like iron ore and zinc, and trace metals like cadmium or copper.
    • The genome mapping will show the presence of which these microbes have adapted to, in addition to their reaction to atmospheric carbon dioxide. This will help in identifying which part of the ocean has a greater concentration of which mineral or element.
    • In addition, the large pool of RNA, DNA libraries of the oceans will be utilised for using the Indian Ocean for human benefit in the future.
  • The objective of studying the interactions of trace metals
    • Trace metals like cadmium or copper are supplied to oceans via continental run-offs, atmospheric deposition, hydrothermal activities, and continental shelf interaction.
    • It is important to understand the interactions of trace metals with marine biota for having a holistic understanding of nutrient cycling and the productivity of the oceans.
    • The NIO’s project is expected to generate new information about trace metals from underexplored regions of the Indian Ocean, the third-largest water body in the world, covering about 20 percent of the Earth’s water surface.

First project to map genomes in Indian Ocean | India News - Times of India

 

Giga Mesh

  • Context: 
    • The women-led start-up Astrome developed low-cost internet services named Giga Mesh.
  • About Giga Mesh:
    • It is an innovative wireless product that gives fiber-like bandwidth at a fraction of fiber cost to help telecom operators deliver reliable, low-cost Internet services to suburban and rural areas.
    • It could enable telecom operators to deploy quality, high-speed rural telecom infrastructure at five times lower cost.
    • This start-up has been funded by the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru.

GigaMesh

Sandes: Government Instant Messaging System

  • Context:
    • The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has launched an instant messaging platform called Sandes on the lines of WhatsApp.
    • NIC is under the aegis of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. It provides network backbone and e-Governance support to the Central Government, State Governments, and UT Administrations.
  • About:
    • It is a Government Instant Messaging System (GIMS) that can be used for official or casual use by any Government employee or public user having a valid Mobile No./Email ID.
  • Features:
    • It offers features such as group making, broadcast message, message forwarding, and emojis.
    • Although there is no option to transfer the chat history between two platforms, the chats on GIMS can be backed up to a users’ email.
    • The user will have to re-register as a new user in case they wish to change their registered Email Id or phone number on the App.
    • It allows a user to mark a message as confidential, which will allow the recipient to be made aware the message should not be shared with others.
  • Significance:
    • Ensures Secure Communication:
      • The Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-In) and the Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2020 had issued an advisory to all government employees to avoid using platforms like Zoom for official communication over safety and privacy concerns.
    • Promoting Indigenous Products:
      • The launch of the App is also a part of the government strategy to push for use of India-made software so as to build an ecosystem of indigenously developed products.

Miscellaneous

Exercise And Operation:

Exercise Name Operation

Exercise VAJRA PRAHAR 2021 

  • Context:
    •  The 11th edition of Indo-US Joint Special Forces Exercise VAJRA PRAHAR 2021 has been taken place recently.
  • More about the News:
    • The joint exercise by the Special Forces of both the countries is conducted alternatively between India and the United States to share the best practices and experiences in areas such as joint mission planning and operational tactics as also to improve interoperability between the Special Forces of both nations.
    • Such Bilateral military exercises and defense exchanges are an important facet of deepening bilateral defense cooperation between friendly countries.
    • Other than this, India and the United States also participated in a joint military exercise 'Yudh Abhyas’ in February 2021.

Passage Exercise(PASSEX)

  • Context: 
    • Recently, India, US begin a two-day naval exercise in the eastern Indian Ocean region. 
  • Aim:
    •  To improve the cooperation between the U.S. and Indian maritime forces and to maximize training and interoperability, which also include air defense.
  • Impact:
    •  It will enhance both sides' ability to counter threats at sea, from piracy to violent extremism. It will also present opportunities to build upon the pre-existing strong relationship between the United States and India and allow both countries to learn from each other.
    • Indian Navy deployed its warship Shivalik and long-range maritime patrol aircraft P8I in the 'PASSEX' exercise while the US Navy was represented by the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group.
    • The exercise is aimed at consolidating the synergy and interoperability achieved during the Malabar exercise.

Joint Exercise Dustlik

  • The Second Edition of Joint Exercise Dustlik between the Indian Army and Uzbekistan Army is being held in India.
  • The exercise is based on counter-terrorist operations and aims at enhancing military cooperation.

EX Desert FLAG VI

  • Ex Desert Flag is an annual multi-national large force employment warfare exercise hosted by the United Arab Emirates Air Force.
  • The Indian Air Force is participating for the first time in Exercise Desert Flag-VI along with the air forces of the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Bahrain.

DEFENCE:

MILAN-2T Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs)

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a contract with Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU) Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) for the supply of MILAN-2T Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) to the Indian Army.
  • About MILAN-2T Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs):
    • The Milan-2T is a Tandem Warhead ATGM with a range of 1,850 meters, produced by BDL under license from MBDA Missile Systems, France. 
    • These missiles can be fired from the ground as well as vehicle-based launchers and can be deployed in Anti-Tank Role for both offensive & defensive tasks. 
    • This project is a big opportunity for the defense industry to showcase its capability and will be a step in the direction of achieving the goal of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ in the defense sector.

India aims to buy 3,000 Milan 2T anti-tank guided missiles from France

India ranked fourth most powerful military in the world

  • Context:
    •  India has the world’s fourth strongest military, finds Military Direct’s study
  • Ultimate military strength index:
    • China has the strongest military force in the world while India stands at number four, according to a study released by the defense website Military Direct. 
    • The USA, despite their enormous military budgets, comes in 2nd place with 74 points, followed by Russia with 69, India at 61, and then France with 58. The UK just about makes the Top 10, coming in 9th place with a score of 43.
    • The world's biggest military spender with a budget of USD 732 billion per year in the USA, it noted, adding that China comes second with USD 261 billion, followed by India at USD 71 billion.

 

Global Firepower Index or Power Index: Indian Military Ranked 4th Strongest  In World, USA Tops (Important)- Examrace

 

Indian Coast guard ship Vajra

  • Context:
    •  Indian Coast Guard ship ‘Vajra’, the sixth offshore patrol vessel to enhance coastal security, was formally commissioned into service in Chennai.
  • More about the Ship
    • The ship was indigenously designed and built by Larsen and Toubro Shipbuilding Limited.
    • Sixth in the series of seven offshore patrol vessels, Vajra is fitted with highly sophisticated navigation and communication systems. 
    • Some of the hi-tech features of the vessel include – an integrated bridge system, high power external fighting System, bow thruster, and automated power management system.
    • A pollution response equipment to contain oil spills at sea is fitted in the ship.

Offshore patrol vessel "VAJRA" to enhance coastal security launched - The  Economic Times

Cyberattack on Maharashtra powerhouse

  • Context: 
    • The Maharashtra State Electricity Board’s servers were breached by malware inserted by unknown foreign entities and suggested a link to the massive power outage.
  • More  about the cyberattack:
    • In this particular case, a US firm that studies the use of cyberspace by state actors appears to have alerted Indian authorities to the breach.
    • The power breakdown occurred at the height of India-China tensions at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
    • There is speculation that the breakdown was a warning from Beijing that it could take hostilities to a whole new level.
    • A National Cyber Power Index drawn up by the Belfer Center at Harvard University last year ranked India 21 out of 30 countries in cyberspace abilities.
    • The composite ranking was derived from expertise on seven parameters, broadly indicating intent and capacity: Defence, Offence, Surveillance, Control, Intelligence, Commercial, and Norms.
    • China was number 1, followed by the Netherlands, France, United States, and Canada. The report concluded that India was among the 13 countries that did not exhibit either the intent or the capacity to use cyberspace to achieve policy goals.

MeitY has stepped up its vigil against cyberattacks

  • Context: 
    • Meity asked the companies to report “any major cybersecurity” incidents to the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) team every week.
  • More about the News?
    • The exercise was initiated towards the end of last year over triggers like rising potential cyber threats from countries like China, Russia, and Uzbekistan, according to the executive.
    • Following the attacks on Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Lupin pharmaceuticals and healthcare companies have been on high alert.
    • The number of cyber threats against vaccine makers, especially, has exponentially risen.
  • Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In)
    • CERT-In was established in 2004 as a functional organization of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
    • It is the nodal agency which deals with cybersecurity threats like hacking and phishing.
  • Objectives: 
    • Preventing cyber-attacks against the country’s cyberspace. 
    • Responding to cyber-attacks and minimizing damage and recovery time 
    • Reducing ‘national vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Enhancing security awareness among common citizens.
  • Budapest Convention on Cybercrime: 
    • It is the first international treaty that seeks to address Internet and cybercrime by harmonizing national laws, improving investigative techniques, and increasing cooperation among nations. It came into force in 2004. India is not a signatory to this convention.
  • Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre(I4C): 
    • It was established in 2018 to combat cybercrime in India in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. It functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

New IT Rules: State, district level sensitization

  • Context:
    •  The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is planning to organize workshops and training sessions for senior government officials at the district and state level to sensitize them about the new guidelines for social media intermediaries, digital news channels, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
  • More about the News:
    • The session was felt after district authorities in Manipur had sent a notice to a digital news platform, asking it to “furnish relevant documents” showing “compliance” with the government’s new rules for digital media.
    • Following the training sessions, there will be regular monitoring of any such instances.
    • The rules for digital news platforms required them to provide information about the geography they operated from, monthly compliance reports on details of grievances received and action taken on them, and other details to the ministry of information and broadcasting within 30 days from February 25.
    • In case of any violations of these rules and guidelines, the power to take any action rested only with the secretary of the ministry of information and broadcasting.

Tamil Nadu, Haryana institutes get status of national importance

  • Context:
    •  The Rajya Sabha on Monday passed the National Institutes of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management Bill, 2019 that confers the status of national importance on two food technology institutes at Kundli in Haryana and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.
  • What is the Institute of National Importance(INI)?
    • INI is a status that may be conferred on a premier public higher education institution in India by an act of Parliament.
    • According to the Ministry of Education, an institute of national importance is an institute that “serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country/state”. Institutes of National Importance receive special recognition and funding from the Government of India.
    • Such institutes get special funding and recognition from the Government of India.
    • Section 22 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 gives ‘Degree-Granting Status’ to such INIs established by an Act of Parliament for conferring or granting degrees.
    • It is observed that generally, such INIs operate outside the University Grants Commission’s ambit and enjoy certain advantages related to taxes.
    • They are also largely supervised and funded by the Government of India through the Education Ministry.
    • As of 2020, there are 159 institutes, declared as Institutes of National Importance under a distinct Act of Parliament. These INIs include 23 IITs; 15 AIIMSs; 20 IIMs; 31 NITs; 25 IIITs; 7 IISERs, 7 NIPERs; 5 NIDs; 3 SPAs; 5 central universities; 4 medical research institutes, and 14 other specialized institutes.

Retrospective laws and the Cairn tax dispute

  • Context: 
    • A three-member tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands ruled against India in its long-running tax dispute with the U.K.-based oil and gas company Cairn Energy Plc and a subsidiary, Cairn UK Holdings Ltd.
  • More about the News?
    • The tribunal ordered India to pay about $1.4 billion to the company. Following this, Cairn Energy has successfully moved courts in five countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to recognize its claim as per the arbitration award.
    • This case is similar to Vodafone’s battle with the government of India in 2007.
  • Permanent Court of Arbitration(PCA)
    • Established by the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, concluded at The Hague in 1899 and the convention revised in the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907.
    • Headquarters: Hague, Netherlands
    • Area of function: PCA settles disputes between member states, international organizations, or private parties like territorial and maritime disputes, sovereignty, human rights, international investments, and regional trade, etc.
    • Funds: It has a Financial Assistance Fund which aims at helping developing countries meet part of the costs involved in international arbitration or other means of dispute settlement offered by the PCA.
    • Jurisdiction: Rulings are binding. But the PCA has no powers to enforce the rulings.

Places in News

 

Place in News Why In News, And Some Information About the Place
Suez Canal

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Suez Canal has been blocked after a large cargo ship ran aground while passing through it, bringing traffic on the busy trade route to a halt.
  • About:
    • It is a critical shipping artery that connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas through Egypt.
    • It is a human-made waterway and is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes, carrying over 12% of world trade by volume.
    • It was built in 1869 to provide a major shortcut for ships moving between Europe and Asia.
    • The 150-year-old canal was controlled by British and French interests in its initial years but was nationalised in 1956 by Egypt.
    • In 2015, Egypt announced plans to further expand the Suez Canal, aiming to reduce waiting times and double the number of ships that can use the canal daily by 2023.
  • Significance of the Suez Canal:
    • The canal is a major source of income for Egypt’s economy, with the African country earning $5.61 billion in revenues from it in 2020.
    • According to reports, nearly 50 ships pass through it every day, and it accounts for 12% of world trade Periyar River
    • The Periyar River is the longest river in the state of Kerala with a length of 244 km.
    • It is also known as the ‘Lifeline of Kerala’ as it is one of the few perennial rivers in the state.
    • A perennial river is a channel that has continuous flow in parts of its stream bed all year round.
    • Periyar River originates from the Sivagiri hills of Western Ghats and flows through the Periyar National Park.
    • The main tributaries of Periyar are Muthirapuzha, Mullayar, Cheruthoni, Perinjankutti.
Mullaperiyar dam

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has issued a warning to Tamil Nadu in the Mullaperiyar case.
  • About:
    • The Mullaperiyar, a 123-year-old dam, is located on the confluence of the Mullayar and Periyar rivers in Kerala’s Idukki district.
    • The dam stands at a height of 53.66 metres and 365.85 metres in length.
    • It is operated and maintained by Tamil Nadu for meeting the drinking water and irrigation requirements of five of its southern districts.
    • According to a 999-year lease agreement made during the British rule the operational rights were handed over to Tamil Nadu.
    • The dam intends to divert the waters of the west-flowing river Periyar eastward to the arid rain shadow regions of Tamil Nadu.
Baralacha Pass

  • Context:
    • For the first time ever, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has started work on reopening the crucial Baralacha Pass in Himachal Pradesh much before schedule to restore connectivity to Leh in Ladakh.
  • About:
    • Bara-lacha la also known as Bara-lacha Pass is a high mountain pass in Zanskar range, connecting Lahaul district in Himachal Pradesh to the Leh district in Ladakh, situated along the Leh– Manali Highway.
    • The pass also acts as a water divide between the Bhaga river and the Yunam river.
    • The Bhaga river, a tributary of the Chenab river, originates from Surya taal lake, which is situated a few kilometers from the pass towards Manali.
Bhadar dam

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Dam Safety Organisation of the Central Water Commission has recommended the replacement of floodgates of Bhadar dam which were damaged in the flash flood of 2015.
  • About:
    • Bhadar dam is located in Rajkot and is the second largest in Saurashtra region after Shetrunji dam.
    • Bhadar dam is on the Bhadar River in Saurashtra region in Gujarat.
    • The construction work for this dam started in 1952 and water for irrigation from it was given to farmers for the first time in 1963.
    • The Bhadar Dam and Shetrunji Dam are constructed across Shetrunji and Bhadar rivers. Shetrunji Dam and River
    • It originates from the Amreli district of Rajkot.
    • Its tributaries are Satali, Thebi, Gagario, Rajaval, Kharo, Shel, Khari and Talaji.
  • Bhadar River:
    • The Bhadar is one of the major rivers of the Kathiawar (Saurashtra) peninsula in Gujarat.
    • It originates near Vaddi in Rajkot district at an elevation of 261 m above mean sea level.
    • It flows through the Saurashtra region and finally confluences with the Arabian sea at Naviobandar (Porbandar).
    • The total length of this river is 198 km. It drains about 1/7th of the area of Saurashtra.
Mount Etna

  • Context:
    • Recently, Mount Etna has awed seasoned volcanologists with spectacular spurts of lava lighting up the Sicilian sky each night.
  • About:
    • It is the highest and most active volcano in Europe.
    • It is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, in the Metropolitan City of Catania, between the cities of Messina and Catania.
    • It is associated with the subduction of the African plate under the Eurasian plate.
Pakal Dul Hydro Electric Project

  • The Pakal Dul Hydro Electric Project (1,000 MW) is proposed on the Marusudar river, a tributary of the Chenab river, in Kishtwar district in Jammu and Kashmir.


Nag River

  • Context:
    • The Nag River Pollution Abatement Project has been approved at a cost of Rs. 2,117.54 crores. It will be implemented by the National River Conservation Directorate.
  • About Nag River:
    • The Nag River, which flows through Nagpur city, is now a highly polluted water channel of sewage and industrial waste.
    • It is known for providing the etymology for the name Nagpur.
    • Forming a part of the Kanhan-Pench river system, the Nag River originates in Lava hills near wadi
  • Origin:
    • Western weir of Ambazari Lake in west Nagpur.
    • Nag River is the main river along with the other, River Pili Nadi.
    • These two rivers later merge and join the River Kanhan near the city outskirts.
Brahmaputra 

  • Context:
    • In its new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), China has proposed to build the first dams on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet before it flows into India.
  • About:
    • Brahmaputra River also called Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet, Siang/ Dihang River in Arunachal Pradesh. It is a transboundary river that flows through Tibet, India, and Bangladesh.
  • Origin:
    • The river rises in the Chemayungdung Glacier in the Kailash Range in Tibet.
    • It descends rapidly from Tibet forming a Grand Canyon and then flows eastward and reaches Namche Barwa. It then takes a U-turn and enters India in Arunachal Pradesh and known as dihang.
  • Important Tributaries of River Brahmaputra:
    • Major left bank tributaries: Burhi Dihing, Dhansari (South), Kailang, Lohit, Dibang
    • Major right bank tributaries: Subansiri, Kameng, Manas, Sankosh, Teesta.
  • Perennial River:
    • The Brahmaputra is a perennial river. It has several peculiar characteristics due to its geography and prevailing climatic conditions.
    • Perennial Rivers can be defined as the river with the continuous flow throughout the year, such as the rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra.
  • Significance:
    • Most rivers on the Indian subcontinent have female names. But this river has a rare male name that literally translates as ‘Son of Brahma’. The river is also revered by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists.
  • Biodiversity:
    • The rich rainforests of this basin are home to many species of flora and fauna. It hosts National Parks like the Kaziranga, Manas, and Kanchanjunga.
Maitri Setu

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Prime Minister’s Office has announced that the Prime Minister will inaugurate the Maitri Setu.
  • About:
    • It is a bridge between India and Bangladesh.
    • It is built over the Feni River which flows between the Indian boundary in Tripura State and Bangladesh.
    • The name ‘Maitri Setu’ symbolizes growing bilateral relations and friendly ties between India and Bangladesh.
    • Its construction was taken up by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd.
    • It is a 1.9 Km long bridge that joins Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.
  • About Feni River:
    • The Feni River, which forms part of the India-Bangladesh border, originates in the South Tripura district.
    • It passes through Sabroom town on the Indian side and meets the Bay of Bengal after it flows into Bangladesh.
Sanaa

  • Context:
    • A Saudi-led military coalition mounted airstrikes on Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sana’a after it intercepted 10 drones launched by the Iran-backed rebels.
  • About:
    • Sanaa also spelled Sanaʽa or Sana, is the largest city in Yemen.
    • Under the Yemeni constitution, Sanaʽa is the capital of the country, although the seat of the Yemeni government moved to Aden, the former capital of South Yemen in the aftermath of the Houthi occupation.
    • Aden was declared as the temporary capital by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in March 2015.
    • It is located next to the Sarawat Mountains of Jabal An-Nabi Shu'ayb and Jabal Tiyal, considered to be the highest mountains in the country and amongst the highest in the region.
    • The Old City of Sanaʽa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a distinctive architectural character, most notably expressed in its multi-story buildings decorated with geometric patterns.

Mt. Sinabung

  • Context:
    • Recently, Mt. Sinabung, an active volcano on Indonesia’s Sumatra island has erupted.
  • About:
    • Mt. Sinabung (2,600-metre) is located in Karo regency, North Sumatra.
    • Sinabung is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
    • The volcano was dormant for 400 years before exploding in 2010.
    • It exploded again in 2014,2016 and 2020.
  • Ring of Fire
    • The Ring of Fire also referred to as the Circum-Pacific Belt, is a path along the Pacific Ocean characterized by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes.
    • It traces boundaries between several tectonic plates—including the Pacific, Cocos, Indian-Australian, Nazca, North American, and Philippine Plates.
    • The abundance of volcanoes and earthquakes along the Ring of Fire is caused by the amount of movement of tectonic plates in the area.

 

Index in News

 

National/International Index
The “Opportunity Index 2021” report
  • Context:
    • It is a new report by LinkedIn.
    • The survey, conducted in January, saw participation from more than 10,000 respondents across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. It covered 2,285 respondents in India.
  • Key findings:
    1. 9 in 10 or 89 percent of women were negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
    2. About 85% or four in five working women in India believe they have missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender. This average stands at 60% for the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.
    3. More women in India have experienced the impact of gender on career development when compared to the APAC region.
  • Challenges for women:
    • Lack of time and discrimination for family care.
    • Gender is a barrier when it comes to attaining opportunities.
    • Lack of guidance through networks.
    • Workplace discrimination because of household responsibilities.
Municipal Performance Index 2020
  • Context:
    • Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry has released the Municipal Performance Index 2020
    • It seeks to simplify and evaluate the complexities in local governance practice and promote the ethos of transparency and accountability.
  • Municipal Performance Index (MPI) 2020:
    • The MPI examined the sectoral performance of 111 municipalities (with Delhi being assessed separately for NDMC and the three Municipal Corporations) across five verticals which comprise 20 sectors and 100 indicators in all totality.
    • The five verticals under MPI are Services, Finance, Policy, Technology, and Governance.
  • Ranking of cities:
    • The assessment framework under MPI 2020 has classified municipalities based on their populationMillion+ (municipalities having over a million population) and Less than Million Population.
      1. In the Million+ category: Indore has emerged as the highest-ranked municipality, followed by Surat and Bhopal.
      2. In the Less than Million category: New Delhi Municipal Council has emerged as the leader, followed by Tirupati and Gandhinagar.
The Index of Economic Freedom 2021
  • Context:
    • The Heritage Foundation releases The Index of Economic Freedom 2021.
  • About:
    • It is an annual index. This index created in 1995 by think-tank The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.
    • It measures the degree of economic freedom in countries across the world.
    • The Index covered economic freedoms in 184 countries.
  • Parameters:
    • The index measures 12 indicators grouped into four broad categories of economic freedom:
      • Rule of Law (property rights, government integrity, judicial effectiveness)
      • Government Size (government spending, tax burden, fiscal health)
      • Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom)
      • Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom).
    • Each of these twelve economic freedoms within these categories is graded on a scale of 0 to 100. Score 0 is the least economic freedom and score 100 is the highest economic freedom.
  • Key Findings:
    • Singapore tops the index followed by New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Ireland.
    • India ranked 121st in the index with a score of 56.5 points under the category of ‘mostly unfree’.
    • In Asia-Pacific, India ranked 26th among the 40 countries.
World Happiness Report 2021
  • Context:
    • The Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations released the World Happiness Report 2021, a day before the International Happiness Day.
  • About:
    • The World Happiness Report is an annual report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network(SDSN).
    • The report ranks countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.
    • This year it focuses on the effects of Covid-19 and how people all over the world have fared.
  • Parameters:
    • The rankings are based on polling (Gallup World Poll) which looks at six variables:
      1. Gross Domestic Product Per Capita (Purchasing Power Parity).
      2. Social Support.
      3. Healthy life expectancy at birth.
      4. Freedom to make life choices.
      5. Generosity.
      6. Perceptions of corruption.
    • Respondents are asked to rate their own current lives on a 0-10 scale.
  • Key Findings:
    • Top Performers: Finland has been ranked as the happiest country in the world for the fourth consecutive year.
    • Worst Performers: Afghanistan (149) is the most unhappy country.
  • Related to India:
    • India has been ranked 139 out of 149 countries in the World Happiness Report 2021.
    • In 2020, India was ranked 144 out of 156 countries.
  • Sustainable Development Network Solution:
    • The SDSN, launched in 2012, mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical problem solving for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
    • It was established under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General.
    • The SDSN and the Bertelsmann Stiftung have been publishing the annual SDG Index & Dashboards Global Report since 2016.
International Intellectual Property (IP) Index
  • Context:
    • India ranked 40 among 53 global economies on the latest annual edition of the International Intellectual Property (IP) Index.
  • About:
    • It is an annual report released by the US Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Centre(GIPC).
  • Aim:
    • The index evaluates Intellectual Property rights in 53 global economies. These economies represent together over 90% of global GDP.
  • Parameters:
    • It ranks countries based on 50 unique indicators. These indicators are divided across nine categories of protection: 1) Patents 2) copyrights 3) trademarks 4) design rights 5) trade secrets 6) commercialization of IP assets 7) enforcement 8) systemic efficiency and 9) membership and ratification of international treaties.
  • Significance:
    • The IP Index serves as a roadmap for policymakers who look to support creativity, innovation, and economic growth through a more robust IP policy.
  • Key Findings:
    • The US, the UK, Germany, France, and Japan are the top five economies on the IP Index in 2021.
  • Related to India:
    • India has been ranked 40th in the 2021 index among the 53 global economies. In 2020 also, India was ranked 40th.
    • Among BRICS nations, India registered the second-highest growth with an overall improvement of over 13%.

 

Schemes in News

 

Scheme Concerned Ministry Features
Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) Scheme Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare signed an MoU with the Central Silk Board on a convergence model for the implementation of Agroforestry in the silk sector under the ongoing Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) Scheme.
  • About:
    • The signing of this MoU aims to incentivize the farmers to take up sericulture-based Agroforestry models thereby contributing to the Make in India and Make for the World vision.
    • This linkage will add another dimension to agroforestry for faster returns to the growers as well as support the production of the range of silks that India is famous for.
  • About the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF):
    • The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC & FW) have been implementing the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) since 2016-17 as part of the recommendation of the National Agroforestry Policy 2014.
    • This sub-mission is under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA).
    • India was the first country to have such a comprehensive policy which was launched at the World Agroforestry Congress held in Delhi in February 2014.
    • At present, the scheme is being implemented in 20 States and 2 UTs.
    • Activities carried out under the SMAF include raising seedlings, planting on boundaries and bunds, low-density planting, high-density planting, etc.
  • Aim:
    • It aims to encourage farmers to plant multi-purpose trees together with agricultural crops for climate resilience.
    • The focus of the programme is to encourage agroforestry which has tremendous potential to mitigate climate change effects through moderation of microclimate.
  • Significance:
    • It also provides benefits such as improvement of the soil profile, moisture conservation, conservation of natural resources, and creation of an additional source of livelihood and income opportunities.
Market Access Initiative (MAI) Scheme
Ministry of Commerce and Industry
  • Nodal Ministry:
    • Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry
  • Objective:
    • It is an Export Promotion Scheme. The scheme aims to act as a catalyst to promote India’s exports on a sustained basis.
  • Product and Country Focus Approach:
    • The scheme is formulated on the basis of the product and country focus approach. It will evolve specific markets and specific products through market studies/surveys.
Remission of Duties and Taxes on Export Products (RODTEP) scheme
Ministry of Finance
  • Context:
    • The notification of benefit rates payable to exporters under the Remission of Duties and Taxes on Export Products (RODTEP) scheme, is expected to take more time as it is facing ‘teething issues.
  • What are the issues?
    • Exporters fear the rates may turn out to be lower than recommended by a technical committee.
    • Inadequate remission of taxes would result in residual embedded taxes in export products and hit the Indian industry’s competitiveness in world markets at a time shipments are witnessing a nascent recovery, they warn.
    • Indian exporters are already struggling with volatility in demand from many key markets like the US and EU in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • About the scheme:
    • The scheme was announced in 2020 as a replacement for the Merchandise Export from India Scheme (MEIS), which was not compliant with the rules of the World Trade Organisation.
    • The scheme would refund to exporters the embedded central, state, and local duties or taxes that were so far not be rebated or refunded and were, therefore, placing India’s exports at a disadvantage.
  • Significance:
    • Indian exporters will be able to meet the international standards for exports as affordable testing and certification will be made available to exporters within the country instead of relying on international organizations.
    • Also under it, tax assessment is set to become fully automatic for exporters. Businesses will get access to their refunds for GST via an automatic refund route.
    • This would increase the economy of the country and working capital for the enterprise.
Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) Scheme
Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Central Silk Board on a convergence model for the implementation of Agroforestry in the silk sector under the ongoing Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) Scheme.
  • Significance:
    • The signing of this MoU aims to incentivize the farmers to take up sericulture-based Agroforestry models thereby contributing to the Make in India and Make for the World vision.
    • This linkage will add another dimension to agroforestry for faster returns to the growers as well as support the production of the range of silks that India is famous for.
  • About the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF):
    • The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC & FW) have been implementing the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) since 2016-17 as part of the recommendation of the National Agroforestry Policy 2014.
    • This sub-mission is under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA).
    • India was the first country to have such a comprehensive policy which was launched at the World Agroforestry Congress held in Delhi in February 2014.
    • At present, the scheme is being implemented in 20 States and 2 UTs
  • Aim of the mission:
    • SMAF aims to encourage farmers to plant multi-purpose trees together with agriculture crops for climate resilience and an additional source of income to the farmers, as well as enhanced feedstock to inter alia wood-based and herbal industry.
Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) scheme
Ministry of Rural Development
  • Context:
    • The Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) scheme has been launched in 10 States this year and will be rolled out across the country by March 2022.
    • This plan has been laid out in a parliamentary standing committee report submitted to the Lok Sabha, as part of the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP) which began in 2008 and has been expanded several times.
  • About the Scheme:
    • Under the scheme, a 14-digit identification number will be issued to every plot of land in the country.
    • It is being described as “the Aadhaar for land” — a number that would uniquely identify every surveyed parcel of land and prevent land fraud, especially in rural India, where land records are outdated and disputed.
    • The identification will be based on the longitude and latitude of the land parcel and is dependent on detailed surveys and geo-referenced cadastral maps.
  • Benefits:
    • The benefits of ULPIN are multitudinous. The single source of information can authenticate the ownership and in turn, it can end the dubious ownership.
    • It will help identify the government lands easily and protect the land from shabby land transactions.
Development of Iconic Tourist Destinations Scheme
Ministry of Tourism
  • Context:
    • Tourism Ministry, in association with Madhya Pradesh Tourism and India Convention Promotion Bureau, is organizing ‘MICE (MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) Roadshow – Meet in India’ at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.
  • About the Scheme:
    • It is a central sector scheme for the development of identified iconic destinations in the country following a holistic approach.
    • The objective of the scheme is to boost the tourism influx in India and serve as a model for other tourism sites.
    • The nodal agency for the scheme is the Tourism Ministry while other ministries such as civil aviation, railways, etc. are also involved.
  • About Khajuraho temples:
    • Khajuraho Temples are among the most beautiful medieval monuments in the country. These temples were built by the Chandella ruler between AD 900 and 1130.
    • They are worldwide known for their erotic sculptures. The first recorded mention of the Khajuraho temples is in the accounts of Abu Rihan al Biruni in AD 1022 and the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta in AD 1335.
    • The Khajuraho group of temples were built together but were dedicated to two religions, Hinduism and Jainism, suggesting a tradition of acceptance and respect for diverse religious views among Hindus and Jains in the region.
Orunudoi scheme
Assam Government
  • Context:
    • Launched in December 2020 by the Assam Government, Orunudoi scheme is one of the most popular schemes of the state.
  • About the Scheme:
    • Under the scheme, monthly assistance of Rs 830 is transferred to women members of marginalised families of Assam.
    • On account of being a DBT, or a Direct Benefit Transfer scheme, the money is credited directly to the bank account of the woman head of a family because they are “primary caretakers of the household”.
    • The scheme gives “a choice to the poor and needy households on how they want to spend their money”.
  • Eligibility:
    1. The applicant, a woman, has to be a permanent resident of Assam, whose composite household income should be less than Rs 2 lakh per annum.
    2. Families with specially-abled members and divorced/widowed/separated /unmarried women are prioritised. Poorer families, those without National Food Security Act (NFSA) or ration cards, are also given priority.
    3. Families without any women members, MPs, MLAs (former and current), members of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies, government officials, and employees of cooperative societies are excluded from the scheme.
    4. Families owning four-wheelers, mechanised boats, tractors or refrigerators, ACs and washing machines, or more than 15 bighas of agricultural land, are not eligible either.

 



Please Share with maximum friends to support the Initiative.

Enquire now

Give us a call or fill in the form below and we will contact you. We endeavor to answer all inquiries within 24 hours on business days.