Monthly Current Affairs for Prelims: May 2020

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Content:

 Art And Culture

  • Festivals:
    • Bishnu Sendra Parva
    • Vesak
  • Awards And Languages:
    • Gandhi Peace Prize
  • Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:
    • Konark Sun Temple
  • GI Tag:
    • GI tags 
    • Key GI TAgs

History

  • Famous Personalities:
    • Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore
    • Maharana Pratap
    • Ramkinkar Baij
    • Purandara Dasa
    • Gopal Krishna Gokhale
    • Veer Savarkar
  • Battles And Organization:
    • Pearl harbour attack
    • Archaeological Survey of India

Geography

  • Hotter oceans spawn super cyclones
  • Heatwave

Society

  • Health:
    • International Health Regulations
    • Indo-US Vaccine Action Programme (VAP)
    • WHO bar on India testing HCQ as preventive
  • Society and Education:
    • Sample Registration System (SRS)
    • Garbage-free star rating for the cities
    • 1st May: Labour Day
    • Stringency Index
    • Katkari Tribe

Polity

  • Executive:
    • Sources of revenue for the states
    • Darbar Move in J&K 
    • Indian Olympic Association
    • Common Service Centres
    • J&K Rules for Domicile 
  • Legislature:
    • Parliamentary standing committees
    • Governor modifies law on forest rights
    • ILO on dilution of  labour laws
    • Sedition law
    • Delimitation Commission
    • State Election Commission
  • Judiciary:
    • Supreme Court’s 4G Internet Order
    • Death Penalty Sentencing in Trial Courts
    • National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)
    • National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC)
    • 'Strict Liability' Or 'Absolute Liability'
  • Bills And Acts:
    • Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979
    • SC on migrants
    • Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991

International Relations

  • Geopolitical Events:
    • Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)
    • Gilgit-Baltistan
    • India- China Border dispute
    • Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC)
    • China- Taiwan relations
    • India- Nepal border dispute
    • National security law in Hong Kong
    • Currency Change in Iran
    • West Bank and issues associated
    • Somalia’s maritime dispute with Kenya 
    • Both Koreas violated the armistice agreement
  • Organizations And Conventions:
    • Bay of Bengal Boundary Layer Experiment or BoBBLE
    • Non-Aligned Movement summit
    • Open Skies treaty
    • RCEP 
    • Afghanistan’s Power-Sharing Deal
    • Travel bubble
    • Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
    • European Court of Justice (ECJ)
    • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
    • Shanghai Cooperation Organization
    • G20
    • Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting
    • World Bank
    • International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
    • WHO Executive Board
    • International Day of UN Peacekeepers 2020
    • New Development Bank
    • IEA

Economy

  • Banking And Finance:
    • Co-Op banks come under the Sarfaesi Act: Supreme Court
    • Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC)
    • Major stimulus measures
    • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan 
    • General Financial Rules
    • National Infrastructure Pipeline
    • Telecom regulator moots national numbering plan
    • Foreign portfolio investors
    • BharatMarket
  • Agriculture:
    • Locust attacks
    • Rajasthan’s Krishi Kalyan fees
    • APMC Act
    • Geotextiles
    • Rajiv Gandhi Nyay Yojana
    • Contract farming system
    • Beekeeping in India
  • Infrastructure:
    • Impact of energy efficiency measures for the year 2018-19
  • Web Portal And App:
    • Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG) app
    • Bank of Schemes, Ideas, Innovation, and Research portal
    • KISAN SABHA APP
    • Saras Collection
    • Surakshit Dada-Dadi & Nana-Nani Abhiyan
    • GARUD portal
    • MahaKavach App
    • FIR Aapke Dwar
    • CHAMPIONS portal
    • GOAL (Going Online As Leaders)” programme
    • National Test Abhyas
    • National Migrant Information System (NMIS)
    • Rozgar Setu

Environment

  • Species in news:
  • Pollution And Conservation:
    • Govt notifies BS-VI emission norms for quadricycles
    • Stubble burning
    • Styrene
    • Safeguards against chemical disasters in India
  • Environment:
    • Preservation of Eastern, Western Ghats

Science And Technology

  • Space:
    • Magnetosphere
    • 'Solar Minimum'
    • SpaceX Demo-2 mission
  • Health:
    • Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)
    • African Swine Fever (ASF)
    • Disease becomes endemic
    • Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API)
  • CORONA/COVID:
    • New COVID- 19 symptoms
    • Silent hypoxia
    • Ultraviolet germicidal radiation (UVGI)
    • RT-LAMP based test for Coronavirus
    • ATULYA
    • eCovSens
    • Special corona fee
    • COVID Kavach Elisa
    • CSIR approves project to develop 'hmAbs' that can neutralize SARSCoV-2 in patients
    • Defence Research Ultraviolet Sanitiser (DRUVS)
    • SwasthVayu
    • Less invasive surfactant administration (LISA)
    • Agappe Chitra Magna
    • Adenovirus COVID-19 vaccine
    • FAITH trials
  • New Technology:
    • National Technology Day
    • Quantum entanglement
    • ANtarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna or ANITA
    • ‘5G club’
    • Eventbot
    • Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs)

Miscellaneous

  • Exercise And Operation:
    • Shekatkar committee
    • Defence Testing Infrastructure Scheme (DTIS)
    • China's central bank digital currency
    • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
    • Thikri pehra
    • World Press Freedom Day 2020
    • World Press Freedom Conference 2020

Places in News

Index in News

Schemes in News

 

 

Art And Culture

Festivals:-

Bishnu Sendra Parva

  • It is an annual hunting festival observed by tribals of Jharkhand and the neighbouring Odisha and West Bengal. This year, for the first time in living memory, not a single animal was killed in the event because of a complete lockdown across the state.

Vesak

  • Context:
    • ‘Vesak’, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is being observed by the United Nations on May 7, 2020.
    • It is also known as Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day.
  • About:
    • The day commemorates birth, enlightenment, and Death (or Parinirvana) of Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, all of which is said to take have taken place on the same day.
    • Vesak falls on the full moon day (Purnima) of the month Vaishakha (May), hence the occasion is referred to as Buddha Purnima in India.
  • Recognition by the United Nations (UN):
    • The General Assembly, by its resolution in 1999, recognized internationally the Day of Vesak. It was done to acknowledge the contribution that Buddhism made to humanity.
Awards And Languages:-

Gandhi Peace Prize

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Culture has extended the nomination period for the Gandhi Peace Prize from 30th April to 15th June 2020, due to the lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19.
  • About:
    • Instituted in the year 1995 on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
    • This annual award is given to individuals and institutions for their contributions towards social, economic, and political transformation through non-violence and other Gandhian methods.
    • The award carries a cash prize of Rs 1 crore, a citation, and a Plaque as well as an exquisite traditional handicraft/handloom item.
    • The Award for every year is selected by a Jury under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister.
    • It is open to all persons regardless of nationality, creed, race, or sex.
    • The prize is not awarded posthumously.

Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:-

Konark Sun Temple

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has taken up the Complete Solarisation of Konark sun temple and Konark town in Odisha.
  • About the Temple:
    1. Built-in the 13th century, the Konark temple was conceived as a gigantic chariot of the Sun God, with 12 pairs of exquisitely ornamented wheels pulled by seven horses.
    2. It was built by King Narasimhadeva I, the great ruler of the Ganga dynasty.
    3. The temple is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 for its architectural greatness and also for the sophistication and abundance of sculptural work.
    4. The temple is a perfect blend of Kalinga architecture, heritage, exotic beach and salient natural beauty.
    5. It is protected under the National Framework of India by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act (1958) and its Rules (1959).
    6. The Konark is the third link to Odisha’s Golden Triangle. The first link is Jagannath Puri and the second link is Bhubaneswar (Capital city of Odisha).
    7. This temple was also known as ‘BLACK PAGODA’ due to its dark color and used as a navigational landmark by ancient sailors to Odisha. Similarly, the Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the “White Pagoda”.
    8. It remains a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here every year for the Chandrabhaga Mela around the month of February.

GI Tag:-

GI tags 

  • Context:
    • GI tag has been given to the Black rice of Manipur, also called the Chak-Hao, Gorakhpur Terracotta, and Kadalai Mittai of Kovilpatti.
  • About GI tag:
    • A GI is primarily an agricultural, natural or a manufactured product (handicrafts and industrial goods) originating from a definite geographical territory.
  • Significance of a GI tag:
    • Typically, such a name conveys an assurance of quality and distinctiveness, which is essentially attributable to the place of its origin.
  • Security:
    • Once the GI protection is granted, no other producer can misuse the name to market similar products. It also provides comfort to customers about the authenticity of that product.
  • Who is a registered proprietor of a geographical indication?
    • Any association of persons, producers, organisation, or authority established by or under the law can be a registered proprietor.
    • Their name should be entered in the Register of Geographical Indication as a registered proprietor for the Geographical Indication applied for.
  • How long the registration of Geographical Indication is valid?
    • The registration of a geographical indication is valid for a period of 10 years.
    • It can be renewed from time to time for a further period of 10 years each.
  • What is the difference between a geographical indication and a trademark?
    • A trademark is a sign used by an enterprise to distinguish its goods and services from those of other enterprises. It gives its owner the right to exclude others from using the trademark.
    • A geographical indication tells consumers that a product is produced in a certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to that place of production. It may be used by all producers who make their products in the place designated by a geographical indication and whose products share typical qualities.
  • Who accords and regulates Geographical Indications?
    • At the International level:
      • Geographical Indications are covered as a component of intellectual property rights (IPRs) under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.
      • GI is also governed by the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO’s) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
      • In India, Geographical Indications registration is administered by the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 which came into force with effect from September 2003.
      • The first product in India to be accorded with GI tag was Darjeeling tea in the year 2004-05.

Key GI TAgs

  • Black rice variety:
    • It has a deep black colour and is higher by weight than that of other coloured rice varieties like brown rice, etc. This is mainly due to the anthocyanin agent.

  • Kovilpatti Kadalai Mittai :
    • It is a peanut candy made in southern parts of Tamil Nadu. The candy is prepared from groundnut and jaggery. The water is exclusively used from the river Thamirabarani.
  • Gorakhpur Terracotta:
    • The potters of the town make animal figures like elephants, horses.

  • Kashmir Saffron
    • The Saffron cultivated in the Kashmir valley has received Geographical Indication Tag.
    • It is long, thick, and has a natural deep red colour. Also, it has a high aroma and is processed without adding any chemicals.
    • The colour of the saffron is unique due to the high quantity of crocin. It has a rich flavor because of safranal and the bitterness is due to the presence of picrocrocin.
    • The Kashmir Saffron is the only saffron in the world that is grown at an altitude of 1,600 metres.
    • The saffron available in Kashmir is of three types: Lachha Saffron’, ‘Mongra Saffron’ and ‘Guchhi Saffron’.
  • Sohrai Khovar
    • Sohrai Khovar painting is a traditional and ritualistic mural art being practised by local tribal women during local harvest and marriage seasons using local, naturally available soils of different colours in the area of Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. The style features a profusion of lines, dots, animal figures and plants, often representing religious iconography.

  • Telia Rumal cloth of Telangana
    • It involves intricate handmade work with cotton loom displaying a variety of designs and motifs in three particular colours — red, black, and white.

 

History

Famous Personalities:-

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore

  • Context:
    • National Gallery of Modern Art will organise the Virtual Tour titled “Gurudev – Journey of the Maestro through his visual vocabulary” from 7th May 2020 to commemorate the 159th birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.
  • About Rabindranath Tagore:
    • Popularly known as ‘Gurudev’, he was born in an affluent family.
    • Tagore was primarily known as a writer, poet, playwright, philosopher and aesthetician, music composer, and choreographer, founder of a unique educational institution – Visva- Bharati and a painter.
    • Tagore began writing poetry at the tender age of eight years old and at 16 years of age, Tagore released his first collection of poems under the pen name 'Bhanusimha'.
    • He had spoken at the World Parliament for Religions in the years 1929 and 1937.
  • Contributions:
    • He wrote the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh.
    • He left his imprint on art and played a role in transforming its practices and ushering into modernism.
    • Between 1928 and 1940, Rabindranath painted more than 2000 images. He never gave any title to his paintings.
    • Expressionism in European art and the primitive art of ancient cultures inspired him.
  • Awards:
    • In 1913, he became the first Indian to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel 'Geetanjali'.
  • Role in the freedom struggle:
    • He denounced British imperialism, yet he did not fully support or agree with Gandhi and his Noncooperation Movement.
    • He viewed British rule as a symptom of the overall “sickness” of the social “disease” of the public.
    • In his writings, he also voiced his support of Indian nationalists.
    • Rabindranath Tagore wrote the song Banglar Mati Banglar Jol (Soil of Bengal, Water of Bengal) to unite the Bengali population after Bengal partition in 1905.
    • He also wrote the famed ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ which helped ignite a feeling of nationalism amongst people.
    • He started the Rakhi Utsav where people from Hindu and Muslim communities tied colourful threads on each other’s wrists.
    • Tagore rejected violence from the British as well and renounced the knighthood that had been given to him by Lord Hardinge in 1915 in protest of the violent Amritsar massacre in which the British killed at least 1526 unarmed Indian citizens.
    • The cornerstone of Tagore’s beliefs and work is the idea that anti-colonialism cannot simply be achieved by rejecting all things British, but should consist of incorporating all the best aspects of western culture into the best of Indian culture.
  • What freedom meant for Tagore?
    • “Freedom” does not simply mean political freedom from the British; True freedom means the ability to be truthful and honest with oneself otherwise autonomy loses all of its worth.

Maharana Pratap

  • Context:
    • May 9 marks the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, the 13th Rajpur king of Mewar. Maharana Pratap was born in 1540 and died at the age of 56 in 1597.
  • Battle of Haldighati:
    • He is known for his bravery in the Battle of Haldighati. It was fought in 1576 between Maharana and the forces of Akbar led by Man Singh of Amber.
    • Rana’s forces were defeated in 6 hours. But the Mughals failed to capture him.
    • Maharana re-gathered his forces, fought and won against the Mughals after six years in 1582. Having faced a terrible defeat, Akbar stopped his military campaigns against Mewar after the battle.
  • Legacy:
    • Rana Pratap's defiance of the mighty Mughal empire, almost alone and unaided by the other Rajput states, constitutes a glorious saga of Rajput valour and the spirit of self-sacrifice for cherished principles.
    • Rana Pratap's methods of sporadic warfare were later elaborated further by Malik Ambar, the Deccani general, and by Shivaji Maharaj.

Ramkinkar Baij

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Culture’s National Gallery of Modern Art will organise a virtual tour titled “Ramkinkar Baij, Journey through silent transformation and expressions” to commemorate the 115th Birth Anniversary of Ramkinkar Baij on 26th May 2020.
  • Who was Ramkinkar Baij?
    • Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980), one of the most seminal artists of modern India, was an iconic sculptor, painter, and graphic artist.
    • He was born in Bankura, West Bengal
    • In 1925, he made his way to Kala Bhavana, the art school at Santiniketan, and was under the guidance of Nandalal Bose.
    • Along with Nandalal Bose and Benodebehari Mukherjee, he played a pivotal role in making Santiniketan one of the most important centres for modern art in pre-Independent India.
  • Contributions to modern art:
    • He assimilated the idioms of the European modern visual language and yet was rooted in his own Indian ethos.
    • He experimented restlessly with forms, moving freely from figurative to abstract and back to figurative.
    • His themes were steeped in a deep sense of humanism and an instinctive understanding of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature.
    • Both in his paintings and sculptures, he pushed the limits of experimentation and ventured into the use of new materials.
    • For instance, his use of unconventional material, for the time, such as cement concrete for his monumental public sculptures set a new precedent for art practices.

Purandara Dasa

  • Context:
    • Department of Archaeology, Heritage, and Museums will soon commence field research work at Keshavapura in Araga Gram Panchayat (GP) of Tirthahalli taluk to explore definitive archaeological evidence that may put an end to speculations regarding the birthplace of Purandara Dasa.
  • About Purandaradasa:
    • Purandara Dasa (1484–1564) was a Haridasa, great devotee of Lord Krishna and a saint.
    • He was a disciple of the celebrated Madhwa philosopher-saint Vyasatirtha, and a contemporary of yet another great Haridasa, Kanakadasa.
    • Purandaradasa was the pioneer who blended the rich musical streams, namely the Dravidian and Aryan music, into a single stream known as Carnatic music.
    • Prior to his initiation to Haridasa tradition, Purandara Dasa was a rich merchant and was called as Srinivasa Nayaka.
  • Contributions to Indian Music:
    1. He formulated the basic lessons of teaching Carnatic music by structuring graded exercises known as Svaravalis and Alankaras
    2. He introduced the raga Mayamalavagowla as the first scale to be learnt by beginners in the field – a practice that is still followed today.
    3. He also composed Gitas (simple songs) for novice students.
    4. He is noted for composing Dasa Sahithya, as a Bhakti movement vocalist, and a music scholar.
  • Social reforms:
    1. Purandara Dasa tried to reform existing practices in the society and preached to others in the local language, Kannada by singing devotional songs. Most of his keertanas deal with social reform and pinpoints defects found in society.
    2. It teaches complete self-surrender and unadulterated love towards Lord Krishna, the Supreme.
    3. The philosophy of Bhakti in Purandara Dasa's compositions stems from the essential teachings of the realistic-pluralistic Madhwa Philosophy of Vaishnavism.
    4. Purandara Dasa fought the evils of casteism through his songs.
    5. According to Purandara Dasa, there were no inequalities among men and women. Both of them had the same rights and obligations in their conduct of everyday life as well as observation of pity.
    6. He made some forceful expressions on untouchability, which was dogging society.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

  • Context:
    • PM paid tributes to Gopal Krishna Gokhale on his birth anniversary. He was born on 9 May 1866.
  • About:
    • Gopal Krishna Gokhale was an Indian political leader, a social reformer during the Indian Independence Movement, and Mahatma Gandhi’s political mentor.
    • Gokhale campaigned for Indian self-rule and also social reform. He was the leader of the moderate faction of the Congress party that advocated reforms by working with existing government institutions
  • Contributions of GK Gokhale in the freedom movement of India:
    1. He gave budget speeches as a member of the Imperial Legislative Council.
    2. He contributed articles to the English weekly Mahratta.
    3. He served as Secretary of the Deccan Education Society.
    4. After being given charge of the Bombay Provincial Conference in 1893, he was elected to the Senate of the Bombay University.
    5. He visited Ireland and arranged for Irish nationalist Alfred Webb to serve as the President of the Indian National Congress in 1894.
    6. As a member of the Pune Municipality, twice elected its president, Gokhale continued to strive to solve the problems of the poor, and those who came to him with grievances.
    7. Gokhale also published a daily newspaper entitled Jnanaprakash, which allowed him to voice his reformist views on politics and society.
    8. He was later elected to the Council of India of the Governor-General of India in 1903.
    9. He was appointed as the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1904 New Year’s Honours List.
    10. In 1905, he founded the Servants of India Society, which trained people to be selfless workers so they could work for the common good of the people. He was also elected as the President of the Indian National Congress.
    11. He was instrumental in the formation of the MintoMorley Reforms of 1909, which eventually became law.
    12. Gokhale was a mentor to both Mohammed Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi even wrote a book called, ‘Gokhale, My Political Guru’. His core beliefs about the importance of political liberty, social reform, and economic progress for all Indians are still relevant to our times.

Veer Savarkar

  • Context:
    • The invitation extended by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for the inauguration of the Yelahanka flyover sparked off a political controversy with the initial intimation indicating that it would be named after Hindutva ideologue V.D. Savarkar.
  • About Veer Savarkar
    • Born on May 28, 1883, in Bhagur, a city in Maharashtra’s Nashik.
  • Nationalism and social reforms:
    1. In his teenage, Savarkar formed a youth organization. Known as Mitra Mela, this organization was put into place to bring in national and revolutionary ideas.
    2. He was against foreign goods and propagated the idea of Swadeshi.
    3. He also Worked on the abolishment of untouchability in Ratnagiri.
    4. Vinayak Savarkar was a president of Hindu Mahasabha from 1937 to 1943. When congress ministries offered resignation on 22nd Oct 1939, Hindu Mahasabha under his leadership cooperated with Muslim league to form government in provinces like Sindh, Bengal, and NWFP.
    5. In Pune, Savarkar founded the “Abhinav Bharat Society”.
    6. He was also involved in the Swadeshi movement and later joined Tilak’s Swaraj Party. His instigating patriotic speeches and activities incensed the British Government. As a result, the British Government withdrew his B.A. degree.
    7. He founded the Free India Society. The Society celebrated important dates on the Indian calendar including festivals, freedom movement landmarks, and was dedicated to furthering discussion about Indian freedom.
    8. He believed and advocated the use of arms to free India from the British and created a network of Indians in England, equipped with weapons.
  • Important works:
    1. In his book, The History of the War of Indian Independence, Savarkar wrote about the guerilla warfare tricks used in 1857 Sepoy Mutiny.
    2. The book was banned by Britishers, but Madam Bhikaji Cama published the book in the Netherlands, Germany, and France, which eventually reached many Indian revolutionaries.
    3. He was arrested in 1909 on charges of plotting an armed revolt against the Morley-Minto reform.
    4. In 2002, Port Blair airport at Andaman and Nicobar’s Island was renamed after Veer Savarkar International Airport.
Battles And Organization:-

Pearl harbour attack

  • Context:
    • President Donald Trump has said the coronavirus outbreak has hit the US harder than the Japanese the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II or the 9/11 terror attacks, pointing the finger at China.
  • About  Pearl Harbour
    • The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour was among the most significant moments of the War — it signaled the official entry of the US into the hostilities, which eventually led to the dropping of nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
  • What led up to the attack on Pearl Harbour?
    1. Before Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, relations between the US and Japan were already worsening.
    2. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and, in 1937, it invaded China, sending alarm bells ringing in the US and other Western powers about Japan’s manifest expansionist agenda.
    3. Between December 1937 and January 1938, an episode which is referred to as the “Nanking Massacre” or the “Rape of Nanking”, occurred — Japanese soldiers killed and raped Chinese civilians and combatants.
    4. Japanese historians estimate that anywhere between tens of thousands and 200,000 Chinese were killed.
    5. The US was against Japan’s aggression in China and imposed economic sanctions and trade embargoes after its invasion. Japan was reliant on imports for oil and other natural resources — this was one of the reasons why it invaded China, and later French Indo-China (present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). The intention was to take control of the major Chinese ports to have access to resources such as iron, rubber, tin, and most importantly, oil.
    6. In July 1941, the US ceased exporting oil to Japan. Negotiations between the two countries ended with the “Hull Note”, the final proposal delivered to Japan by the US. Essentially, the US wanted Japan to withdraw from China without any conditions.
    7. Ultimately, the negotiations did not lead to any concrete results, following which Japan set its task for Pearl Harbour in the last week of November 1941. Japan considered the attack to be a preventive measure against the US interfering with Japan’s plans to carry out military operations in some parts of Southeast Asia.
  • What happened at Pearl Harbour?
    • About 7.55 am on December 7, 1941, about 180 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbour on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The bombing killed over 2,300 Americans and destroyed the battleships USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma. Roughly 160 aircraft were destroyed, and 150 were damaged.
  • Outcomes:
    • But the Pearl Harbor attack had failed in its objective to completely destroy the Pacific Fleet.
    • The Japanese bombers missed oil tanks, ammunition sites, and repair facilities, and not a single U.S. aircraft carrier was present during the attack.
    • In June 1942, this failure came to haunt the Japanese, as U.S. forces scored a major victory in the Battle of Midway, decisively turning the tide of war in the Pacific.

Archaeological Survey of India

  • It is an Indian government agency attached to the Ministry of Culture that is responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country. It was founded in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham who also became its first Director-General.
  • Important publications:
    1. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum.
    2. Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy.
    3. Epigraphia Indica.
    4. Ancient India.

Geography

Hotter oceans spawn super cyclones

  • Context:
    • Super cyclone Amphan that is barrelling towards West Bengal is the strongest storm to have formed in the BoB since the Super Cyclone of 1999 that ravaged Paradip in Odisha.
    • Cyclone Amphan intensified from a category-1 cyclone to category-5 in 18 hours, an unusually quick evolution.
  • Factors responsible for the intensification of cyclones in BoB:
    • Higher than normal temperatures in the Bay of Bengal (BoB) may be whetting ‘super cyclones’ and the lockdown, indirectly, may have played a role:
      1. Cyclones gain their energy from the heat and moisture generated from warm ocean surfaces. This year, the BoB has posted record summer temperatures a fall-out, as researchers have warned, of global warming from fossil fuel emissions that have been heating up oceans.
      2. Lockdown impact: Reduced particulate matter emissions during the lockdown meant fewer aerosols, such as black carbon, that are known to reflect sunlight and heat away from the surface.
  • General factors responsible for the origin of Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal region are:
    1. Large sea surface with a temperature higher than 27° C.
    2. Presence of the Coriolis force enough to create a cyclonic vortex.
    3. Small variations in the vertical wind speed.
    4. A pre-existing weak low-pressure area or low-level-cyclonic circulation.
    5. Upper divergence above the sea level system.
  • The Arabian Sea is comparatively less prone to cyclonic storms than the Bay of Bengal:
    • Temperature:
      • BOB is hotter than the Arabian sea. Hot water temperature is the basic criterion for the development & intensification of cyclones.
    • Salinity:
      • The Arabian Sea has a higher salinity than BOB. It’s easier to heat & simultaneously evaporate water having lower salinity.
    • Location:
      • The typhoons originating in the Pacific Ocean influence the cyclones in BOB, not the case in The Arabian Sea.
    • Movement:
      • According to IMD cyclones originating in the Arabian Sea are believed to move northwest. So they actually move away from the Indian mainland.
    • Rainfall:
      • The Bay receives higher rainfall and constant inflow of freshwater from the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers. This means that the Bay’s surface water keeps getting refreshed, making it impossible for the warm water to mix with the cooler water below, making it ideal for a depression

Heatwave

  • Context:
    • Several parts of north India are reeling under an intense heatwave with many districts in Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh posting temperatures over 45 degrees Celsius, or five degrees above what is normal.
  • What is a heatwave?
    • A Heat Wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season.
    • Heat Waves typically occur between March and June, and in some rare cases even extend till July.
  • Criteria for Heat Waves:
    • The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has given the following criteria for Heat Waves:
      1. Heat Wave need not be considered until the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C for Plains and at least 30°C for Hilly regions.
      2. When the normal maximum temperature of a station is less than or equal to 40°C, Heat Wave Departure from normal is 5°C to 6°C and Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 7°C or more.
      3. When the normal maximum temperature of a station is more than 40°C, Heat Wave Departure from normal is 4°C to 5°C and Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 6°C or more.
      4. When the actual maximum temperature remains 45°C or more irrespective of normal maximum temperature, heat waves should be declared.
  • Health Impacts of Heat Waves:
    • The health impacts of Heat Waves typically involve dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and/or heat stroke.
    • Children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing morbidities are particularly vulnerable.
    • Vegetable vendors, cab drivers, construction workers, police personnel, roadside kiosk operators, and mostly weaker sections of the society have to work in the extreme heat to make their ends meet and are extremely vulnerable to the adverse impacts of heatwaves such as dehydration, heat, and sunstrokes.
  • Reasons, why India is experiencing more heatwaves, are:
    1. Magnified effect of paved and concrete surfaces in urban areas and a lack of tree cover.
    2. Urban heat island effects can make ambient temperatures feel 3 to 4 degrees more than what they are.
    3. More heatwaves were expected as global temperatures had risen by an average of 0.8 degrees in the past 100 years. Night-time temperatures are rising too.
    4. Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent globally due to climate change.
    5. High intensity of UV rays in the medium-high heatwave zone.
    6. A combination of exceptional heat stress and a predominantly rural population makes India vulnerable to heatwaves.
  • Way ahead for India- How India should deal with heatwaves?
    1. Identifying heat hot-spots through appropriate tracking of meteorological data and promoting timely development and implementation of local Heat Action Plans with strategic inter-agency co-ordination, and a response which targets the most vulnerable groups.
    2. Review of existing occupational health standards, labour laws, and sectoral regulations for worker safety in relation to climatic conditions.
    3. Policy intervention and coordination across three sectors' health, water, and power are necessary.
    4. Promotion of traditional adaptation practices, such as staying indoors and wearing comfortable clothes.
    5. Popularisation of simple design features such as shaded windows, underground water storage tanks, and insulating housing materials.
    6. Advance implementation of local Heat Action Plans, plus effective inter-agency coordination is a vital response which the government can deploy in order to protect vulnerable groups.

Society

Health:-

International Health Regulations

  • Context:
    • Fifty-eight countries, including 27 members of the European Union and India have moved a draft resolution demanding evaluation of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s a response towards novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
    • The resolution will be tabled in the 73rd World Health Assembly to be convened by the WHO.
  • What does the resolution demand?
    1. Tough action against and transparency on the response to the coronavirus outbreak by China.
    2. Address questions raised about the World Health Organization (WHO) as an organisation and its response to the pandemic.
    3. An “impartial”, “independent” and “comprehensive” evaluation to review lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated response.
    4. The “effectiveness” of mechanisms at WHO’s disposal — namely the 2005 International Health Regulations.
  • What is IHR?
    • The International Health Regulations, or IHR (2005), represent an agreement between 196 countries including all WHO the Member States to work together for global health security.
    • Through IHR, countries have agreed to build their capacities to detect, assess, and report public health events.
    • WHO plays the coordinating role in IHR and, together with its partners, helps countries to build capacities.
    • IHR also includes specific measures at ports, airports and ground crossings to limit the spread of health risks to neighbouring countries and to prevent unwarranted travel and trade restrictions so that traffic and trade disruption is kept to a minimum.
  • Criticisms surrounding WHO’s response in the wake of a pandemic:
    • WHO was late in declaring not only human-to-human transmission but also global health emergency and then the pandemic.
    • Till as late as February, the WHO did not support countries for imposing travel restrictions on China.
    • The WHO has come under sharp criticism not just from the United States but other quarters as well for its response being ‘China-centric’.

Indo-US Vaccine Action Programme (VAP)

  • Context:
    • In the context of the current pandemic, India, and the US under the Vaccine Action Programme (VAP) are planning to collaborate on the development and testing of vaccine candidates and diagnostics for Covid-19.
  • Background:
    • The U.S has already announced a donation of 200 ventilators to India. The ventilators, which will be paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), are part of the $5.9 million in funding announced to date for India.
    • The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said it would separately fund the Government of India $3.6 million to support prevention, preparedness, and response activities in India, in collaboration with and concurrence from the GoI.
  • About Vaccine Action Programme (VAP):
    • The VAP is an Indo-US bilateral program, which supports a broad spectrum of activities relating to new and improved vaccines.
  • Focus:
    • The programme was designed to encompass laboratory-based research, evaluation of candidate vaccines, testing for clinical development, vaccine quality control, delivery of vaccines, and so on.
    • The programme is under implementation since July 1987 under the Gandhi-Reagan Science & Technology Agreement.
  • Significance:
    • Major projects were initiated under VAP in the areas of rotaviral diarrhoea, dengue, viral hepatitis, acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid, E. coli, leishmaniasis, pneumococcal, HIV/AIDS, etc.
    • With the completion of 25 years of its implementation, DBT celebrated the silver jubilee function of VAP in September 2012.

WHO bar on India testing HCQ as preventive

  • Context:
    • World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recently announced a moratorium on testing hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the controversial anti-malarial drug, for treating COVID-19.
    • However, it has now clarified that the moratorium doesn't imply that India should pause testing the drug as a preventive.
  • What you should know?
    • HCQ was one of four drug-combinations being tested in a global clinical trial, called Solidarity Trial, coordinated by the WHO.
    • Under this, four hundred hospitals in 35 countries would be comparing the benefits to COVID patients from taking either Remdesivir; Lopinavir/Ritonavir; Lopinavir/Ritonavir with Interferon beta-1a; and hydroxychloroquine.
    • They are all drugs for other diseases but have shown varying degrees of promise in blunting COVID-19 infection.
  • How are these tested?
    • To objectively assess the benefit of these drugs over standard-of-care treatments, clinicians would be assessing these drugs in Randomised Clinical Trial (RCT) — the most medically legitimate approach — whereby some groups of patients, unknown to the administering doctors and recipient patients — would get the drug and some wouldn't.
  • Why has hydroxychloroquine been considered as a possible treatment for the coronavirus?
    1. A promising laboratory study, with cultured cells, found that chloroquine could block the coronavirus from invading cells, which it must do to replicate and cause illness. However, drugs that conquer viruses in test tubes or Petri dishes do not always work in the human body, and studies of hydroxychloroquine has found that it failed to prevent or treat influenza and other viral illnesses.
    2. Reports from doctors in China and France have said that hydroxychloroquine, sometimes combined with the antibiotic azithromycin, seemed to help patients. But those studies were small and did not use proper control groups — patients carefully selected to match those in the experimental group but who are not given the drug being tested.
    3. Another reason the drug has been considered for coronavirus patients is that it can rein in an overactive immune system, which is why it is used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. In some severe cases of Covid-19, the immune system seems to go into overdrive and cause inflammation that can damage the lungs and other organs.
  • Is HCQ really effective in treating COVID 19?
    • Some studies have shown that HCQ shows no benefit — in fact, it puts patients at greater harm.
    • The latest such study published in the medical journal Lancet found that in 96,000 hospitalised SARSCoV-2 patients across six continents, there was no benefit — even additional harm of cardiac arrhythmia — in those being treated with HCQ.
  • India’s arguments:
    • India recommends the drug as a preventive for groups that were at high risk of contracting the infection. It is based on internal studies and laboratory experiments that showed the drug had antiviral properties.
  • Which countries authorised their use?
    • USA, Brazil, France, and several Middle Eastern countries.
Society and Education:-

Sample Registration System (SRS)

  • Context:
    • Sample Registration System (SRS) bulletin has been released by the Registrar General of India. It is based on data collected for 2018.
  • Key findings and important facts:
    • The national birth rate in 2018 stood at 20. It was 36.9 in 1971.
    • Best and worst:
      • Bihar (26.2) continues to remain at the top of the list in the birth rate while Andaman and Nicobar (11.2) are at the bottom.
      • The rural-urban differential has also narrowed. However, the birth rate has continued to be higher in rural areas compared to urban areas in the last four decades.
    • The death rate stood at 6.2 in 2018 from 14.9 in 1971.
      • Best and worst:
        • Chhattisgarh has the highest death rate, while Delhi has the lowest.
        • The decline has been steeper in rural areas.
        • In the last decade, the death rate at an all-India level has declined from 7.3 to 6.2. The corresponding decline in rural areas is 7.8 to 6.7 and in urban areas, 5.8 to 5.1.
    • The infant mortality rate is at 32. It is about one-fourth as compared to 1971 (129).
      • Worst and best:
        • Madhya Pradesh (48) has the worst infant mortality rate in the country while Nagaland (4) has the best.
        • In the last 10 years, IMR has witnessed a decline of about 35 percent in rural areas and about 32 percent in urban areas.
        • The IMR at an all-India level has declined from 50 to 32 in the last decade.
  • SRS
    • The SRS is a demographic survey for providing reliable annual estimates of infant mortality rate, birth rate, death rate, and other fertility and mortality indicators at the national and sub-national levels.
    • Initiated on a pilot basis by the Registrar General of India in a few states in 1964-65, it became fully operational during 1969-70.
    • The field investigation consists of a continuous enumeration of births and deaths in selected sample units by resident part-time enumerators, generally Anganwadi workers and teachers; and an independent retrospective survey every six months by SR's supervisors. The data obtained by these two independent functionaries are matched.

Garbage-free star rating for the cities

  • Context:
    • Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry have announced the results of the garbage-free star ratings for the cities.
  • Key highlights:
    1. A total of 141 cities have been rated — six of them 5-star, 65 of three-star, 70 one-star.
    2. Around 6 cities were given a 5-star rating. This includes Ambikapur, Surat, Rajkot, Mysuru, Indore, and Navi Mumbai.
    3. Karnal, New Delhi, Tirupati, Vijayawada, Chandigarh, Bhilai Nagar, Ahmedabad are among 'three-star garbage-free ratings while Delhi Cantonment, Vadodara, Rohtak are among one-star garbage-free cities.
  • About the star rating initiative:
    • The star rating protocol was launched by the central government in January 2018 to institutionalize a mechanism for cities to achieve garbage free status leading to a higher degree of cleanliness.
    • The protocol includes components such as the cleanliness of drains & water bodies, plastic waste management, managing construction & demolition waste which are critical drivers for achieving garbage-free cities.
    • It is one of the various initiatives which intends to make Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) as a successful project.
  • How cities are given ratings?
    • The Star Rating is supported by self-assessment and self-verification for achieving a certain star rating.
    • It also ensures the involvement of citizen groups for a transparent system of self-declaration.
    • The self-declaration is further verified through an independent third party agency appointed by MoHUA.
  • Significance:
    • The performance of cities under the Star Rating Protocol is crucial as it carries significant weightage for their final assessment in Swachh Survekshan.
    • It also ensures certain minimum standards of sanitation through a set of prerequisites defined in the framework.
    • Since the rating is conducted at a city level, it makes the process easier to implement and helps the cities incrementally improve their overall cleanliness.

1st May: Labour Day

  • Context:
    • The Labour Day was observed across the world on May 1, 2020. The day is also known as International Worker’s Day and May Day.
    • In India, the first celebration of the Labour Day was organised in Madras (now Chennai) by the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan on May 1, 1923.
  • Why 1 May is observed as Labour Day?
    • The date was chosen due to events on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1884 the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday, to come in effect as of May 1st, 1886.
    • This resulted in the general strike and the Haymarket (in Chicago) Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.
    • The date was chosen for International Workers' Day by the Second International, a pan-national organisation of socialist and communist political parties, to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago in 1886.
    • Three years later, a French socialist party created an international day to honour the labour movement and marked May 1 in commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre.

Stringency Index

  • Context:
    • A Stringency Index created by Oxford University shows how strict a country’s measures were, and at what stage of the pandemic spread it enforced these. As per the index, India imposed its strictest measures much earlier than others.
  • What is the Stringency index?
    • The Stringency Index is a number from 0 to 100 that reflects these indicators. A higher index score indicates a higher level of stringency.
    • It is among the metrics being used by the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.
    • The Tracker involves a team of 100 Oxford community members who have continuously updated a database of 17 indicators of government response.
    • These indicators examine containment policies such as school and workplace closings, public events, public transport, stay-at-home policies.
  • What does it say about India?
    • India enforced one of the strongest lockdowns at an early phase of case growth. India indeed had one of the strongest lockdown measures in the world — at a 100 score since March 22.
    • It was relaxed slightly on April 20 after the government eased norms for certain workplaces in regions outside the red zones.
    • When compared to other countries with the similar or higher caseloads, India called its strict lockdown at a much earlier point on its case and death curves.
    • These 18 other countries had more than 500 cases when they called their strictest lockdown, while India had 320.
    • Again, India had only four deaths on March 22, when its score reached 100, while most countries had more deaths at that point (except Switzerland; no deaths).
  • The relation between the death curve and stringency score:
    • Oxford provides an overlay of countries’ death curves and their stringency score. Some countries saw their deaths just begin to flatten as they reached their highest stringency, such as Italy, Spain, or France.
    • In countries such as the UK, the US, and India, the Oxford graphs find that the death curve has not flattened after strictest measures were enforced.
    • From the highest death count at their strongest measures, the countries compared were France, Italy, Iran, Germany, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Mexico, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, US, Turkey, Israel, China, India, and Switzerland.
  • Other countries with 100 score:
    • Other countries with a 100 score are Honduras, Argentina, Jordan, Libya, Sri Lanka, Serbia, and Rwanda. India now has the highest number of cases in this set.
  • What are the six World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations for relaxing physical distancing measures?
    • Control transmission to a level the healthcare system can manage; the healthcare system can detect and isolate all cases (not just serious ones); manage transfer to and from high-risk transmission zones; and community engagement.
  • How many countries met these recommendations?
    • India scored 0.7 (below Australia, Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea) because it scored 0 for controlling its cases.
    • The highest scorers on this index, at 0.9, were Iceland, Hong Kong, Croatia, and Trinidad & Tobago. Oxford found no countries meet the four measured recommendations, but 20 are close

Katkari Tribe

  • Katkari is one of the 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups.
  • Katkaris were historically forest dwellers. They are located primarily in Raigad and in parts of Palghar, Ratnagiri, and Thane districts as well and in some places of Gujarat.
  • The British administration had classified them under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871.
  • The name Katkari is derived from a forest-based activity – the making and barter or sale of Katechu (math) from the khair tree (Acacia Katechu). It is produced by boiling wood from the Khair tree and evaporating the resulting brew.
Detailed Coverage:https://samajho.com/upsc/particularly-vulnerable-tribal-groups-pvtg/

 

Polity

Executive:-

Sources of revenue for the states

  • Context:
    • After incurring high losses due to the pandemic, states such as Delhi and Andhra Pradesh are levying 70-75% additional fee on liquor purchases.
    • Manufacture and sale of liquor are major sources of revenue for states. A ban on alcohol sales was a crucial part of the lockdown, but it deprived states of critical revenue.
  • How is excise duty levied and collected?
    • Excise duty is an indirect tax levied by the government on goods manufactured within India and compares with custom duty, which is levied on imported items.
    • Excise duty refers to the tax amount included in the final selling price of an item.
    • As excise duty is a tax on the manufacture of goods, the goods do not have to be sold for the excise duty to be collected.
  • Who levies the excise duty on liquor?
    • The excise duty on liquor is levied by the respective state governments in India.
    • State excise duty on alcohol is the second or third largest contributor to the own tax revenue of states.
    • It accounts for 10-15% of the tax receipts for a majority of the states.
    • Licences to sell alcohol, fines, and confiscation of alcoholic products also add to the exchequer of states.
  • Does alcohol not come within the purview of GST?
    • Alcohol is not within the purview of the goods and services tax (GST). Exempting alcohol from GST was a key to the request put forth by state governments when the tax reform was being implemented across the country.
    • Other major items that are beyond the ambit of GST are land, electricity and petroleum products such as petrol, diesel, and aviation turbine fuel.
  • What are the other sources of revenue for the states?
    • The states’ revenues comprise broadly two categories — Tax Revenue and Non-Tax Revenue.:
      1. Tax revenue:
        • It is divided into two further categories: State’s Own Tax Revenue, and Share in Central Taxes. Again, Own Tax Revenue comprises three principal sources:
          1. Taxes on Income (taxes on professions, trades, callings, and employment).
          2. Taxes on Property and Capital Transactions (land revenue, stamps and registration fees, urban immovable property tax).
          3. Taxes on Commodities and Services (sales tax, state sales tax/VAT, central sales tax, a surcharge on sales tax, receipts of turnover tax, other receipts, state excise).
      2. Nontax revenues:
        • Collected by the governments for providing/facilitating any goods and services.

Darbar Move in J&K 

  • Context:
    • The Jammu and Kashmir High Court have asked the Centre and the Union Territory (UT) administration to take a final call on the continuation of Darbar move- the 148-year-old practice of shifting capitals annually between Srinagar and Jammu.
  • What is it?
    • Darbar Move is a century-old practice in which the government functions for six months each in the two capitals of the State, Srinagar and Jammu.
    • The practice was reportedly started in the late 19th century by Ranbir Singh, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, who used to shift his capital between Srinagar in the summer and Jammu in the winter to escape extreme weather conditions in these places.
    • The government will function in Srinagar, the summer capital of the State, till late October and then move to Jammu, the winter capital, in the first week of November.
    • Hundreds of trucks are usually plied to carry furniture, office files, computers, and other records to the capital.
    • Regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir advocated the continuation of the practice “to help in the emotional integration between two diverse linguistic and cultural regions of Jammu and Kashmir.”
  • Criticisms surrounding:
    • The ‘Darbar Move’ results in wastage of a tremendous amount of time, efforts, and energy on inefficient and unnecessary activity.
    • It is taxing for security forces too. It nurtures inefficiency and leads to lack of governance.
    • The same negatively impacts justice dispensation and impedes judicial administration.
    • It also causes delay in justice dispensation as government records are not available to the pleaders in one region for six months at a time.
    • Valuable documents and resources of the Union Territory in the nature of important and sensitive government documents are put to tremendous risk in the process of their transportation as they are packed in trunks and carried in hired trucks over a distance of 300 km between Jammu and Srinagar and vice-versa twice a year.
  • What does the High Court say?
    • The High Court observed that if this practice was rationalised, the amount of money, resources, and time that could be saved, could be utilised towards the welfare and development of the Union Territory, which has otherwise witnessed much turmoil.
    • It could be utilised for protection and propagation of culture and heritage of the communities. It could also be used for facilitating expenditure on the COVID-19 related issues.
    • The court also remarked that given the modern weather control mechanisms, the consideration of extremities of weather, which was the case, reason, and basis for the Darbar Move, does not hold weight today.

Indian Olympic Association

  • Context:
    • Indian Olympic Association has constituted an 11-member committee, led by Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwala, to monitor annual grant and affiliation fees of its members for the 2020-2021 cycle.
  • About IOA:
    • Indian Olympic Association is the governing body for the Olympic Movement and the Commonwealth Games in India.
    • It is an affiliated member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), and Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).
    • Recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
  • Functions:
    • Administers various aspects of sports governance and athletes’ welfare in the country.
    • Oversees the representation of athletes or teams participating in the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and other international multi-sport competitions of IOC, CGF, OCA, and ANOC.
  • Foundation:
    • The IOA was established in the year 1927 with Sir Dorabji Tata and Dr. A.G. Noehren as the Founding President and Secretary-General respectively. It is registered as a Non-Profit Organisation under the Societies Registration Act of 1860.
  • Composition:
    • The members of IOA include National Sports Federations, State Olympic Associations, IOC Members, and other select multi-sport organisations.
  • Governance:
    • The Indian Olympic Association is currently governed by a 32-member Executive Council.
    • The election for the Executive Council is held once every 4 years.

Common Service Centres

  • Context:
    • In its bid to ensure a free flow of essential goods amid lockdown in rural areas, the government has decided to work with nearly 2,000 Common Service Centres. Over 3.8 Lakh CSCs across the country reaching over 60 Cr people.
  • How does it work?
    • Customers can now go online and order supplies through an app that has been provided to village-level entrepreneurs (VLEs) or those given the charge of retail and other CSC activities. The VLEs then make arrangements to transport the goods within a few hours. VLEs have also been allowed to take offline orders.
  • What are CSCs?
    • Common Services Centers (CSCs) are a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme. They are the access points for the delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.
    • They are a multiple-services-single-point model for providing facilities for multiple transactions at a single geographical location.
    • They are the access points for the delivery of essential public utility services, social welfare schemes, healthcare, financial, education, and agriculture services, apart from a host of B2C services to citizens in rural and remote areas of the country.
  • CSCs enable the three vision areas of the Digital India programme:
    1. Digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen.
    2. Governance and services on demand.
    3. Digital empowerment of citizens.
  • Significance of CSCs:
    • CSCs are more than service delivery points in rural India. They are positioned as change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship, and building rural capacities and livelihoods.
    • They are enablers of community participation and collective action for engendering social change through a bottom-up approach with a key focus on the rural citizen.
  • Background:
    • The CSC project, which forms a strategic component of the National eGovernance Plan was approved by the Government in May 2006, as part of its commitment in the National Common Minimum Programme to introduce e-governance on a massive scale.
    • It is also one of the approved projects under the Integrated Mission Mode Projects of the National eGovernance Plan.

J&K Rules for Domicile 

  • Context:
    • The Jammu and Kashmir administration has issued a notification defining the rules for issuing domicile certificates in the Union territory.
    • These rules provide a simple time-bound and transparent procedure for issuance of domicile certificates.
    • The notification has been provided through an amendment of the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment) Act, 2010.
  • Background:
    • On March 31, 2020, the Government of India issued Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization (Adaptation of State Laws) order, 2020. According to the order, the domicile of a person is defined as “A person who has resided in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir for a period of 15 years or has studied in the UT for a period of 7 years and appeared in Class 10 or 12 examinations in an educational institution of J&K” is considered to be a domicile of J&K.
  • Overview of the ‘J&K Grant of Domicile Certificate (Procedure) Rules 2020’:
    1. Under the amended rules, eligible non-locals can also apply for the certificate.
    2. There is a timeline of 15 days for the issuance of certificates.
    3. Domicile certificates have now been made a basic eligibility condition for appointment to any post under the Union Territory of J&K following the amendments in the previous Act.
    4. To make the process transparent and time-bound, any officer not able to issue the certificate would be penalised ₹50,000. The amount would be recovered from his salary.
    5. All Permanent Resident Certificate holders and their children living outside J&K can apply for the certificates.
    6. Kashmiri migrants living in or outside J&K can get domicile certificates by simply producing their Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC), ration card copy, voter card, or any other valid document.
    7. Bonafide migrants can apply with the Relief and Rehabilitation department by providing documents like electoral rolls of 1988, proof of registration as a migrant in any State in the country, or any other valid document.
  • Implications of this move:
    • Due to the order, the West Pakistan Refugees and children of the women married outside J&K and Safai Karamcharis are now eligible to obtain domicile status
  • Definition of domiciles:
    1. The order defines domiciles as anyone “who has resided for a period of 15 years in the UT of J&K or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examination in an educational the institution located in the UT of J&K or who is registered as a migrant by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants)”.
    2. It said that children of central government officials including the all India services, public sector units, an autonomous body of Centre, Public Sector Banks, officials of statutory bodies, central universities and recognised research institutes of the Centre who have served in J&K for a “total period of 10 years” will be domiciles.
    3. The domicile status also applies to “children of such residents of J&K who reside outside J&K in connection with their employment or business or other professional or vocational reasons but their parents should fulfill any of the conditions provided”.
Legislature:-

Parliamentary standing committees

  • Context:
    • Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu recently held a meeting with Lok Sabha Speaker Shri Om Birla and discussed the issue of feasibility of various Committees of Parliament holding their meetings at the earliest in the prevailing situation and in the context of restrictions on travel across the country.
    • They also discussed the pros and cons of Parliamentary Committees holding meetings by video conferencing.
  • What are the types of committees?
    1. ‘Standing’ committees:
      • Their existence is uninterrupted and usually reconstituted on an annual basis. Some standing committees are departmentally related.
    2. ‘Select’ committees :
      • It formed for a specific purpose, for instance, to deliberate on a particular bill. Once the Bill is disposed of, that select committee ceases to exist.
    3. 'Finance' committees :
      • They are considered to be particularly powerful. The three financial committees are the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee, and the Committee on Public Undertakings.
  • Powers:
    • Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and Article 118 (on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business).
  • Significance:
    • Committee reports are usually exhaustive and provide authentic information on matters related to governance. Bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition. However, Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of committees.

Governor modifies law on forest rights

  • Context:
    • Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has modified the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, allowing rightful claimants of forest rights to appeal against decisions of the district level committee (DLC).
    • The Governor has modified Section 6 of the Act, in its application to Scheduled Area of the State of Maharashtra, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Schedule V of the Constitution.
  • Significance:
    • The notification is important to provide justice to tribals whose ‘individual or community forest right’ has been rejected by the DLC, constituted under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
    • The notification applies to areas covered in the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act in the State and allows appeal provision against the DLC’s decision.
    • The notification states that divisional level committees under the chairmanship of divisional commissioners have been constituted to hear the appeals against the DLC’s decisions. In the case of an order passed by the DLC before the commencement of the notification, the appeal needs to be made within six months. However, if an order has been passed after the commencement of the notification, the application has to be made within 90 days.
  • Criticisms:
    • Activists, however, are concerned that this will lead to further delays in implementation of forest laws. They say the notification is a double-edged sword. A tribal farmer will find it difficult to go to the district headquarters. They fear this committee will further delay implementation of FRA. Delay means denial of justice and increased scope for fake claims.
  • What is 5th schedule?
    • The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration and control of Scheduled Areas as well as of Scheduled Tribes residing in any State other than the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
  • Special Provisions for Fifth Schedule Areas:
    1. The Governor of each State having Scheduled Areas (SA) shall annually, or whenever so required by the President, make a report to the President regarding the administration of Scheduled Areas in that State.
    2. The Union Government shall have executive powers to give directions to the States as to the administration of the Scheduled Areas.
    3. Para 4 of the Fifth Schedule provides for the establishment of a Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) in any State having Scheduled Areas.
      • Composition:
        • Consisting of not more than twenty members of whom, three-fourths shall be the representatives of the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of the State. If the number of representatives of the STs in the Legislative Assembly of the State is less than the number of seats in the TAC to be filled by such representatives, the remaining seats shall be filled by other members of those Tribes.
      • Functions:
        • The TAC shall advise on such matters pertaining to the welfare and the advancement of the STs in the State as may be referred to them by the Governor.
  • The Governor may make rules prescribing or regulating:
    • The number of members of the Council, the mode of their appointment and the appointment of the Chairman of the Council and of the officers and servants thereof, the conduct of its meetings and its procedure in general.
    • The Governor may, by public notification, direct that any particular Act of Parliament or of The legislature of the State shall or shall not apply to a SA or any part thereof in the State, subject to such exceptions and modifications, as specified.
    • The Governor may make regulations for the peace and good government of any area in the State which is for the time being a SA. Such regulations may prohibit or restrict the transfer of land by or among members of the Scheduled Tribes in such area; regulate the allotment of land to members of the STs in such area.
    • In making such regulations, the Governor may repeal or amend any Act of Parliament or of Legislature of the State or any existing law after obtaining the assent of the President.

ILO on dilution of  labour laws

  • Context:
    • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has expressed concern and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “send a clear message” to the Central and State governments to uphold international labour laws after the recent dilution of laws by some States.
  • What’s the issue?
    • A group of 10 Central trade unions wrote to the ILO in Geneva on May 14, seeking its intervention to protect workers’ rights and international labour standards.
    • Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and some other States either have suspended a large number of labour laws for two-three years or diluted them in an attempt to woo industry in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • What are Indian labour laws?
    • Labour falls in the Concurrent List. Estimates vary but there are over 200 state laws and close to 50 central laws.
    • And yet there is no set definition of “labour laws” in the country. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into four categories.
  • Why are labour laws often criticised?
    • Indian labour laws are often characterised as “inflexible”. It has been argued that thanks to the onerous legal requirements, firms (those employing more than 100 workers) dither from hiring new workers because firing them require government approvals.
    • This, in turn, the argument goes, has constrained the growth of firms on the one hand and provided a raw deal to workers on the other.
    • Besides, there are too many laws, often unnecessarily complicated, and not effectively implemented. This has laid the foundation for corruption and rent-seeking.
  • Why states are giving relaxation?
    • These changes are being brought about to incentivise economic activity in the respective states.
    • Migrants coming home need jobs; and therefore, industries have to be offered a flexible hire-and-fire regime to restart operations.
    • At a holistic level, it is being argued that Indian labour laws are cumbersome and drive away investors. So, changes have been made to attract units to India.
  • Few notable changes made by states:
    • The Uttar Pradesh government has approved an Ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of all the labour laws except few for the next three years.
    • Madhya Pradesh government has also suspended many labour laws for the next 1000 days.
  • What are the concerns associated?
    • The suspension of basic labour laws and the freehand given to industries may lead to a wave of easy closures and retrenchments, which will only worsen the unemployment situation in the country.
    • Denying the rights of workers is a violation of human and fundamental rights.
    • It may create insecurity among the workers.
    • The changes may lead to desperate conditions for workers.
  • Way ahead:
    • It is true labour laws need to be streamlined. But this is not the right time. Millions of migrants, out of jobs, are heading back to their home state.
    • By diluting labour laws that guarantee some measure of protection against exploitation, we could be adding to their misery.

Sedition law

  • Context:
    • Assam MLA granted bail in a sedition case.
    • The MLA was lodged in central Assam’s Nagaon jail more than a month ago on sedition and other charges, including the circulation of a provocative video related to COVID-19 quarantine on social media. He was booked under four sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 124A dealing with sedition and 153A related to promoting or attempting to promote communal disharmony.
  • What is Sedition?
    • Sedition, which falls under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government of India and has been illegal in India since 1870.
  • Historical Background of Sedition Law:
    • Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy.
    • This sentiment (and law) was borrowed and inserted into the Section 124A of IPC in 1870, by the British. British used Sedition law to convict and sentence freedom fighters. It was first used to prosecute Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897.
  • Views by Supreme Court:
    • In 1962, the Supreme Court decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar.
    • It upheld the constitutionality of sedition but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”.
    • It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.
    • In 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no the public response did not amount to sedition.
  • Why sedition law should be repealed?
    • Sedition leads to a sort of unauthorised self-censorship, for it produces a chilling effect on free speech.
    • It suppresses what every citizen ought to do in a democracy — raises questions, debate, disagrees, and challenge the government’s decisions. Sedition systematically destroys the soul of Gandhi’s philosophy that is, right to dissent.

Delimitation Commission

  • Context:
    • The Lok Sabha Speaker has nominated 15 MPs from Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh as “associate members” of the Delimitation Commission to assist the panel in redrawing parliamentary and assembly constituencies of the northeastern states and the union territory.
  • Who are associate members?
    • Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies of states, for which the Delimitation Commission is set up, are drawn in as associate members to help the panel in its task.
  • Background:
    • The government had on March 6 constituted the Delimitation Commission, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, to redraw Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland.
    • The commission will delimit the constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, and of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland in accordance with the provisions of the Delimitation Act, 2002.
  • What is Delimitation?
    • Delimitation literally means the process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a state that has a legislative body.
  • Who carries out the exercise?
    • Delimitation is undertaken by a highly powerful commission. They are formally known as Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission.
    • These bodies are so powerful that their orders have the force of law and they cannot be challenged before any court.
    • Such commissions have been constituted at least four times in India — in 1952 under the Delimitation Commission Act, 1952; in 1963 under Delimitation Commission Act, 1962; in 1973 under Delimitation Act, 1972 and last in 2002 under Delimitation Act, 2002.
    • The commissions’ orders are enforced as per the date specified by the President of India. Copies of these orders are laid before the Lok Sabha or the concerned Legislative Assembly. No modifications are permitted.
  • Composition of the Commission:
    • According to the Delimitation Commission Act, 2002, the Delimitation Commission appointed by the Centre has to have three members:
      • a serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court as the chairperson, and the Chief
    • Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner nominated by the CEC and the State Election Commissioner as ex-officio members.
  • Why Delimitation?
    • To provide equal representation to equal segments of a population.
    • A fair division of geographical areas so that one political party doesn’t have an advantage over others in an election.
    • To follow the principle of “One Vote One Value”.
  • How delimitation is carried out?
    • Under Article 82, the Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act after every Census.
    • Under Article 170, States also get divided into territorial constituencies as per the Delimitation Act after every Census.
    • Once the Act is in force, the Union government sets up a Delimitation Commission.
Detailed Coverage:https://samajho.com/upsc/delimitation-commission-of-india/

State Election Commission

  • Context:
    • The Andhra Pradesh High Court has struck down the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Ordinance and the consequential Government orders.
    • The Court has directed the government to reinstate Mr. Ramesh Kumar with immediate effect.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The Andhra Pradesh government through its ordinance and government Orders had cut short the term of the State Election Commissioner (SEC) from five to three years, resulting in the expulsion of the standing EC from the post.
    • The ordinance also confers powers to the district collectors to disqualify and punish candidates any time after being elected to the local bodies.
  • Why HC struck down the ordinance and government’s order?
    • The power conferred under Article 213 of the Constitution to promulgate ordinances was not an absolute entrustment but was conditional on the satisfaction that the circumstances existed for such an action.
    • The impugned ordinance was in violation of Article 243-K, which states that an SEC could not be removed, except in the same manner as provided for a High Court judge.
  • About the State Election Commission:
    • The Constitution of India vests in the State Election Commission, consisting of a State Election Commissioner, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of all elections to the Panchayats and the Municipalities (Articles 243K, 243ZA).
  • Appointment:
    • The State Election Commissioner is appointed by the Governor.
    • As per article 243(C3) the Governor, when so requested by the State Election Commission, make available to the State Election Commission such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the SEC by clause (1).
  • The ECI and SECs have a similar mandate; do they also have similar powers?
    • The provisions of Article 243K of the Constitution, which provides for setting up of SECs, are almost identical to those of Article 324 related to the EC. In other words, the SECs enjoy the same status as the EC.
    • In 2006, the Supreme Court emphasized the two constitutional authorities enjoy the same powers.
    • In Kishan Singh Tomar vs Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad, the Supreme The court directed that state governments should abide by orders of the SECs during the conduct of the panchayat and municipal elections, just like they follow the instructions of the EC during Assembly and Parliament polls.

Judiciary:-

Supreme Court’s 4G Internet Order

  • Context:
    • Supreme Court on May 11 refused to restore 4G internet in Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
    • But, the Court has ordered the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration to form a committee of Secretaries from MHA and J&K UT Admin to take a call after reviewing the ground security situation.
    • The high-powered committee headed by the MHA Secretary will also look into the contentions raised by various petitioners.
  • Important observations made and rationale behind this verdict:
    • There is a need to ensure that national security and human rights are balanced. J&K UT has plunged into crisis, but at the same time, there are concerns related to ongoing pandemic and hardships.
    • The bench also referred to its earlier decision in the Anuradha Bhasin case (2020) wherein it ordered a review of restrictions placed in J&K in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
  • Background- what’s the issue?
    • In August 2019, the Central government had suspended all modes of communications in the wake of revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status, granted under Article 370. Eventually, services were partially restored, with internet speed restricted to 2G.
    • A plea was filed by ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ for the restoration of high-speed internet in Jammu and Kashmir in view of the Covid-19 situation.
    • But, the administration opposed the restoration of 4G services in the union territory. It justified its move in view of protecting the sovereignty, integrity, and security of the country.
  • Criticisms against the internet shutdown:
    • Restrictions have virtually abrogated the fundamental rights and paralyzed the lives of seven million people in the region.
    • The shutdown of internet services has severe consequences on business, trade, and heavily affects the common people in the region.
  • What procedure does the government follow to suspend Internet services?
    • The Information Technology Act, 2000, the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, and the Telegraph Act, 1885 are the three laws that deal with the suspension of Internet services.
    • But before 2017, Internet suspension orders were issued under section 144 of the CrPC.
    • In 2017, the central government notified the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules under the Telegraph Act to govern suspension of the Internet.
    • These Rules derive their powers from Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, which talks about the interception of messages in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
  • Anuradha Bhasin case (2020):
    • The Court declared that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of the Internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) respectively.
    • While such freedom is not absolute, the restrictions imposed on it should be in consonance with the mandate
    • under Article 19(2) and Article 19(6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.

Death Penalty Sentencing in Trial Courts

  • Context:
    • It is a report by research organization Project 39A of National Law University, Delhi.
    • In the study, the organisation analysed 215 judgments from three states, 43 from Delhi, 90 from Maharashtra, and 82 from Madhya Pradesh, in which trial courts imposed death sentence between 2000 and 2015.
  • Key findings of the study:
    • The shock and impact of a crime on the collective conscience of society was a major reason cited by trial courts in Delhi while imposing death sentences on convicts.
    • The study also revealed blatant non-compliance by the trial courts with the sentencing framework laid down by the Supreme Court in its 1980 judgment in Bachan Singh v. the State of Punjab, where a constitution bench of the Supreme Court was called upon to decide the constitutional validity of the capital punishment.
  • What is a collective conscience?
    • Collective consciousness (sometimes collective conscience or conscious) is a fundamental sociological concept that refers to the set of shared beliefs, ideas, attitudes, and knowledge that are common to a social group or society.
  • Evolution of collective conscience:
    • ‘Collective conscience of society’ as a ground to justify the death penalty was first used by the Supreme Court in the 1983 judgment of Machhi Singh v. the State of Punjab. In that case, the court held that when “collective conscience of society is shocked, it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty”.
    • It was, however, most famously used by the top court in its 2005 judgment in the Parliament attack case in which it awarded capital punishment to convict, Afzal Guru.
    • Collective conscience found its most recent endorsement in the 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court in the December 2012 Delhi gang-rapes case of Mukesh v. State of NCT of Delhi.
  • How should the Courts decide on capital punishment impositions?
    • In the case of Bachan Singh, the Supreme Court formulated a sentencing framework to be followed for imposing the death penalty.
    • It required the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances relating to both the circumstances of the offence and the offender, to decide whether a person should be sentenced to death or given life imprisonment.
    • According to the Bachan Singh judgment, for a case to be eligible for the death sentence, the aggravating circumstances must outweigh the mitigating circumstances.
  • What does the study suggest?
    • Collective conscience makes its appearance through the individual conscience of the judge. So, when judges use this phrase, it is really to express what is essentially their own viewpoint, or they have taken it upon themselves to determine “collective consciousness”. Both these positions are entirely self-generated.
    • The most glaring aspect highlighted by Project 39A’s report was regarding the non-consideration of mitigating factors while sentencing the accused.
    • As per the report, no mitigating circumstances were mentioned in 42% of death penalty cases (18 of 43 cases) in Delhi. The number was 62% (51 of 82 cases) in Madhya Pradesh and 47% (42 of 90 cases) in Maharashtra.
    • The Bachan Singh judgment recognized the age of the accused as a relevant mitigating circumstance.
      • Another most important aspect of the sentencing framework laid down in the Bachan Singh judgment is to consider whether the alternative punishment of life imprisonment can be “unquestionably foreclosed.” Only then can the death penalty be imposed.
  • In essence, this study shows:
    • That the death penalty sentencing framework has completely collapsed. The utter inconsistency, confusion, and arbitrariness in the Supreme Court’s death penalty jurisprudence have had a devastating impact on the sentencing process in the trial courts.
  • Concerns:
    • Can the courts allow any kind of public outcry, sense of conscience, sentiment, or feeling to even remotely influence their decisions, especially when it is a case of the death sentence? This is even more relevant in the times that we live in, when television and social media bombard us, creating and determining opinion.
  • Need of the hour:
    • Our Constitution is based on the principle of justice for the most marginalised, disfranchised, oppressed, unknown, unseen, and ignored. This spirit demands that law cannot rely on or be influenced by any delusionary sense or mood of the people. We need judges liberal energy and the ability to be creative human beings.
  • Recommendations by law commission:
    • The Law Commission in 2015, headed by Justice A P Shah proposed to abolish capital punishments. However, the commission had made the proposal only to non-terrorism cases.
    • According to the commission, India is one of few countries that still carry out executions. The other countries that practice executions include Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China. By the end of 2014, 98 countries had abolished the death penalty.

National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)

  • Context:
    • NALSA has released a report on the number of undertrials released during the lockdown period.
  • Highlights:
    • Legal services institutions have intervened to release 42,529 undertrial prisoners as well as 16,391 convicts on parole to de-congest prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • The highest number of undertrial prisoners released was 9,977 in Uttar Pradesh, followed by 5,460 in Rajasthan and 4,547 in Tamil Nadu, 3,698 in Punjab and 3,400 in Maharashtra.
  • Background:
    • There are 1,339 prisons with approximately 4,66,084 inmates.
    • The rate of occupancy at Indian prisons at 117.6%.
  • Need:
    • The Supreme Court observed in March that physical distancing, an effective measure to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, would be difficult in prisons.
    • Further, the court issued guidelines, formed committees, and asked the legal services authorities to work together and release undertrial prisoners and those on bail and parole to bring the prison population down.
  • About NALSA:
    • NALSA has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide free legal services to weaker sections of society.
    • The aim is to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reasons of economic or other disabilities.
    • ‘Nyaya Deep’ is the official newsletter of NALSA.
  • Composition:
    • As per section 3(2) of the Legal Service Authorities Act, the Chief Justice of India shall be the Patron-in-Chief.
    • The second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court of India is the Executive-Chairman.
  • Important functions performed by NALSA:
    1. Organise Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.
    2. Identify specific categories of the marginalised and excluded groups and formulates various schemes for the implementation of preventive and strategic legal service programmes.
    3. Provide free legal aid in civil and criminal matters for the poor and marginalised people who cannot afford the services of a lawyer in any court or tribunal.
  • State and district legal services authorities:
    • In every State, State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and to give free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. The State Legal
    • Services Authority is headed by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of the respective High Court who is the Patron-in chief of the State Legal Services Authority.
    • In every District, District Legal Services Authority has been constituted to implement Legal Services Programs in the District. The District Legal Services Authority is situated in the District Courts Complex in every District and chaired by the District Judge of the respective district.
  • Need- Constitutional basis:
    • Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides that State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.
    • Articles 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before the law and a legal system that promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all. Legal aid strives to ensure that the constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden, and weaker sections of society.

National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC)

  • Context:
    • Questioning the basis of the Supreme Court judgment that quashed the National Judicial
    • Appointments Commission, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has wondered why the prime minister cannot be trusted with appointing fair judges.
  • Background:
    • On 16 October 2015, in a 4-1 majority verdict, the Supreme Court held that both the Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014, and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, were unconstitutional as it would undermine the independence of the judiciary.
    • The majority said the two laws affect the independence of the judiciary, and judicial appointments, among other things, should be protected from executive control.
  • About NJAC and the Act:
    • NJAC is a body responsible for the appointment and transfer of judges to the higher judiciary in India. NJAC Bill sought to replace the collegium system of appointing the judges of Supreme Court and High Courts with judicial appointments commission wherein the executive will have a say in appointing the judges.
    • A new article, Article 124A, (which provides for the composition of the NJAC) was to be inserted into the Constitution.
    • The Bill provided for the procedure to be followed by the NJAC for recommending persons for appointment as Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the Supreme Court (SC), and Chief Justice and other Judges of High Courts (HC).
  • According to the bill the commission will consist of the following members:
    1. Chief Justice of India (Chairperson, ex officio)
    2. Two other senior judges of the Supreme Court next to the Chief Justice of India – ex officio
    3. The Union Minister of Law and Justice, ex-officio
    4. Two eminent persons (to be nominated by a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister of India and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha or where there is no such Leader of Opposition, then, the Leader of single largest Opposition Party in Lok Sabha), provided that of the two eminent persons, one person would be from the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or OBC or minority communities or a woman. The eminent persons shall be nominated for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for re-nomination.
  • How proponents of NJAC defend it?
    • According to them the enactment of the 99th Amendment was intended at redressing the imbalance created by the verdict of the court in second judges case.
    • For them, NJAC would have been a more broad-minded forum, providing a genuine chance to participate and influence the selection of our higher judiciary — not merely to the Supreme Court and the executive, but also to laypersons (eminent persons) outside the constitutional framework.
  • Why the court struck down the NJAC act?
    • The court has held that the appointment of judges, coupled with the primacy of judiciary and the CJI, was part of the basic structure of the Constitution and that the parliament, through the NJAC act, violated this basic structure.

'Strict Liability' Or 'Absolute Liability'

  • Context:
    • The National Green Tribunal's order in the Visakhapatnam gas tragedy found LG Polymers prima facie liable under the 19th century English law, Principle of “strict liability”, which was made redundant in India by the Supreme Court in 1986.
    • But some lawyers are of the opinion that the term absolute liability principle should have been used instead.
  • What is the Strict liability principle?
    • Evolved in the year 1868 in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher. It has become obsolete now with the evolution of “absolute liability” principle.
    • As per this principle, any person who indulges in “non-natural” use of land and who keeps “hazardous substances” on his premises will be held “strictly liable” if such substances “escapes” the premises and causes any “damage”.
    • However, this principle allows for an exception from liability if such damage has been caused by it:
      1. the Plaintiff's own fault;
      2. an Act of God;
      3. act of a Third Party; or
      4. if the hazardous activity was being carried out with the consent of the Plaintiff (violenti non fit injuria).
  • What is the Absolute Liability Principle?
    • Evolution:
      • The Supreme Court, while deciding the Oleum gas leak case of Delhi in 1986, found strict liability woefully inadequate to protect citizens’ rights in an industrialised economy like India and replaced it with the ‘absolute liability principle’.
  • What is it?
    • Under the absolute liability principle, the apex court held that a company in a hazardous industry cannot claim any exemption.
      1. It has to mandatorily pay compensation, whether or not the disaster was caused by its negligence. The court said a hazardous enterprise has an “absolute non-delegable duty to the community”.
      2. The principle of absolute liability is part of Article 21 (right to life).
  • Difference between Absolute & Strict Liability:
    1. Payment of compensation: Under strict liability, compensation is payable as per nature and quantum of damages caused but in cases of absolute liability, damages to be paid are exemplary in nature and depend upon the magnitude and financial capability of the enterprise.
    2. The element of “escape” is not essential under the doctrine of Absolute Liability. This means that even if any hazardous substance does not leak from the premises of the industry but causes harm to the workers inside, the enterprise may be held absolutely liable.
    3. Absolute Liability can be upheld by the courts even in those cases where a single death is reported and there is no mass destruction of property or pollution of the environment.
  • The relevance of this in Vizag Gas Leak case:
    • The use of words “strict liability” under the NGT order opens up a convenient window for the company, LGpolymers, to escape liability on showing that there was no negligence on their part.
Bills And Acts:-

Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979

  • Context:
    • Following the novel coronavirus pandemic, the nationwide lockdown announced on March 24 at short notice has caused immense distress to migrant workers around the country.
    • Those working in the field of labour welfare have recalled the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 to regulate the employment and working conditions of inter-State migrants, but feel that the lack of serious implementation has led to their rights being ignored.
  • Key provisions of the Act:
    1. The Act seeks to regulate the employment of inter-State migrants and their conditions of service.
    2. It envisages a system of registration of such establishments.
    3. The principal employer is prohibited from employing inter-State workmen without a certificate of registration from the relevant authority.
    4. The law also lays down that every contractor who recruits workmen from one State for deployment in another State should obtain a license to do so.
    5. Contractors are bound by certain conditions. These include committing them to provide terms and conditions of the agreement or any other arrangement on the basis of which they recruit workers.
For Detailed Coverage: https://samajho.com/upsc/interstate-migrant-workmen-act-1979/

SC on migrants

  • Context:
    • The Supreme court has ordered the Centre and the States to immediately provide transport, food, and shelter free of cost to the stranded migrant workers.
    • The Court took suo motu cognisance of media reports and representations from senior lawyers to step in to protect the fundamental rights of the migrant workers.
  • What has the Court said?
    • There have been “inadequacies and certain lapses” on the part of the Central and State governments in dealing with the migrant workers’ crisis during the COVID-19 lockdown.
    • The crisis is even continuing today with large sections of migrant labourers still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations, and State borders. Effective concentrated efforts were required to redeem the situation.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Soon after the lockdown was imposed, migrants by the thousands, who had lost their jobs, started walking back home because no public transport was available.
    • Many were stopped at state borders and sent to shelters. Others continued to walk along train tracks or on highways.
    • In late April, the government announced guidelines for transporting them back home by bus. On May 1, it launched special trains for them, but many continued to walk back home because they did not want to wait for the trains or did not have the documentation required to board them.
    • On May 9, 16 workers walking back home to Madhya Pradesh from Maharashtra, and who had stopped to rest on railway tracks (and fall asleep) were run over by a goods train.
  • Significance and implications of the verdict:
    1. The court in its order seemed to have accepted that the problems of migrant labourers are far from over.
    2. The crises of migrant labourers are even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations, and State borders.
    3. In the present situation, migrant labourers need “succor and help” and a concentrated effort will be required to redeem the situation.

Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991

  • Context:
    • The gas leak at LG Polymers India Private Ltd in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh has brought back the focus on the Public Liability Insurance.
    • Over and above the compensation that may be awarded by the Courts, the victims are also entitled to compensation under the company's Public Liability Insurance, available in terms of the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991.
  • What is Public liability?
    • Simply put, the public liability insurance policy covers a policyholder from claims from third parties for death or injury or property damage caused by hazardous substances handled in a factory.
  • About the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991:
    • The Act came into being in the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
    • This law requires all enterprises that own or have control over handling of any hazardous substance, to subscribe to a “public liability insurance policy cover” whereby they are insured against the claims from third parties for death or injury or property damage caused by hazardous substances handled in their enterprise.
    • The compensation payable under this Act is also irrespective of the company's neglect. The victims who are exposed to the hazardous substance used by the industry may file a claim with the Collector within 5 years of the accident.
    • On receipt of an application, the Collector, after giving notice to the owner and after giving the parties an opportunity of being heard, will hold an inquiry into the claim and may make an award determining the amount of relief which appears to him to be just.
  • Criticisms:
    • However, the amounts under this Act, as specified in the Schedule, were stipulated nearly two decades ago.
    • Resultantly, the compensation under the Act is very meager and the families of victims' who have died due to the gas leak or have suffered permanent disability, are entitled only to maximum compensation of Rs 25,000, in addition to a maximum of Rs. 12,500, as reimbursement for medical expenses.
    • In cases where a victim has suffered a permanent partial disability or other injury or sickness, the relief available if (a) reimbursement of medical expenses incurred, if any, up to a maximum of Rs. 12,500 in each case and (b) cash relief on the basis of percentage of disablement as certified by an authorized physician.
    • For loss of wages due to temporary partial disability which reduces the earning capacity of the victim, a fixed monthly relief not exceeding Rs. 1,000 per month has been stipulated, up to a maximum of 3 months, provided the victim has been hospitalized for a period exceeding 3 days and is above 16 years of age.
    • For any damage to private property, an amount of up to Rs. 6,000 is payable, depending on the actual damage.

International Relations

Geopolitical Events:-

Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)

  • Context:
    • The Indian government has decided to begin weather forecasts for regions under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) — Gilgit-Baltistan, Muzaffarabad, and Mirpur.
    • After DD and AIR started airing weather forecasts from PoK regions, In return Radio Pakistan also featured updates from Srinagar, Pulwama, and Ladakh.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The ‘weather war’ — a diplomatic move by India — started after Pakistan’s Supreme Court issued notices to the advocate general of Gilgit-Baltistan in late April, directing them to amend the Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018 and establish a caretaker government there.
  • About PoK:
    • Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is that part of the Jammu and Kashmir (India) which was invaded by Pakistan in 1947.
    • The region is referred by the United Nations and other international organizations, as ‘Pakistani-controlled Kashmir’ (or Pakistan Administered Kashmir) and it was re-named as ‘Pakistan occupied Jammu Kashmir’ by the Modi government.
  • PoK divided into two parts:
    1. Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)
    2. Gilgit-Baltistan (referred to as the ‘Northern Areas’ till August 2009).
  • What is the root of the fight between India and Pakistan?
    • The fact that PoK is an integral part of India has been our consistent policy ever since 1947.
    • In 1947, Pakistan’s Pashtoon tribals attacked Jammu and Kashmir.
    • So to tackle this critical situation the Ruler of that time Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir sought military assistance from the Indian government and the then Indian Governor-General Mountbatten signed an agreement on 26 October 1947 in which three subjects Defense, Foreign Affairs and Communications were handed over to India.
    • Except for these subjects, Jammu and Kashmir were free to all its decisions.
    • On the basis of this accession of the treaty, the Government of India claims that India has the full right to interfere in matters related to Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, on the other hand, doesn’t agree with India.
    • The legality of the transfer of the territory of J and K through the instrument of accession to India is unquestionable.
    • The unanimous resolution of the Parliament talks about the whole of J & K been an integral part of India.
    • Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir is based on the declaration of 1993. As per this declaration, Jammu & Kashmir were among those 5 states in which the rule of Government of Pakistan was supposed to be established. But India never accepted this claim of Pakistan.
    • India has also made clear to the world that it is the internal matter of India.
  • Why is PoK important?
    • Because of its location, PoK is of immense strategic importance. It shares borders with several countries – the Punjab and Northwest Frontier Province provinces (now called Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west, Xinjiang province of the People’s Republic of China to the north and India’s Jammu and Kashmir to the east.
  • Challenges for India in the PoK region:
    1. Terrorist infiltration through the region is high.
    2. Pakistan has changed the demography of PoK over a period of time.
    3. It has settled ex-servicemen, Punjabi’s, and Pathans so the original colours of PoK have changed.
    4. Gilgit Baltistan region is easy as compared to others.

Gilgit-Baltistan

  • Context:
    • The External Affairs Ministry issued a strong protest over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court allowing the government to hold elections in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
  • What’s the issue?
    • In a recent order, the Pakistan Supreme Court allowed the amendment to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 to conduct the general elections in the region.
    • Gilgit-Baltistan has functioned as a “provincial autonomous region” since 2009.
    • Besides, India has conveyed that the entire Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession.
  • Where is Gilgit Baltistan located?
    • Located in northern Pakistan. It borders China in the North, Afghanistan in the west, Tajikistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the southeast.
    • It shares a geographical boundary with Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and India considers it as part of the undivided Jammu and Kashmir, while Pakistan sees it as a separate from PoK.
    • It has a regional assembly and an elected Chief Minister.
    • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) also passes through this region.
    • Gilgit-Baltistan is home to five of the “eight-thousanders” and to more than fifty peaks above 7,000 metres (23,000 ft).
    • Three of the world’s longest glaciers outside the polar regions are found in Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • Recent developments:
    • Pakistan, in 2017, proposed to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region as its fifth Province.
  • Impediments ahead:
    • Gilgit- Baltistan is part of J&K and any such move would seriously damage Pakistan’s Kashmir cause. Two UN resolutions of August 13, 1948, and January 5, 1949, clearly established a link between GB and the Kashmir issue.
    • Making the region its fifth province would thus violate the Karachi Agreement — perhaps the only instrument that provides doubtful legal authority to Pakistan’s administration of GB — as well as the UN resolutions that would damage its position on the Kashmir issue.
    • Any such move would also be violative of the 1963 Pak-China Boundary Agreement that calls for the sovereign authority to reopen negotiations with China “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India” and of the 1972 Simla Agreement that mentions that “neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation”.

India- China Border dispute

  • Context:
    • Rekindling tensions over boundary claims, Indian and Chinese troops have clashed at two points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) recently, leaving personnel injured on both sides. The India-China border has been witnessing tensions over the past month, with incidents reported in at least four different locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). These include the Pangong lake in Ladakh, the Galway valley, and Demchok.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The incidents took place in the Naku La sector and in a contested area near Pangong Tso, a lake in Ladakh. But the Army played down the two incidents as “temporary and short-duration face-offs” that were resolved by “local commanders as per mutually-accepted protocols” through dialogue and flag meetings. These kinds of incidents do occur as boundaries are not resolved.
  • Why do face-offs occur?
    • They mainly occur in areas along the LAC. The LAC has never been demarcated.
    • Differing perceptions are particularly acute in around two dozen spots across the Western (Ladakh), Middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), Sikkim, and Eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors of the India-China border.
    • Face-offs occur when patrols encounter each other in the contested zones between overlapping claim lines.
    • Protocols agreed to in 2005 and 2013 detail rules of engagement to prevent such incidents, but have not always been adhered to.
  • Where is Naku La?
    • Naku La sector is a pass at a height of more than 5,000 metres above Mean Sea Level (MSL) in the state of Sikkim.
    • It is located ahead of Muguthang or Cho Lhamu (source of River Teesta).
    • The other passes located in the state of Sikkim are Nathu La Pass and Jelep La Pass.
  • Pangong Tso Lake:
    • It is a 135-km long lake, located in the Himalayas at the height of approximately 4,350 m, stretches out from India to China.
    • One-third of water body, its 45 km stretch, is in Indian control while the rest of the 90 km is under Chinese control.
    • It is formed from Tethys geosyncline.
    • It is a saltwater lake.
    • Strategic significance:
      • By itself, the lake does not have major tactical significance. But it lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian-held territory.
  • India- China Border:
    • India and China share a 3,488 km long boundary. Unfortunately, the entire boundary is disputed. The line, which delineates the boundary between the two countries, is popularly called the McMahon Line, after its author Sir Henry McMahon.
    • In 1913, the British-India government had called a tripartite conference, in which the boundary between India and Tibet was formalized after a discussion between the Indian and the Tibetans.
    • A Convention was adopted, which resulted in the delimitation of the Indo-Tibetan boundary. This boundary is, however, disputed by China which terms it as illegal.
    • In 1957, China occupied Aksai Chin and built a road through it.
    • This episode was followed by intermittent clashes along the border, which finally culminated in the border war of 1962. The boundary, which came into existence after the war, came to be known as Line of Actual Control (LAC). It is a military held line.
  • Why has not the LAC been clarified?
    • India has long proposed an exercise to clarify differing perceptions of the LAC to prevent such incidents. Maps were exchanged in the Middle Sector, but the exercise fell through in the Western Sector where divergence is the greatest.
    • China has since rejected this exercise, viewing it as adding another complication to the on-going boundary negotiations.
    • India’s argument is rather than agree on one LAC, the exercise could help both sides understand the claims of the other, paving the way to regulate activities in contested areas until a final settlement of the boundary dispute.
  • Attempts to resolve the issue:
    • The rapprochement between the two countries in 1976 enabled India and China to initiate High-Level border talks in 1981 to find a solution to the vexed problem. After eight rounds, the talks broke down in 1987.
      1. In 1988, following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China, the Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to look into the border problem.
      2. In 1993, the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was signed and the India-China Expert Group of Diplomatic and Military Officers was set up to assist the JWG.
      3. In 1996, the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the Military Field along the LAC was signed.
      4. In 2003, two special representatives (one each from India and China) were appointed to find a political solution to the border dispute.
      5. Till 2009, these two special representatives had held 17 rounds of talks, but it seems they have not made much headway.
    • Recently, NSA Ajit Doval was appointed as Special Envoy for talks
  • What is the state of boundary negotiations?
    • The 22nd round of talks between the Special Representatives, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and China’s State Councillor Wang Yi were held in Delhi in December 2019. Both “agreed that an early settlement of the boundary question serves the fundamental interests of both countries” and“resolved to intensify their efforts to achieve a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution”.

Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC)

  • Context:
    • India and China have activated the “working mechanism” at the diplomatic level.
    • This has been activated alongside the military-to-military conversation taking place at the field level to “disengage” and “de-escalate” the situation.
  • About WMCC:
    • The WMCC was established in 2012 as an institutional mechanism for consultation and coordination for management of India – China border areas, as well as to exchange views on strengthening communication and cooperation, including between the border security personnel of the two sides.
  • Composition:
    • It is headed by joint secretary-level officials from both sides. They are entrusted to help the special representative for boundary talks, a position currently held by NSA Ajit Doval.
  • What’s happening now?
    • India’s assessment is that the Chinese are involved in what is known in military parlance as “holding the line”. While there is no agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC), both Chinese and Indian troops patrol up to their “claim lines” and then return.
    • In the current situation, it appears that the Chinese have crossed their perception of LAC and are now camping at the spot in a bid to “hold the line”. This “holding the line” tactic is backed by a large number of Chinese troops — much more than ordinary patrols, which usually has 25-30 soldiers. This appears to give the impression that the Chinese are keen to dig their heels in.

Detailed Coverage:https://samajho.com/upsc/issues-in-india-china-relations/

China- Taiwan relations

  • Context:
    • US lawmakers have written to over 60 nations to garner their support towards the inclusion of Taiwan in the World Health Organisation (WHO).
    • These include Germany, Thailand, Canada, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.
  • What’s the issue?
    • To this date, Taiwan is not a part of the WHO owing to objections from China which calls the nation a part of its own. However, that has not deterred Taiwan from seeking to join a ministerial meeting of WHO's the decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA). The meeting is set to be held in the coming days of this month.
  • China- Taiwan relations- Background:
    • China has claimed Taiwan through its “one China” policy since the Chinese civil war forced the defeated Kuomintang, or Nationalist, to flee to the island in 1949 and has vowed to bring it under Beijing’s rule, by force if necessary.
    • China is Taiwan’s top trading partner, with trade totaling $226 billion in 2018. Taiwan runs a large trade surplus with China.
    • While Taiwan is self-governed and de facto independent, it has never formally declared independence from the mainland.
    • Under the “one country, two systems” formula, Taiwan would have the right to run its own affairs; a similar arrangement is used in Hong Kong.
    • Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and Asian Development Bank under various names.
  • One-China policy:
    • The One China policy is the recognition in the US of the long-held position in Beijing that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of that.
    • Any country wishing to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing must acknowledge there is only “One China” and sever all formal ties with Taiwan.
    • As a part of the policy, Washington maintains a robust, non-official relationship with Taiwan, including continued arms sales to the island.
    • The One China policy is also different from the “One China principle”, which is the principle that insists both Taiwan and mainland China are inalienable parts of a single “China”.
  • Indo- Taiwan relations:
    • Although they do not have formal diplomatic ties, Taiwan and India have been cooperating in various fields. India has refused to endorse the “one-China” policy since 2010.
Detailed Coverage:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POOP6oGVQrw

India- Nepal border dispute

  • Context:
    • On May 8, India inaugurated the Darchula-Lipulekh pass link road, cutting across the disputed Kalapani area which is used by Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. Nepal hit back by summoning the Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, to convey a formal protest.
  • Where is Kalapani located?
    • Located in the easternmost corner of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district.
    • Shares a border on the north with the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and Nepal in the east and south.
    • It is wedged in between Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani.
    • The area is the largest territorial dispute between Nepal and India consisting of at least 37,000 hectares of land in the High Himalayas.
  • Who controls the area?
    • The area is in India’s control but Nepal claims the region because of historical and cartographic reasons.
  • What is the cause of the dispute?
    • The Kalapani region derives its name from the river Kali. Nepal’s claims to the region are based on this river as it became the marker of the boundary of the kingdom of Nepal following the Treaty of Sugauli signed between the Gurkha rulers of Kathmandu and the East India Company after the Gurkha War/Anglo-Nepal War (1814-16).
    • The treaty was ratified in 1816.
    • According to the treaty, Nepal lost the regions of Kumaon-Garhwal in the west and Sikkim in the east.
    • According to Article 5, the King of Nepal gave up his claims over the region west of the river Kali which originates in the High Himalayas and flows into the great plains of the Indian subcontinent.
    • According to the treaty, the British rulers recognised Nepal’s right to the region that fell to the east of the river Kali.
    • Here lies the historic origin of the dispute.
    • According to Nepal’s experts, the east of the Kali river should begin at the source of the river. The source according to them is in the mountains near Limpiyadhura, which is higher in altitude than the rest of the river’s flow.
    • Nepal claims that a landmass, high in the mountains that falls to the east of the entire stretch starting from Limpiyadhura downwards, is theirs.
    • India on the other hand says the border begins at Kalapani which India says is where the river begins.
    • The dispute is mainly because of the varying interpretation of the origin of the river and its various tributaries that slice through the mountains.
    • While Nepal’s claim of the territory east of Kali is based on the Limpiyadhura origin, India says the river actually takes the name Kali near Kalapani.
  • How did India start controlling Lipulekh?
    • The importance of Himalayan passes with the Tibetan plateau was amply highlighted in the 1962 war.
    • During that war, Chinese forces used the pass of Se La in Tawang and reached the Brahmaputra plains in the east.
    • The military defeat in the east clearly demonstrated that weakly guarded passes were a major vulnerability of Indian military preparedness against China.
    • In comparison to Se La which was somewhat fortified, Lipulekh was vulnerable.
    • Nepali King Mahendra reached an agreement with Delhi and handed over the region for security purposes to India.
    • In 1969, under bilateral negotiations, all the posts were removed barring Kalapani.
  • Where have Nepal and India erred?
    • India and China were in clear violation of Nepal’s concerns during the 2015 Lipulekh agreement between India and China which renewed India’s Mansarovar pilgrimage connection.
    • Neither side consulted Nepal or sought its opinion before that agreement that boosted pilgrimage and trade to Tibet.
  • What is the current position?
    • Nepal has published a revised official map incorporating the territory from the Limpiyadhura source of the Kali to Kalapani and Lipulekh pass in the northeast of the triangular region as its territory. On May 22, the Cabinet led by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli registered a constitution amendment motion to grant constitutional status to the map.
    • Indian observers say this move makes any future solution on the Kalapani issue nearly impossible as a constitutional guarantee will make Kathmandu’s position inflexible.

Detailed Coverage:https://samajho.com/upsc/india-nepal-relations-a-seesaw-of-love-betrayal/

National security law in Hong Kong

  • Context:
    • China has sought the support and understanding of India and other countries for its controversial decision to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong.
  • Background:
    • China said the new legislation is aimed at containing the “secessionist” forces in the former British colony who have posed a “grave threat” to the country’s national security and sovereignty.
    • China has also sent demarches to India and several other countries explaining the reason for the new draft legislation with a reminder that upholding national security” in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is “purely China’s internal affair and no foreign country may interfere in this matter”.
  • How is Hong Kong currently administered?
    • Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. It has observed a “one country, two systems” policy since Britain returned sovereignty to China on July 1, 1997, which has allowed it certain freedoms the rest of China does not have.
  • What’s this One Country Two Systems approach?
    • As per the policy, the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions, both former colonies, can have different economic and political systems from that of mainland China, while being part of the People’s Republic of China.
    • It was proposed by Deng Xiaoping with an aim to unify China and Taiwan.
    • • On December 19, 1984, China and the U.K. signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in Beijing, which set the terms for the autonomy and the legal, economic, and governmental systems for Hong Kong post-1997.
    • • Similarly, on March 26, 1987, China and Portugal signed the Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau in which China made similar promises for the region of Macau after it was handed over to Beijing.
  • What’s happening now in Hong Kong?
    • Relentless agitation is carried out by the local Hong Kong people demanding political and administrative autonomy agreed by China when it took possession of the former British colony in 1997.
    • While the seven-month-long agitation last year in which millions took part subsided during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis from January to April, protesters returned to streets this month, with the pro-autonomy and pro-freedom legislators grappling with the security officials in local legislature protesting against the curbs.

Currency Change in Iran

  • Context:
    • Iran’s currency is set to be re-named and re-valued.
    • Long called the rial, Iran's money will soon likely be called the Toman, and an impressive four zeros will be shaved off all denominations.
    • What was previously 10,000 rials will become one Toman under the plans.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Iran has seen the value of its national currency decline steadily since the Islamic Revolution brought the religious government to power in 1979. That drop has accelerated in recent years as harsh US sanctions battered the country's economy.
    • The currency has been devalued 3,500 times since 1971. It declined steadily since the Iranian Revolution, 1979 brought the religious government to power.
  • The devaluation of the rial has been marked by four key turning points:
    1. The Islamic Revolution of 1979. When the government of the Western-allied Shah collapsed and an ideological cadre of mullahs took over, many entrepreneurs and business moguls left the country for fear of persecution and they took their wealth with them.
    2. The end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1989. It took Iran almost eight years to rebuild its shattered economy, during which time the rial lost almost 100% of its value compared to the US dollar thanks to rampant inflation and the unchecked printing of cash.
    3. Last years of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tenure. Before he left power in 2013, Iran was slammed with severe international sanctions that saw the rial hemorrhage almost 400% more of its value on global currency markets.
    4. The last major turning point, which is still playing out, came when President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal. It was like an electric shock that sizzled through every aspect of Iran's already beleaguered economy. The rial's plunge has continued, leaving it almost 600% weaker against the US dollar than it was before the Revolution.
  • What else contributed to this crisis?
    • Iran has faced a litany of financial disasters since 1979, including international sanctions that have severely limited its ability to sell oil, which in turn have all but dried up its primary source of revenue.
    • The government has also implemented strict rules on access to foreign currency, leading to a flourishing black market for non-Iranian cash inside the country and further eroding the value of the national currency.
    • The global pandemic has piled even more stress onto the lives of people already bludgeoned by a White House bent on ramping up maximum pressure on Iran.
  • Implications of the latest move:
    • If implemented carefully and as part of wider financial reforms, redenomination would be a positive move but hardly an answer for all the country’s intertwined economic woes.
    • However, it was a necessary action to simplify financial transactions.
    • It would vastly simplify financial calculations by eliminating the need for Iranian shoppers to carry loads of rials to make purchases, which they have to do because of inflation.

West Bank and issues associated

  • Context:
    • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, where the two discussed Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
    • Their meeting took place during a day of violent clashes between Israeli troops and people in the occupied territory. One Palestinian teen was reportedly shot and killed.
  • Where is West Bank?
    • It is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west, and north. The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore.
  • What is the dispute settlements here? Who lives there?
    • The West Bank was captured by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
    • Israel snatched it back during the Six-Day War of 1967 and has occupied it ever since. During this war, the country defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
    • It has built some 130 formal settlements in the West Bank, and a similar number of smaller, informal settlements have mushroomed over the last 20-25 years.
    • Over 4 lakh Israeli settlers — many of them religious Zionists who claim a Biblical birthright over this land — now live here, along with some 26 lakh Palestinians.
    • The territory is still a point of contention due to a large number of Palestinians who live there and hope to see the land become a part of their future state.
    • When Israel took control of the land in 1967 it allowed Jewish people to move in, but Palestinians consider the West Bank illegally occupied Palestinian land.
  • Are these settlements illegal?
    • The United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the International Court of Justice have said that the West Bank settlements are violative of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
    • Under the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.
    • Under the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court in 1998, such transfers constitute war crimes, as does the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.
  • International views:
    • USA:
      • In November 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said America no longer considers Israeli settlements to be in violation of international law and claimed the Trump administration believes they are necessary to preserve Israeli security.
      • Trump also revealed his Middle East peace plan in the form of a two-state solution during a press conference at the end of January with Netanyahu and claimed the deal would be a boon to both nations.
    • India:
      • India traditionally believes in the 2-state solution and supports the establishment of a sovereign independent and a viable state of Palestine. However, India’s support for Palestine has not deterred its growing relationship with Israel.
  • What about Jerusalem?
    • Under the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, both Israel and the Palestinians agreed that the status of settlements would be decided by negotiations. But the negotiations process has been all but dead for several years now.
    • Israel walked into East Jerusalem in 1967, and subsequently annexed it. For Israel, Jerusalem is non-negotiable. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Most of the world’s nations look at it as occupied territory.
  • Fact for prelims:
    • In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
    • The Palestinians are seeking to establish an independent state in the occupied parts of the West Bank, along with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — with East Jerusalem serving as its capital.

Somalia’s maritime dispute with Kenya 

  • Context:
    • In the wake of COVID 19 pandemic, upcoming public hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Somalia’s maritime dispute with Kenya will be deferred yet again.
  • What’s the dispute all about?
    • The dispute is between Somalia and Kenya on the delimitation of the maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean.
    • The disputed area is roughly 1,00,000 sq km and contains huge deposits of oil and gas.
    • The dispute is rooted in a disagreement over which direction the two countries’ border extends into the Indian Ocean.
    • Somalia argues that the maritime boundary should continue on in the same direction as the land border’s southeasterly path.
    • Kenya, meanwhile, insists that the border should take a roughly 45-degree turn at the shoreline and run in a latitudinal line, giving Nairobi access to a larger chunk of the sea.
  • Efforts to find a solution:
    • Under a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding, each granted the other no objection to presenting separate submissions to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. The parties also committed to finding a settlement in accordance with international law on the basis of the CLCS’s recommendations.
    • But, In 2014 Somalia called on the International Court of Justice in The Hague to resolve the dispute. In October 2019 the ICJ postponed the hearing until 8 June 2020.
  • International implications:
    • The dispute has drawn international attention, owing in part to the ramifications for the international energy market and the promise for lucrative oil and gas contracts. The United Kingdom and Norway have expressed support for Somalia, while the United States and France have backed Kenya’s claim.
  • About CLCS:
    • The purpose of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission or CLCS) is to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
    • Under the Convention, the coastal State shall establish the outer limits of its continental shelf where it extends beyond 200 M on the basis of the recommendation of the Commission.
  • Functions:
    • The Commission shall make recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of those limits; its recommendations and actions shall not prejudice matters relating to the delimitation of boundaries between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.
  • Members of the Commission:
    • The Commission shall consist of twenty-one members who shall be experts in the field of geology, geophysics, or hydrography, elected by States Parties to the Convention from among their nationals, having due regard to the need to ensure equitable geographical representation, who shall serve in their personal capacities.

Both Koreas violated the armistice agreement

  • Context:
    • Both Koreas have breached their armistice agreement when they exchanged gunfire at the border on May 3, the United National Command said recently.
    • It also said it could not “definitely” determine whether North Korea opened fire on a South Korean guard post intentionally or by mistake.
    • The UNC said it will engage in discussion with both Koreas and encourage them to prevent any recurrence.
  • Background:
    • The UN Command, which administers the demilitarized zone separating both Koreas and enforces the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War, came to that conclusion after a weeklong investigation by its multinational team.
    • However, Seoul expressed regret over the conclusion, saying its troops had retaliated in accordance with the contingency manual.
  • What happened?
    • On May 3, North Korea fired four shots from small firearms toward a South Korean guard post inside the DMZ.
    • The South’s troops returned fire with two shots.
    • The Defense Ministry concluded the incident was highly likely to be accidental.
    • The gunfire exchange highlighted the latest confrontation between the two Koreas amid frosty inter-Korean relations, with some military experts disputing South Korea’s conclusion that the North mistakenly fired the shots.
  • What is the Korean Armistice Agreement?
    • It is the armistice that brought about a complete cessation of hostilities of the Korean War.
    • It was signed by representatives of the United Nations Command (UNC), Korean People's Army (KPA), and the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA).
    • The armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, and was designed to “ensure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.”
    • The signed armistice established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the de facto new border between the two nations, put into force a cease-fire, and finalized repatriation of prisoners of war.
    • The DMZ runs close to the 38th parallel and has separated North and South Korea since the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.
  • Implications:
    • South Korea never signed the Armistice Agreement, due to President Syngman Rhee's refusal to accept having failed to unify Korea by force.
    • China normalized relations and signed a peace treaty with South Korea in 1992.
    • In 1994, China withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission, essentially leaving North Korea and the UN Command as the only participants in the armistice agreement.
  • What is UNC?
    • It is the unified command for the multinational military forces, established in 1950, supporting South Korea (the Republic of Korea or ROK) during and after the Korean War.
Organizations And Conventions:-

Bay of Bengal Boundary Layer Experiment or BoBBLE

  • Context:
    • A team from the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru and UK based the University of East Anglia has created a blueprint for accurate prediction of monsoon, tropical cyclones, and another weather-related forecast under the Bay of Bengal Boundary Layer Experiment or BoBBLE.
  • About BOBBLE:
    • BoBBLE is a joint India-UK project.
    • It seeks to examine the impact of ocean processes in the Bay of Bengal (BoB) on the monsoon system.
    • It is is a project funded by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences and the Natural Environment Research Council of The UK.
    • The Bay of Bengal (BoB) plays a fundamental role in controlling the weather systems that make up the South Asian summer monsoon system.
  • Key processes in the southern BoB:
    • The saline Southwest Monsoon Current (SMC), a major control on the salt and SST distribution of the BoB, is shown to be controlled by both local (wind stress curl) and remote (equatorial wave propagation) factors, strongly linked to sub-seasonal variability over the wider Indian Ocean basin.
    • The high salinity core (HSC) of the SMC is shown to have its origins in the western equatorial Indian Ocean, reaching the BoB via the Somali Current, the Equatorial Undercurrent, and the SMC.
    • Seasonal reversals that occur at the Somali Current and SMC junctions act as 'railroad switches' diverting water masses to different basins in the northern Indian Ocean.
    • Barrier layer formation and erosion in the southern BoB are found to be largely controlled by differential advection and resulting mixing driven by shear stress.
    • Chlorophyll is the southern BoB is strongly influenced by mixed layer processes and barrier layer strength.
  • What are monsoons?
    • Monsoons are seasonal winds that reverse their direction with the change of season. The monsoon is a double system of seasonal winds. They flow from sea to land during the summer and from land to sea during winter.
    • Monsoons are peculiar to the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia, parts of Central Western Africa, etc.
    • Indian Monsoons are Convection cells on a very large scale. They are periodic or secondary winds that seasonal reversal in wind direction.
    • Monsoons are also often associated with conditions like ‘El Nino’ (Spanish for ‘Little Boy’) that occurs every 2 to 7 years and La Nina.
  • Significance for India:
    • Monsoon is the lifeline of Indian economy as 2/3rd of it depends on farm income and rain is the only source of irrigation for over 40% of the country’s cropped area. Over 70% of India’s annual rainfall occurs in the July-September monsoon season.
    • A good monsoon increases crop productivity raises farm income and drives the economy while a weak monsoon inflates food prices and harms the economy

Non-Aligned Movement summit

  • Context:
    • Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi will participate in a video conference meeting of the non-alignment movement (NAM) on the COVID crisis.
  • Significance:
    • This is the first time PM Modi is taking part in a NAM meeting since taking 2014 when he first became the Prime Minister. The last time any Indian PM participated at Tehran NAM meet was 2012 with the then PM Manmohan Singh was present.
    • Both in 2016, 2018 summits of NAM, India was represented at the Vice President level. The last NAM Summit happened in 2019 in Azerbaijan, before that it was 2016 in Venezuela.
  • Background:
    • Azerbaijan is the president of the grouping from 2019-2022 and the meet is being organised under the leadership of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. The title of the summit is “We stand together against COVID-19”.
  • What is the non- aligned movement?
    • Non-Aligned Movement is an idea that emerged in 1950.
    • NAM is the second-largest platform globally in terms of country membership after the UN. It currently has more than 120 members.
  • The evolution of NAM:
    • During the 1950s, the world was emerging out of the long, dark period of colonialism.
      1. Newly independent nations dreamed they could make their way in this new world without hewing to either of the big powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, eschewing the icy hostilities of the Cold War and bask in the warmth of Third World (as it was then known) cooperation.
      2. The co-founders were India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Egypt’s Gemal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Josep Broz Tito, and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah were all figures of international consequence, and their collective charisma attracted lesser lights from around the world.
      3. The Asian-African Conference of 1955 held in Bandung was the catalyst for the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement.
      4. The actual formation took place in Belgrade, where the Non-Aligned Movement was formally established by the leaders of 25 developing countries in 1961.
  • Why is it losing relevance today? – Criticisms:
    • NAM today has grown into a forum where developing nations could blame all their problems on the big powers.
    • It has become a platform for some of the world’s most despicable leaders to preen and posture.
    • NAM’s reason to exist ended in 1989, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War. The world was left with a single superpower, the US, but quickly became multipolar, with China and India emerging as strong magnetic forces in their own right.
  • Way ahead:
    • There are now new kinds of alignments, more likely to be defined by economics and geography than by ideology. To be aligned is now a virtue, a sign of good leadership.
    • Countries, especially small ones, can and should aim for multiple alignments of their interests. There is now no country in the world that can claim to be non-aligned.

Open Skies treaty

  • Context:
    • The Trump administration is expected to pull out of the “Open Skies” treaty.
  • What is the “Open Skies” treaty?
    • The treaty allows 34 countries to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another's territories — including the US and Russia. It was signed in 1992 and went into effect in 2002.
    • Kyrgyzstan has signed, but not ratified the treaty.
  • Significance:
    • It was agreed just after the Cold War to allow signatories to avoid nasty surprises by monitoring rival militaries.
    • The treaty “was designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information through aerial imaging on military forces and activities of concern to them.”
  • Implementation of the treaty:
    1. The treaty makes it possible to conduct joint unarmed observation flights over the territories and to take images using sensors of a predefined resolution.
    2. And it also allows all signatories to request copies of all images taken during overflights carried out by others.
    3. Overflights are governed by quotas, negotiated annually, and assigned to specific aircraft. The United States, for example, is allowed to operate Boeing OC-135 planes with infrared scanners.
    4. The country under surveillance is given 72 hours' warning of a flight and 24 hours notice of the route, to which it can suggest modifications.
    5. The treaty lays down which airbases can be used for the flights and at which points they can cross into each other's air space. Russia and the U.S. have four such bases each.
    6. A committee to oversee the implementation of the treaty meets in Vienna every month at the headquarters of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe.
  • Why does the US want to withdraw?
    • Moscow and Washington have long accused the other of breaching its terms. The US has in the past accused Moscow of imposing restrictions on flights near its exclave of Kaliningrad, an area between Poland and Lithuania where the Russian military maintains a robust presence.

RCEP 

  • Context:
    • May 15 was the deadline for a response to a fresh proposal of India rejoining negotiations on the ASEAN-led trade Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  • Why India didn’t sign?
    1. India’s trade deficit with the RCEP nations is $105 billion, of which China alone accounts for $54 billion. Further relaxations would enhance the deficit.
    2. The worry is also over Chinese manufactured goods and dairy products from New Zealand flooding Indian markets, hurting domestic interests.
    3. The trade agreement was also seen as being detrimental to the government’s Make in India initiative.
    4. India was looking for specific rules of origin to ensure the trade pact wasn’t abused by non-partner countries and an auto-trigger mechanism to protect it from a surge in imports.
    5. Ecommerce and trade remedies were among other key areas of concern that failed to find satisfactory redressal.
    6. India has expressed its concerns over the lowering and elimination of tariffs on products from other countries, as it would negatively affect the domestic agricultural and industrial sectors.
    7. India was also worried about keeping 2014 as the base year for tariff reductions.
  • The relevance of RCEP post Coronavirus:
    • If anything the COVID-19 experience and the experience of countries that have been overly dependent on imports from China or one country would have reinforced and revalidated the decision to stay out of RCEP.
  • But, how and why India should utilise this opportunity?
    • If India did want to rejoin the RCEP negotiations, there would be no better time than now, because it would send a signal to the world that not only is India an attractive place to invest but also, its potential of being a global manufacturing hub.
    • India could also use the RCEP to generate “optimism” amongst Indian companies, given the uncertainty over demand and consumption due to the pandemic. Right now, businesses have very little to look forward to, and a major free trade area like the RCEP would be a good lodestar for them to revive optimism.
  • What is the RCEP?
    • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a free trade agreement devised to consist of 15 countries across the Asia-Pacific region.
    • The pact looks to drop tariffs and duties between the members so that goods and services can flow freely between them.
  • Composition:
    • At the RCEP’s administrative core is ASEAN: an intergovernmental grouping of 10 Southeast Asian countries –
    • Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
    • It was proposed that the ASEAN bloc will be joined with five dialogue partners: China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. India, which is also ASEAN's FTA partner, opted out of RCEP in November 2019.

Afghanistan’s Power-Sharing Deal

  • Context:
    • Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah have signed a power-sharing deal, ending months of political uncertainty.
  • Overview of the deal:
    1. Mr Ghani will stay on as president.
    2. Dr Abdullah will lead peace talks with the Taliban, should they get underway.
    3. The deal calls for Abdullah to lead the country’s National Reconciliation High Council and some members of Abdullah’s team would be included in Ghani’s Cabinet.
    4. The Reconciliation Council has been given the authority to handle and approve all affairs related to Afghanistan’s peace process.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Mr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah – who both claimed victory in last September's election – last month held rival inauguration ceremonies.
    • The Afghan electoral commission says incumbent Ashraf Ghani narrowly won the vote, but Mr. Abdullah has alleged the result is fraudulent.
  • Significance of the deal:
    • The deal comes as Afghan authorities are hoping to enter peace talks with the Taliban to end years of violence. It is hoped the deal in the capital Kabul will help to maintain the balance of power that existed before last year's disputed presidential election.
  • U.S.- Taliban peace deal:
    • A peace deal between the U.S. Government and the Taliban was signed on 29 February 2020.
    • The deal calls for U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops to leave Afghanistan.
    • The deal is seen as Afghanistan’s best chance to come at peace in decades of war. Since then, the U.S. has been trying to get the Taliban and the Afghan government to begin intra-Afghan negotiations, but the political turmoil and personal hostility between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah have impeded talks.
  • Significance of Peace in Afghanistan for India:
    • India has welcomed the deal. It has called for renewed efforts for establishing enduring peace and stability and putting an end to externally-sponsored terrorism and violence in Afghanistan.
    • Economically, it is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics.
    • Afghanistan has also become the second-largest recipient of Indian foreign aid over the last five years.

Travel bubble

  • Context:
    • The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have started what is being referred to as a ‘travel bubble’ to help put their economies back on track post-COVID lockdowns.
  • Background:
    • With the pandemic throwing both international and domestic trade and travel out of gear since earlier this year, such ‘travel bubbles’ are now being recommended to keep at least parts of the global economy afloat.
  • What is the travel bubble?
    • Creating a travel bubble involves reconnecting countries or states that have shown a good level of success in containing the novel coronavirus pandemic domestically.
    • Such a bubble would allow the members of the group to rekindle trade ties with each other, and kickstart sectors such as travel and tourism.
  • How does it work?
    1. In the Estonia-Latvia-Lithuania travel bubble, residents would be able to travel freely by rail, air, and sea without quarantine measures.
    2. Those wanting to enter this corridor from countries outside would first have to go into isolation for 14 days.
    3. To be able to freely travel in the zone, one should not have traveled outside the three countries in the past 14 days, should not be infected with coronavirus, and should not have come in contact with anyone who has been coronavirus infected.
  • Significance and potential:
    • Potential travel bubbles among better-performing countries around the world would account for around 35 percent of the global GDP. Such arrangements are especially being favoured by smaller countries, who are likely to benefit after being able to trade again with larger partners.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)

  • Context:
    • The Trump administration discussed last week whether to conduct its first nuclear test explosion since 1992.
  • Why now?
    • In mid-April, a report issued by the United States State Department on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report)” raised concerns that China might be conducting nuclear tests with low yields at its Lop Nur test site, in violation of its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) undertakings.
    • The U.S. report also claims that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that produced a nuclear yield and was inconsistent with ‘zero yield’ understanding underlying the CTBT, though it was uncertain about how many such experiments had been conducted.
  • Implications:
    • The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992, and nuclear nonproliferation advocates warned that doing so now could have devastating consequences.
    • Such a test would be a significant departure from US defense policy and dramatically up the ante for other nuclear-armed nations.
    • If it were to go ahead it would be seen as the “starting gun to an unprecedented nuclear arms race”.
  • What is CTBT?
    • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions – everywhere, by everyone. The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It opened for signature on 24 September 1996.
    • The Treaty will enter into force after all 44 States listed in Annex 2 to the Treaty will ratify it. These States had nuclear facilities at the time the Treaty was negotiated and adopted.
    • India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not yet signed the Treaty.
  • What is a “zero yield”?
    • A comprehensive test ban has been defined as a “zero yield” test ban that would prohibit supercritical hydro nuclear tests but not sub-critical hydrodynamic nuclear tests.
  • Why is the CTBT so important?
    • The CTBT is the last barrier on the way to develop nuclear weapons. It curbs the development of new nuclear weapons and the improvement of existing nuclear weapon designs. The Treaty provides a legally binding norm against nuclear testing.
    • The Treaty also helps prevent human suffering and environmental damages caused by nuclear testing.
  • Concerns ahead:
    • Both China and Russia have dismissed the U.S.’s allegations, pointing to the Trump administration’s
    • backtracking from other negotiated agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal or the U.S.-Russia IntermediateRange Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
    • Tensions with China are already high with trade and technology disputes, militarisation in the South China Sea, and most recently, with the novel coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. could also be preparing the ground for resuming testing at Nevada.
    • The Cold War rivalry was already visible when the nuclear arms race began in the 1950s. New rivalries have already emerged. Resumption of nuclear testing may signal the demise of the ill-fated CTBT, marking the beginnings of a new nuclear arms race.

European Court of Justice (ECJ)

  • Context:
    • Germany’s constitutional court has questioned the legality of a past ruling of the European Court of Justice. The ruling pertains to a bond-buying scheme of the European Central Bank (ECB).
  • What’s the issue now?
    • This ruling is seen as challenging the long-settled hierarchy of European Union (EU) judiciary, and has since resonated with many governments and politicians in the EU that are critical of its policies.
  • What was the case?
    • The ECB's mass bond-buying was launched after the eurozone's 2010 crisis as support for the euro besides the EU's national bailouts for Greece and some other countries.
    • The scheme challenged in court is called the Public Sector Purchase Programme (PSPP), launched in March 2015, under which the ECB had bought €2.1tn of bonds by November 2019. Separately, the ECB bought bonds worth another €0.5tn.
    • What has Germany’s constitutional court said now?
    • It said that the Central bank must stop buying government bonds under the ECB's long-running stimulus scheme within three months unless the ECB can prove the purchases are needed.
    • The German ruling came despite the EU's top court ruling in 2018 that the ECB bond buying programme was in line with EU law.
  • About the European Court of Justice (ECJ):
    • It is a part Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and is the European Union’s supreme court in matters of EU law.
    • Founded in 1952 after the Treaty of Paris.
    • It is based in Luxembourg.
    • It ensures that EU law is interpreted and applied the same in every EU country, and ensures that countries and EU institutions abide by EU law.
    • It settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.
    • In terms of hierarchy, the national courts of member countries are understood to be below the ECJ in matters of EU law.
    • Following the entrance into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the ECJ's official name was changed from the “Court of Justice of the European Communities” to the “Court of Justice”.
  • Composition:
    • It is composed of one judge per member state – currently 27 – although it normally hears cases in panels of three, five, or 15 judges.
    • The President of the Court of Justice is elected from and by the judges for a renewable term of three years.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has approved US$ 500 million for the ‘Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project’ initiated by India.
  • Key facts:
    • The project will be implemented by the National Health Mission (NHM), the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
    • This new support will cover all States and Union Territories across India and address the needs of infected people, at-risk populations, medical and emergency personnel and service providers, medical and testing facilities, and national and animal health agencies.
    • The project will enable the government to slow and limit as much as possible the spread of COVID-19 in India by providing immediate support to enhance disease detection capacities, oxygen delivery systems, and medicines among others.
  • 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.
    • It is headquartered in Beijing.
    • It commenced operations in January 2016.
    •  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.
  • 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.
      • This includes approving the Bank’s strategy, annual plan and budget; establishing policies; taking decisions concerning Bank operations; and supervising management and operation of the Bank, and establishing an oversight mechanism.
    • 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.
      • The Panel meets in tandem with the Bank’s Annual Meeting, or as requested by the President. The President selects and appoints members of the IAP to two-year terms. Panelists receive a small honorarium and do not receive a salary. The Bank pays the costs associated with Panel meetings.
  • Significance of AIIB:
    • The United Nations has addressed the launch of AIIB as having the potential for “scaling up financing for sustainable development” for the concern of global economic governance.
    • The capital of the bank is $100 billion, equivalent to 2⁄3 of the capital of the Asian Development Bank and about half that of the World Bank.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

  • Context:
    • External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar recently represented India at SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) foreign minister meeting. The meet was attended by foreign ministers through video conferencing.
    • The foreign ministers at the meet discussed COVID-19 crisis and coordination efforts. They also discussed the social and economic consequences of the crisis and how to tackle it. Apart from COVID-19, the major issue discussed was the situation in Afghanistan.
  • About the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO):
    • It is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation.
    • Its creation was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan.
    • It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.
    • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter was signed during the St.Petersburg SCO Heads of State meeting in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003.
    • The SCO’s official languages are Russian and Chinese.
  • SCO’s main goals are as follows:
    • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology, and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security, and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.
  • Bodies under SCO:
    • Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO. It meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on all important matters of the organisation.
    • SCO Heads of Government Council (HGC) meets once a year to discuss the organisation’s multilateral cooperation strategy and priority areas, to resolve current important economic and other cooperation issues, and also to approve the organisation’s annual budget.
    • The organisation has two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
    • The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years.
    • Currently:
    • SCO comprises eight member states, namely the Republic of India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan;
    • SCO counts four observer states, namely the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Republic of Belarus, the The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Mongolia;
    • SCO has six dialogue partners, namely the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the Republic of Turkey, and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

G20

  • Context:
    • Union Commerce and Industry Minister recently attended the 2nd G20 Virtual Trade & Investment Ministers Meeting, held through video-conferencing.
  • What is the G20?
    • The G20 is an annual meeting of leaders from the countries with the largest and fastest-growing economies. Its members account for 85% of the world’s GDP, and two-thirds of its population.
    • The G20 Summit is formally known as the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy”.
  • Establishment:
    • After the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-1998, it was acknowledged that the participation of major emerging market countries is needed on discussions on the international financial system, and G7 finance ministers agreed to establish the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in 1999.
  • Presidency:
    • The group has no permanent staff of its own, so every year in December, a G20 country from a rotating region takes on the presidency.
    • That country is then responsible for organising the next summit, as well as smaller meetings for the coming year. They can also choose to invite non-member countries along as guests. The first G20 meeting took place in Berlin in 1999, after a financial crisis in East Asia affected many countries around the world.
  • Full membership of the G20:
    • Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
  • Its relevance in changing times:
    • As globalization progresses and various issues become more intricately intertwined, the recent G20 summits have focused not only on macroeconomy and trade, but also on a wide range of global issues which have an immense impact on the global economy, such as development, climate change, and energy, health, counterterrorism, as well as migration and refugees.
    • The G20 has sought to realize an inclusive and sustainable world through its contributions towards resolving these global issues.
  • What is G20+?
    • The G20 developing nations, also called G21/G23/G20+ is a bloc of developing nations that was established on August 20, 2003. It is distinct from the G20 major economies.
    • The G20+ originated in September 2003 at the 5th ministerial conference of the WTO held at Cancun, Mexico.
    • Its origins can be traced to the Brasilia Declaration signed by the foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa on 6th June 2003.
    • The declaration stated that the major economies were still practising protectionist policies especially in sectors they were less competitive in and that it was important to see to it that the trade negotiations that took place provided for the reversal of those policies.
    • The G20+ is responsible for 60% of the world population, 26% of the world’s agricultural exports, and 70% of its farmers.

Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting

  • Context:
    • Union Health Minister attended the 32nd Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting through videoconferencing.
  • About the Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting:
    • The Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM) is the annual meeting of health ministers from across the Commonwealth countries.
    • The meeting reviews activity and events from the previous year and provides a platform for countries to bring issues of health to the attention of their Commonwealth partners and peers.
    • Each CHMM provides a ministerial statement summarising the discussion and priorities for the coming year including setting the theme for the next meeting.
    • CHMM is held every year in Geneva in mid-May. But in 2020, the meeting was via videoconferencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • About Commonwealth of Nations:
    • The Commonwealth of Nations, at one time known as the British Commonwealth, is an organisation of fifty-four states that were principally below the colonial rule of British Government.
    • They came into existence with the proclamation of the sovereignty of the state from the colonial rule of the British Empire and were later given self-governance.
    • It proclaims that the Commonwealth nations are “free and equal.” The insignia of this Commonwealth Association is Queen Elizabeth II who is considered the Supreme of the Commonwealth nations.
    • The member states of the commonwealth are not legally liable or bound to each other. They are rather united by language, history, culture, the likeness of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
    • Their values are listed down within the Commonwealth Charter and the hands of harmony towards the member states are extended by the Commonwealth Games held every four years.
    • Former British mandates that did not become members of the Commonwealth are Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, British Palestine, Sudan, British Somaliland, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Key facts:
    • Former name:
      • British Commonwealth.
    • Composition:
      • The intergovernmental organisation of 54 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.
      • It operates by intergovernmental consensus of the member states.
      • Established in 1949 by the London Declaration.
    • Structure:
      • Head of the Commonwealth — Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth. The position is symbolic.

World Bank

  • Context:
    • World Bank has approved 1 billion USD aid to India to accelerate “India’s COVID-19 Special Protection Response Programme”.
    • Of the 1 billion USD aid, around 550 million USD is to be credited by the IDA (International Development Association) and 220 million USD by the IBRD (International Bank of Reconstruction and Development). The final maturity amount of the loan is 18.5 years. It also includes a grace period of five years.
  • About IDA:
    • Established in 1960, IDA aims to reduce poverty by providing loans (called “credits”) and grants for programs that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities, and improve people’s living conditions.
    • IDA complements the World Bank’s original lending arm—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
    • IBRD and IDA share the same staff and headquarters and evaluate projects with the same rigorous standards.
    • IDA lends money on concessional terms. This means that IDA charges little or no interest and repayments are stretched over 25 to 40 years, including a 5- to 10-year grace period. IDA also provides grants to countries at risk of debt distress.
  • How IDA funds are allocated?
    • To be eligible for funds, countries must first meet the following criteria:
      1. Relative poverty defined as GNI per capita must be below an established threshold (updated annually). In the fiscal year 2020, this was $1,175.
      2. Lack of creditworthiness to borrow on market terms and therefore have a need for concessional resources to finance the country’s development program.
      3. Countries are then assessed to determine how well they implement policies that promote economic growth and poverty reduction. This is done through the Country Policy and Institutional Assessment. This assessment and portfolio performance together constitute the IDA Country Performance Rating.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

  • Context:
    • World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2020 was observed on 17 May with the theme “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
    • Background:
    • It has been celebrated annually on 17 May since 1969, marking the founding of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.
  • About the International Telecommunication Union (ITU):
    • It is an agency of the United Nations (UN) whose purpose is to coordinate telecommunication operations and services throughout the world.
    • Originally founded in 1865, as the International Telegraph Union, the ITU is the oldest existing international organization.
    • The headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The ITU consists of three sectors:
    • Radiocommunication (ITU-R) :
      • ensures optimal, fair, and rational use of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum.
    • Telecommunication Standardization (ITU-T) :
      • formulates recommendations for standardizing telecommunication operations worldwide.
    • Telecommunication Development (ITU-D) :
      • assists countries in developing and maintaining internal communication operations.
  • Membership:
    • There are 193 Member States of the ITU, including all UN member states except the Republic of Palau, plus the Vatican City.
    • Membership of ITU is open to only UN members, which may join the Union as the Member States, as well as to private organizations like carriers, equipment manufacturers, funding bodies, research and development organizations, and international and regional telecommunication organizations, which may join ITU as nonvoting Sector Members.
  • Functions:
    • The ITU sets and publishes regulations and standards relevant to electronic communication and broadcasting technologies of all kinds including radio, television, satellite, telephone and the Internet.
    • The organization conducts working parties, study groups, and meetings to address current and future issues and to resolve disputes. The ITU organizes and holds an exhibition and forum known as the Global TELECOM every four years.
    • Another important aspect of the ITU’s mandate is helping emerging countries to establish and develop telecommunication systems of their own.
    • Although the recommendations of the ITU are non-binding, most countries adhere to them in the interest of maintaining an effective international electronic communication environment.
  • India and the ITU:
    • India has been an active member of the ITU since 1869 and has been a regular member of the ITU Council since 1952. In November 2018, India was elected as a Member of the ITU Council for another 4-year term (2019- 2022).

WHO Executive Board

  • Context:
    • Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan is set to take charge as chairman of the WHO Executive Board at its 147th session.
    • Vardhan would succeed Dr. Hiroki Nakatani of Japan, currently the Chairman of the 34-member WHO Executive Board.
  • What is the WHO Executive Board?
    • It is one of the WHO’s two decision making bodies. The other one is the World Health Assembly. The agency’s headquarters are located at Geneva in Switzerland.
  • Composition:
    • The Executive Board is composed of 34 members technically qualified in the field of health.
    • The Board chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year by each of the WHO’s six regional groups: African Region, Region of the Americas, South-East Asia Region, European Region, Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Western Pacific Region.
  • Term:
    • Members are elected for three-year terms.
  • Functions:
    • Sets out agenda for the Health Assembly and resolutions for forwarding to the Assembly are adopted.
    • Gives effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly.
    • Advises it and facilitates its work.
    • The Board and the Assembly create a forum for debate on health issues and for addressing concerns raised by the Member States.
    • Both the Board and the Assembly produce three kinds of documents — Resolutions and Decisions passed by the two bodies, Official Records as published in WHO Official publications, and Documents that are presented “in session” of the two bodies.
  • Key facts:
    • India became a party to the WHO Constitution on 12 January 1948.
    • The first Regional Director for Southeast Asia was an Indian, Dr. Chandra Mani, who served between 1948-1968.
    • Since 2019, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan has been the WHO’s, Chief Scientist.

International Day of UN Peacekeepers 2020

  • Context:
    • International Day of UN Peacekeepers 2020 will be observed on May 29.
    • The theme for this year’s Day is “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace” to help mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.
  • Why May 29?
    • The first UN peacekeeping mission was established on 29th May 1948, when the Security Council authorized the deployment of a small number of UN military observers to the Middle East.
  • What is peacekeeping? It’s the significance?
    • United Nations Peacekeeping is a joint effort between the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Operational Support.
    • Every peacekeeping mission is authorized by the Security Council. The financial resources of UN Peacekeeping operations are the collective responsibility of UN Member States.
    • According to the UN Charter, every Member State is legally obligated to pay their respective share for peacekeeping.
  • Composition:
    • UN peacekeepers (often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of their light blue berets or helmets) can include soldiers, police officers, and civilian personnel.
    • Peacekeeping forces are contributed by member states on a voluntary basis. The civilian staff of peace operations is international civil servants, recruited and deployed by the UN Secretariat.
  • Features:
    • United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create conditions for lasting peace.
    • Peacekeeping has unique strengths, including legitimacy, burden sharing, and an ability to deploy and sustain troops and police from around the globe, integrating them with civilian peacekeepers to advance multidimensional mandates.
  • UN Peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles:
    • Consent of the parties.
    • Impartiality
    • Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
  • Global partnership:
    • UN peacekeeping is a unique global partnership. It brings together the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, troop and police contributors and the host governments in a combined effort to maintain international peace and security.

New Development Bank

  • Context:
    • Union Minister of Finance & Corporate Affairs Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman attended the Special Board of Governors meeting of the New Development Bank (NDB) through video-conference.
    • The agenda included the election of next President of NDB, appointment of Vice-President and Chief Risk Officer, and membership expansion.
  • About the New Development Bank:
    • It is a multilateral development bank operated by the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
    • The New Development Bank 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.
    • In the Fortaleza Declaration, the leaders stressed that the NDB will strengthen cooperation among BRICS and will supplement the efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global development.
    • The bank will be headquartered in Shanghai, China.
  • 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 New Development 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.

IEA

  • About:
    • Established in 1974 as per the framework of the OECD, IEA is an autonomous intergovernmental organisation.
  • MISSION :
    • To ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its member countries and beyond.
    • Its mission is guided by four main areas of focus: energy security, economic development, environmental awareness and engagement worldwide
  • Headquarters (Secretariat):
    • Paris, France.
  • Roles and functions:
    • Established in the wake of the 1973-1974 oil crisis, to help its members respond to major oil supply disruptions, a role it continues to fulfill today.
    • IEA’s mandate has expanded over time to include tracking and analyzing global key energy trends, promoting sound energy policy, and fostering multinational energy technology cooperation.
  • Composition and eligibility:
    • It has 30 members at present. IEA family also includes eight association countries. Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Singapore, South Africa and Thailand are the associate members of IEA.
    • A candidate country must be a member country of the OECD. But all OECD members are not IEA members.
  • To become a member a candidate country must demonstrate that it has:
    • Crude oil and/or product reserves equivalent to 90 days of the previous year’s net imports, to which the government has immediate access (even if it does not own them directly) and could be used to address disruptions to global oil supply.
    • A demand restraint programme to reduce national oil consumption by up to 10%.
    • Legislation and organisation to operate the Co-ordinated Emergency Response Measures (CERM) on a national basis.
    • Legislation and measures to ensure that all oil companies under its jurisdiction report information upon request.
    • Measures in place to ensure the capability of contributing its share of an IEA collective action.

Economy

Banking And Finance:-

Co-Op banks come under the Sarfaesi Act: Supreme Court

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has held that the cooperative banks involved in the activities related to banking are covered within the meaning of ‘banking company’ and Parliament has legislative competence to provide for the procedure for recovery of the loan under the Sarfaesi Act.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The judgment came in view of several conflicting decisions by high courts on the issues of:
      1. Whether the Co-operative banks can be called ‘Banks (financial Institution)’ under the Banking Regulation Act of 1949.
      2. Whether the Parliament has legislative competence to regulate financial assets of cooperative banks formed under state law.
  • What has the Court said?
    • A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said,
      1. The meaning of 'banking' cannot be confined to a particular definition, as given in the Banking Regulation (BR) Act, 1949. The word 'banking' has been incorporated in Entry 45 of List I.
      2. The decision in Rustom Cavasjee Cooper (1970 verdict) vividly leaves no room for doubt that banking done by the cooperative bank is covered within the ambit of Entry 45 of List I.
      3. Therefore, cooperative banks come under the category of banks as defined under Section 2(1)(c) of the Sarfaesi Act, and the recovery procedures mentioned under that law apply to cooperative banks as well.
  • Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (Sarfaesi) Act, 2002:
    1. It allows banks and financial institutions to auction properties (residential and commercial) when borrowers fail to repay their loans.
    2. It enables banks to reduce their non-performing assets by adopting measures for recovery or reconstruction.
    3. It is effective only against secured loans where banks can enforce the underlying security.
    4. It promotes the setting up of asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) and asset securitization companies (SCs) to deal with NPAs accumulated with the banks and financial institutions.

Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC)

  • Context:
    • RBI has asked the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Maharashtra to start the process of winding up operations of CKP Co-operative banks and appoint a liquidator.
    • On liquidation, every depositor of the bank is entitled to get up to Rs 5 lakh from the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Recently, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently canceled the license of Mumbai-based CKP Co-operative Bank for the following reasons:
      1. The financial position of the bank was highly adverse and unsustainable.
      2. The bank is not in a position to pay its present and future depositors.
      3. The bank failed to meet the regulatory requirement of maintaining a minimum capital adequacy ratio of 9% and reserves.
  • What is Capital to Risk-Weighted Assets Ratio (CRAR)?
    • The CRAR, also known as the Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR), is the ratio of a bank’s capital to its risk. It is a measure of the amount of a bank’s core capital expressed as a percentage of its risk-weighted asset.
    • It is decided by central banks and bank regulators to prevent commercial banks from taking excess leverage and becoming insolvent in the process.
    • The Basel III norms stipulated a capital to risk weighted assets of 8%.
    • However, as per RBI norms, Indian scheduled commercial banks are required to maintain a CRAR of 9%.
  • What is deposit insurance? How is it regulated in India?
    • Deposit insurance is providing insurance protection to the depositor’s money by receiving a premium.
    • The government has set up Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC) under RBI to protect depositors if a bank fails.
    • DICGC charges 10 paise per ₹100 of deposits held by a bank. The premium paid by the insured banks to the Corporation is paid by the banks and is not to be passed on to depositors.
    • DICGC last revised the deposit insurance cover to ₹5 lakh in Feb 2020, raising it from ₹ 1 lakh since 1993.
  • What is the procedure for depositors to claim the money from a failed bank?
    • The DICGC does not deal directly with depositors.
      1. The RBI (or the Registrar), on directing that a bank be liquidated, appoints an official liquidator to oversee the winding-up process.
      2. Under the DICGC Act, the liquidator is supposed to hand over a list of all the insured depositors (with their dues) to the DICGC within three months of taking charge.
      3. The DICGC is supposed to pay these dues within two months of receiving this list.
  • Who is insured by the DICGC?
    • The corporation covers all commercial and co-operative banks, except in Meghalaya, Chandigarh, Lakshadweep and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Besides, Only primary cooperative societies are not insured by the DICGC.
  • The DICGC does not include the following types of deposits:
    1. Deposits of foreign governments.
    2. Deposits of central/state governments.
    3. Inter-bank deposits.
    4. Deposits of the state land development banks with the state co-operative bank.
    5. Any amount due on account of any deposit received outside India.
    6. Any amount specifically exempted by the DICGC with the previous approval of RBI.

Major stimulus measures

  • Context:
    • Economic stimulus measures announced by the Finance Minister in the wake of series of lockdowns. The 15 measures announced include many sops for MSMEs, real estate, non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), and power distribution companies.
  • Background:
    • This is the first tranche of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ₹20 lakh crore economic package.
    • That package includes the ongoing Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, meant to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities during the pandemic, as well as several measures taken by the Reserve Bank of India and Government of India to improve liquidity.
  • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-reliant India Mission)


  • ( Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan ) Part -1: Businesses including MSMEs

  • ( Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan ) Part -2: Poor, including migrants and farmers

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan Explained: Part -3 Agriculture

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan Explained: Part -4 New Horizons of Growth

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan Explained: Part -5 Government Reforms and Enablers

Detailed Coverage:

General Financial Rules

  • Context:
    • The government has notified amendments to General Financial Rules (GFR) to ensure that goods and services valued less than Rs 200 crore are being procured from domestic firms, a move that will benefit MSMEs.
  • Implications:
    • The amendments ensure that henceforth global tenders will be disallowed in government procurement up to Rs 200 crore, as announced in the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Package.
  • What are GFRs?
    • The General Financial Rules (GFRs) are a set of rules that deal with matters that involve public finances. They were first issued in 1947 bringing together all the existing orders. They are instructions that pertain to financial matters.
    • They lay down the general rules applicable to Ministries / Departments, and detailed instructions relating to the procurement of goods is issued by the procuring departments broadly in conformity with the general rules, while maintaining the flexibility to deal with varied situations.

 National Infrastructure Pipeline

  • It is a first-of-its-kind government exercise to pave the way for world-class infrastructure across the nation and improve the quality of life of the people.
  • The initiative aims to improve infrastructure project preparation and attract new investments both foreign and domestic.
  • The project will play a significant role in fulfilling India’s goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy by FY 2025.
  • NIP includes economic and social infrastructure projects.
  • It also includes both greenfield and brownfield projects.

Telecom regulator moots national numbering plan

  • Context:
    • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released its recommendations on “ensuring adequate numbering resources for fixed-line and mobile services”.
  • Background:
    • The Telecom Department had asked TRAI to furnish its recommendations on the strategies of National Digital Communications Policy which also talks of “ensuring adequate numbering resources, by developing unified numbering plan for fixed-line and mobile services.”
  • Key recommendations:
    1. There needs to be no change in the dialling plan for fixed-to-fixed, mobile-to-fixed, and mobile-to-mobile calls.
    2. For the creation of sufficient numbering space, dial all fixed to mobile calls with the prefix “0”. In the current scheme of things, “0” is prefixed for calls made from fixed lines to mobiles in another service area.
    3. Need for a revised and new National Numbering Plan (NNP) to free up unutilized capacities, to create space for mobile services.
    4. All the SIM-based Machine-to-Machine connections using 10-digit mobile numbering series should be shifted to the 13-digit numbering series allocated by Telecom Department for M2M communication at the earliest.
  • About TRAI:
    • It is a statutory body set up under section 3 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997.
    • It is the regulator of the telecommunications sector in India.
    • The TRAI Act was amended by an ordinance, effective from 24 January 2000, establishing a Telecom Disputes
    • Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to take over the adjudicatory and disputes functions from TRAI.
  • Important functions:
    • TRAI regularly issues orders and directions on various subjects such as tariffs, interconnections, quality of service, Direct To Home (DTH) services, and mobile number portability.
  • Composition:
    • It consists of a Chairperson and not more than two full-time members and not more than two parttime members.
    • They are appointed by the Central Government and the duration for which they can hold their office is three years or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.

Foreign portfolio investors

  • Context:
    • In a big relief to the capital markets, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit economies and markets worldwide, foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) significantly reduced the pace of outflows in April, after a record net outflow of Rs 1,18,203 crore in March 2020. In April, FPIs pulled out a net of Rs 14,858 crore from equity and debt markets.
    • They were, however, net positive investors in debt voluntary retention route (VRR) scheme. They invested a net of Rs 4,032 crore in debt VRR schemes in April.
  • What is VRR?
    • It is a new channel of investment available to FPIs to encourage them to invest in debt markets in India over and above their investments through the regular route.
    • The objective is to attract long-term and stable FPI investments into debt markets while providing FPIs with operational flexibility to manage their investments.
    • VRR scheme allows FPIs to participate in repo transactions and also invest in exchange-traded funds that invest in debt instruments.
  • When was this route proposed?
    • This new investment route was proposed by the central bank in October 2018 at a time the rupee was weakening against the dollar very sharply.
    • There were also talks of a special NRI bond scheme to attract more dollar funds into the economy and stabilise the rupee.
  • How are they different from the regular FPI investments?
    • Guidelines say that investments through VRR will be free of the macro-prudential and other regulatory prescriptions applicable to FPI investments in debt markets, provided FPIs voluntarily commit to retain a required minimum percentage of their investments in India for a period of their choice.
    • But the minimum retention period shall be three years, or as decided by RBI.
  • How much money can an FPI invest through this route?
    • Investments under this route as of now shall be capped at Rs 40,000 crore for VRR-GOVT and 35,000 crores per annum for VRR-COPR.
    • But the limit could be changed from time to time based on macro-prudential considerations and assessment of investment demand. There will be separate limits for investment in government securities and investment in corporate debt.

BharatMarket

  • Context:
    • Traders’ body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) will soon launch a national e-commerce marketplace ‘Bharat market’ for all retail traders in collaboration with several technology partners.
  • About BharatMarket:
    • The marketplace will integrate the capabilities of various technology companies to provide end-to-end services in the logistics and supply chains from manufacturers to end consumers, including deliveries at home.
    • The e-commerce portal will include nationwide participation by retailers.
    • This endeavour aims to bring 95 percent of retail traders onboard the platform, who will be the shareholders and the portal will be run exclusively by the traders.
Agriculture:-

Locust attacks

  • Context:
    • Locusts normally arrive during July-October, but have already been spotted in Rajasthan. At a time India is battling COVID, they present a new worry with their potential for exponential growth and crop destruction.
  • What are locusts?
    • Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers that multiply in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms (up to 150km in one day).
  • Four species of locusts are found in India:
    • Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust (Nomadacris succincta), and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.).
  • How do they inflict damage?
    • The desert locust is regarded as the most destructive pest in India as well as internationally, with a small swarm covering one square kilometre being able to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.
    • The swarms devour leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and growing points, and also destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in massive numbers.
  • How seriously should the first sightings of the locusts be viewed?
    • There’s nothing much to worry right now, as the rabi crop has already been harvested and farmers are yet to commence plantings for the new Kharif season.
    • Besides, these have been low-density nymphs in “2nd to 4th instar” stages or immature winged adults. No breeding or swarm movement has also been seen so far.
    • The timing, though, is cause for concern. The normal breeding season for locusts in India is July-October. But this time, they have been sighted by mid-April. They could, nevertheless, breed to high enough populations for forming swarming and wreaking havoc during the rabi season.
  • How can locusts be controlled?
    • Controlling desert locust swarms primarily uses organophosphate chemicals by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers, and to a lesser extent by a knapsack and hand-held sprayers.
    • Extensive research is ongoing regarding biological control and other means of non-chemical control with the current focus on pathogens and insect growth regulators. Control by natural predators and parasites so far is limited since locusts can quickly move away from most natural enemies.
    • While people and birds often eat locusts, this is not enough to significantly reduce population levels over large areas.

Rajasthan’s Krishi Kalyan fees

  • Context:
    • Rajasthan government is levying a 2 percent Krishak Kalyan fees on agricultural produce brought or bought or sold in mandis.
    • The fees collected will be deposited in the Krishak Kalyan Kosh — dedicated to the welfare of farmers in the state.
  • Background:
    • Last year, the Rajasthan Government had announced the creation of the Krishak Kalyan Kosh. Accordingly, the government brought in the Rajasthan Agricultural Produce Markets (Amendment) ordinance, 2020, which was promulgated by the Governor on May 1, amending Section 17 of the Rajasthan Agricultural Produce Market Act, 1961.
  • Criticisms:
    • People associated with agricultural mandis in the state and farmer groups have voiced their opposition to the new cess.
  • Why?
    • Farmer outfits are apprehensive that people at agricultural mandis will pass on the burden of the increased cost to farmers, already reeling by the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus.
    • It may result in farmers getting fewer prices for their agricultural produce, traders incurring losses because of people choosing to sell the produce to black marketers, and agriculture produces from Rajasthan being sold outside the state.
    • There is already a mandi cess of 1.6 percent on the produce. This 2 percent fees will increase it to 3.6 percent, which is much higher than in other states. This increased cess will encourage black marketing.
  • What does the government say?
    • The government has insisted that the money collected as Krishi Kalyan fees will be spent on the welfare of farmers.
    • The fee will be a burden neither on the people associated with the mandis nor the farmers. This charge is meant for the next point of sale after farmers sell their produce.
    • This money collected will actually benefit them as it will be spent on their welfare. The entire money will be used on ensuring that the farmers get adequate prices and providing them other incentives.

APMC Act

  • Context:
    • Following the Centre's directive to States to amend their Agricultural Produce Markets (APMC) Acts, the Gujarat government has promulgated an Ordinance expanding the purview of the Act to include livestock under agricultural produce and to provide better market access to farmers.
  • Changes and implications:
    1. As per the amendment, the new Act is termed Gujarat Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 1963.
    2. The Act paves the way for establishment of a livestock market.
    3. Also, it seeks to have involvement of local authorities, including panchayati raj institutions who own and operate rural periodical markets such as haats within their area.
    4. Changed Structure of the market committee of a market yard. It is deemed to be of national importance with increased membership from farmers.
    5. A single licence will be applicable to the whole of the State for the traders to be granted or renewed by the Director. The existing trader licences granted by the market committees shall be converted into State wide single trader licence by the Director.
    6. Now, even private entities can set up their own market committees or sub-market yards that can compete and offer the best possible remuneration to farmers for their produce.
    7. The ordinance also restricts the jurisdiction of the market committees to the physical boundaries of their respective marketing yards. They can levy cess only on those transactions, happening within the boundary walls of their marketing yard.
  • Significance of these changes:
    • The changes help develop these markets to efficiently function as a marketing platform nearest to the farm gate.
    • They also ensure that the spirit of competition is encouraged and the principle of ‘farmer first’ is kept in mind.
    • Also, the act removes the conventional involvement of middlemen by allowing farmers to sell their crops in a free market. This is a progressive step towards a more robust farm economy.

Geotextiles

  • Context:
    • National Rural Infrastructure Development Agency (NRIDA) has announced that coir geotextiles will be used for the construction of rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY-III).
  • What is Coir geotextile?
    • Coir is a 100% natural fiber, obtained from a renewable source – the coconut husk.
    • Coir Geo Textile is naturally resistant to rot, molds and moisture, and free from any microbial attack hence it needs no chemical treatment. It has a permeable, natural, and strong fabric with high durability.
  • Benefits:
    • It has a permeable, natural, and strong fabric with high durability.
    • It protects the land surface and promotes quick vegetation.
    • It is totally biodegradable and helps in soil stabilisation.
    • It can dissipate the energy of flowing water and absorb excess solar radiation.
  • What are Geotextiles?
    • They are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain. These are typically made from polypropylene or polyester.
  • Applications:
    • They support many civil engineering applications including roads, airfields, railroads, embankments, retaining structures, reservoirs, canals, dams, bank protection, coastal engineering, and construction site silt fences or tube.
    • They are also used for sand dune armoring to protect upland coastal property from storm surge, wave action, and flooding.
    • They are used as matting to stabilize flow in stream channels and swales.
    • They can improve soil strength at a lower cost than conventional soil nailing.
  • Features of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana-lll (PMGSY-III):
    • Under the PMGSY-III Scheme, it is proposed to consolidate 1,25,000 Km road length in the States.
    • It involves the consolidation of Through Routes and Major Rural Links connecting habitations to Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs), Higher Secondary Schools and Hospitals.
    • The funds would be shared in the ratio of 60:40 between the Centre and State for all States except for 8 North-Eastern states and Himachal Pradesh & Uttarakhand for which it is 90:10.
  • Background:
    • A total of 5,99,090 Km road length has been constructed under the scheme since inception till April 2019 (inclusive of PMGSY-I, PMGSY-II, and Road Connectivity Project for Left Wing Extremism Area (RCPLWEA) Scheme).

Rajiv Gandhi Nyay Yojana

  • Context:
    • Rajiv Gandhi Nyay Yojana will be launched by the Chhattisgarh government to ensure “minimum income availability” to farmers of the state through direct bank transfer.
    • The scheme will formally be launched in the state on May 21, the death anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
  • Benefits under the scheme:
    • Based on registered area and area under cultivation during Kharif crop season 2019, Rs 10,000 per acre will be deposited in the bank accounts of farmers as agriculture assistance grants for sowing crops such as paddy, maize, and sugarcane.
    • At least 19 lakh farmers will benefit from the scheme, for which the state government had allocated Rs 5,756 crore in the budget 2020-21.
    • Similarly, for sugarcane crop, payment of FRP amount of Rs 261 per quintal and incentive and input support, amounting to Rs 93.75 per quintal, i.e. maximum Rs 355 per quintal, will be made depending on the quantity of sugarcane purchased by the cooperative mill in the crushing year 2019-20.
    • Under this, 34,637 farmers of the state will get Rs 73 crore 55 lakh in four installments and the first installment of this amount, Rs 18,43 crore will be transferred in May 21.
    • The government is also going to provide incentive money (outstanding bonus) at the rate of Rs 50 per quintal based on the quantity of sugarcane purchased through cooperative sugar factories in the year 2018-19.

Contract farming system

  • Context:
    • The Odisha Government has promulgated an ordinance allowing investors and farmers to enter into an agreement for contract farming, in view of the continuing uncertainties due to the pandemic.
  • Significance:
    • The ordinance is aimed at facilitating both farmers and sponsors to develop mutually beneficial and efficient contract farming system.
    • It argued the new system will improve the production and marketing of agricultural produce and livestock while promoting farmers’ interest.
  • Highlights of the ordinance:
    • Participants:
      • The agreement will be entered into between the contract farming sponsor (who offers to participate in any component) or entire value chain including pre-production, and the contract farming producer (farmers who agree to produce the crop or rear the livestock).
    • Recovery:
      • The loans and advances given by the sponsor to the producer can be recovered from the sale proceeds of the produce. It cannot be realised by way of sale or mortgage or lease of the land in respect of which the agreement has been entered into.
    • No transfer of Land Rights:
      • No title, rights, ownership, or possession of land or premises or other such property will be transferred or alienated or vest in the sponsor or its successor or its agent.
    • Constitute Contract Farming and Services Committee:
      • To review the performance of the contract farming and to make suggestions to the government for its promotion and efficient performance.
  • What is Contract farming?
    • The concept of Contract Farming (CF) refers to a system of farming, in which bulk purchasers including agro-processing/exporting or trading units enter into a contract with the farmer(s), to purchase a specified quantity of any agricultural commodity at a pre-agreed price.
  • How is it regulated in India?
    • Regulated under the Indian Contract Act, 1872.
    • The Model APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) Act, 2003 provides specific provisions for contract farming, like compulsory registration of contract farming sponsors and dispute settlement.
    • Ministry of Agriculture came out with a draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018. The draft Model Act seeks to create a regulatory and policy framework for contract farming. Based on this draft Model Act, the legislatures of states can enact a law on contract farming.

Beekeeping in India

  • Context:
    • A webinar was conducted by the National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) on the theme “Sweet Revolution and Atma Nirbhar Bharat”.
    • The objective was to popularize scientific beekeeping as a source of livelihood for landless rural poor, small and marginal farmers to supplement agricultural income, as also as a tool to enhance agriculture and horticulture production.
  • Efforts by the government:
    1. The government is promoting Beekeeping as part of its aim to double farmers’ income.
    2. The Government has allocated 500 crores towards Beekeeping under the Atma Nirbhar Abhiyan.
    3. National Bee Board has created four modules to impart training as part of the National Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NBHM) and 30 lakh farmers have been trained in beekeeping. They are also being financially supported by the Government.
    4. The Government has launched ‘Honey Mission’ as part of the ‘Sweet Revolution’.
    5. India is among the world’s top five honey producers.
    6. Compared to 2005-06 honey production has risen by 242% and exports shot by 265%.
  • Significance of Beekeeping:
    • As per the Food and Agricultural Organization database, in 2017-18, India ranked eighth in the world in terms of honey production (64.9 thousand tonnes) while China stood first with a production level of 551 thousand tonnes.
    • Further, beekeeping can be an important contributor in achieving the 2022 target of doubling farmer incomes.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Expand the scope:
      • Beekeeping cannot be restricted to honey and wax only, products such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and bee venom are also marketable and can greatly help Indian farmers.
    • Increase in the area:
      • Based on the area under cultivation in India and bee forage crops, India has a potential of about 200 million bee colonies as against 3.4 million bee colonies today. Increasing the number of bee colonies will not only increase the production of bee-related products but will boost overall agricultural and horticultural productivity.
  • Recommendations made by Beekeeping Development Committee under EAC-PM:
    • The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister had set up a Beekeeping Development Committee under the Chairmanship of Professor Bibek Debroy.
    • BDC was constituted with the objective of identifying ways of advancing beekeeping in India, that can help in improving agricultural productivity, enhancing employment generation, augmenting nutritional security, and sustaining biodiversity.
  • Some of the recommendations in the report include:
    1. Recognizing honeybees as inputs to agriculture and considering landless Beekeepers as farmers.
    2. Plantation of bee-friendly flora at appropriate places and engaging women self-help groups in managing such plantations.
    3. Institutionalizing the National Bee Board and rechristening it as the Honey and Pollinators Board of India under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. Such a body would engage in advancing beekeeping through multiple mechanisms such as setting up of new Integrated Bee Development Centres, strengthening the existing ones, creating a honey price stabilization fund, and collection of data on important aspects of apiculture.
    4. Recognition of apiculture as a subject for advanced research under the aegis of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
    5. Training and development of beekeepers by state governments.
    6. Development of national and regional infrastructure for storage, processing, and marketing of honey and other bee products.
    7. Simplifying procedures and specifying clear standards for ease of exporting honey and other bee products.
Infrastructure:-

Impact of energy efficiency measures for the year 2018-19

  • Context:
    • Recently the Ministry of Power and New & Renewable Energy released a report on the “Impact of energy efficiency measures for the year 2018-19”.
    • This report was prepared by an Expert agency PWC Ltd, who was engaged by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) for independent verification to assess the resultant annual savings in energy as well as CO2 emissions through various initiatives in India.
  • Background:
    • Since 2017-18, every year Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) appoints a third party expert agency to conduct study for comparing the actual energy consumption due to different energy efficiency schemes, with the estimated energy consumption, which had the current energy efficiency measures were not undertaken i.e counterfactual.
    • • The objective of this study is to evaluate the performance and impact of all the key energy efficiency programmes in India, in terms of total energy saved and the related reduction in CO2 emissions.
    • The study assesses the resultant impact of current schemes at national as well as state-level for the FY 2018-19 and compares it with a situation where the same were not implemented.
  • Key findings:
    1. India has reduced the energy intensity by 20% compared to 2005 levels which is a very good performance indeed.
    2. Implementation of various energy efficiency schemes has led to total electricity savings to the tune of 113.16 Billion Units in 2018-19, which is 9.39% of the net electricity consumption.
    3. The study has identified the following major programmes, viz. Perform, Achieve and Trade Scheme, Standards &Labelling Programme, UJALA Programme, Municipal Demand Side Management Programme, etc.
    4. Energy savings (electrical + thermal), achieved in the energy-consuming sectors (i.e. Demand Side sectors) is to the tune of 16.54 Mtoe, which is 2.84% of the net total energy consumption (approx..581.60 Mtoe) in 2018-19.
    5. These efforts have also contributed to reducing 151.74 Million Tonnes of CO2 emissions, whereas last year this number was 108 Million Tonnes of CO2.
  • Way ahead:
    • India’s energy-saving potential is estimated to be 86.9 Mtoe in case of a moderate implementation of energy efficiency programs and 129 Mtoe in case of an ambitious implementation of programs by the year 2031.
Web Portal And App:-

Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG) app

  • Context:
    • 7 services hosted on the IMD website have been onboarded to UMANG Application. These include:
      1. Current Weather.
      2. Nowcast- Three hourly warnings of localized weather phenomena.
      3. City Forecast.
      4. Rainfall information.
      5. Tourism Forecast.
      6. Warnings- It is color-coded in Red, Orange, and yellow are the alert levels with Red as the most severe category.
      7. Cyclone.
  • About:
    • UMANG is a Government of India all-in-one single, unified, secure, multi-channel, multi-platform, multilingual, multi-service mobile app, powered by a robust back-end platform providing access to high impact services of the various organization (Central and State).
    • Launched in 2017 to bring all government services on a single mobile app, with a larger goal to make the government services accessible on the mobile phone of our citizens.
    • About 660 services from 127 department & 25 states, including utility payments are live and more are in pipeline.

Bank of Schemes, Ideas, Innovation, and Research portal

  • Launched by Union Ministry of MSME.
  • The Portal gives access to all Schemes of Union, State, and UT Governments. It has the provision for uploading Ideas, Innovations & Researches in the sector.
  • The portal has unique features of not only crowdsourcing of Ideas, but also evaluation and rating the ideas by crowdsourcing. It can also facilitate inflow of venture capital, foreign collaboration, etc.

KISAN SABHA APP

  • Developed by CSIR-Central Road Research Institute (CSIR-CRRI), New Delhi to connect farmers to supply chain and freight transportation management systems.
  • The portal acts as a single stop for every entity related to agriculture, be they a farmer who needs better price for the crops or mandi dealer who wants to connect to more farmers or truckers who invariably go empty from the mandis.

Saras Collection

  • It is an initiative of the GeM, the DAY-NRLM, and the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • It showcases daily utility products made by rural self-help groups (SHGs) and aims to provide SHGs in rural areas with market access to Central and State Government buyers.
  • Under this initiative, the SHG sellers will be able to list their products in 5 product categories, namely (I) handicrafts, (ii) handloom and textiles, (iii) office accessories, (iv) grocery and pantry, and (v) personal care and hygiene.

Surakshit Dada-Dadi & Nana-Nani Abhiyan

  • • Launched by Niti Aayog in association with Piramal Foundation.
  • • Focussed on ensuring the wellbeing of senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • • The campaign will reach over 2.9 million senior citizens in 25 Aspirational Districts across Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan & UP.
  • • It focuses on behaviour change, access to services, early detection & tracking of COVID19 symptoms.

GARUD portal

  • GARUD( Government Authorisation for Relief Using Drones).
  • DGCA launches the 'GARUD' portal to fast-track exemptions of coronavirus-related drone operations.
  • The portal will help state-owned entities in seeking exemption from central government for coronavirus related drone operations.
  • This will also help in addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19 and will remain in force until further orders.

MahaKavach App

  • Launched by the Government of Maharashtra.
  • It is a real-time digital contact tracing mobile application that enables citizens to contribute and assist the health authorities in contact tracing, geo-fencing, and tracking of quarantined COVID-19 patients.
  • The selfie attendance feature has been also added in the application to get virtual attendance.
  • This app is to be used by individuals as directed by their doctor or medical worker.
  • The app will not be accessible to everyone, as the state government aims to use it for very targeted cases.

FIR Aapke Dwar

  • It is a pilot project launched by the Madhya Pradesh government.
  • The initiative will see police officials going to homes of victims to register a First Information Report (FIR) than the other way round.
  • Trained head constables in a First Response Vehicle (FRV), a GPS fitted fleet that attends to emergency calls (dial 100), will file the FIR on the spot for non-serious offence. For serious cases, they will consult seniors before taking a call.

CHAMPIONS portal

  • Launched by the Union Ministry of MSME.
  • It is a Technology driven Control Room-Cum-Management Information System.
  • CHAMPIONS stands for Creation and Harmonious Application of Modern Processes for Increasing the Output and National Strength.
  • It utilizes modern ICT tools such as telephone, internet, and video conference, and aims to assist Indian MSMEs to march into the big league as National and Global CHAMPIONS.
  • It aims to make the smaller units big by providing them various facilities such as solving their grievances, encouraging, supporting, helping, and hand-holding.

GOAL (Going Online As Leaders)” programme

  • Launched by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) in partnership with Facebook.
  • Aims to provide mentorship to tribal youth through digital mode.
  • Under this, 5,000 young tribal entrepreneurs, professionals, artisans, and artists will be trained by experts from different disciplines on digital skills under digital entrepreneurship program.

National Migrant Information System (NMIS)

  • It is a central online repository on Migrant Workers to facilitate their seamless movement across States.
  • Developed by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
  • It has additional advantages like contact tracing, which may be useful in overall COVID-19 response work

National Test Abhyas

  • The AI-powered mobile App has been developed by National Testing Agency (NTA) to enable candidates to take mock tests for upcoming exams such as JEE Main, NEET under the NTA’s purview.
  • Launched by Human Resources Development Ministry recently.

Rozgar Setu

  • Madhya Pradesh has announced the launch of the ‘Rozgar Setu’ scheme to help secure employment for
  • skilled workers who have returned.

Environment

Species in news:

Name Of Species: Information:
ELONGATED TORTOISE
  • Context:
    • Over 90% of the potential distribution of the Sal forest tortoise falls outside the current protected area’s network.
  • About Elongated tortoise:
    • It is a species of tortoise found in Southeast Asia and parts of the Indian Subcontinent, particularly Northeast India.
    • They have elongated somewhat narrow carapaces and yellow heads. Shells are typically a pale tannish yellow to caramel color, with blotches of black.
    • IUCN Red List Status:
      • Critically Endangered.
      • The population of the species may have fallen by about 80% in the last three generations (90 years).
    • Threats:
      • It is heavily hunted for food and collected both for local use, such as decorative masks, and international wildlife trade. In China, a mixture, made by grinding up the tortoise's shell, also serves as an aphrodisiac.

Eugenia sphaerocarpa

Goniothalamus sericeus

Memecylon nervosum

  • Context:
    • New plant species from the Western Ghats:
    • Three new plant species reported in the evergreen forest patches of the southern end of the Western Ghats in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They are:
  • Eugenia sphaerocarpa:
    • Belongs to the Myrtaceae or Rose apple family. Found mainly in Kakkayam area of the Malabar wildlife sanctuary in Kerala above 800m. The fruits of Eugenia species are known for their palatability.
  • Goniothalamus sericeus:
    • Belongs to the Annonaceae family of custard apple. Found in the Kanyakumari wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu at an altitude of 1400m. Sericeus refers to the presence of dense silky hair on petals.
  • Memecylon nervosum:
    • Belongs to the Melastomataceae (Kayamboo or Kaasavu in local parlance) family. Nervosum refers to the presence of prominently raised lateral and intramarginal veins on the lower surface of the lamina.

Charru mussel
  • It is an invasive mussel native to the South and Central American coasts.
  • It is now spreading quickly in the backwaters of Kerala, elbowing out other mussel and clam species and threatening the livelihoods of fishermen engaged in molluscan fisheries.
  • The rapid spread may have been triggered by Cyclone Ockhi which struck the region in 2017.
  • Externally, the Charru mussel resembles the green and brown mussels (kallummekkaya in Malayalam) but is much smaller in size. Its colour varies from black to brown, purple or dark green.

Puntius sanctus

  • It is a new species of small freshwater fish of the family Cyprinidae.
  • It was recently discovered in Velankanni in Tamil Nadu.
  • It grows to a length of 7 cm. Its physical characteristics included a protractible mouth, a pair of maxillary barbels (a sensory organ near the snout), 24-25 lateral line scales and 10 pre-dorsal scales.

Cicadas
  • Context:
    • In the US, there will be major outbreaks of periodical cicadas in 2020 and 2021.
    • Cicadas are insects that spend most of their lives underground and emerge from the soil mainly to mate. Once out of the ground, their life span is fairly short, somewhere between two-four weeks.
    • There are three species of 17-year cicadas and three species of 13-year cicadas.
  • What happens when cicadas emerge?
    • After emerging from the ground in billions, the cicadas shed their exoskeletons or outer skins to take their winged form.
    • Male cicadas “sing” to attract the females, the collective chorus of these male cicadas is very loud and can reach up to 100 decibels, which is as much as a powered lawnmower.
    • After mating, the females lay their eggs in twigs that are ½ to ¼ in diameter. One female is capable of laying over 400 eggs in 40-50 different sites. The eggs remain in the twigs for six to ten weeks before they hatch and after hatching the nymphs fall to the ground where they burrow 6-18 inches underground to feed and emerge 13 or 17 years later, depending on their grouping.
  • Concerns:
    • The egg-laying by the cicadas causes significant damage to small twigs. They damage many ornamental and hardwood trees, especially newly planted fruit and ornamental trees such as apple, dogwood, peach, cherry, and pear among others, which are the most seriously damaged.

Pinanga Andamanensis
  • Context:
    • The species is finding a second home at Thiruvananthapurambased Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI).
  • About:
    • It is an IUCN critically endangered species and one of the least known among the endemic palms of the Andaman islands.
    • The name is derived from ‘Penang’, the modern-day Malaysian state.
    • Its entire population of some 600 specimens naturally occurs only in a tiny, evergreen forest pocket in South Andaman’s Mount Harriet National Park.

Troglomyces twitteri:
  • A new species has just been discovered using a Twitter image and thus has been named as Troglomyces twitteri.
  • It is a type of parasitic fungus.
  • It belongs to an order called Laboulbeniales — tiny fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes.


Pollution And Conservation:-

Govt notifies BS-VI emission norms for quadricycles

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has issued a notification regarding the emission norms for the L7 (quadricycle) category for BS-VI. This notification completes the process of BS-VI for all category vehicles in India.
    • The emission norms are on the lines of the European Union’s World Motorcycle Test Cycle (WMTC).
  • What is the WMTC cycle?
    • It is a system of driving cycles used to measure fuel consumption and emissions in motorcycles.
    • The methods are stipulated as part of the Global Technical Regulation established under the UN World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, also known as WP.29.
  • What is a quadricycle?
    • It is the size of a three-wheeler but with four tires and is fully covered like a car. It has an engine like that of a three-wheeler. This makes it a cheap and safe mode of transport for last-mile connectivity.
  • Dimensions:
    • A quadricycle cannot be more than 3.6 metres long, should have an engine smaller than 800cc, and should not weigh more than 475 kilograms.
  • Regulation of quadricycles in India:
    • In 2018, the government had introduced the quadricycle segment with the necessary standards to produce the vehicle. It had approved the vehicle for both commercial and private use.

Stubble burning

  • Context:
    • With wheat harvesting over in Punjab, the State has witnessed a spike in incidents of stubble burning against the last two years as several farmers continue to defy the ban on burning the crop residue.
    • The ban and action against the people burning the crop residue is regulated under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
  • What do the data show?
    • Government data show that across the State, between April 15 and May 24, 13,026 incidents of stubble burning have surfaced. Last year the number of such incidents during the same period was 10,476. In 2018, Punjab recorded 11,236 fire incidents.
  • What is stubble burning?
    • It is a common practice followed by farmers to prepare fields for sowing of wheat in November as there is little time left between the harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat.
  • Impact:
    • Stubble burning results in the emission of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide along with particulate matter.
  • Why farmers opt for stubble burning?
    1. They do not have alternatives for utilising them effectively.
    2. The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
    3. With less income due to crop damage, farmers are likely to be inclined to light up their fields to cut costs and not spend on scientific ways of stubble management.
  • Advantages of stubble burning:
    1. It quickly clears the field and is the cheapest alternative.
    2. Kills weeds, including those resistant to herbicide.
    3. Kills slugs and other pests.
    4. It can reduce nitrogen tie-up.
  • Effects of Stubble Burning:
    • Pollution:
      • Open stubble burning emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC), and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. They may eventually cause smog.
    • Soil Fertility:
      • Burning husk on the ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.
    • Heat Penetration:
      • The heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.
  • Alternative solutions that can avoid Stubble Burning:
    1. Promote paddy straw-based power plants. It will also create employment opportunities.
    2. Incorporation of crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.
    3. Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.
    4. New opportunities for industrial use such as extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.
  • What needs to be done- the Supreme Court’s observations?
    • Incentives could be provided to those who are not burning the stubble and disincentives for those who continue the practice.
    • The existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted as to enable the States concerned to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue.
  • Chhattisgarh Model:
    • An innovative experiment has been undertaken by the Chhattisgarh government by setting up gauthans.
      1. A gauthan is a dedicated five-acre plot, held in common by each village, where all the unused stubble is collected through parali daan (people’s donations) and is converted into organic fertiliser by mixing with cow dung and few natural enzymes.
      2. The scheme also generates employment among rural youth.
      3. The government supports the transportation of parali from the farm to the nearest gauthan.
      4. The state has successfully developed 2,000 gauthans.
Detailed Coverage:https://samajho.com/upsc/stubble-burning/

Styrene

  • About
    • It is a flammable liquid that is used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex.
    • It is also found in vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, and in natural foods like fruits and vegetables.
  • What happens when exposed to styrene?
    • Short-term exposure to the substance can result in respiratory problems, irritation in the eyes, irritation in the mucous membrane, and gastrointestinal issues.
    • Long-term exposure could drastically affect the central nervous system and lead to other related problems like peripheral neuropathy. It could also lead to cancer and depression in some cases.
  • What are the symptoms?
    • Symptoms include headache, hearing loss, fatigue, weakness, difficulty in concentrating, etc.
    • Animal studies, according to the EPA, have reported effects on the CNS, liver, kidney, and eye and nasal irritation from inhalation exposure to styrene.

Safeguards against chemical disasters in India

  • Context:
    • Vizag gas leak tragedy has put the spotlight on the safeguards available against chemical disasters in India.
  • About:
    • At the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such incidents.
      • 1. Section 304:
        • culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
      • 2. Section 304A:
        • deals with death due to negligence and imposes a maximum punishment of two years and a fine.
      • Soon after the tragedy, the government passed a series of laws regulating the environment and prescribing and specifying safeguards and penalties.
  • Some of these laws were:
    • Bhopal Gas Leak (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985:
      • Which gives powers to the central government to secure the claims arising out of or connected with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Under the provisions of this Act, such claims are dealt with speedily and equitably.
    • The Environment Protection Act, 1986:
      • This gives powers to the central government to undertake measures for improving the environment and set standards and inspect industrial units.
    • Hazardous Waste (Management Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 1989:
      • Industry-required to identify major accident hazards, take preventive measures and submit a report to the designated authorities
    • Manufacture, Storage, And Import Of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989:
      • The importer must furnish complete product safety information to the competent authority and must transport imported chemicals in accordance with the amended rules.
    • Chemical Accidents (Emergency, Planning, Preparedness, and Response) Rules, 1996:
      • Center is required to constitute a central crisis group for the management of chemical accidents; set up a quick response mechanism termed as the crisis alert system. Each state is required to set up a crisis group and report on its work.
    • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991:
      • Which is insurance meant to provide relief to persons affected by accidents that occur while handling hazardous substances
    • The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997:
      • Under which the National Environment Appellate Authority can hear appeals regarding the restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
    • National Green Tribunal, 2010:
      • Provides for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests.
  • Recent major gas-leak related disasters:
    • 1. 2014 GAIL Pipeline Blast:
      • On 27 June 2014, a massive fire broke out following a blast in the underground gas pipeline maintained by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) at Nagaram, East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
    • 2. 2014 Bhilai Steel Plant Gas Leak:
      • In another incident in June 2014 at Bhilai Steel Plant in Chhattisgarh's Durg district, six people were killed and over 40 injured in an incident of leakage in a methane gas pipeline at a water pump house.
    • 3. 2017 Delhi Gas leak:
      • Around 470 schoolchildren were hospitalised after inhaling poisonous fumes that spread due to a chemical leak at a container depot near two schools in the customs area of Tughlaqabad depot.
    • 4. 2018 Bhilai Steel Plant Blast:
      • Nine people were killed and 14 others injured in a blast at the Bhilai Steel Plant of state-owned SAIL.
  • What happened in Bhopal?
    • In what is the biggest industrial disaster of the last hundred years in India, 5295 people died and 5,27,894 were affected after being exposed to some 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant owned by the US multinational, Union Carbide Corp, in Bhopal.
    • It has been more than 35 years since the incident which happened on December 3, 1984, but there is still a massive debate on the number of people affected. Some activists estimate around 20,000 t 25,000 deaths.
  • Cause for concern now:
    • According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in the recent past, over 130 significant chemical accidents have been reported in the country, which has resulted in 259 deaths and caused major injuries to more than 560 people.
    • There are over 1861 Major Accident Hazard (MAH) units spread across 301 districts and 25 states and three Union Territories in all zones of the country.
    • Further, there are thousands of registered and hazardous factories and unorganised sectors dealing with numerous ranges of hazardous material posing serious and complex levels of disaster risks.
Environment:-

Preservation of Eastern, Western Ghats

  • Context:
    • 6 States have expressed a desire to expedite early notification of the Ecologically Sensitive Area of Western Ghats.
    • These six states include Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu.
  • Background:
    • The government had constituted a High-Level Working Group under the Chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan to conserve and protect the biodiversity of Western Ghats while allowing for sustainable and inclusive development of the region.
    • The Committee had recommended that identified geographical areas falling in the six States of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu may be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Areas.
  • What are Eco-Sensitive Areas?
    • They are located within 10 km around Protected Areas, National Parks, and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
    • ESAs are notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) under the Environment Protection Act of 1986.
    • The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected areas.
  • Objectives of declaring areas as ESA:
    • To manage and regulate the activities around these areas with the intention of creating some kinds of ‘shock absorbers’.
    • To provide for a transition zone between the highly protected and relatively less protected areas.
    • To give effect to Section 3(2)(v) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which restricts the operation of industries or processes to be carried out in certain areas or to maintain certain safeguards to operate industries.
  • What did the Gadgil Committee say?
    1. It defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management.
    2. It proposed that this entire area be designated as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
    3. Within this area, smaller regions were to be identified as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II, or III based on their existing condition and nature of the threat.
    4. It proposed to divide the area into about 2,200 grids, of which 75 percent would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks.
    5. The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
  • Why was the Kasturirangan Committee setup?
    • None of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, which submitted its report in August 2011.
    • In August 2012, then Environment Minister constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from states, central ministries and others.
    • The Kasturirangan report seeks to bring just 37% of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) zones — down from the 64% suggested by the Gadgil report.
  • Recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee:
    1. A ban on mining, quarrying, and sand mining.
    2. No new thermal power projects, but hydropower projects allowed with restrictions.
    3. A ban on new polluting industries.
    4. Building and construction projects up to 20,000 sq m were to be allowed but townships were to be banned.
    5. Forest diversion could be allowed with extra safeguards.
  • Importance of western ghats:
    • The Western Ghats is an extensive region spanning over six States. It is the home of many endangered plants and animals. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
    • It is one of the eight “hottest hot-spots” of biological diversity in the world.
    • According to UNESCO, the Western Ghats are older than the Himalayas. They influence Indian monsoon weather patterns by intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer.
  • Eastern Ghats:
    • The Eastern Ghats run from northern Odisha through Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu in the south passing some parts of Karnataka.
    • They are eroded and cut through by four major rivers of peninsular India, viz. Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna, and Kaveri.

Science And Technology

Space:-

Magnetosphere

  • Context:
    • Scientists at the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG) have developed a generalized one-dimensional fluid simulation code capable of studying a wide spectrum of coherent electric field structures in near-earth plasma environment or earth’s magnetosphere which can be useful in the planning of future space missions.
    • The study will help to plan future space missions. The study will also lead to the control of fusion experiments to fulfill the ever-expanding energy demands of humanity.
  • About Magnetosphere:
    • It is the region around a planet dominated by the planet's magnetic field.
    • Other planets in our solar system have magnetospheres, but Earth has the strongest one of all the rocky planets.
  • Significance:
    • The magnetosphere shields our home planet from solar and cosmic particle radiation, as well as erosion of the atmosphere by the solar wind – the constant flow of charged particles streaming off the sun.
  • How it is generated?
    • Earth's magnetosphere is part of a dynamic, interconnected system that responds to solar, planetary, and interstellar conditions.
    • It is generated by the convective motion of charged, molten iron, far below the surface in Earth's outer core.
      1. Constant bombardment by the solar wind compresses the sun-facing side of our magnetic field.
      2. The sun-facing side, or dayside, extends a distance of about six to 10 times the radius of the Earth.
      3. The side of the magnetosphere facing away from the sun – the nightside – stretches out into an immense magnetotail, which fluctuates in length and can measure hundreds of Earth radii, far past the moon's orbit at 60 Earth radii.
  • Why study the magnetosphere?
    1. To better understand its role in our space environment. It will unravel the fundamental physics of space, which is dominated by complex electromagnetic interactions unlike what we experience day-to-day on Earth. By studying this space environment close to home, we can better understand the nature of space throughout the universe.
    2. Additionally, space weather within the magnetosphere – where many of our spacecraft reside – can sometimes have adverse effects on space technology as well as communications systems. A better understanding of the science of the magnetosphere helps improve our space weather models.
  • Key terms:
    • The solar wind drags out the night-side magnetosphere to possibly 1000 times Earth's radius; its exact length is not known. This extension of the magnetosphere is known as the Magnetotail.
    • The outer boundary of Earth's confined geomagnetic field is called the Magnetopause.

'Solar Minimum'

  • Context:
    • The sun is said to have gone into a state called the 'solar minimum' and is about to enter the deepest period of 'sunshine recession' as sunspots are virtually not visibly at all.
    • Some reports suggest that it has been almost 100 days this year when the sun has shown zero sunspots.
  • What is the solar minimum and why is it happening now?
    • Sun has a cycle that lasts on average 11 years, and right now we are at the peak of that cycle.
    • Every 11 years or so, sunspots fade away, bringing a period of relative calm. This is called the solar minimum. And it’s a regular part of the sunspot cycle.
  • Implications:
    • While intense activity such as sunspots and solar flares subside during solar minimum, that doesn’t mean the sun becomes dull.
    • Solar activity simply changes form. For instance, during solar minimum, we can see the development of long-lived coronal holes. But, this may cause health risks to astronauts traveling through space as “the sun’s magnetic field weakens and provides less shielding from these cosmic rays.”

SpaceX Demo-2 mission

  • Context:
    • On May 27, NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight will lift off for International Space Station (ISS), becoming the first crewed flight to launch from American soil since the conclusion of the space shuttle era in 2011.
  • What is the mission?
    • The Demo-2 mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and will fly two astronauts on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
    • This mission is essentially a flight test to certify if SpaceX’s crew transportation system can be used to ferry crew to and from the space station regularly.
    • This is the final flight test for the system and intends to validate its different components, including the spacecraft (Crew Dragon), the launch vehicle (Falcon 9), the launch pad (LC-39A) and the operations capabilities.
  • The Commercial Crew Program:
    • The main objective of this program is to make access to space easier in terms of its cost, so that cargo and crew can be easily transported to and from the ISS, enabling greater scientific research.
    • Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA in September 2014 to develop transportation systems meant to transfer crew from the US to the ISS.
  • Significance of the program and the need for private participation:
    • By encouraging private companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to provide crew transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, NASA intends to focus on building spacecraft and rockets meant for deep space exploration missions.
Health:-

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)

  • Context:
    • Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) has fanned fear among the villagers and health officials of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown.
    • At least three children have reportedly died of the disease, locally known as chamki bukhar, in 2020.
  • About AES:
    • Acute encephalitis syndrome is a basket term used for referring to hospitals, children with clinical neurological manifestation that includes mental confusion, disorientation, convulsion, delirium, or coma.
    • Meningitis caused by virus or bacteria, encephalitis (mostly Japanese encephalitis) caused by a virus, encephalopathy, cerebral malaria, and scrub typhus caused by bacteria are collectively called acute encephalitis syndrome.
    • The disease most commonly affects children and young adults and can lead to considerable morbidity and mortality.
  • Symptoms:
    • It is characterized as acute-onset of fever and a change in mental status (mental confusion, disorientation, delirium, or coma) and/or new onset of seizures in a person of any age at any time of the year.
  • Cause of the disease:
    • Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) is considered a very complex disease as it can be caused by various agents including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and many other agents.
    • Viruses are the main causative agents in AES cases, although other sources such as bacteria, fungus, parasites, spirochetes, chemicals, toxins and noninfectious agents have also been reported over the past few decades.
    • Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is the major cause of AES in India (ranging from 5%-35%).
    • Nipah virus, Zika virus are also found as causative agents for AES.
  • How is it related to litchi fruits? How it affects?
    • In India, AES outbreaks in the north and eastern India have been linked to children eating unripe litchi fruit on empty stomachs.
    • Unripe fruit contains the toxins hypoglycin A and methylene-cyclopropyl glycine (MCPG), which cause vomiting if ingested in large quantities. Hypoglycin A is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the unripened litchi that causes severe vomiting (Jamaican vomiting sickness), while MCPG is a poisonous compound found in litchi seeds.
  • Why it affects undernourished children?
    • Blood glucose falls sharply causing severe brain malfunction (encephalopathy), leading to seizures and coma, and death in many cases.
    • This is because under-nourished children lack sufficient glucose reserve in the form of glycogen and the production of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources is blocked midway leading to low blood sugar levels.
    • This causes serious brain function derangement and seizures.
  • Measures needed:
    1. Increase access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.
    2. Improve the nutritional status of children at risk of JE/AES.
    3. Preparative measures to be in place before the possible outbreaks.
    4. Vector control.
    5. Better awareness generation among children, parents through Anganwadi workers, ANMs, etc

African Swine Fever (ASF)

  • Context:
    • Assam is gearing up to tackle African Swine Fever. Around 2,800 pigs have died in Assam since February due to the virus making the state the epicenter of ASF in India.
    • Citing swine fever, China bans pork imports from India.
  • Background:
    • ASF has been seen in other Asian countries as well. Most recently, the Philippines had to cull more than 7,000 pigs to arrest the spread of ASF.
  • About African Swine Fever (ASF):
    • ASF is a highly contagious and fatal animal disease that infects domestic and wild pigs, typically resulting in an acute form of hemorrhagic fever.
    • It was first detected in Africa in the 1920s.
    • The mortality is close to 100 percent, and since the fever has no cure, the only way to stop it spreading is by culling the animals.
    • ASF is not a threat to human beings since it only spreads from animals to other animals.
    • According to the FAO, “it's an extremely high potential for transboundary spread has placed all the countries in the region in danger and has raised the specter of ASF once more escaping from Africa. It is a disease of growing strategic importance for global food security and household income”.

Disease becomes endemic

  • Context:
    • The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that like HIV, the novel coronavirus could become endemic and “may never go away”, and urged for a “massive effort” to contain the spread of COVID-19.
  • What is an endemic disease?
    • According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a disease is endemic when its presence or usual prevalence in the population is constant.
    • In simple terms, the endemic disease is “the constant presence of a disease or infectious agent within a given a geographic area or population group; may also refer to the usual prevalence of a given disease within such an area or group.”
    • Some examples of endemics include chickenpox and malaria, where there are a predictable number of cases every year in certain parts of the world.
  • What happens when a disease becomes endemic?
    • When epidemics become endemic, they become “increasingly tolerated” and the responsibility of protecting against it shifts from the government to the individual.
    • Further, the sociopolitical response to the disease may also change, with investment in the disease becoming institutionalised along with the disease-inducing behavioral changes in people.
    • Once people become aware of the risks of infection, they will alter their behavior and mitigate the consequences.
  • Need for concern:
    • Epidemic diseases typically have higher mortality and morbidity than endemic diseases, owing to a lack of clinical experience and knowledge, as well as innate pathogenicity. Over time, effective prevention and treatment interventions emerge.
  • When does a disease become endemic?
    • One mathematical modeling published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health states that if R0, which is the rate at which the virus is transmitted is equal to 1, then the disease is endemic.
    • When R0>1, it implies that the cases are increasing and that the disease will eventually become an epidemic.
    • If R0<1, it implies the number of cases of the disease is decreasing.
    • Here, R0 refers to the number of people infected by a person who has the disease.

Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API)

  • Context:
    • The export of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) of paracetamol from the country is all set to resume with the Centre moving it out of the ‘restricted for export’ list.
    • About 40% of the paracetamol API manufactured in the country is consumed in the domestic market, while the rest is meant for exports.
  • What is an API?
    • Every medicine is made up of two main ingredients — the chemically active APIs and chemically inactive, excipients, which is a substance that delivers the effect of APIs to one’s system.
    • API is a chemical compound that is the most important raw material to produce a finished medicine. In medicine, API produces the intended effects to cure the disease. For instance, Paracetamol is the API for Crocin and it is the API paracetamol that gives relief from body ache and fever.
    • Fixed-dose combination drugs use multiple APIs, while single-dose drugs like Crocin use just one API.
  • How an API is manufactured?
    • API is not made by only one reaction from the raw materials but rather it becomes an API via several chemical compounds. The chemical compound which is in the process of becoming an API from raw material is called an intermediate.
    • There are some APIs that pass “through over ten kinds of intermediates in a process when it changes from being a raw material into an API”. The long manufacturing process is continued until it is purified and reaches a very high degree of purity.
  • What’s the concern for India now? How COVID 19 induced pandemic has affected?
    • Despite being a leading supplier of high-quality medicines to several countries, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is highly dependent on China for APIs.
    • In 2018-19 fiscal, the government had informed the Lok Sabha that the country’s drug-makers had imported bulk drugs and intermediates worth $ 2.4 billion from China.
    • But with a frequent lockdown due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, supplies of raw materials from China to produce drugs for treating HIV, cancer, epilepsy, malaria, and also commonly-used antibiotics and vitamin pills are likely to be hit.
  • How India lost its API market to China?
    • During the early 90s, India was self-reliant in manufacturing APIs.
    • However, with the rise of China as a producer of API, it captured the Indian market with cheaper products and it eventually led to high economies of scale for China.
    • China created a low-cost API manufacturing industry. The industry was backed by the low cost of capital followed by aggressive government funding models, tax incentives. Their cost of operation is one-fourth of India’s cost. Even the cost of finance in China is 6-7 percent against India’s 13-14 percent.
    • So, due to low-profit margins and non-lucrative industry, Indian pharma companies over the years stopped manufacturing APIs.
Corona/COVID:-

New COVID- 19 symptoms

  • Context:
    • Alongside common symptoms, a new study has talked about “unexplained” skin manifestations in Covid-19 patients. Researchers have described five clinical patterns, including the so-called ‘COVID toe’, that they observed in 19 percent of the cases examined.
  • In a new study, researchers were able to describe five major clinical patterns:
    1. Asymmetrical pseudo-chilblain lesions affecting the hands and feet. Over 19 percent of the cases showed such a manifestation.
    2. Nine percent of the cases presented with vesicular eruptions on the trunk and limbs.
    3. 19 percent presented with urticarial lesions, which can be characterised by itchy, swollen patches of different sizes on the skin.
    4. 47 percent presented with maculopapular rashes, which comprises flat skin lesions and raised bumps.
    5. Six percent of the cases presented with livedo or necrosis, which is characterised by the discoloration of the skin and may be caused due to disturbance in blood flow and reduced oxygen tension to the skin.
  • What are ‘COVID toe’ and chilblains?
    • It is a kind of rash being reported as a manifestation in some Covid-19 patients’ toes. The researchers have likened it to pseudo-chilblain lesions.
    • Chilblains are small, itchy, red patches that appear on the toes and fingers after a person has been exposed to the cold.
    • A person with chilblains may see their toes and fingers swell up and become red.
    • The condition occurs due to inflammation in the small blood vessels in the skin, a response to repeated exposure to cold air.
    • Chilblains usually clear up within one-three weeks on their own.

Silent hypoxia

  • Context:
    • Many Covid-19 patients have reported a condition called ‘silent’ or ‘happy’ hypoxia, in which patients have extremely low blood oxygen levels, yet do not show signs of breathlessness.
    • Many are now advocating for its early detection as a means to avoid a fatal illness called COVID pneumonia.
  • What is hypoxia?
    • Hypoxia is a condition wherein there is not enough oxygen available to the blood and body tissues.
    • Hypoxia can either be generalised, affecting the whole body, or local, affecting a region of the body.
    • Normal arterial oxygen is approximately 75 to 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low.
  • What is silent hypoxia?
    • It is a form of the oxygen deprivation that is harder to detect than regular hypoxia. Patients appear to be less in distress.
    • In many cases, Covid-19 patients with silent hypoxia did not exhibit symptoms such as shortness of breath or coughing until their oxygen fell to acutely low levels, at which point there was a risk of acute respiratory distress (ARDS) and organ failure.
  • What explains this phenomenon?
    • The reason why people are left feeling breathless is not because of the fall in oxygen levels itself, but due to the rise in carbon dioxide levels that occur at the same time, when lungs are not able to expel this gas efficiently. This response does not appear to be kicking in in some Covid-19 patients
    • This happens because in patients with COVID pneumonia, the virus causes air sacs to fall, leading to a reduction in levels of oxygen. However, the lungs initially do not become stiff or heavy with fluid and remain “compliant” — being able to expel carbon dioxide and avoiding its buildup. Thus, patients do not feel short of breath.

Ultraviolet germicidal radiation (UVGI)

  • Context:
    • Scientists are studying the use of ultraviolet germicidal radiation (UVGI) to detect Coronavirus in schools, restaurants, and other public places.
    • Through this method, ultraviolet (UV) lights would be able to disinfect contaminated public spaces to stop the transmission of the virus.
  • What is UV light?
    • UV light from the sun has shorter wavelengths than visible light and, therefore, is not visible to the naked eye.
    • The full spectrum of UV radiation is sourced from the sun and can be subdivided into UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C rays.
    • In this spectrum, UV-C rays are the most harmful and are completely absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • How it affects the human body?
    • While both UV-A and UV-B rays are harmful, exposure to UV-B rays can cause DNA and cellular damage in living organisms.
    • Increased exposure to it can cause cells to become carcinogenic, thereby increasing the risk of getting cancer.
  • So, how does UVGI work?
    • UVGI uses the “destructive properties” of UV light to target pathogens.
    • UVGI replicates UV wavelengths that disinfect contaminated spaces, air, and water.
    • UVGI lamps can also be installed in the corners of a room and alternatively, can be installed in air ducts of ventilation systems or portable or fixed air cleaners

RT-LAMP based test for Coronavirus

  • Context:
    • CSIR-IIIM & Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) to develop RT-LAMP based test for Coronavirus.
  • What is the Reverse Transcriptase-Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (RT-LAMP) test?
    • COVID-19 RT-LAMP test is a nucleic acid-based test carried out from nasal/throat swab samples from patients.
  • Benefits:
    • It is rapid (45-60 min), cost-effective, and accurate test.
    • The advantage of this test is that the RT-LAMP based COVID-19 kit components are easily available and these can be completely manufactured in India.
  • Difference between RT- PCR, and RT-LAMP:
    • While the current COVID-19 testing is done by real-time PCR their components are mostly imported. Further, these tests are expensive; they require highly trained manpower, costly instruments, and a relatively high-end lab and cannot be deployed at remote locations in quarantine centers, airports, and railway stations, etc.
    • On the other hand, the RT-LAMP test can be done in a single tube with minimal expertise in a very basic lab setup like mobile units/kiosks for testing at Airports, Railway Stations, Bus Stands, and other public places.
  • Significance:
    • With the formal launch of the RT-LAMP based diagnostic test, the COVID-19 testing will not only be more rapid, cheap, easy, and accessible but also would go a long way quickly isolating the infected individuals and mitigating the spread of the virus.

ATULYA

  • It is a cost-effective solution to disintegrate coronavirus.
  • This microwave sterilizer can be operated in portable or fixed installations and helps in disintegrating the virus by differential heating in the range of 56 to 60 Celsius temperatures.
  • Developed by Defence Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT), Pune.

eCovSens

  • About:
    • It is a biosensor that can detect the novel coronavirus in saliva samples.
    • It has been developed by researchers from the National Institute of Animal Biotechnology (NIAB), Hyderabad.
    • The device gives results within 30 seconds using just 20 microlitres of the sample.
  • How does it work?
    • The device consists of a carbon electrode and the coronavirus antibody. The antibody is capable of binding with the spike protein found on the outer layer of the virus. An electrical signal is generated when the antigen and antibody binds.

Special corona fee

  • The Delhi government has said it will charge a “special corona fee” on sale of alcohol. It will be 70% of the MRP (maximum retail price).
  • The tax will help in boosting the revenue, badly hit due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

COVID Kavach Elisa

  • Developed by National Institute of Virology, Pune.
  • It is India’s first indigenous antibody-based ELISA test kit for diagnosis of novel Corona Virus.
  • It can test around 90 samples in approximately two and a half hours. The technology has been transferred to pharmaceutical manufacturing companies for mass-scale production.

Defence Research Ultraviolet Sanitiser (DRUVS)

  • Developed by Hyderabad based Research Centre Imarat (RCI), a DRDO lab.
  • It is an automated contactless UVC sanitization cabinet.
  • It has been designed to sanitise mobile phones, iPads, laptops, currency notes, cheque leafs, chaplains, passbooks, paper, envelopes, etc.

CSIR approves project to develop 'hmAbs' that can neutralize SARSCoV-2 in patients

  • Approved by CSIR through its New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI) programme.
  • The project aims to generate hmAbs to SARS-CoV-2 from the convalescent phase of COVID-19 patients and select high affinity and neutralizing antibodies.
  • The project also aims to anticipate future adaptation of the virus and generate hmAbs clones that can neutralize the mutated virus so that it could be readily used for combating future SARS-CoV infections.
  • The project will be implemented by the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), IIT-Indore, and PredOmix Technologies Pvt. Ltd. with Bharat Biotech International Ltd. (BBIL) as the commercialization partner.

SwasthVayu

  • National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bangalore has developed BiPAP ventilator named SwasthVayu.
  • It is a non-invasive breathing support device, for the use of non-critical non-ICU cases of Covid-19.
  • BiPAP stands for Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure. It is a type of positive pressure ventilator.

Less invasive surfactant administration (LISA)

  • LISA has been developed as a lung-protective strategy for respiratory management and ventilation in view of mechanical ventilation causing damage to the preterm lungs of newborns.
  • Infants considered suitable for LISA are those being managed with primary continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or high flow with the evidence of increasing respiratory distress and with a rising oxygen requirement.
  • The regular application of LISA would turn out to be very useful and help save the lives of premature babies.

Agappe Chitra Magna

  • About:
    • It is a magnetic nanoparticle-based RNA extraction kit for use during testing for the detection of COVID-19.
    • Developed by Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) along with Agappe Diagnostics Ltd, an in vitro diagnostics manufacturing company based in Cochin.
    • The kit can be used for RNA extraction for RT-LAMP, RT-qPCR, RT-PCR and other isothermal and PCR based protocols for the detection of SARS-COV-2.
  • Significance:
    • Agappe Chitra Magna RNA Isolation Kit priced at around Rs. 150 per kit is expected to reduce the cost of testing and the country’s dependence on imported kits which cost around Rs 300.

Adenovirus COVID-19 vaccine

  • Context:
    • Phase-1 trial of this vaccine was found to be safe, well-tolerated, and able to generate immune responses against the virus.
  • About:
    • The phase-2 trial will be a randomised, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled trial.
    • It uses a recombinant adenovirus type-5 vector that carries the genetic material that codes for the spike the glycoprotein of the novel coronavirus.
    • The adenovirus is a weakened common cold virus.

FAITH trials

  • It is a new combination clinical trial called FAITH – (FA vipiravir plus Um I fenovir (efficacy and safety) Trial in Indian Hospital setting).
  • Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Will be conducting this study.
  • It involves a new randomized, open-label study to test the combined efficacy of two antiviral drugs — Favipiravir and Umifenovir — as a potential COVID-19 treatment strategy.
  • The two antiviral drugs have different mechanisms of action, and their combination may demonstrate
  • improved treatment efficacy by effectively tackling high viral loads in patients during early stages of the disease.
New Technology:-

National Technology Day

  • Context:
    • Since 1999, May 11 is celebrated as National Technology Day to mark India’s technological advancements.
    • This year, on behalf of the Ministry of Science & Technology, Technology Development Board (TBD) has organised a conference to celebrate the day. The theme of the conference is ‘Rebooting the Economy through Science, Technology, and Research Translations titled RESTART’.
  • Significance of the day:
    • On May 11, 1998, India detonated three nuclear bombs in the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range.
    • Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam leads the Indian team of scientists to successfully test-fire the Shakti-1 nuclear missile at Rajasthan’s Pokhran test range.
    • Two days later, the country successfully tested two more nuclear weapons as a part of the same PokhranII/Operation Shakti initiative. After these tests, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared India a nuclear state, making it the sixth country to join the 'nuclear club' of nations.
    • Hansa 3, India’s first indigenous aircraft was first tested on the same day in 1998 in Bangalore.
    • Successful test firing of Trishul, a short-range missile made in India, was also done on the same day.
  • Note:
    • India is currently among eight countries in the world that have a publicly known nuclear weapons programme.
    • In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test, codenamed “Smiling Buddha”, at Pokhran in Rajasthan.

Quantum entanglement

  • Context:
    • Researchers from Kolkata have developed a novel protocol to find out whether a pair of electrons are in an entangled state so that they can be safely used as resources for facilitating quantum information processing tasks. The protocol has been developed through theoretical and experimental analysis.
  • What is the protocol?
    • The theoretical idea is based on applying the fine-grained uncertainty relation to perform quantum steering.
    • The experiment uses an all-optical set-up in which entangled pairs of photons are created by laser light on Beta barium borate (BBO) crystals, a nonlinear optical crystal, used as laser crystal.
  • What is Quantum entanglement?
    • It is a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated.
    • It is the physical phenomenon that occurs when a pair or group of particles is generated, interact, in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the pair or group cannot be described independently of the state of the others.
  • Significance:
    • Quantum entanglement is one of the peculiarities of quantum mechanics, which makes phenomena such as quantum teleportation and super-dense coding possible.

ANtarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna or ANITA

  • Context:
    • The news that a NASA experiment has indicated the possibility of a parallel universe has created headlines across the world.
    • With this, ANtarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna or ANITA has suddenly come into the limelight as the cosmic-ray shower that is key to the new discovery was a part of NASA's ANITA and IceCube experiment taking place in Antarctica.
  • What is ANITA?
    • Designed by NASA, the ANITA instrument is a radio telescope that is used to detect ultra-high energy cosmic-ray neutrinos from a scientific balloon flying over Antarctica.
    • ANITA is the first NASA observatory for neutrinos of any kind.
    • It involves an array of radio antennas attached to a helium balloon that flies over the Antarctic ice sheet at 37,000 meters.
  • How many ANITAs?
    1. ANITA-I was launched from McMurdo, Antarctica in 2006.
    2. ANITA-II, a modified instrument with 40 antennas, was launched from McMurdo Station in 2008.
    3. ANITA-III, which was equipped with systems to improve sensitivity by a factor of 5–10, was launched in December 2014.
    4. ANITA-IV was launched in December 2016 and it was loaded with tunable notch filters and an improved trigger system.
  • Facts for Prelims:
    • The neutrinos have energies on the order of 1018 eV and they are capable of producing radio pulses in the ice because of the Askaryan effect.
  • What are neutrinos?
    • Neutrinos are high-energy particles that pose no threat to us and pass through most solid objects without anyone even noticing.
    • Neutrinos constantly bombard Earth and as per some estimates emerging from studies, 100 trillion neutrinos pass through your body every second.
  • Do they interact with matter?
    • Rarely do they interact with matter. But if they do smash into an atom, they produce a shower of secondary particles we can detect, which allows us to probe where they came from in the universe.

‘5G club’

  • Context:
    • The British government has approached the US with the prospect of creating a 5G club of 10 democracies, including India, amid growing security concerns related to Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
  • What’s the issue?
    1. This comes just months after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson granted Huawei a limited role in supplying kits for the UK’s 5G networks and capped its market share to 35 percent. Back then, the UK was one of those who stood out in the face of a US-led drive to ban Huawei from entering the 5G sector.
    2. But by the third week of May, the Johnson government came under increasing pressure from its own Conservative party members, who demanded that Huawei’s equipment should not be allowed in the UK’s 5G networks beyond 2023, owing to potential national security concerns.
    3. Following these demands, reports emerged the government was drawing up a plan to phase out Huawei from UK’s 5G networks in the next three years. Last week, a review was launched by the country’s intelligence chiefs, who would look into Huawei’s role in UK’s 5G plans.
  • Proposed D10 club of democratic partners:
    • It includes G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea, and India.
    • It will aim to create alternative suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China.
  • Implications:
    1. The key thrust behind this alliance is to allow more and more 5G equipment and technology providers to come up.
    2. At the same time, ensure that these new entrants belong to like-minded democratic regimes, thus alleviating any security concerns.
    3. The plan to form a democratic alliance in order to marginalise the Chinese tech giant Huawei comes at a time when there is a rising global backlash against China for its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
    4. There is also growing consensus among the British political class regarding resetting relations with Beijing, following the global pandemic and the havoc it has caused in the UK.
    5. Moreover, there has been a concerted effort by the US and several other countries to keep Huawei away from their countries’ 5G networks. These countries have raised concerns regarding potential surveillance and breach of their national security by China using the state-run Huawei.
  • Why this is the right time for 5G in India?
    • Data consumption:
      • India’s is the second-biggest smartphone market in the world, leading to a meteoritic rise in data consumption — from 20 million terabytes in 2017 to 55 million terabytes in 2019. India consumes more than 11 GB/user/month — the highest in the world.
    • Lower fiber penetration:
      • There is no practical way fiber connectivity can be enhanced quickly. This poses a serious challenge to the back-haul capacities of the macro towers.
    • Industry 4.0:
      • The Fourth Industrial Revolution (aka Industry 4.0) is powered by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, Edge Computing, which need 5G to be effective.
      • These, and such similar services, are required to raise additional revenue streams for the carriers which are already stressed with financial burdens.
    • Smart cities:
      • 5G powers the technology driving smart cities. As India moves ahead with its Smart City vision, it must leverage 5G to ensure that the underlying technology remains relevant for a longer time.
  • Way ahead:
    • Apart from creating a positive environment for 5G’s launch in India, the biggest issue GoI needs to resolve is to help telcos overcome the prevailing financial crisis.
    • The spectrum policy should focus on incentivising heavy investment in 5G, including support for long-term, exclusive, technology-neutral spectrum licences, instead of trying to look for financial windfall right away. GoI and operators should collaborate to create an ecosystem capable of leveraging 5G technology.
    • A favorable policy will indirectly enable advances in areas including employment, technology, and investment.
    • The shift from 4G to 5G is not incremental in nature, but transformational. Given what it means for the entire ecosystem, skipping it is not a choice India can afford.
  • What underlying technologies make up 5G?
    • 5G is based on OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing), a method of modulating a digital signal across several different channels to reduce interference. 5G uses a 5G NR air interface alongside OFDM principles. 5G also uses wider bandwidth technologies such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave.
    • The previous generations of mobile networks are 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.
      1. First-generation – 1G The 1980s:
        • 1G delivered analog voice.
      2. Second-generation – 2G Early 1990s:
        • 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access).
      3. Third generation – 3G Early 2000s:
        • 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).
      4. Fourth-generation – 4G LTE The 2010s:
        • 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband. 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G all led to 5G, which is designed to provide more connectivity than was ever available before.

Eventbot

  • Context:
    • The Computer Emergency Response of Team (CERT) of India has issued warning against a new malware called “EventBot”.
  • Key facts:
    • The malware steals personal financial information from Android phone users.
    • The Eventbolt is a Trojan. It cheats victims secretly attacking a computer or phone operating system.
    • It targets money-transfer services, financial applications.
  • What’s the Difference Between Malware, Trojan, Virus, and Worm?
    • Malware is defined as a software designed to perform an unwanted illegal act via the computer network. It could be also defined as software with malicious intent.
  • Malware can be classified based on how they get executed, how they spread, and/or what they do. Some of them are discussed below:
    1. Virus:
      • A program that can infect other programs by modifying them to include a possibly evolved copy of itself.
    2. Worms:
      • Disseminated through computer networks, unlike viruses, computer worms are malicious programs that copy themselves from system to system, rather than infiltrating legitimate files.
    3. Trojans:
      • Trojan or trojan horse is a program that generally impairs the security of a system. Trojans are used to create back-doors (a program that allows outside access into a secure network) on computers belonging to a secure network so that a hacker can have access to the secure network.
    4. Hoax:
      • An e-mail that warns the user of a certain system that is harming the computer. The message thereafter instructs the user to run a procedure (most often in the form of a download) to correct the harming system. When this program is run, it invades the system and deletes an important file.
    5. Spyware:
      • Invades a computer and, as its name implies, monitors a user’s activities without consent. Spywares are usually forwarded through unsuspecting e-mails with bonafide e-mail i.ds. Spyware continues to infect millions of computers globally.

Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs)

  • Context:
    • Integrated Battle Groups will soon be operational.
  • What are IBGs?
    • IBGs are brigade-sized, agile, self-sufficient combat formations, which can swiftly launch strikes against an adversary in case of hostilities.
    • Each IBG would be tailor-made based on Threat, Terrain, and Task, and resources will be allotted based on the three Ts.
  • Their structure:
    • They need to be light so they will be low on logistics and they will be able to mobilise within 12-48 hrs based on the location.
    • An IBG operating in a desert needs to be constituted differently from an IBG operating in the mountains.
    • The IBGs will also be defensive and offensive. While the offensive IBGs would quickly mobilize and make a thrust into enemy territory for strikes, defensive IBGs would hold ground at vulnerable points or where enemy action is expected. The composition of the IBGs would also depend on this.
  • Significance:
    • This is one of the major reorganization plans of the Indian Army with the aim of enhancing command efficiency and the capacities for rapid response and coordinated operations.

Miscellaneous

Exercise And Operation:

Exercise Name:  Operation:

Mission Sagar

  • Context:
    • India has launched Mission Sagar to assist island nations in the Eastern Indian Ocean.
    • About Mission Sagar:
    • Mission Sagar has been launched as part of the government’s outreach initiative towards five Island nations in the Indian Ocean amidst the ongoing COVID-19.
    • Under the mission, Indian Naval Ship Kesari has departed for Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Comoros, to provide food Items, COVID-related medicines including HCQ tablets and special Ayurvedic medicines with medical assistance teams.
    • Also, as part of the mission, INS Kesari would enter the Port of Male in the Republic of Maldives, to provide them 600 tons of food provisions.
  • Significance of the mission:
    • This deployment as ‘Mission Sagar’ is in line with India’s role as the first responder in the region and builds on the excellent relations existing between these countries to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant difficulties.
    • The deployment is in consonance with the Prime Ministers’ vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region ‘SAGAR’ promulgated in March 2015.
    • SAGAR highlights the importance accorded by India to relations with her neighboring countries and further strengthens the existing bond.
Operation Warp Speed
  • It is a public-private partnership, initiated by the Federal Government of the United States, to facilitate and accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
  • It is an interagency program that includes components of the Department of Health, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health, and private firms.
Operation Samudra Setu
  • Indian Navy has launched Operation Samudra Setu – meaning Sea Bridge, as a part of national effort to repatriate Indian citizens from overseas.
  • Indian Naval Ships Jalashwa and Magar are present en route to Malè in the Maldives to commence evacuation operations as part of Phase-1.
  • A total of one thousand persons are planned to be evacuated during the first trip.

Shekatkar committee

  • Context:
    • Union Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh recently approved the abolition of 9,304 posts in the military engineering services. The posts were abolished based on the recommendation of the Shekatar Committee.
  • Implications:
    • This step of the abolition of around 9000 posts of basic and industrial staff will lead to significant savings. Almost 70% of the budget is used for payment of salaries and allowances and leaves very little money for actual infrastructural development.
  • Background:
    • Shekatkar Committee was tasked with suggesting steps to enhance the combat capability of the armed forces.
  • Measures, as recommended by the Committee and taken up for implementation, include:
    1. Optimization of Signal Establishments to include Radio Monitoring Companies, Corps Air Support Signal Regiments, Air Formation Signal Regiments, Composite Signal Regiments and merger of Corps Operating and Engineering Signal Regiments.
    2. Restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include Base Workshops, Advance Base Workshops, and Static / Station Workshops in the field Army.
    3. Redeployment of Ordnance echelons to include Vehicle Depots, Ordnance Depots, and Central Ordnance Depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms.
    4. Better utilization of Supply and Transportation echelons and Animal Transport Units.
    5. Closure of Military Farms and Army Postal Establishments in peace locations.
    6. Enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army.
    7. Improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps.
Detailed Coverage:https://samajho.com/upsc/abolition-of-posts-in-mes-shekatkar-committee/

Defence Testing Infrastructure Scheme (DTIS)

  • Context:
    • To give a boost to domestic defence and aerospace manufacturing, the government has approved the launch of Defence Testing Infrastructure Scheme (DTIS) with an outlay of Rs 400 crore for creating a state of the art testing infrastructure for this sector.
  • Key facts:
    • It envisages setting up six to eight new test facilities in partnership with private industry. This will facilitate indigenous defence production, consequently, reduce imports of military equipment and help make the country self-reliant.
    • The projects under the Scheme will be provided with up to 75% government funding in the form of ‘Grant-in-Aid’.
    • The remaining 25% of the project cost will have to be borne by the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) whose constituents will be Indian private entities and State Governments. The SPVs under the Scheme will be registered under Companies Act 2013 and shall also operate and maintain all assets under The scheme, in a self-sustainable manner by collecting user charges.
    • While the majority of test facilities are expected to come up in the two Defence Industrial Corridors (DICs), the Scheme is not limited to setting up Test Facilities in the DICs only

China's central bank digital currency

  • Context:
    • China, which seeks to be the first major economy to launch a digital currency, is to trial a digital yuan in four urban areas – including payments of local government employees’ transportation subsidies. e- RMB:
      1. The digital currency – known as the e-RMB – “will not be issued in large amounts” for public use in the short term, and the digital currency in circulation would “not lead to an inflation surge”.
      2. Initially, it will be tested in three major cities of Shenzhen, Suzhou, and Chengdu.
      3. People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the country’s central bank, will be the sole issuer of the digital yuan, initially offering the digital money to commercial banks and other operators.
      4. The public would be able to convert money in their bank accounts to the digital version and make deposits via electronic wallets.
  • Significance and potential of the project:
    • China’s Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) project – as the country’s progress towards a digital yuan is known – began in 2014.
    • Central banks around the world are assessing the feasibility of launching their own digital currencies – so-called ‘central bank digital currencies’ (CBDCs).
    • The interest in CBDCs is being driven by factors including declining cash use and plans for privately owned ‘stablecoins’, such as Facebook’s proposed Libra.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

  • Context:
    • The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has released fresh guidelines for restarting manufacturing and chemical industries after the lockdown period ends.
    • It has issued guidelines on Chemical Disasters, 2007, Management of Chemical (Terrorism) Disasters, 2009, and the Strengthening of Safety and Security For Transportation of POL Tankers, 2010.
  • Concerns:
    • Due to several weeks of lockdown and the closure of industrial units, it is possible that some of the operators might not have followed the established SOP. As a result, some of the manufacturing facilities, pipelines, valves, etc. may have residual chemicals, which may pose risk. The same is true for storage facilities with hazardous chemicals and flammable materials.
  • About NDMA:
    • On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, which envisaged the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
    • It is headed by the Prime Minister.
    • State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers, to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.
    • NDMA, as the apex body, is mandated to lay down the policies, plans, and guidelines for Disaster Management to ensure a timely and effective response to disasters.
  • It has the following responsibilities:
    1. Lay down policies on disaster management.
    2. Approve the National Plan.
    3. Approve plans prepared by the Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan.
    4. Lay down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities in drawing up the State Plan.
    5. Lay down guidelines to be followed by the different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India for the purpose of integrating the measures for prevention of disaster or the mitigation of its effects in their development plans and projects.
    6. Coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the policy and plans for disaster management.
    7. Recommend the provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation.
    8. Provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central Government.
    9. Take such other measures for the prevention of disaster, or mitigation, or preparedness, and capacity building for dealing with threatening disaster situations or disasters as it may consider necessary.
    10. Lay down broad policies and guidelines for the functioning of the National Institute of Disaster Management.

Thikri pehra

  • It is community policing practiced in Punjab and Haryana.
  • The tradition made a comeback after more than two decades — communities guarded their villages in the aftermath of terrorist movement and when the infamous Kala Kachcha gang gave locals sleepless nights years ago.

World Press Freedom Day 2020

  • World Press Freedom Day popularly known as World Press Day is one of the calendar events planned, organised and promoted by the United Nations,and is observed annually on May 3.
  • The day is celebrated to raise awareness regarding the importance of freedom of the press. The day is reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
  • The theme of World Press Freedom Day 2020, “Journalism without Fear or Favour” and the sub-themes for this year are:
    1. Safety of Women and Men Journalists and Media Workers.
    2. Independent and Professional Journalism free from Political and Commercial Influence.
    3. Gender Equality in All Aspect of the Media.
  • The day of May 3 also marks the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. The Declaration is a statement of press freedom principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991. It was a landmark document that set the stage for the development of the African media.

World Press Freedom Conference 2020

  • Since 1993, the Global Conference is organized annually.
  • The conference provides an opportunity for journalists, civil society representatives, national authorities, academics, and the broader public to discuss emerging challenges to press freedom and journalists' safety and to work together on identifying solutions.
  • The Netherlands is the host for 2020. Due to Covid-19 a global pandemic the conference is now scheduled for October 18 to 20 at the same venue.
  • The conference will be a joint celebration of World Press Freedom Day (May 3) and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (November 2)

Places in News

 

Place in News: Why In News, And Some Information About the Place:

Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary

  • Context:
    • Concerns have been expressed over the diversion of 98.59 hectares land of Saleki proposed reserve forest, which is a part of the Dehing Patkai elephant reserve, for a coal-mining project in Upper Assam.
  • About:
    • The reserve is located in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts of Assam.
    • The Dehing Patkai forms the largest stretch of tropical lowland rainforests in India.
    • Ethnic groups living in the area include the indigenous Assamese communities, particularly Tai Phake, Khamyang, Khampti, Singpho, Nocte, Ahom, Kaibarta, Moran and Motok, Burmese, and nonindigenous Nepali people.

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

  • Context:
    • Egypt has objected to the construction of this dam and in Sudan has found itself caught in the midst of this conflict. Due to the importance of the Nile as a necessary water source in the region, observers are concerned that this dispute may evolve into a full-fledged conflict between the two nations. The US has stepped in to mediate.
  • LOCATION:
    • Benishangul-Gumuz region, Ethiopia.
    • Formerly known as the Millennium Dam, it is under construction in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, on the Blue Nile River, which is located about 40km east of Sudan.
    • After completion, it’ll be Africa’s largest.

Jubaland

  • It is an autonomous region in southern Somalia.
  • Its eastern border lies 40–60 km east of the Jubba River, stretching from Gedo to the Indian Ocean, while its western side flanks the North Eastern Province in Kenya, which was carved out of Jubaland during the colonial period.
  • Its largest city is Kismayo, which is situated on the coast near the mouth of the Jubba River

Dibang Multipurpose Project (MPP)

  • Context:
    • Forest Advisory Committee has once again deferred its decision on Dibang project in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • The project has been delayed for over six years because it required diverting 1,165 Aboyhectares of forest in a region of rich biodiversity
  • About:
    • It is envisaged as a storage-based hydro-electric project with flood moderation as the key objective.
    • This is the largest ever Hydro Electric Project to be constructed in India. The dam is 278 metres high and will be the highest dam in India once completed.
    • The Project is located on river Dibang, in Lower Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh.

Quinine Nongladew

  • It is a village in Meghalaya.
  • It is named after the alkaloid quinine extracted from the bark of cinchona, a plant belonging to the Rubiaceae family, and classified as either a large shrub or a small tree.
  • The place was called Quinine because of the plantation.

MONTENEGRO

  • Montenegro is the first country in Europe to declare itself coronavirus-free.
  • Montenegro is a country of South and Southeast Europe on the coast of the Balkans.
  • It borders Bosnia-Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east, Albania to the southeast, the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, and Croatia to the west.

Interahamwe militia

  • It is a far-right Hutu paramilitary organization active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.
  • Formed around 1990 as the youth wing of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND according to its French name), the then-ruling party of Rwanda.
  • The Interahamwe were the main perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi, Twa, and moderate Hutus were killed from April to July 1994, and the term “Interahamwe” was widened to mean any civilian bands killing Tutsi.
  •  

 

Index in News

 

Name of the Index: Publishing Authority: Performance and Facts:

National Index

Report on the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP)
 
  • Context:
    • The task force headed by Atanu Chakraborty on National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) has submitted its final report to the Finance Minister.
  • Important recommendations and observations made:
    1. Investment needed: ₹111 lakh crore over the next five years (2020-2025) to build infrastructure projects and drive economic growth.
    2.  Energy, roads, railways, and urban projects are estimated to account for the bulk of projects (around 70%).
    3. The center (39 percent) and state (40 percent) are expected to have an almost equal share in implementing the projects, while the private sector has a 21 percent share.
    4. The aggressive push towards asset sales.
    5. Monetization of infrastructure assets.
    6. Setting up of development finance institutions.
    7. Strengthening the municipal bond market.
  • The task force has recommended setting up of the following three committees:
    1. Committee to monitor NIP progress and eliminate delays
    2. Steering Committee at each Infrastructure ministry level to follow up on the implementation process
    3. Steering Committee in DEA for raising financial resources for the NIP.
International Index
Global Nutrition Report

The Global Nutrition Report was conceived following the first Nutrition for Growth Initiative Summit (N4G) in 2013 as a mechanism for tracking the commitments made by 100 stakeholders spanning governments, aid donors, civil society, the UN, and businesses.

  • Context:
    • Global Nutrition Report 2020 has been released.
    • The Global Nutrition Report was conceived following the first Nutrition for Growth Initiative Summit (N4G) in 2013 as a mechanism for tracking the commitments made by 100 stakeholders spanning governments, aid donors, civil society, the UN, and businesses.
  • Where does India stand?
    • India is among 88 countries that are likely to miss global nutrition targets by 2025. India is also the country with the highest rates of domestic inequalities in malnutrition.
    • India is identified as among the three worst countries, along with Nigeria and Indonesia, for steep within-country disparities on stunting, where the levels varied four-fold across communities.
    • India will miss targets for all four nutritional indicators for which there is data available, i.e. stunting among under-5 children, anemia among women of reproductive age, childhood overweight, and exclusive breastfeeding.
      • Underweight in India:
        • Between 2000 and 2016, rates of underweight have decreased from 66.0% to 58.1% for boys and 54.2% to 50.1% in girls. However, this is still high compared to the average of 35.6% for boys and 31.8% for girls in Asia.
      • Stunted and wasted:
        • 37.9% of children under 5 years are stunted and 20.8% are wasted, compared to the Asia average of 22.7% and 9.4% respectively.
      • Anemia:
        • One in two women of reproductive age is anaemic, while at the same time the rate of overweight and obesity continues to rise, affecting almost a fifth of the adults, at 21.6% of women and 17.8% of men.
  • Global Nutrition Targets:
    • In 2012, the World Health Assembly identified six nutrition targets for maternal, infant, and young childnutrition to be met by 2025.
UNICEF “Lost at Home” report UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • Context:
    • UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has published a report named UN the “Lost at Home” report.
  • Key findings:
    • Almost 33 million new displacements were recorded in 2019 — around 25 million were due to natural disasters and 8.5 million as a consequence of conflict and violence.
  • There were 12 million new displacements of children in 2019:
    1. Around 3.8 million of them caused by conflict and violence, and 8.2 million, due to disasters linked mostly to weather-related events.
    2. Natural disasters resulted in more new displacements than conflict and violence. Almost 10 million new displacements in 2019 were recorded in East Asia and the Pacific (39 %) — and almost the same number in South Asia (9.5 million).
    3. Coronavirus intensifying suffering: Camps or informal settlements are often overcrowded, and lack adequate hygiene and health services. Physical distancing is often not possible, creating conditions that are highly conducive to the spread of disease.
    4. Risks internally displaced children face include child labour, child marriage, trafficking.
    5. The largest number of internally displaced children due to conflict is found in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and sub-Saharan Africa. Internally displaced persons are concentrated in two regions — the Middle East and North Africa and West and Central Africa.
  • India and neighbours:
    • More than five million people were internally displaced in India due to natural disasters, conflict, and violence in 2019, constituting the highest number of new internal displacements in the world during the period followed by the Philippines, Bangladesh, and China.
    • India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and China accounted for 69% of global disaster-induced displacements.
    • These were overwhelmingly caused by extreme conditions created by dangerous storms and floods.
Open budget survey  International Budget Partnership (IBP)
  • Context:
    • The report of an Open budget survey, conducted by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), has been released.
    • The Open Budget Survey is part of the International Budget Partnership's Open Budget Initiative, global research, and advocacy program to promote public access to budget information and the adoption of accountable budget systems.
  • How are the countries ranked?
    1. The open budget survey has been covering 117 countries. It rates the level of transparency in budget across nations on a scale of 0-100.
    2. The rating of the countries by the survey is based on various normative and internationally comparable indicators.
    3. The survey evaluates each country on the basis of the availability of eight key budget documents of the Central or Federal government. The survey assesses whether these documents are made public and whether they provide comprehensive information or not.
  • Highlights of the survey:
    1. India is placed at 53rd position among 117 nations in terms of budget accountability and transparency.
    2. IBP has provided a transparency score of 49 out of 100 to India’s Union budget process. The provided score to India is higher than the global average score of 45.
    3. As per the survey, India has performed well in timely publishing and providing relevant information in the audit reports and in year reports. It has scored well and higher than in many other countries.
    4. Other developing countries, with an exception to China, have scored much higher transparency scores in comparison to India.
  • Suggestions made by IBP survey for India:
    1. Provide adequate space for public participation in budgets.
    2. Before the annual budget is presented, the Union government should publish a pre-budget statement that can be scrutinised by the legislatures as well as by the public.
  • What is Budget Transparency?
    • Budget transparency refers to the extent and ease with which citizens can access information about and provide feedback on government revenues, allocations, and expenditures. Budgets are key documents since they layout a government’s priorities in terms of policies and programs. Opening up budgets is the first step
    •  toward democratizing the budget process and giving citizens a say in policy formulation and resource allocation.
Global Energy Transition index World Economic Forum
  • Context:
    • World Economic Forum has released its global Energy Transition index.
  • What is ETI?
    • The Energy Transition Index (ETI) is a fact-based ranking intended to enable policy-makers and businesses to plot the course for a successful energy transition.
    • The benchmarking of energy systems is carried out annually across countries. Part of the World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition initiative, it builds on its predecessor, the Energy Architecture Performance Index.
    • The ETI does not only benchmark countries on their current energy system performance, but also provides a forward-looking lens as it measures their readiness for the energy transition.
  • Performance of India:
    • India has moved up two places to rank 74th.
    • It has shown improvements in all key parameters of economic growth, energy security, and environmental sustainability.
    • Gains have come from a government-mandated renewable energy expansion programme, now extended to 275 GW by 2027.
    • India has also made significant strides in energy efficiency through bulk procurement of LED bulbs, smart meters, and programs for labeling of appliances.
    • India is one of the few countries in the world to have made consistent year-on-year progress since 2015.
    • India’s improvements have come across all three dimensions of the energy triangle — economic development and growth, energy access and security, and environmental sustainability.
  • Performance of other countries:
    • Sweden has topped the Energy Transition Index (ETI) for the third consecutive year and is followed by Switzerland and Finland in the top three.
    • The US ranks outside the top 25 percent for the first time, primarily due to the uncertain regulatory outlook for the energy transition.
    • The results for 2020 show that 75 percent of countries have improved their environmental sustainability. This progress is a result of multifaceted, incremental approaches, including pricing carbon, retiring coal plants ahead of schedule, and redesigning electricity markets to integrate renewable energy sources.
  • COVID-19 has unleashed cascading effects in real-time:
    • The erosion of almost a third of global energy demand
    • Unprecedented oil price volatilities and subsequent geopolitical implications
    • Delayed or stalled investments and projects
    • Uncertainties over the employment prospects of millions of energy-sector workers
  • What does an effective energy transition look like?
    • The effective energy transition is timely, inclusive, sustainable, affordable, and secure. It provides solutions to global energy-related challenges while creating value for business and society, without compromising the balance of the energy triangle.
 Research & Development (R&D) Statistics and Indicators 2019-20 report
National Science and Technology Management Information (NSTMIS), Department of Science and Technology (DST)
  • Context:
    • R&D Statistics and Indicators 2019-20 is based on the national S&T survey 2018 brought out by the National Science and Technology Management Information (NSTMIS), Department of Science and Technology (DST).
  • Background:
    • The report captures the R&D landscape of the country through various Input-Output S&T Indicators in the form of Tables and graphs. These pertain to Investments in national R&D, R&D investments by Government and Private sector; R&D relationship with the economy (GDP), Enrolment of S&T personnel, Manpower engaged in R&D, Outrun of S&T personnel, papers published, patents, and their international S&T comparisons.
  • Key findings:
    1. India’s gross expenditure in R&D has tripled between 2008 & 2018 driven mainly by the Govt sector and scientific publications have risen placing the country internationally among the top few.
    2. With the rise in publication, the country is globally at the 3rd position on this score as per the NSF database, 3rd in the number of Ph.D. in science & engineering.
    3. The number of researchers per million population has doubled since 2000. It has increased to 255 in 2017 from 218 in 2015 and 110 in 2000.
    4. Women's participation in extramural R&D projects has increased significantly to 24% in 2016-17 from 13% in 2000-01 due to various initiatives are undertaken by the Government in the S&T sector.
    5. India’s per capita R&D expenditure has increased to PPP $ 47.2 in 2017-18 from PPP $ 29.2 in 2007-08.
    6. India spent 0.7% of its GDP on R&D in 2017-18, while the same among other developing BRICS countries were Brazil 1.3%, Russian Federation 1.1%, China 2.1%, and South Africa 0.8%.
    7. India is ranked at 9th position in terms of Resident Patent Filing activity in the world.
    8. According to WIPO, India’s Patent Office stands at the 7th position among the top 10 Patent Filing Offices in the world.
 Global Energy Review 2020 report
International Energy Agency (IEA)
  • Context:
    • International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its Global Energy Review 2020 report.
  • Key findings:
    1. Global energy demand is projected to fall by six percent in 2020.
    2. This will be the steepest decline in percentage terms in 70 years and the largest ever in absolute terms.
    3. All fuels except renewables are set to experience their greatest contractions in demand for decades.
    4. The projected 6% decline would be more than seven times the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on global energy demand, reversing the growth of global energy demand over the last five years.
    5. According to the report, advanced economies will experience the greatest declines in energy demand in 2020.
    6. In India, energy demand would decline for the first time, following on from low demand growth in 2019.
    7. Global oil demand in 2020 is projected to drop by 9 percent or 9 million barrels per day on an average across the year, returning oil consumption to 2012 levels.
    8. Global coal demand is projected to decline by 8 percent, in large part because electricity demand will be nearly 5 percent lower over the course of the year.
    9. Global Electricity Demand has been declined by 20% during periods of full lockdown in several countries. However, residential demand is outweighed by reductions in commercial and industrial operations.
  • What next?
    • According to IEA, if lockdowns are shorter and the global recovery is more rapid, the decline in global energy demand across 2020 could be limited to 3.8 percent, which is still four times the decline during the global financial crisis.
ICUBE 2019 report on digital adoption 
Kantar
  • Context:
    • Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights, and consulting company released its ICUBE 2019 report on digital adoption and usage trends in India.
    • The annual tracking study; considered to be the currency for digital adoption in the country, gauges the changing digital ecosystem in India, measuring Internet usage by demographic, activity, and device segments.
  • Key findings:
    1. Estimated at 574 million, the number of monthly active Internet users has registered an annual growth of 24% indicating an overall penetration of 41%.
    2. The report projects 11% growth for 2020; estimates 639 million monthly active Internet users.
    3. All monthly active Internet users use a mobile phone as one of the devices to access the Internet.
    4. About 84% of users access the Internet for entertainment purposes.
    5. At 38%, the school-going children segment in the age group of 15 years or below has shown promising growth in internet usage. Access to information and education, social media, gaming, and entertainment, especially, Sports, are driving the adoption.
    6. Content is the king and is driving the surge in daily internet usage.
    7. India’s digital revolution continues to be propelled by the rural masses — Rural India registered a 45% growth in the monthly active internet users in 2019. It is now estimated that there are 264 million internet users in rural India, and this is expected to reach 304 million in 2020.
  • Factors responsible for this growth:
    1. The convenience of content available across devices and on the go low-cost Internet service resulted in significant growth in the entertainment consumption in the last year. This is expected to continue in 2020 too, especially in view of the lockdown.
    2.  Local language and video are the underlying factors for the internet boom in rural

Schemes in News

 

 

Scheme: Concerned Ministry : Features:
One Nation-One Ration Card scheme Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution
  • Context:
    • Five more States join ration card portability. Bihar, Punjab, UP, Himachal, and Daman and Diu have been integrated with the 'one nation, one ration card' scheme.
    • About 60 crore beneficiaries from 17 states and UTs can benefit from the ration card portability and they can purchase the subsidised foodgrains using the existing ration cards.
  • About the scheme:
    • One Nation One Ration Card (RC) will ensure all beneficiaries especially migrants can access PDS across the nation from any PDS shop of their own choice.
  • Benefits:
    • No poor person is deprived of getting subsidised foodgrains under the food security scheme when they shift from one place to another. It also aims to remove the chance of anyone holding more than one ration card to avail benefits from different states.
  • Significance:
    • This will provide freedom to the beneficiaries as they will not be tied to anyone PDS shop and reduce their dependence on shop owners and curtail instances of corruption.
  • The standard format of 'one nation, one ration card':
    • A standard format for the ration card has been prepared after taking into account the format used by different states.
    • For national portability, the state governments have been asked to issue the ration card in the bi-lingual format, wherein besides the local language, the other language could be Hindi or English.
    • The states have also been told to have a 10-digit standard ration card number, wherein the first two digits will be state code and the next two digits will be running ration card numbers.
    • Besides this, a set of other two digits will be appended with ration card numbers to create unique member IDs for each member of the household in a ration card.
Prime Minister’s Research Fellows Scheme Ministry of Human Resource Development
  • Context:
    • Union HRD Minister announces modifications in PMRF Scheme to boost research in the country. The modifications will enable more students to avail of the benefit under the PMRF scheme.
  • Changes and Implications:
    1. Now for the students from any recognised institute/ university (other than IISc/ IITs/NITs/IISERs/IIEST/CF IIITs), the requirement of the GATE Score is reduced to 650 from 750 apart from minimum CGPA of 8 or equivalent.
    2. Now, there will be two channels of entries, direct entry, and lateral entry.
    3. Under the lateral entry, candidates pursuing a Ph.D. in any PMRF granting institution can apply for the PMRF scheme if he/she satisfies certain conditions, as prescribed.
    4. To boost research a dedicated Division is being created in the ministry with the name of “Research and Innovation Division”. This division will be headed by a director who will be coordinating the research work of various institutions coming under MHRD.
  • About PMRF:
    • The scheme was announced in the Budget 2018-19. The institutes which can offer PMRF include all the IITs, all the IISERs, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and some of the top Central Universities/NITs that offer science and/or technology degrees.
  • Aim:
    • To attract the talent pool of the country to doctoral (Ph.D.) programs of Indian Institutes of Technology
    • (IITs) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) for carrying out research in cutting edge science and technology domains, with a focus on national priorities.
  • Selection:
    • Candidates are selected for the fellowship through a rigorous selection process.
    • For direct entry, applicants are judged on metrics including research exposure, publications, performance in international academic competitions, grades, and recommendation letters.
    • For lateral entry, the metrics are a strong research proposal, publications record, and grades. Due weightage will also be given to publication in reputed journals/conferences.
Scheme for Formalization of Micro food processing Enterprises (FME) UNION CABINET
  • Context:
    • The Union Cabinet has given its approval to a new Centrally Sponsored Scheme – “Scheme for Formalization of Micro food processing Enterprises (FME)” for the Unorganized Sector on All India basis.
  • Objectives:
    1. Increase in access to finance by micro food processing units.
    2. Increase in revenues of target enterprises.
    3. Enhanced compliance with food quality and safety standards.
    4. Strengthening capacities of support systems.
    5. The transition from the unorganized sector to the formal sector.
    6. Special focus on women entrepreneurs and Aspirational districts.
    7. Encourage Waste to Wealth activities.
    8. Focus on minor forest produce in Tribal Districts.
  • Salient features:
    • Centrally Sponsored Scheme. Expenditure to be shared by the Government of India and States at 60:40. 2,00,000 micro-enterprises are to be assisted with credit linked subsidy. Micro enterprises will get credit-linked subsidy at 35 percent of the eligible project cost with a ceiling of Rs. 10 lakh.
    • The beneficiary contribution will be a minimum of 10 percent and a balance from the loan. Seed capital will be given to SHGs (Rs. four lakh per SHG) for a loan to members for working capital and small tools.
    • The scheme will be implemented over a 5-year period from 2020-21 to 2024-25.
  • Administrative and Implementation Mechanisms:
    • The Scheme would be monitored at Centre by an Inter-Ministerial Empowered Committee (IMEC) under the Chairmanship of Minister, FPI.
    • A State/ UT Level Committee (SLC) chaired by the Chief Secretary will monitor and sanction/ recommend proposals for expansion of micro-units and setting up of new units by the SHGs/ FPOs/ Cooperatives.
    • The States/ UTs will prepare Annual Action Plans covering various activities for implementation of the scheme, which will be approved by the Government of India.
    • A third-party evaluation and mid-term review mechanism would be built in the programme.
    • The national-level portal would be set-up wherein the applicants/ individual enterprise could apply to participate in the Scheme. All the scheme activities would be undertaken on the National portal.
  • Benefits of the scheme:
    • Nearly eight lakh micro-enterprises will benefit through access to information, better exposure, and formalization.
    • It will enable them to formalize, grow, and become competitive.
    • The project is likely to generate nine lakh skilled and semi-skilled jobs.
    • The scheme envisages increased access to credit by existing micro food processing entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs in the Aspirational Districts.
    • Better integration with organized markets.
    • Increased access to common services like sorting, grading, processing, packaging, storage, etc.



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