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Current Affairs – 2 January 2021

Expert panel gives the go-ahead for Covishield

GS 2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health

CONTEXT:

  1. A subject expert committee (SEC) of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approved Covishield, the vaccine candidate from the Pune based Serum Institute of India.

ABOUT:

  1. Moreover, Bharat Biotech has been asked to furnish more data demonstrating the efficacy of its candidate, Covaxin.
  2. The SEC gives its recommendation to the DCGI which is the approving authority for drugs and vaccines.
  3. The recommendation is enormously significant, as it paves the way for India to get its first vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
  4. Covishield is similar to the ‘Oxford vaccine’ that is developed by the Oxford University vaccine group and marketed by Astra Zeneca.
    • ‘Oxford vaccine’ was recently approved by the health regulator in the U.K. under emergency use conditions.Under this,the company is allowed to deploy its vaccines to priority groups and then the larger public, even though a full safety assessment hasn’t been completed.
  1. The Union Ministry of Health of India has also introduced an elaborate communication strategy.
    • The idea is to make sure that the information on the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination process reaches all people, across all States in the country. The strategy also seeks to build trust and enable greater confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine amongst all people by employing transparency incommunication, while also managing any mis/disinformation and rumours around it.

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

 

PM unveils project for affordable housing

GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

CONTEXT:

  1. Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of six Light House Projects in six cities as part of the Global Housing Technology Challenge India (GHTC-India) initiative.

ABOUT:

  1. Aim: To build around 1,000 houses each in Indore(Madhya Pradesh), Rajkot (Gujarat), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Agartala (Tripura) and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) over a period of 12 months.
  2. Modern construction practices from countries such as France, Germany and Canada would be adopted.
  3. The GHTC provided the scope for incubating new technologies for construction and innovation, and called upon planners, architects and students to visit the project sites, learn from the technologies, and mould them for use in accordance with the local requirements.
  4. Moreover, another major initiative— the Central rental housing complex project —was conceived last year, for migrant labourers. The project was being implemented in coordination with industrialists and other investors.

Source: The Hindu

 

India seeks action for attack on Pak. Temple

GS 2:India and its neighborhood- relations

CONTEXT:

  1. Recently, Karak Hindu Temple was demolished by a mob in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

ABOUT:

  1. This is the second time since 1997 that the Karak temple had been demolished.
  2. This time India has expressed “serious concerns” over this vandalisation, and called upon the Pakistan government to take “strict action” against those responsible.
  3. Despite ongoing tensions over the temple attack and increasing ceasefire violations at the Line of Control,India and Pakistan continued traditional exchanges of information on New Year’s Day according to previously signed agreements.Both countries exchanged lists of nuclear installation and facilities and others.

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

 

In 2020, RS saw lowest number of sittings ever

GS 2: Parliament structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these

CONTEXT:

  1. The government refused to call the winter session of Parliament, and the Rajya Sabha sat for just 33 days in 2020, its lowest ever tally of sittings in a year.

ABOUT:

  1. The Budget and the monsoon sessions had to be cut short due to COVID-19.
    • The Budget session was reduced from 31 sittings to 23 sessions.
    • Similarly, the monsoon session was reduced from 18 sittings to 10 sittings amid strict restrictions, as the number of COVID-19 positive cases among parliamentarian sand the supporting staff increased.
  1. There are only three other occasions when the Rajya Sabha met for fewer than 50 sittings in a year — 48 in 1999 and 46 each in 2004 and 2008.
  2. The last time the winter session was cancelled was 36 years ago in 1984 after other two other instances in 1979 and 1975.

‘PRODUCTIVITY NOT HIT’

  1. As per an analysis by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, the limited number of sittings did not hurt the productivity.During the year 2020, the annual productivity has been 82.7%, the highest annual productivity during the last 11 years.
  2. A total of 39 Bills have been passed by the House during 2020, including 12 during the Budget session and 27 during the monsoon session including recent the three controversial farm laws.
  3. Year 2020 also saw an unprecedented suspension of eight Opposition MPs and the Opposition moving a notice for the removal of Deputy Chairman.

Source: The Hindu

 

Bhima Koregaon battle

GS 1: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events

CONTEXT:

  1. Battle of Bhima Koregaon was fought on 1 January 1818 and 2020 marked as 203rd anniversary of this historical event.

ABOUT:

  1. The battle of Bhima Koregaon was one of the last battles in 1818 of the Third Anglo-Maratha War which culminated in the Peshwa’s defeat.
  2. In this battle, 500 soldiers of the Mahar community fought alongside the English to defeat thenumerically superior Army of Peshwa Bajirao II.
  3. This battle was part of a fight against the anti-Dalit policies being followed during the Peshwa rule.

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

 

Trump extends visa ban until March 31

GS 2:Effect of policies developed countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

CONTEXT:

  1. US President extended pandemicrelatedbans on green cards and work visas to large groups of applicants through 31 March 2021. This has made U.S. immigration policy more restrictive.

ABOUT:

  1. In April 2019, US imposed a ban on green card sissued abroad that largely targets family members of people already in the U.S.
  2. Further in June 2019, US added H1 Bvisas, which are widely used by American and Indian technology company workers and their families; H2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers; J1 visas for cultural exchanges;and L1 visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations.
  3. The effects of COVID-19 on the U.S. labour market and on the health of American communities is a matter of ongoing national concern for US. Hence, these measures would protect American jobs in a pandemicwracke deconomy, while on the other hand, this step would hamper a recovery.

WAY AHEAD:

  1. It would impact a large number of Indian IT professionals who are seeking renewal of their H-1B visas.

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

 

RBI’s digital payments index unveiled

GS 3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Science & Technology

CONTEXT:

  1. The Reserve Bank of India(RBI) has constructed a composite Digital Payments Index (DPI) to capture the extent of digitization of payments across the country.

ABOUT:

  1. The RBI-DPI has been constructed with March 2018 as the base period.
  2. The DPI for March 2019 and March 2020 work out to 153.47 and 207.84 respectively,indicating appreciable growth.
  3. The RBI-DPI comprises five broad parameters, including Payment Enablers,Payment Infrastructure –Demand-side factors and Supply-side factors, Payment Performance and Consumer Centricity.
  4. These parameters would enable measurement of deepening andpenetrationofdigitalpaymentsinthecountryoverdifferenttimeperiods.
  5. Each of these parameters have sub-parameters which, in turn,consist of various measurable indicators.

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

 

All should get free access to science journals, public research data: new draft S&T policy

GS 3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life and Inclusive growth and issues arising from it

GS 1: Social Empowerment

CONTEXT:

  1. The government of India has proposed an’ open science policy’in the draft Science,Technology and Innovation Policy (STI). The final policy would be approved by the government in the first half of 2021 and it will replace the STI policy of 2013.

BACKGROUND:

  1. The world’s best scientific journals are expensive, and sometimes even one article can cost several tens of dollars to access. Even top institutions have to be selective in subscribing to these journals.
  2. Publicly-funded research is carried out through taxpayers’ money. And the taxpayer need not have to pay to access the results or data generated by this research.

ABOUT:

  1. The government has proposed to buy bulk subscriptions of all important scientific journals across the world, and provide everyone in India free access to them.
  2. Hence, in India, the ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ policy for scientific journals is a radical move that could be a game changer for the scientific community and individual researchers.
  3. ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ policy is proposed as part of a new Open Science Framework that will ensure free access to scientific data for all.
  4. Towards this objective,the Ministry of Science and Technology,which has drafted the new policy, has proposed to set up a Science, Technology and Innovation Observatory that will serve as the central repository of all kinds of data generated from scientific research in the country.
  5. From this Observatory, all data and information related to publicly-funded research would be made freely accessible to everyone under “FAIR (Fair, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) terms”.

AIMS:

  1. To make scientific knowledge and data available to all.
  2. To ensure that the results of,and information generated by, all publicly-funded research is freely accessible by everyone.
  3. To buy access to between 3,000 and 4,000 high-impact scientific journals, and the government could end up spending an estimated Rs 2,000 crore to 3,000 crore on the bulk subscriptions every year.

ALTERNATIVES:

  1. In situations where some data cannot be made available to all due to reasons of privacy, national security, or intellectual property rights, “suitablyanonymised and/or redacted data” will be made accessible.
  2. If some data cannot be released to the general public due to these or other reasons, genuine researchers would definitely have access.

INCLUSION OF MARGINALIZED GROUPS IN SCIENCE:

  1. In a chapter on inclusion and equity in the draft Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, there is also proposal that atleast 30 per cent representation been sured for women in all decision-making bodies.
  2. More importantly,partners of people from the LGBTQ + community working in the sector are entitled to spousal benefits “irrespective of their gender”.
  3. It aims to tackle discrimination and providing equal opportunities in science.
  4. LGBTQ + community should be included in all conversations related to gender equity, and provisions be made to safeguard their rights and promote their representation and retention in the science and technology sector.
  5. This policy also focuses on removal of bar son married couples being employed in the same department or laboratory.As of now, married couples are not posted in the same department, leading to cases of loss of employment or forced transfers when colleagues decide to get married.
  6. Dual recruitment policy will be encouraged in all governing bodies, funding agencies, so that couples do not face the challenge of ‘choosing’ a spouse’s career over theirs. The aim is to bring gender neutrality through such interventions.
  7. The policy also focuses for age-related cut-offs in matters relating to selection, promotion, awards or grants, the “academic age”and not the biological age would be considered. This would help women who often have to take a break from careers for family reasons and to raise children.
  8. Child-care benefits are proposed to be made gender-neutral,and flexible work timings and adequate parental leave are to be offered to cater to maternity, child birth and childcare.
  9. All publicly-funded research institutions and universities will beasked to provide day-care centre for children of employees, and also have a provision for elderly care.
  10. There will be equal opportunity in academics for women,along with candidates from rural and remote areas, marginalized communities, differentlyabled groups, irrespective of their caste/creed/religion/race.
  11. For the benefit of people with disabilities, all publicly-funded scientific institutions need to make “structural and cultural changes” to support their inclusion.
  12. Academic and professional organisations will be encouraged to conduct gender audits and social audits, to propel the organizations to proactively promote gender-neutral recruitment and retention of employees,for ensuring equitable, not necessarily equal, representation.

CONCLUSION:

  1. It aims to achieve technological self-reliance and position India among the top three scientific powerhouses of the world over the next decade.
  2. It hopes that government and private expenditure on research and development would double every five years.

Source: The Indian Express

 

Kerala govt. announces digital medialiteracy programme

GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

CONTEXT:

  1. The Kerala Government announced a digital medialiteracy programme called ‘Satyameva Jayate’ (Truth alone triumphs).

ABOUT:

  1. The programme would be taught at schools andc olleges, which would been courage to develop curriculum on digital media literacy.
  2. The Satyameva Jayate programme would cover five points –
    1. What is wrong information?
    2. Why they are spreading fast?
    3. What precautions have to be adopted while using the content of social media?
    4. How those who spread fake news make profit?
    5. What steps can be initiated by citizens?
  3. Smartphone and internet penetration is much higher in Kerala than any other state. Large number of people is now depending upon social media for news updates.
  4. The chances for the spread of lies and wrong information through social media,which do not have any editorial supervision, have widened.
  5. Hence, people should understand the laws and benchmarks which control social media and the internet. It is important to distinguish between truth and untruth.

Source: The Indian Express

 

Loan by ADB

GS 2: Bilateral agreements involving India and Important International institutions

GS 3: Infrastructure: Energy

CONTEXT:

  1. Recently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India signed a $ 231 million loan to augment electricity generation capacity in the state of Assam through construction of a 120 megawatts (MW) hydroelectric power plant that will enhance availability of electricity for households.
  2. Simultaneously, both also signed a $10 million project readiness financing (PRF) to help finance piloting activities, and design and capacity building for an ensuing project that aims to expand horticulture production and farm household income in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

POWER GENERATION CAPACITY IN ASSAM:

  1. This is the third tranche loan for the ongoing Assam Power Sector Investment Programme that was approved by the ADB Board in July 2014.
  2. The programme, including its two previous tranches, focuses on enhancing capacity and efficiency of the energy generation from clean hydroelectric source and distribution systems in Assam to improve electricity service to end users.
  3. This will also improve living conditions, promote business expansion, and increase employment opportunities in the state beside reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. The proposed hydroelectric project is run-of-the-river project over Kopili river which will help increase electricity supplied from clean energy by 469 gigawatthour (GWh) by 2025 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide annually.
  5. A $2 million grant from Japan fund for poverty reduction (JFPR) is also associated with the project to finance equipment and consulting services to improve capacity for resource management and community resilience.

HORTICULTURE IN HIMACHAL PRADESH:

  1. The ensuing project, to be designed by the PRF, will support development of subtropical horticulture, including cultivation of fruits and vegetables, in the state’s southern region which is currently lagging due to limited access to perennial water sources, crops losses due to wild animal encroachment and limited access to high value markets.

ABOUT ADB:

  1. ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
  2. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

Source: PIB

 

J&K UT Administration signs historic MoU with NAFED

GS 3:  PDS, Buffer Stock & Food Security

CONTEXT:

  1. Jammu and Kashmir Administration signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED), an apex organization of marketing cooperatives for agricultural produce.

ABOUT:

  1. The MoU is seen as a game changer for the Horticulture sector in the Union Territory.
  2. High Density plantation of Apple, Walnut, Cherry, Flowers etc has potential to increase the income of farmers by three to four times.
  3. After signing of the MoU, NAFED will cover 5,500 Hectares at a cost of Rs 1,700 crore in the next five years with major focus on Apple, Walnut, Cherry, Pear and other significant horticulture products.
  4. NAFED will also set up 20 Farmer-Producer Organizations, one in each district, in the next three months.
  5. The NAFED will set up three cold storage clusters, one each in North Kashmir, South Kashmir and Kathua at a cost of Rs 500 crore, besides ensuring Geographical Indications tags (GI Tags) for all premium/niche horticulture produce, branding and marketing of fruit crops like Apple, Walnut, Cherry, Olive, Litchi etc.
  6. Horticulture produce of Jammu division will be given a major push for marketing and NAFED will also look into the possibility of high density plantation of Apple in Kishtwar and Bhaderwah.

Source: AIR

 

“Ginger” Processing Plant in Meghalaya

GS 1: Geography

CONTEXT:

  1. North East’s first-ever specialised “Ginger” Processing Plant at district Ri-Bhoui in Meghalaya is being revived and is likely to become functional in the beginning of 2021.

ABOUT:

  1. The only Ginger Processing Plant of North East India was established around the year 2004 but has remained non-functional for many years.
  2. The NERAMAC has now undertaken the responsibility of reviving it and initiated steps to operationalize the closed Plant through PPP mode.
  3. Plant located at the Export Promotion Industrial Park (EPIP), Raja Bhagan, Byrnihat Hatt will not only process ginger but also help in preparing products like waxed ginger, ginger paste, ginger powder, ginger flakes, ginger oil etc.
  4. Significantly, ginger has attained a place of prominence in recent months because of its reported properties as an immunity booster against COVID-19 Virus.
  5. The ginger products being prepared from this Plant will not only be available for domestic consumption but will also have a wider demand and this will also be in keeping with India’s calls for “Vocal for Local”.
  6. For the PPP mode, an Operation and Maintenance Operator was selected through the tendering process and the work on setting up and reviving the Plant is under progress.
  7. North Eastern Region of India produces about 450,000 Metric Ton of high-quality ginger every year but most of it is sold at a lower price due to lack of processing and cold storage facilities. The Plant at Meghalaya will give the much-needed facility to the ginger growers and they will be able to use their capacities and at the same time optimally utilize the natural resources.

Source: PIB

 

IFSCA becomes associate member of the global lobby group IOSCO

GS 2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate

GS 3: Economy

CONTEXT:

  1. International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA) has become an associate member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).

IOSCO:

  1. The IOSCO works closely with the G20 nations and the Financial Stability Board (FSB), in setting up the standards for strengthening the securities markets.
  2. The IOSCO Objectives and Principles of Securities Regulation have been endorsed by FSB as one of the key standards for sound financial systems.

IFSCA:

  1. The first IFSC has been set up at the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) in Gandhinagar.
  2. To regulate such institutions, the government established IFSCA on 27 April2019 with its head office is in Gandhinagar.
  3. In December 2019, Parliament passed a bill to set up a unified authority for regulating all financial activities at IFSCs in the country.

SIGNIFICANCE:

  1. The membership of IOSCO will provide the IFSCA a platform to exchange information at the global level, and even at the regional level, on areas of common interests.
  2. Further, the IOSCO platform will enable the IFSCA to learn from the experiences and best practices of the regulators of other well established financial centres.

Source: Business Standard

 

Why lightning still kills so many Indians?

GS 3:Disaster and disaster management

CONTEXT:

  1. According to the report on lightning incidents in India, lightning strikes have caused 1,771 deaths between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020.
  2. In 2018-19, there were 2,800 deaths and the drop has been attributed to the efforts of various stakeholders, including CROPC.

ABOUT:

  1. The report has been prepared by Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), a non-profit organization.
  2. CROPC works closely with India Meteorological Department (IMD) along with Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India Meteorological Society (IMS) and World Vision India to disseminate early lightning forecasts.
  3. A large number of affected states have notified lightning as state specific disaster. However, since this is not a notified disaster as per the Ministry of Home Affairs, lightning risk management does not get required attention in national policy directives and developmental programmes.
  4. There have always been a large number of animal fatalities due to lightning. Although the Ministry of Animal Husbandry has an Animal Disaster Management Plan, there hasn’t been any compliance pertaining to lightning fatalities.

HOW DOES LIGHTNING OCCUR?

  1. Lightning is the process of occurrence of a natural ‘electrical discharge of very short duration and high voltage between a cloud and the ground or within a cloud’, accompanied by a bright flash and sound, and sometimes thunderstorms. Inter cloud or intra cloud (IC) lightning which are visible and are harmless.
  2. It is cloud to ground (CG) lightning, which is harmful as the ‘high electric voltage and electric current’ leads to electrocution.

WHAT KIND OF TECHNOLOGY IS USED TO FORECAST LIGHTNING STRIKES?

  1. CROPC has a MOU with the India Met Department (IMD), Ministry of Earth Science (MoES), Government of India to disseminate early lightning forecasts which uses satellite observations, inputs from ‘network of Doppler and other radars’, ‘lightning detection Sensors’ among others.
  2. Mapping of lightning is a major breakthrough in identifying the precise risk in terms of lightning frequency, current intensity, energy content, high temperature and other adverse impacts.
  3. With continuous mapping for at least three years, a climatology can be established. This would yield a Lightning Risk Atlas map for India which will form the basis for a lightning risk management programme.

ANALYSIS

  1. Lightning strikes originate from Chotanagpur Plateau – the confluence of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand—and extended to Bangladesh to Patkai plateau of Meghalaya affecting other North eastern states.
  2. The rapid degradation of environment like global warming, deforestation, depletion of water bodies, concretisations, rising pollution and aerosol levels have cumulatively pushed the environment to extremes. “And lightning is direct promulgation of these climatic extremities.”

STEPS TO BE TAKEN:

  1. In order to further reduce deaths, the report suggests states “aggressively participate in Lightning Resilient India Campaign and undertake lightning risk management more comprehensively”.
  2. As per CROPC, early lightning warning to farmers, cattle grazers, children and people in open areas is key. Then a local lightning safety action plan, like installing Lightning Protection Devices, is also need to prevent deaths.
  3. Implementation also needs a more ‘scientific and focused community centric approach’ as well as convergence of various departments.

Source: The Indian Express