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Current Affairs – 23 December 2020

ELECTORAL BONDS

In News

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC), the lead body for implementing the Right to Information Act, has held that there is no public interest in disclosing details of the donors of political parties as this will violate provisions of the Act because these fell in the third party information bracket.

About

  • Disclosure of names of donors and the donees may be in contravention of section 8(1)(e)(j) of the RTI Act.
    • It exempts a public authority to give a citizen information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrant the disclosure of such information.

Arguments against

  • The information of donors must be disclosed in the interest of transparency, accountability and efficient functioning of central investigating agencies.

Electoral Bond Scheme

  • Notified in 2018, allows citizens and corporates to buy monetary instruments from the SBI and donate them to a political party, which is then free to redeem it for money.

 

ELECTRICITY (RIGHTS OF CONSUMERS) RULES, 2020

In News

  • The government notified the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020.

About

  • It aims to “empower” consumers with rights that would allow them to access continuous supply of quality, reliable electricity.
  • The following areas are covered under the rules:
    1. Rights of consumers and Obligations of Distribution licensees;
    2. Release of new connection and modification in existing connection;
    3. Metering arrangement;
    4. Billing and payment;
    5. Disconnection and reconnection;
    6. Reliability of supply;
    7. Consumer as ‘prosumer’;
    8. Standards of performance of licensee;
    9. Compensation mechanism;
    10. Call centre for consumer services;
    11. Grievance redressal mechanism.
  • There are certain exceptions to these rules like use for agricultural purposes.

Issue and Effect on consumers

  • Power distribution companies (public or private) are essentially geographical monopolies. This does not give any alternatives to consumer to shift even if they are unhappy with the services.
    • In the absence of real competition, consumers have little or no power to hold discoms accountable for the quality of electricity supplied or the service.
  • States will have to implement these rules and discoms will be answerable to consumers for issues (placing consumer at the centre of the regulations) like delays in providing and renewing connections of electricity. They are obligated to give round-the-clock electricity to consumers.
  • Discoms also have to compensate consumers for long power cuts, delays in granting electricity connections, and other such lapses in service.There is concern that these rules violate the domain of the SERCs.
    • The new rules attempt to fix this by automatic compensation mechanism.
    • Currently, some state electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs) compensates if the stated performance benchmarks are not met. However, not all states adhere to them, or have user friendly procedures for receiving the compensation.

Conclusion

  • This step may be inconsistent with the performance benchmarks that have already been specified by SERCs. But, the real challenge is effective implementation.
  • The larger issue of ushering in competition in the power distribution segment — the weakest link in the power chain — remains.
  • The government had earlier hoped to introduce the model of separation of carriage and content. Doing so would have allowed consumers the freedom to choose their electricity supplier.
  • This would have ushered in competition, forcing discoms to improve their performance standards, and adopt a more consumer centric approach.

 

FAVOURABLE GEOPOLITICAL MOMENT FOR INDIA

In News

  • 2020 is just to end with a sigh of relief and anticipated redemption. There is an unprecedented speed in the delivery of a set of vaccines of COVID-19.
  • The world wants India to seize this geopolitical moment because it is regarded as a benign power wedded to a rule-based order. India can leverage this propitious moment to encourage a significant flow of capital, technology and knowledge to accelerate its own modernization.

Issues

  • The world will repair only slowly and there are worrying intimations of other crises. All are at an inflexion point. There are several paths ahead, except that there is no path to retrace our steps back because geopolitics has been transformed and power equations are changed. There are a new set of winners and losers in the economic arena.
  • Technological advancement will magnify these changes and India needs to make difficult judgements about the world that is taking shape and find its place in a more complex and shifting geopolitical landscape.
  • Some trends were already visible before the pandemic struck. They are being accelerated and intensified after this crisis.
  • New trend are also visible which demand attention and efficient management. As the pandemic recedes, the world could draw the right lessons and proceed on a more hopeful trajectory.
  • It may also lead to another serious and damaging ormultiple crises because the lessons remain unlearnt.
  • COVID-19 has been a global emergency, recognising no national or regional boundaries but it has been dealt with almost entirely within national confines.
  • International cooperation in either developing an effective vaccine or responding to its health impacts has been minimal.
  • Help for the poorer nations of the world is a low priority as the world is witnessing adistribution of vaccinesby a handful of rich nations.

Transformation

  • The pre-pandemic shift in the centre of gravity of the global economy and political power and influence, from the trans-Atlantic to the trans-Pacific, has been reinforced under the impact of the crisis.
  • East Asian and South-East Asian countries have managed the crisis more effectively and their economies are the first to register the green shoots of recovery.
  • China faced first COVID-19 cases, and the first large economy to witness a rebound in its growth rate. Trade and investment flows in the rest of the world have declined, but they have registered growth in China.
  • The regional supply chains centred on China have been reinforced. The power gap with the US will shrink further. The power gap with India, its largest rival in Asia, will expand even more.
  • India is confronting aggressive and arrogant China on its borders. This threat demands asymmetrical coping strategies.
  • Neither the US in its relatively diminished state nor China with its enhanced power can singly or as a duopoly manage a much more diffused distribution of economic and military capabilities across the globe.
  • Due to China’s aggressive posture and unilateral assertions of power, there is a push-back from South-East Asia and Africa.
  • China’s blatant “weaponisation of economic interdependence” such as its punitive commercial action against Australia, has made its economic partners increasingly wary.

Challenges

  • Most challenges the world faces are inherent in globalisation, like the pandemic, climate change, cyber security, space security. But even extant challenges such as terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and ocean and terrestrial pollution have taken on a globalised dimension. They demand collaborative, not competitive solutions.

Emergence of India

  • India now has the opportunity to make its foreign policy priority as this aligns with the interests of a large majority of middle and emerging powers. This will be an important component of a strategy to meet the China challenge.
  • Despite a degree of pessimism about India’s economic prospects, we may be located at a favourable geopolitical moment. This may appear counterintuitive.
  • India is seen as a potential and credible countervailing power to resist Chinese ambitions.

Way ahead

  • The nation-state will endure but its conduct will need to be tempered by a spirit of internationalism and a sense of common humanity.
  • Most of the challenges demand global and collaborative responses. Even a powerful country cannot coerce other nations to collaborate. This is only possible through multilateral approaches and adherence to the principle of equitable burden-sharing.
  • The techniques of mobilisation that were deployed successfully in leading the Non-Aligned Movement in an earlier time and in a different geopolitical context are relevant for India.
  • India needs to position itself as the most open and competitive destination for trade and investment offering both scale and political stability.

 

GREAT CONJUNCTION

In News

  • 21 December 2020 witnessed the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets, which have moved closer and closer during the course of the past few weeks in the night sky, appeared to merge as one bright object.

What’s a great conjunction?

  • A pairing between any pair of planets is a conjunction. Jupiter and Saturn are the two largest planets visible to the naked eye, hence the expression ‘Great Conjunction’.
  • These two align roughly every 20 years, which is relatively rare compared to the alignments of planets closer to the Sun (and which consequently have shorter orbits).
  • Jupiter orbits the Sun once in 12 years, and Saturn once in 30. In 60 more years (the LCM of 12 and 30), i.e. in 2080, the two planets will align at roughly the same place as on 21 December 2020. In these 60 years, Jupiter will have orbited the Sun five times, while Saturn will have done so twice.
  • But they will have met twice more during this period, though at different places in the sky. In 12 years more, Jupiter will return to its current place; in the next 8 years, it will complete 2/3rds of another 12-year cycle around the Sun. In the same 20 years, Saturn will have completed 2/3rds of its 30-year cycle. In other words, the two planets will meet again in 2040. And yet again in 2060.

Why is this conjunction special?

  • It’s the alignment. Measurement of the position of a planet is based on the angle it makes on the Earth’s orbital plane, with a given reference direction. When two planets have aligned in a conjunction, it suggests they are casting the same angle with that reference direction.
  • Planets in a conjunction are typically above or below each other, because their orbits are slightly tilted with respect to each other.
  • This time, Jupiter and Saturn are a tenth of a degree apart viewed from Earth.

  • The last Great Conjunction happened in 1623. In India, Jahangir was the Mughal emperor, and the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji was yet to be born.
  • The last time the two planets were close enough to be viewed in the night sky was in 1226, before the death of the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan.

 

NATIONAL HIGHWAY CORRIDORS

In News

  • The Government of India and the World Bank signed a $500 million project to build safe and green national highway corridors in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
  • It will enhance the capacity of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) in mainstreaming safety and green technologies.
  • The $500 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 18.5 years including a grace period of five years.

About

  • The Green National Highways Corridors Project will support MoRTH to construct 783 km of highways in various geographies by integrating safe and green technology designs such as local and marginal materials, industrial byproducts, and other bioengineering solutions.
  • The ultimate objective of transport infrastructure is to provide seamless connectivity and reduce logistics costs.
  • Disaster risk assessment of about 5,000 km of the National Highway network will also be undertaken under the project along with support to ministry for mainstreaming climate resilience aspects in project design and implementation.

Significance

  • The project will help reduce GHG emissions in the construction and maintenance of highways.
  • This project will set new standards in the construction of safe motorable roads.
  • The selected stretches in above mentioned states will also help improve connectivity and promote economic development.
  • This project will also support analytics to map the freight volume and movement pattern on the National Highway network, identify constraints, and provide innovative logistics solutions.
  • The project will support the ministry with an in-depth analysis of gender-related issues in the transport sector along with help in creating jobs for women by training women-led micro enterprises and women collectives to implement green technologies in the highway corridors.
  • The project will strengthen and widen existing structures; construct new pavements, drainage facilities and bypasses; improve junctions; and introduce road safety features.

 

LEOPARD POPULATION

In News

  • According to the report by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Kerala’s leopard population is the third highest in the Western Ghats. Karnataka tops the list with 1,783 leopards, followed by Tamil Nadu with 868 and Goa has 86.

About

  • Western Ghats is home to 3,387 leopards, against India’s population of 12,852.
  • The leopard population was counted during the tiger population assessment undertaken in 2018. The leopard population was estimated to be within the forested habitats in tiger-occupied States.
  • The presence of the animal was recorded in the forested areas of Western Ghats, Nilgiris, and sporadically across much of the dry forests of Central Karnataka. Leopard population of the Western Ghats landscape was reported from the four distinct blocks.
  • The Northern block covered the contiguous forests of Radhanagari and Goa covering Haliyal- Kali Tiger Reserve, Karwar, Honnavar, Madikeri, Kudremukh, Shettihali Wild Life Sanctuary (WLS), Bhadra and Chikmagalur.
  • The Central population covered southern Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and northern Kerala covering the forests of Virajpet, Nagarhole, Bandipur, Madumalai, Satyamangalam, Nilgiris, Silent Valley, Wayanad, BRT Hills, MM Hills, Cauvery WLS, Bannerghhata National Park.
  • A second central cluster covering central Kerala and Tamil Nadu comprising the Parambikulam-Anamalai – Eravikulum – Vazachal population.
  • The southern leopard population block in southern Kerala and Tamil Nadu comprised the forests of Periyar-KalakadMundanthurai -Kanyakumari.
  • Due to the growing human population and increasing fragmentation of landscape led to increased human-wildlife interactions in the region.

Leopard

  • Scientific Name- Pantherapardus.
  • Listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Included in Appendix I of CITES.
  • Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
  • Nine subspecies of the leopard have been recognized, and they are distributed across Africa and Asia.

 

GREAT INDIAN BUSTARDS (GIBs)

In News

  • The Ministry of Environment along with the Wildlife Conservation Society, India, has come up with a unique initiative — a “firefly bird diverter” for overhead power lines in areas where GIBs are found in the wild.

About

  • It is one of the most critically threatened species in India, with fewer than 150 birds left in the wild.
  • A 2019 report by the Ministry pointed out that power lines, especially high-voltage transmission lines with multiple overhead wires, are the most important current threat for GIBs in the Thar region, and are causing unsustainably high mortality in about 15% of their population.
  • Firefly bird diverters are flaps installed on power lines. They work as reflectors for bird species like the GIB. Birds can spot them from a distance of about 50 metres and change their path of flight to avoid collision with power lines.
  • The firefly detectors have been installed along two stretches of approximately 6.5 km, selected between Chacha to Dholiya villages in the Pokhran tehsil, Rajasthan.
  • The diverters are called fireflies because they look like fireflies from a distance, shining on power lines in the night.

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