Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 17-02-2021

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Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 17-02-2021

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. Governance and Institutions - Take precautions or else lockdown : Maha CM - The Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray on 16-02-2021 asked people to strictly follow precautions against coronavirus to prevent another lockdown. "It is up to the people of the state to decide if they want a lockdown or live freely with some restrictions. Wear face masks and avoid crowds or else (you) will need to go into lockdown again," said Thackeray as the state faced a sudden spurt of rising cases, proving that the battle was far from over. Taking cognizance of the fact that the people have started attending parties and functions on a large scale, Uddhav Thackeray asked the collectors to revoke the licenses of restaurants and banquet halls if they do not follow social distancing norms and wearing masks. "Over the past year, we have set rules [SOPs] for various sectors while fighting coronavirus. But, it is a serious issue if that is not implemented".
  2. Science and Technology -  SpaceX launches 19th Starlink mission, misses booster landing - SpaceX successfully launched 60 more Starlink satellites on February 15 as part of 19th Starlink mission but failed to land Falcon 9 rocket's reusable first-stage booster. SpaceX did not immediately disclose what occurred during the failed landing. Earlier, SpaceX had disclosed that its Starlink satellite internet service has "over 10,000 users in the US and abroad". Starlink is a satellite internet constellation being constructed by SpaceX providing satellite Internet access. The constellation will consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit, working in combination with ground transceivers.
  3. World Economy - Bitcoin price surpasses $50,000 for the first time ever - World's biggest cryptocurrency Bitcoin's price rose above $50,000 on 16 Feb 2021 to a new record high amid rally fuelled by signs that it's gaining acceptance amongst mainstream investors. Bitcoin has now risen around 72% so far this year. Bitcoin ended last year with a fourth-quarter surge of 170% to around $29,000 and jumped to $40,000 seven days later. The government of India, meanwhile, has firmed plans to legislate private crypto out of existence, spreading panic among the millions of investors in India.
  4. Governance and Institutions - India’s exports rise 6.16% In January 2021, trade deficit narrows - India's trade deficit narrowed to $14.54 billion in January from $15.7 billion in December last year as exports grew 6.16% to $27.45 billion in January, as per the Commerce Ministry. While exports of pharmaceuticals and engineering grew 16.4% and about 19% respectively, exports of petroleum products slipped 32%. The country's imports also grew 2% to about $42 billion in January 2021. Overall, India has had a comfortable position on foreign trade front so far.
  5. Healthcare and Medicine - Ebola outbreaks in Congo, Guinea pose regional risk: WHO - Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea pose a regional risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. "We have to be exceptionally vigilant, highly alert," Mike Ryan, WHO's top emergency expert, said. Congo has so far reported four confirmed cases of the disease, while Guinea has reported seven cases and at least three Ebola-related deaths. Ebola is a virus that causes severe bleeding, organ failure and can lead to death. Humans may spread the virus to other humans through contact with bodily fluids such as blood. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain and chills. Later, a person may experience internal bleeding resulting in vomiting or coughing blood. Treatment is supportive hospital care.
  6. Defence and Military - Indian Navy receives third Scorpene Submarine, to be commissioned as INS Karanj - The Indian Navy on February 15, 2021, got its third Scorpene Submarine, which will be commissioned as INS Karanj in March, of Project P-75. With the delivery of INS Karanj, India has been able to cement its position as a submarine-building nation. The acceptance document was signed by the Chairman and Managing Director of Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders Limited, Vice Admiral (Retd) Narayan Prasad, and the Chief of Staff officer (Tech) of Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral B Sivakumar. Total 6 submarines of the Indian Navy are being constructed under Project 75. The number 75 refers to the unique identifier which was assigned for a program for the productions of the submarines. The three submarines that are delivered by Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders Limited- MDL including Karanj, are Khanderi and Kalvari.
  7. Governance and Institutions - The New Mapping Data Policy - The new policy change by the government will mainly allow the Indian companies to access the accurate maps of the Indian territories without going through permissions and approvals. The Central Government announced on February 15, 2021, that it decided to liberalise the policies of mapping and geospatial data. Under the previous policy, it was not that easier for the Indian companies to build tools and provide better geospatial data and mapping technologies. The new policy change by the government will mainly allow the Indian companies to access the accurate maps of the Indian territories without going through permissions and approvals. The move by the government aims at making the country more self-reliant when it comes to mapping, navigation, and geospatial data. While announcing the new guidelines for geospatial data, the Ministry of Science and Technology stated that what is available globally does not require to be restricted in India.
  8. Governance and Institutions - e-Chhawani portal launched by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh - The Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh launched the e-Chhawani portal on February 16, 2021 to provide services to over 20 lakh citizens who have been living in 62 Cantonments Boards across India. The portal will offer online municipal services via multi-tenancy central platform. In India and other parts of South Asia a cantonment refers to a permanent military station. There are 62 Cantonments in the country which have been notified under the Cantonments Act, 1924 (succeeded by the Cantonments Act, 2006). The overall municipal administration of the notified Cantonments is the function of the Cantonment Boards which are democratic bodies. If we consider land area to be the criterion for being the 'largest', Bathinda Cantonment is then the largest army cantonment in India (with an area of about 55 sq.km.). It is also said to be the largest army cantonment in Asia.
  9. Constitution and Law - What SC did to Rajdeep Sardesai - Hours after Supreme Court website showed (on 16-02-2021) that it has taken suo motu cognisance of a plea seeking contempt proceedings against journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, a court official said the notice was placed "inadvertently" on the website. The official said it was being made clear that no such proceeding has been initiated against Mr Rajdeep Sardesai. Appropriate action to rectify the same is under process. Indian courts have been criticised for "spending more time trying to corner critics than handle grave cases involving human rights issues".
  10. World Politics - Dictator Lukashenko back to his torture tactics - Belarus Police on 16-02-2021 raided homes and offices of journalists, human rights activists and trade union members amid anti-government protests in the country. More than 30 people were briefly detained and at least three people remain in police custody, activists said. Protests have swept the country since President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in disputed election in August 2020. His high-handed torture tactics have drawn widespread condemnation from many European nations, though he derives strength from Russian support.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
Fire in fuel prices singes Indians 
  1. Pay more for fuel: Indians are paying historically the highest fuel prices at retail pumps now. In the middle of a raging and polarised debate, retail prices of automobile fuels touched record highs across India. These fuels are taxed heavily in India, and oil price decontrol is a one-way street — the consumer never benefits. The "decontrol" promise looks laughable.
  2. Wrong claims: Petrol touched Rs 89 per litre in Delhi on 15-02-2021, and diesel a new high of Rs 86.30 per litre in Mumbai. The government reasons that global crude oil prices have risen by more than 50 per cent to over $63.3 per barrel since October 2020, forcing oil retailers to increase pump prices. That is only half true. Indians are paying much higher than what they were paying in January 2020, even though crude prices are yet to reach those levels! Pump prices of both fuels in other countries are just reaching pre-pandemic levels, while Indian consumers are shelling out a lot more.
  3. Why are Indians made to pay more: Retail petrol and diesel prices are in theory decontrolled — or linked to global crude oil prices. So if crude prices fall, as seen since February 2021, retails prices should come down too, and vice versa. But this does not happen in practice, largely because oil price decontrol is a one-way street in India. So, when global prices go up, the resultant increase is passed on to the consumer, who has to cough up more for every litre of fuel consumed — but when the reverse happens and prices slide, the government puts fresh taxes and levies to ensure that it rakes in extra revenues! The consumer loses always.
  4. Who earns: The main beneficiary in this price decontrol is the government. The consumer is a clear loser, as are the fuel retailing companies. Early into the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when crude prices crashed, the state-owned oil retailers stopped price revisions for a record 82 days. The consumer was hit by a double whammy of sorts — not benefitting from the fall in crude prices in the first half of fiscal 2021, and then facing record high prices in the second half even as crude prices partially recovered, with the government using the opportunity to raise taxes on petrol and diesel.
  5. Brent crude: Prices collapsed in April 2020 after the pandemic spread around the world, and demand fell away. But as economies have reduced travel restrictions and factory output has picked up, global demand has improved, and prices have been recovering. Brent crude, which was trading at about $40 per barrel between June and October, started rising in November, and has gone past the $60 per barrel mark as the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines gathers pace. The controlled production of crude amid rising demand has been another key factor in boosting oil prices, with Saudi Arabia voluntarily cutting its daily output by 1 million barrels per day to 8.125 million barrels per day through February and March.
  6. Impact of taxes: The central government hiked the central excise duty on petrol to Rs 32.98 per litre during the course of last year from Rs 19.98 per litre at the beginning of 2020, and increased the excise duty on diesel to Rs 31.83 per litre from Rs 15.83 over the same period to boost revenues as economic activity fell due to the pandemic. A number of states have also hiked sales tax on petrol and diesel to shore up their revenues. The government of Delhi raised the Value Added Tax on petrol from 27 per cent to 30 per cent. Today, state and central taxes amount to around 180 per cent of the base price of petrol and 141 per cent of the base price of diesel in Delhi. (Taxes on fuels as a % of pump prices was 65 per cent of the retail price in Germany and Italy, 62 per cent in the United Kingdom, 45 per cent in Japan, and around 20 per cent in the US).
  7. OMCs: The price of India’s crude basket fell from $64.3 per barrel in January 2020 to $19 in April 2020, but price of auto fuels fell only marginally from Rs 75.14 to Rs 69.59 in the case of petrol and Rs 68 to Rs 62.3 in the case of diesel, with the government holding on to most of the gains from lower crude oil prices rather than passing them to consumers. The oil marketing companies had halted daily revisions of petrol and diesel prices for 82 days starting March 16, 2020 when international price was at its lowest.
  8. Basket of Hope: The average price of India’s crude basket has increased to $54.8 per barrel in January 2021 from about $40 per barrel in June 2020, and the government has kept central levies high, leading to prices rising. While the oil marketing companies are notionally free to set prices for petrol and diesel based on international prices, hikes in central levies nullify any gains.
  9. Other countries: The price of petrol is hitting pre-pandemic levels in other countries, but India has been seeing record high prices since January due to high state and central taxes. The average price of petrol in India (Delhi) in January was up 13.6 per cent compared to the year-ago period, while average price of Brent crude was down about 14 per cent. And consumers in the US, China, and Brazil paid average prices in January that were 7.5 per cent, 5.5 per cent, and 20.6 per cent lower than the year-ago period.
  10. Impact on inflation: The impact of rising fuel inflation has been counterbalanced by declining food inflation, but consumers with greater expenditure on travel are feeling the pinch. The urban population would be more impacted by rising fuel prices than the rural population. A weak monsoon may lead to rural India being hit as farmers are forced to rely more on diesel-powered irrigation.




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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
World Sustainable Development Summit 2021 
  • WSDS 2021: The road to fighting climate change is through climate justice and this requires us to be large hearted by thinking of the bigger and the long-term picture. The twentieth edition of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) event was inaugurated virtually, on February 10th, 2021 in the presence of dignitaries. The PM said that the poor are most impacted by climate change. Climate Justice is inspired by a vision of trusteeship where growth comes with greater compassion to the poorest. It also means giving developing countries enough space to grow. When each of us understands our individual and collective duties climate justice will be achieved. India is on track to exceed our commitments and targets on Paris, as per promise to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 33% to 35% from 2005 levels.
  • Paris pledges: The government claims India is implementing its pledges. Four international reports including the United Nations Environment Programme's emission gap report, the climate change action tracker report, the climate change performance index, and the transparency report, state that India is leading from the front and is implementing all its pledges well before time. It has reduced emission intensity; increased its forest cover and with 90 GW of renewable energy, may achieve the target of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030.
  • WSDS over the years: This event has addressed the most pressing global challenges of our time. Science tells us that humans must cut GHGs by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. India is currently the only G20 country that has overachieved its NDCs. The target of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 will bring more jobs, cleaner air, and a more secure power grid. We count on India on its contribution to multilateralism on COVID vaccines, climate change and on peace keeping.
  • COP26 coming up: This three-day event will address the theme, 'Redefining Our Common Future: Safe and Secure Environment for All'. As the country partner of the WSDS 2021, the UK government is closely involved in various sessions of the summit, in the run-up to the COP 26, which it is preparing to host in Glasgow in November this year. Bloomberg Philanthropies, Shakti Sustainable Foundation, Tata Cleantech Capital, European Union, USAID, World Bank, are some of the key institutions partnering with the summit to rally around the themes of clean air, renewable energy, environment, clean oceans, energy transition, resource efficiency and circular economy, among several others.
  • Background: Since its inception in 2001, WSDS has been a significant platform for showcasing India's plans, policies, priorities, and actions by identifying the most topical issues, of environment and sustainability. Over the years, many collaborations and partnerships that have been fostered and, during the three-day event, new ones will be launched and conceived.
  • Knowledge centre:
  1. The Paris Agreement - It is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century. The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.
  2. UNFCCC - UN Climate Change, or UNFCCC, is the United Nations entity supporting the global response to climate change. The UNFCCC has near universal membership (197 Parties) and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and its Doha Amendment, adopted in 2012. The UNFCCC collaborates with numerous United Nations organizations to pool resources and convening power to effectively implement the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, as well as other global agendas, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  3. SDGs - 17 Goals for People, for Planet - The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. The 17 Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the Goals. Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. 2020 needs to usher in a decade of ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030. Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets are broader in scope and go further than the MDGs by addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people. The goals cover the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.


 

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    • 3. FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)

Trumpism's forward march, or backward?
  1. Trumps never die: While Trump was pushed out of office, history tells that populist movements have a knack for sticking around long after their leaders leave office. Since leaving office, Donald Trump has been remarkably acquitted in a second impeachment trial, and has reportedly considered launching a new political party, investing in a social-media app, and, perhaps more predictably, making another run for the White House in 2024.
  2. Don't take him lightly: If populist movements have proved anything, it’s their remarkable staying power, even after their leaders have been removed from power, democratically or otherwise. From Berlusconism in Italy to Perónism in Argentina and Fujimorismo in Peru, personality-driven movements rarely fade once their leaders have left office. In the face of victimization, real or imagined, they often thrive. What, then, of Trumpism?
  3. Silvio Berlusconi story: Of the world’s most notable populist leaders, perhaps none has garnered more comparisons to Trump than the former Italian prime minister. Berlusconi was Trump before Trump: a billionaire businessman and television personality who rose to power by railing against the political establishment and pledging to represent the interests of ordinary people. Though his career of more than two decades has been dogged by scandals, investigations, and trials—evidence, Berlusconi claimed in 2009, that he is “the most persecuted” person in history—he has nonetheless remained a political force since his (most recent) resignation from the premiership in 2011, both within his center-right Forza Italia party, of which he remains leader, as well as in national politics more broadly. A difference between Trump and Berlusconi is that the latter has lost elections without incident.
  4. Juan Perón: Perónism, the populist movement, dates back to the rise of former Argentine President Juan Perón in the 1940s. It continues to be the preeminent political force there, more than four decades after its namesake’s death. This has to do largely with how Perón came to power and, crucially, how he lost it. Like most populist figures, Perón cast himself as an advocate of ordinary citizens, and, in many ways, he was: In addition to advancing workers’ rights, he oversaw the enfranchisement of women in Argentina. But, like other populists, Perón became more and more authoritarian over the course of his rule, jailing his political opponents, vilifying the media, and restricting constitutional rights. By 1955, after nearly a decade in power, Perón was deposed in a coup and sent into exile in Spain; his party was banned. But his supporters continued to be extremely loyal to him.
  5. Alberto Fujimori: Another populist movement that has endured long after its namesake is Fujimorismo. Named after Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, whose decade of authoritarian rule ended in a corruption scandal in 2001, it remains a dominant force in Peruvian politics. Unlike Perónism, however, Fujimorismo has largely remained within the family: Fujimori’s children, Keiko and Kenji, lead rival factions of the movement, though neither has managed to succeed their father in the presidency. (Fujimori himself, who was convicted of human-rights abuses in 2009, remains in prison.) With at least some of Trump’s children and extended family eyeing political careers of their own, it’s possible that Trumpism could end up resembling Fujimorismo more than Perónism. In some ways, it already does: All three of his eldest children have held roles in the eponymous family business.
  6. Trump's model: Whatever model Trumpism ultimately follows—whether it’s Berlusconism, Perónism, Fujimorismo, a combination of the three, or none at all—it’s widely accepted that the movement will continue to exist in some form. It is quite likely that a fundamental conflict between Trumpism and anti-Trumpism is going to shape American politics for a long time to come as well.



 
France's ‘War Without a Name’
  • A deadly war: Sixty years on, the ghosts of the Algerian War still loom large over French politics, the country’s debate over immigration, and its relationship with Algiers. The brutal Algerian War killed hundreds of thousands—and deeply marks French politics and society to this day.  Emmanuel Macron, the first French president born after the end of the brutal colonial conflict, seems more inclined than any of his predecessors to “look history in the eyes” and has sought to heal the “wounds of the past.”
  • Why now: The topic is hot, courtesy release of a highly-anticipated, government-commissioned report meant to figure out how to bridge the rifts still existing within France and across the Mediterranean. The author, Benjamin Stora, suggested plenty of symbolic measures, such as returning to Algiers the sword of a 19th-century resistance hero. Recommendations included a better understanding and education of the war and French occupation in Algeria, which dates back to 1830. Govt. said it will establish a “memory and truth commission.” But there won't be any official apology for France’s colonial past.
  • Brutal war: The Algerian war was one of the most brutal conflicts in the history of decolonization. Hundreds of thousands of Algerians and about 25,000 French troops lost their lives. By the time violence broke out, one million European settlers (the pieds-noirs, “black feet”) lived on Algerian land, which contributed to Paris’s reluctance to let go. The Algerian National Liberation Front escalated a terror campaign and the French military resorted to the systematic use of torture to thwart it. The war ended when President Charles de Gaulle, at first the hope of French hardliners, took the painful step of negotiating peace with the insurgents and ending French occupation.
  • End of it: By the end of 1962, the mainland was home to two million French war veterans, well over one million repatriated pieds-noirs, 1,50,000 harkis (Algerians that had fought alongside the French) and their families, and 5,00,000 Algerian immigrants—whose number would double by the 1980s.  About 7 million people currently living in France have ties with the country’s Algerian past.
  • Macron's humanism: After hostilities ended, the conflict was quickly brushed aside in the state’s narrative, with successive governments laying down a “pillow of silence” that lasted decades. What happened in Algeria wasn’t even called a “war” until 1999; for years, it was the “war without a name.” That amnesia ended in the early 2000s, thanks to a new wave of studies. Macron has sought to define what France is meant to be, even before becoming president, by seizing upon the Algerian war. As a candidate in 2017, he described colonization as a “crime against humanity,” and a year later, as president, acknowledged widespread French torture and extra-judicial executions during the conflict.  


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    • 4. GOVERNMENT SCHEMES (Prelims, GS Paper 2, Essay paper)

PM-WANI: Public Wi-Fi Access Network Interface 
  • What it is: The Union Cabinet approved a proposal for setting up public WiFi hotspots across the country via public data offices or PDOs, which could even be a kirana shop or a paan shop.
  • Details: The move is aimed at helping accelerate the uptake of broadband Internet services, will not require the PDOs to get a license or pay a fee. The public WiFi Access Network Interface, which will be called ‘PM-WANI’, was first recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in 2017. This will involve multiple players, including PDOs, Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOA), app providers, and a central registry. PDOs — comparable to a PCO or a cybercafe — will establish, maintain, and operate WiFi access points and deliver broadband services to subscribers, while the PDOAs will be aggregators of PDOs and perform functions such as authorisation and accounting.
  • Global examples: In most European countries and some southeast Asian countries, the concept of public Wi-Fi is that of a decentralised network, where shops, restaurants and cafes, public transport facilities have rolled out wireless internet on their own. However, the number of public hotspots is only increasing across the globe. According to Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018-2023), there will be nearly 623 million public Wi-Fi hotspots across the world by 2023, up from 169 million hotspots as of 2018. Within this, the highest share of hotspots by 2023 will be in the Asia Pacific region at 46%. As per the calculations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), based on Cisco’s estimates, India should have 100 million Wi-Fi hotspots by 2023.
  • Facts: As per TRAI, in most major economies, for 50%-70% of their total usage time, mobile users use WiFi technology to communicate. However, in India, this figure is less than 10%. Service providers had in 2018 stated that they aimed to provide 5 lakh hotspots by March 31, 2019 and 10 lakh hotspots by September 30, 2019. However, these targets have not been achieved.
  • Potential pitfalls: The US Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information portal highlights the threats of public Wi-Fi hotspots. It says that while Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities, and other public places are convenient, they’re often not secure. The portal also points out that most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt information that is sent over the Internet and therefore aren’t secure. This could potentially lead to hacking or unapproved access to personal information on the device. The Indian public Wi-Fi hotspot network, however, envisages that the access to the Internet through these points will be permitted only through electronic KYC and a mix of OTP and MAC ID-based authentication system, thereby minimising the risk of network security being compromised. The viability of public Wi-Fi networks in India has also been called into question with several tech-giants already having tried and failed.
  • FB's WiFi: In 2017, social media firm Facebook had launched Express Wi-Fi. The project made little impact. Google’s Station project, to provide free wi-fi in more than 400 railway stations across India and “thousands” of other public places, which was launched in 2015, was shut down earlier in 2021. Google cited cheaper and more accessible mobile data, government initiatives to provide access to the Internet for everyone and the challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among its partners across countries as the reasons to explain its decision of shutting down the programme.
PM Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS)
  • What it is: The PM Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) instalment has been released to support J&K and Ladakh students.
  • Details: The PMSSS aims to build the capacities of the youths of J&K and Ladakh by educating, enabling and empowering them to compete in the normal course. Under the Scheme, the youths of J&K and Ladakh are supported by way of scholarship in two parts namely the academic fee & maintenance allowance. The academic fee is paid to the institution where the student is provided admission after on-line counselling process conducted by the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education). The academic fee covers tuition fee and other components as per the ceiling fixed for various professional, medical and other under-graduate courses. In order to meet the expenditure towards hostel accommodation, mess expenses, books & stationery etc., a fixed amount of Rs.1.00 Lakh is provided to the beneficiary and is paid in instalments of Rs. 10,000/- pm directly into students account.


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    • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
The voices of Dissent and force of Sedition Law
  1. Disha arrested: In Feb 2021, the Delhi Police arrested a climate activist Ms. Disha Ravi, alleging that her social media post amounted to sedition and incitement of riots. That arrest from Bengaluru was without the local police's information or procedural involvement. She was taken to Delhi, and not given the copy of FIR for some time. There was no legal counsel with her during the Sunday hearing at the magistrate's, and she was sent to 5-days police remand.
  2. Charges: The main charge against her was that she edited a Google document shared among activists, including global climate activist Greta Thunberg. It was alleged that the document was prepared by a pro-Khalistani outfit and Ms. Ravi is working with separatists to create disaffection against India. Experts say that such documents are not uncommon for those organising protests online and they do not contain much more than calls for protests, texts to be tweeted and hashtags. Discussing and planning the protests does not amount to incitement of violence, a mandatory requirement to charge someone, as done in the case of Ms. Ravi. Soon therafter, a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Gupta commented that he had read the "toolkit" and it had nothing objectionable or seditious.
  3. Inference: Human rights experts claim the police in India have a dubious record of effecting needless arrests and filing questionable cases as a tool of harassment. The State is resorting to heavy-handed responses to issues that attract a convergence of activism, opposition political activity and adverse media scrutiny. Ironically, instead of crushing dissent, the impact of such arrests would be to attract more international attention. Though cases of sedition are rising, the rate of conviction is less than 5%, as it's nearly impossible to prove the outlandish charges levelled in the chargesheets.
  4. Farmer protests: There is considerable polarisation on this topic. Online or offline activism in support of the ongoing farmers’ protests and mobilisation of public opinion against government policy will not necessarily affect the country’s reputation and prestige. The govt. can resolve these internal issues through sustained dialogue.


 
Andhra-Odisha dispute over Border Villages
  1. Elections: Andhra Pradesh recently held panchayat elections in three villages in the Kotia cluster, which is at the centre of a dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
  2. Disputed villages: The 21 villages, with a population of nearly 5,000, are located on a remote hilltop on the inter-state border. These are inhabited by the Kondh tribals, and the region was once a Maoist hotbed and still reports sporadic incidents of violence. It is also rich in mineral resources like gold, platinum, manganese, bauxite, graphite and limestone.
  3. Origin of dispute: Prior to April 1, 1936, villages under Kotia panchayat were part of Jeypore Estate. In the Constitution of Orissa Order, 1936, the Government of India demarcated Odisha from the erstwhile Madras Presidency. The Presidency included the present-day Andhra Pradesh. In 1942, the Madras government contested the boundary and ordered re-demarcation of the two states. In a joint survey of Odisha, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, seven villages of Kotia gram panchayat were recorded as revenue villages. Revenue was collected by the Odisha government, but the exercise left out the 21 villages now under dispute.
  4. Historical: When the state of Andhra Pradesh was created in 1955, the villages were not surveyed by the Andhra Pradesh government either. This is the first time Andhra has held panchayat polls in any of these 21 villages. But the villages participate in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections for both states. They are registered as voters for the Salur Assembly and Araku Lok Sabha seats of Andhra, Pottangi Assembly and Koraput Lok Sabha seats of Odisha.
  5. Both states: The villagers enjoy benefits from both states under various schemes. For instance, Odisha constructed a gram panchayat office, a village agricultural centre, the office of an agricultural overseer, a boarding school, and a 380-bed hostel. It has also implemented MGNREGA, and distributed BPL cards to over 800 families and job cards to 1800 families. The Andhra Pradesh government has built roads, supplied electricity and provided rations to BPL families.
  6. Current status: In the early 1980s, Odisha filed a case in the Supreme Court demanding right and possession of jurisdiction over the 21 villages. In 2006 however, the court said that disputes belonging to the state boundaries are not within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. So, it ruled that the matter can only be resolved by the Parliament. The Court thus passed a permanent injunction on the disputed area. In Andhra, Vizianagaram District collector said the three villages are separate gram panchayats and fall under Salur Mandal, hence elections were held. A day after Andhra notified the panchayat elections here, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated projects worth Rs 18 crore. The Odisha government has also moved the Supreme Court now.


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    • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
Earth to Voyager 2
  • A very long way off: In the nearly 44 years since NASA launched Voyager 2, the spacecraft has gone beyond the frontiers of human exploration by visiting Uranus, Neptune and, eventually, interstellar space. A round-trip communication with Voyager 2 takes about 35 hours — 17 hours and 35 minutes each way.
  • Silence ends: In March 2020, NASA was compelled to shut down its only means of reaching 12 billion miles across the heavens to this robotic trailblazer. Earth’s haunting silence will come to an end as NASA switches that communications channel back on, restoring humanity’s ability to say hello to its distant explorer.
  • DSN: Because of the direction in which it is flying out of the solar system, Voyager 2 can only receive commands from Earth via one antenna in the entire world. It is called DSS 43 and it is in Canberra, Australia. It is part of the Deep Space Network, or DSN, which along with stations in California and Spain, is how NASA and allied space agencies stay in touch with the armada of robotic spacecraft exploring everything from the sun’s corona to the regions of the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Pluto. (Voyager 2’s twin, Voyager 1, is able to communicate with the other two stations.) A round-trip communication with Voyager 2 takes about 35 hours — 17 hours and 35 minutes each way.
  • Knowledge centre: The DSS 43 is a 70-meter dish that has been operating since 1973. It was long overdue for upgrades, especially with new robotic missions headed to Mars this year and even more preparing to launch to study other worlds in the months and years to come. So last year, the dish was switched off and dismantled, even though the shutdown posed considerable risk to the geriatric Voyager 2 probe. Like everything in 2020, what would have been a normal antenna upgrade was anything but. Usually, the mission’s managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California would send about 30 experts to oversee the dish’s makeover. But restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the team to four.


 
NASA’s TESS discovers three hot planets orbiting a very young star
  • TESS: Using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), astronomers have discovered a young star called TOI 451 with three planets revolving around it. The recently discovered mini solar system is located in the Eridanus constellation, which is a part of the Pisces-Eridanus stream.
  • A star similar: The star of this system is 400 light-years away from us and is just 120 million years old, which makes it a lot younger when compared to our Sun. The three hot planets orbiting it were discovered while studying images taken by TESS between October and December 2018. The reason why astronomers are interested in exploring these planets is because their size can help them understand how planetary atmosphere evolves, given the system is not that far off from Earth.
  • A good system to study: This system checks a lot of boxes for astronomers. It’s only 120 million years old and just 400 light-years away, allowing detailed observations of this young planetary system. And because there are three planets between two and four times Earth’s size, they make especially promising targets for testing theories about how planetary atmospheres evolve. The nearest planet to the star, named TOI 451 b, is just 0.03 astronomical unit (AU) away and completes its orbit around in just 1.9 days. The planet is 1.9 times Earth’s size.
  • Reason for interest: The reason why astronomers are interested in exploring these planets is because their size can help them understand how planetary atmosphere evolves, given the system is not that far off from Earth. The temperatures on these planets range from 1,200 degree celsius to 450 degree celsius making them inhospitable. The reason is that even TOI 451’s most distant planet orbits three times closer than Mercury ever approaches to the Sun, which results in the higher temperatures.
  • The sun: However, the sun of this solar system has 95 per cent of our Sun’s mass and is 12 per cent smaller in size. It also emits 35 per cent less energy and is considerably faster than our Sun completing a rotation in just 5.1 days. All the findings were made possible with the help of observations made by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope in 2018 and 2019 along with several ground-based facilities.
  • Knowledge centre:
  1. TESS - NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is an all-sky survey mission that will discover thousands of exoplanets around nearby bright stars. TESS launched April 18, 2018 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
  2. HST - The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. It was not the first space telescope, but it is one of the largest and most versatile, renowned both as a vital research tool and as a public relations boon for astronomy.  
  3. JWST - The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2021. A large space telescope optimized for infrared wavelengths, the Webb telescope will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe and peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems.
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    • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
Historic WTO appointment of first woman and African as director general
  1. A new WTO boss: The appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was confirmed as the trade body’s director general on Monday 15-02-2021. She is the first woman and first African to hold the position. The WTO’s General Council agreed by consensus to select Okonjo-Iweala, 66, of Nigeria as its seventh director general, effective March 1 – an appointment that was termed historic. Her renewable term will expire on August 31, 2025. China said it had “full confidence” in the new boss! The WTO decision follows months of uncertainty after reversal of US objections to her appointment.
  2. US reverses stance: The Chinese commerce ministry said it expected the WTO to restore its normal functions “as soon as possible and promote the WTO to play a greater role in anti-epidemic cooperation and economic recovery”. WTO regulates trade between nations, but was in a logjam since the US began openly frustrating its processes under former president Donald Trump. That included objections to Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment, which went ahead after they were withdrawn by the Biden administration.
  3. Her statement: “In the 73 years of GATT and WTO, honoured to be first woman and first African to lead. But now the real work begins. Ready to tackle the challenges of WTO. Forget business as usual,” Okonjo-Iweala said. She added that one of her priorities would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Okonjo-Iweala, an economist who served as Nigeria’s finance minister and a World Bank managing director, will have plenty more on her plate – not least the US-China conflict playing out at the WTO.
  4. Why opposed earlier: The US has opposed China’s designation as a developing country, which affords it special provisions in respect of WTO agreements, while a WTO panel ruled in September that US tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods were illegal. The panel decision led to the US blocking the appointment of judges to the organisation’s top court – the Appellate Body that rules on trade disputes – and other retaliatory measures.
  5. China's hope: China said it hoped the new WTO head would promote necessary reforms of the global trade body and enhance the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral trading system, which was facing “major challenges” as the pandemic continued to ravage economies. China said it would also take “concrete actions to support the director general in her work, so the WTO will make greater contributions to improving the global governance system and enhancing the well-being of the people of the world.
  6. Her first appeal: She urged member countries to lift export restrictions that were slowing trade in key medicines and supplies to help heal economies after the devastating impact of the pandemic. “In the short term I want to look at countries that have import restrictions of medical products, and how they can be lifted. That will be my priority,” she said, adding that “vaccine nationalism” would not work. Okonjo-Iweala said she looked to work towards expediting fisheries subsidies negotiations, e-commerce and promoting agricultural trade. She expected the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) – scheduled for June – to be a platform for decision-making.
  7. Azevedo left suddenly: The process for selecting a new director general was triggered on May 14, when Roberto Azevedo announced he would be stepping down from the post one year before his mandate expired. He left office on August 31, 2020.  Nations now need to restore the WTO as a forum for meaningful trade negotiations and the settlement of commercial disputes. The African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said Okonjo-Iweala’s confirmation, as the first woman and first African to head the WTO, was “a double historical precedent in recognition of her inspirational global leadership”.


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    • 8. MISCELLANEOUS (Prelims, GS Paper 1, GS Paper 2)

Avoiding a climate disaster
  1. Bill Gates speaks: In an authoritative book - HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER - Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical–and accessible–plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe.
  2. Background: Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet’s slide to certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.
  3. What he writes: He gives us a clear-eyed description of the challenges we face. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. Finally, he lays out a concrete, practical plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions–suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers, and ourselves accountable in this crucial enterprise.
  4. Direction: Bill Gates makes clear that achieving zero emissions will not be simple or easy to do, but if we follow the plan he sets out here, it is a goal firmly within humanity's reach.


 
PiMo- eBike launched by IIT Madras-Incubated start-up
  1. What is is: The Pi Beam, which is an IIT Madras-incubated start-up, recently launched the electric two-wheeler called ‘PiMO’.
  2. Details: Pi Beam has set an aim of selling 10,000 vehicles by the end of financial year 2021-22. The bike was founded by an IIT Madras Alum Visakh Sasikumar. 100 customers have already pre-booked the e-bike.
  3. About PiMO: The electric two-wheeler can charge faster than a smartphone, and is a sustainable and affordable bike with a range of 50 km. It was launched for the personal and commercial needs, and is priced at Rs. 30,000. It does not require licence or registration, and  will offer the green and easy mobility on Indian roads. Since 90 per cent of the components of bike such as crucial batteries and controllers were manufactured in India, it is as per the ‘Make in India’ spirit.
  4. Features: The e-bike stands between an electric bicycle and the entry-level electric scooter. It has a top speed of 25 kmph. The e-bike provided a higher travel range when compared to the electric bicycle category. The bike also offers a Battery Swapping’ Technology.
  5. Battery Swapping Technology: A drained battery can be exchanged with a fully charged battery at the designated locations.
ECO Pact: New Low-Carbon range of Concrete
  1. What it is: ACC Ready Mix Concrete has recently introduced its new low carbon range of concrete called ECOPact. It is a “Green Concrete” that has been introduced for a high-performing, sustainable and circular construction.
  2. About ECOPact: It was launched in Mumbai and Hyderabad in the first phase, and will be rolled out across the country in a phased manner with in a few weeks. The objectives are enhancing the transition towards low-carbon and circular construction. The innovative manufacturing process of the ECOPact will reduce the CO2 emissions by up to 100 percent. It is a concrete that comprises 30-50 percent lower embodied carbon content as compared to the reference concrete which is designed with OPC. This innovative range uses CO2 reduced binders. It is suitable for all structural components ranging from foundations including elements such as columns, external or internal walls, beams, slabs, driveways and walkways.
  3. Importance: The ECOPact range will help the developers to obtain the Green Points from Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). The concrete has superior durability and finish as compared to conventional concrete.
  4. Types of products: Customers can choose the concrete on the basis of desired level of CO2 reduction and sustainability objectives. Examples - ECOPact PRIME (offers CO2 reduction up to 50-70 percent), ECOPact MAX (offers CO2 reduction greater than 70 percent), ECOPact ZERO (combination of concrete technology excellence and climate action).


 
Third Edition of Indian Sign Language dictionary
  1. What it is: The ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment will release the third edition of the Indian Sign Language (ISL) Dictionary on February 17, 2021. The new edition will comprise of 10,000 terms of daily. It will also include the academic, legal, medical technical, administrative and agricultural terms in it.
  2. Background: The second edition of the Indian Sign language was released in the year 2019. It comprised of 6,000 terms while its first edition was released in the year 2018 with 3,000 terms. The launch of the ISL dictionary is a step towards fulfilling needs of hearing and speech impaired in accordance with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016. It also complies with the initiative by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called “Accessible Digital Textbooks for All”. The ISL will be essential in enhancing the vocabulary and the capabilities to understand concepts of the impaired.
  3. What is Indian Sign Language (ISL): It is a set of hand and facial gestures that is used to communicate. It is commonly used by the hearing and speech impaired. The ISL has its own grammar, syntax and regional dialects. It comprises of different gestures for same word or sentiment. The sign language is a recognized official language in many countries including USA.
  4. Impairing in India: The World Health Organization (WHO) report states that, prevalence of hearing impairment in India is around 6.3% as of 2018. It means around 63 million people are suffering from auditory loss. Further, the adult-onset deafness in India accounts for 7.6% while the childhood-onset deafness accounts for 2%.
  5. Government initiatives: It had started the accessibility of news and educational videos by incorporating sign language or written text subtitles and transcripts. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016 was passed to Include provisions for hearing impaired. The New Education Policy, 2020 also contain provisions of universalization of education for all including the disabled with 100% Gross Enrolment ratio from preschool to secondary level by 2030. The National Program for Prevention and Control of Deafness (NPPCD) was launched in 2006 to tackle high incidence of deafness.


 
Privatisation of PSBs: Govt to bring Amendments
  1. Law change: The government will bring about amendments in the two acts in order to facilitate the privatisation of public sector banks (PSBs). Amendments will be made in the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1970 and Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1980. These two acts had facilitated for the nationalisation of banks in two phases. Now, in order to privatise the PSU Banks, provisions of these acts have to be changed.
  2. Background: The Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced about the privatisation of PSBs, while presenting Union Budget 2021-22. The PSBs will be privatised as a disinvestment drive in order to generate Rs 1.75 lakh crore. Three banks including the IDBI banks will be privatised as per the announcement.
  3. Recent merger: The government had also merged 10 public sector banks into four in the year 2020. Thus, the total number of PSBs came down to 12 from 27. Under the plan, the United Bank of India and Oriental Bank of Commerce were merged with the Punjab National Bank (PNB). This made PNB the second largest PSB. The Syndicate Bank was merged with Canara Bank, Allahabad Bank merged with the Indian Bank, Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank merged with the Union Bank of India, etc. Then in 2019, the Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank were merged with the Bank of Baroda. In April 2017, SBI merged five of its associate banks namely, the State Bank of Patiala, State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, State Bank of Travancore and the Bharatiya Mahila Bank.
  4. Opposition: Many are voicing concern over the rampant sale of government stake in public companies. People fear that reservations for various categories in jobs will be impacted, and also overall jobs scenario too. Private corporate power will grow rapidly.


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    • SECTION 3 - MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions)

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