Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 18-02-2021

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Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 18-02-2021

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. Governance and Institutions - PLI scheme worth over Rs. 12,000 cr for telecom equipment - The Union Cabinet approved a Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for telecom and networking equipment with an outlay of ?12,195 crore over five years to boost local manufacturing. The scheme will be effective from April 1, 2021. It will lead to incremental production of around ?2.4 lakh crore with exports of around ?2 lakh crore over five years, as per govt. estimates. The PLI scheme across 10 key specific sectors was launched in 2020 to make Indian manufacturers globally competitive, attract investment in the areas of core competency and cutting-edge technology; ensure efficiencies; create economies of scale; enhance exports and make India an integral part of the global supply chain. The ten sectors, implementing ministry and subsidy allotted are - (1) Advance Chemistry Cell (ACC) Battery (NITI Aayog and Department of Heavy Industries, Rs.18100 cr), (2) Electronic/Technology Products (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology MEITY, Rs.5000 cr), (3) Automobiles & Auto Components (Department of Heavy Industries, Rs.57042 cr), (4) Pharmaceuticals drugs (Department of Pharmaceuticals, Rs.15000 cr), (5) Telecom & Networking Products (Department of Telecom, Rs.12195 cr), (6) Textile Products: MMF segment and technical textiles (Ministry of Textiles, Rs.10683 cr), (7) Food Products (Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Rs.10900 cr), (8) High Efficiency Solar PV Modules (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Rs.4500 cr), (9) White Goods (ACs & LED) (Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Rs.6238 cr), and (10) Speciality Steel (Ministry of Steel, Rs.6322 cr)
  2. Constitution and Law - Court acquits Ms. Priya Ramani in defamation case by politician MJ Akbar - A Delhi Court on 17-02-2021 acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar over the sexual harassment allegations levelled by her. "A woman has right to put her grievance even after decades", the court observed. It observed that a man of social status can also be a sexual harasser. The case came into limelight starting 2018 when the #MeToo movement began worldwide and in India, and many powerful men were 'exposed' by women, who alleged they had sexually molested or raped them years ago, or even decades ago. Many women came out against MJ Akbar, and he in turn filed defamation suits against some.
  3. History - Fossils of world’s oldest animal discovered in Bhimbetka MP - The fossils of the world’s earliest known living animal, Dickinsonia, can be recognized from the white leaf-like patches with a central vertebra and connecting veins, on the roof of the famous Bhimbetka caves, MP. The three fossils of the world’s earliest known living animal - the 550 million years old Dickinsonia - have been discovered by the researchers on the roof of the Bhimbetka rock shelters (about 40 km from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh). The fossils of the oldest animal can be recognized from the white leaf-like patches with a central vertebra and connecting veins. While the one fossil of the animal is 17 inches long, the other two are much smaller. The new discoveries can be seen right at the beginning of the ‘Auditorium Cave’, which dates back to 570 million years.
  4. Governance and Institutions - Government launches Pilot Pey Jal Survekshan - The Pilot Pey Jal Survekshan was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs under the Jal Jeevan Mission- Urban on February 16, 2021. The Ministry informed that it will be conducted in ten cities including Bhubaneshwar. The survey will ascertain the reuse of watershed, equitable distribution of water, and mapping the water bodies concerning the quality and quantity of water through a challenging process. The Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) (JJM (U)) is designed to provide universal coverage of water supply to all households through functional taps in all 4,378 statutory towns in accordance with SDG Goal- 6. Also, sewerage/septage management in 500 AMRUT cities with the objective of making them water secure are the major focus areas under JJM (U). Estimated gap in urban household tap connections is 2.68 crore and estimated gap in sewer connections/septage in 500 AMRUT cities is 2.64 crore, which is proposed to be covered in JJM (U). The total outlay proposed for JJM (U) is ?2,87,000 crore which includes ?10,000 crore for continuing financial support to AMRUT Mission. In order to promote Public Private Partnership, it has been mandated for cities having million plus population to take up PPP projects worth minimum of 10 percent of their total project fund allocation.
  5. Governance and Institutions - PM Modi inaugurates oil and gas projects in Tamil Nadu - PM Modi on February 17, 2021, laid the foundation stone of oil, gas sector projects in Tamil Nadu via video conferencing. He dedicated the Gasoline Desulphurisation Unit and Ramanathapuram-Thoothukudi gas pipeline to the nation. Prime Minister also laid the foundation stone of the Cauvery Basin Refinery at Nagapattinam. These projects will facilitate socio-economic benefits and will help in boosting India’s mission towards ‘Urja Atmanirbharata’.
  6. Constitution and Law - Kiran Bedi removed as Puducherry’s Governor - The Rashtrapati Bhawan informed on February 16, 2021, that Kiran Bedi had been removed from her position as the Governor of Puducherry. Tamilisai Soundararajan, Governor of Telangana has been given the additional charge of Puducherry Lieutenant Governor until a new appointment is made. After the removal from the position, Kiran Bedi thanked the public officials and the people of Puducherry. Pondicherry (Puducherry) was a French colonial settlement in India until 1954, later a Union Territory town bounded by the southeastern Tamil Nadu state. The Puducherry Legislative Assembly is the unicameral legislature of the Indian union territory (UT) of Puducherry, which comprises four districts: Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahé and Yanam. The legislative assembly has 33 seats, of which 5 are reserved for candidates from scheduled castes and 3 members are nominated by the Government of India. 30 out of 33 Members are elected directly by the people on the basis of universal adult franchise.
  7. Energy - Record high prices impact India's petrol, diesel sales in February - Indian state refiners' petrol sales in the first two weeks of February fell below pre-pandemic levels, the first decline in about six months, according to preliminary industry data. Meanwhile, diesel sales fell by 8.6% in the first half of February. The decline in sales came as retail prices of petrol and diesel in India rose to a record high. Nearly 160 different types of crude oil are traded in global market with variation in viscosity, density, weight, fluidity and volatility. Crude oil is known by their geographical identities such as Brent Crude, Oman Crude, Dubai Crude, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Reference Basket, West Texas Intermediate (WTI). The Indian Basket of the crude price is a weighted average price of Brent, Oman and Dubai. India imports nearly 80 per cent of its crude oil requirements from abroad. Crude oil needs to be refined by refineries and Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs). In the domestic market, fuel price is partly shaped by actual supply and demand, and mostly by taxation and dealer commission. India follows the dynamic fuel pricing system to determine the cost of petrol and diesel. Fuel prices are revised daily, and the government has "no control" over pricing. This is done to transfer any gain due to falling oil prices to the consumer, which never happens in practice!
  8. World Economy - Jeff Bezos overtakes Elon Musk to reclaim title of world's richest person - In Feb 2021, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reclaimed the title of the world's richest person with a net worth of $191.2 billion, pushing Elon Musk to the second position on Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Musk displaced Bezos from the top position last month after the latter held the position for three years. Tesla shares slipped 2.4% on Tuesday, making Musk poorer by $4.6 billion. Both have enjoyed a love-hate relationship. In May 2019, Musk jabbed at Bezos calling him a copycat for Amazon's plan to launch internet-beaming satellites. Musk repeated the claim, tweeting that Bezos is a copycat after Amazon acquired self-driving-taxi company Zoox for a reported $1.2 billion.
  9. World Politics - China mandates bloggers to get govt. credential to write on certain subjects - The Cyberspace Administration of China has mandated bloggers and influencers to have a government-approved credential before they can publish on a range of subjects. The new rule has extended the requirement to health, economics, education and judicial matters. Permits have been required since 2017 to write about topics such as political and military affairs. Xi Jinping has gradually tightened his grip on China's institutions and society, allowing only a certain narrative to filter through to everyone. A large part of controlling the society is related to what people can read, study, analyse and share over the internet.
  10. Governance and Institutions - India to host SAARC virtual meet on COVID-19, Pakistan invited - India had proposed a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for the SAARC region during a video conference of the SAARC Heads of State on March 15, 2020. India will now host a virtual health secretary-level meeting with other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries on February 18, 2021 to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Pakistan has been invited to attend the workshop. The virtual workshop will be held on COVID-19 management and response to the pandemic and exchange of best practices amid the pandemic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for the SAARC region during a video conference of the SAARC Heads of State on March 15, 2020.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
Indian employment scenario - CMIE survey Jan 2021
  • Employment bounces back: In January 2021 India recorded a significant fall in the unemployment rate. There also was an increase in the employment rate. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.5 % (from 9.1 % in December 2020) and the employment rate rose to 37.9 % (from 36.9 %). These are CMIE data.
  • Data and numbers: The number of people employed increased from 38.88 crore in December 2020 to 40.07 crore in January 2021. So almost 1.2 crore new people found employment in January. In pre-pandemic times, monthly variations would usually be 50 lakh or so. The increase in January was twice this max variation. In October 2020, the recovery process had slowed down and then stalled even before the recovery was complete. Employment declined in each of the three months October through December 2020. The January 2021 recovery is a good sign.
  1. The increase in Jan employment nos. has reduced the count of unemployed to 2.79 crore
  2. These are the unemployed who are willing to work and actively looking for employment
  3. This low number is a goo sign, as on an average 3.3 crore persons willing to work and looking for work were unemployed in 2019-20
  4. So that is now down to less than 2.8 crore (so a 1 crore increase)
  • The unemployment rate: It has been volatile in the past six months and ranged from 6.5 % in November 2020 to 9.1 % in December 2020. The average during this six-month period was at 7.4 %. This volatility was a reflection of very high volatility in the month-on-month variation in the count of the unemployed. A very large number of people move in and out of being unemployed from one month to the next. There are, on average, about 30 million (3 crore) unemployed persons, that is a very high level of volatility. Volatility during lockdown and pandemic was due to an external shock.
  • In normal times: The high monthly volatility of unemployment in normal times reflects the high proportion of informal employment in India. A person could be employed on one day and not on the next, or vice versa. Most employed persons in India do not have regular jobs. Their employment on any given day depends upon the state of the economy, upon the local environment, business conditions at large and a fair degree of luck.
  • More jump: The two months of December 2020 and January 2021 saw an unusual jump in this volatility. In December 2020, India added 11.3 million (1.13 crore) unemployed persons. In January 2021, the count of unemployed declined by 1.07 crore. These are extraordinary variations. In January 2021 India reverted to its normal count of the unemployed, which averages at 2.8 crore.
  • CMIE’s Consumer Pyramids Household Survey: This captures two levels of unemployed. A person is considered to be unemployed only (i) if such a person is willing to work but does not have any employment, or (ii) such a person is unemployed and willing to work but not actively looking for work.
  1. The CMIE distinguishes such people into those who are actively looking for work and those who are not.
  2. The unemployed and the unemployment rate computed by CMIE are based on the count of the unemployed who are willing to work and are actively looking for employment.
  3. These were 2.79 crore in January 2021.
  4. There were another 1.21 crore who were also unemployed and willing to work but not actively looking for work.
  5. CMIE does not consider these in its computation of the unemployment rate.
  6. The total unemployed who were willing to work but did not have any employment in January 2021 was 4 crore.
  7. Employment in India is still lower than it was before the lockdown, but there are lesser unemployed people willing to work as well.
  • Knowledge centre:
  1. CMIE - The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy is a business information company, established in 1976 as an independent think tank. It has a presence over the entire information food-chain - from large scale primary data collection and information product development through analytics and forecasting. It produces economic and business databases and develops specialised analytical tools. It is head-quartered at Mumbai. The MD is Mahesh Vyas.
  2. LFPR - The labor force participation rate is a measure of an economy's active workforce. It is the sum of all workers who are employed or actively seeking employment divided by the total civilian working-age population (WAP).
  3. WAP - The working age population (WAP) refers to people aged 15 to 64.


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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
Texas winter storm disaster 2021
  • Texas winter storm: Many deaths were attributed in Texas, to the unprecedented winter storm ‘Uri’. Authorities warned that frigid conditions were likely to continue for another few days.
  • Grid failure: As Texas found itself in the midst of a rare and brutal blast of winter weather, with temperatures plunging below freezing levels, over 4.3 million people across the US state have been left without power after high demand for electricity caused the power grid to repeatedly fail. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the operator of the state’s power grid, faced sharp criticism from state leadership, including Governor Greg Abbott, who said that the body “has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.” Meanwhile, the power grid operators have said that they have no way of predicting when the power outages will end.
  • What caused the power outage: With Texas reporting some of its lowest temperatures in the last three decades, the state has recorded a sudden spike in electricity demand. Meanwhile, its primary sources of energy — natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind and solar — have been afflicted by the cold and ice. As a result, power grid operators have been forced to conduct rolling blackouts in different parts of the state. Operators urged customers to dial down their electricity use until the situation was brought under control.
  • Separate grid: Texas is the only US state operating its own internal power grid. Its managed by the nonprofit ERCOT and provides at least 90 per cent of the state’s electricity. When temperatures dropped significantly on 14-02-2021 (even plunging to -18 degrees in some parts of the state) and residents increasingly turned to their thermostats for warmth, the power grid was inundated with a record demand, at over 69,000 megawatts. This is more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak set in January 2018. The state’s main sources of power were also knocked offline as gas lines were blocked with ice, wind turbines froze and coal piles and thermal energy generators too began falling off the grid. Unable to meet the heightened demand, ERCOT was forced to introduce rotating power outages, which were supposed to last about 10-45 minutes.
  • Rich state: Texas has a wealth of energy resources, with the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy being produced in the US. The crisis has arisen not because of a lack of power sources, but rather due to ill-equipped energy infrastructure. In the meantime, electricity prices spiked more than 10,000 per cent when the storm hit the state. Real-time wholesale market prices on the power grid were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour (compared to regular prie of $50 per megawatt hr).
  • Outcome of the state-wide blackouts: Following the widespread blackouts in the state, several Covid-19 inoculation centres were forced to shut down, delaying the rollout of vaccines. With freezers losing power and generators failing, some health workers in places like Houston had to frantically administer remaining vaccine doses before they were spoiled. Before the arrival of the Uri winter storm, Texas was on track to vaccinate 1 million people per week and was on the verge of vaccinating over a million Texans by the end of the week, according to DSHS numbers.
  • Deaths: National Guard troops have been deployed across the state to check in on families during the ongoing winter storm. Several deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning have been reported in parts of the United States, as some people resorted to staying in their cars to keep warm. Nearly 120 crashes, including a 10-car pileup on I-45, were reported.
  • Knowledge centre:
  1. Sudden Stratospheric Warming: The 2021 problem is due to rapid heating in the stratosphere, the second-lowest section of the atmosphere, 8-50 km above the Arctic. Known as “sudden stratospheric warming”, it causes the polar vortex, a ring of cold air that encircles the poles, to weaken, lessening the forces that keep cold air corralled at high latitudes. This increases the movement of cold air southward and warm air northward, allowing low temperatures to sweep into typically warm areas such as the southern US. Reverse will happen with Britain, whih may be blasted with unseasonably warm air from Morocco.
  2. Climate change impact: Scientits say that warming temperatures in the Arctic’s troposphere (the lower atmospheric level which begins at the surface) are weakening the polar vortex and allowing bitter air to escape from the north more often. Climate change, driven by emissions from fossil fuels, is undeniably causing temperatures in the Arctic to increase at unprecedented rates, and far faster than elsewhere on the planet. But no clear causal link has been proven between climate change and the behaviour of the polar vortex. In the winter of 2019-20, for example, the vortex was exceptionally strong (because of a cool stratosphere), despite continued signs of global warming at the Arctic’s surface.


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

India-China LAC disengagement 
 
  • Feb disengagement: India and China decided to finally reach an agreement on disengagement at Pangong Lake, which has been at the heart of the recent LAC tensions starting April 2020. Both sides agreed to a withdrawal of frontline personnel, armored elements, and proposed the creation of a buffer zone that will put a temporary moratorium on patrolling in the disputed lake. China also asked India to vacate the heights it occupied in an effective countermove in the Kailash Range.
  • Unresolved issues: There are many other issues that needed to be resolved to establish lasting peace.
  1. Partial disengagement: The Feb 2021 disengagement was limited to two places on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh viz. north bank of Pangong lake and Kailash range to the south of Pangong. There are three other sites of contention on the Ladakh border where the PLA had come in — Depsang, Gogra-Hot Springs and Demchok — and talks would be held to resolve these after the current phase of disengagement is completed.
  2. Unresolved issue of Depsang Plains: The Depsang plains due to their proximity to the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road, the DBO airstrip, and the Karakoram Pass holds strategic importance for India when it comes to dealing with China. The Daulat Beg Oldie road is critical for India’s control over the Siachen glacier (the only area on the Indian landmass where China and Pakistan can physically collude militarily).
  3. Creation of buffer zone: There are worries that the creation of proposed buffer zones would lie majorly on the Indian side of the LAC, thus converting a hitherto Indian-controlled territory into a neutral zone. At best, these buffer zones can provide a temporary reprieve but are no alternative to the mutual delineation of the LAC and a final settlement of the Sino-Indian boundary.
  4. Distrust between India & China: The events of 2020 have left enormous distrust, which remains a hurdle, and China’s actions on the ground have not always matched its commitments. Further, China is wary of India’s attractiveness to the United States and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Due to the disputed nature of the border and a lack of trust between the two sides, any perceived violations of ‘no patrol’ zones can lead to deadly outcomes as seen in Galwan valley in 2020.
  • Indian strategy: The Chinese excuse that the Depsang problem precedes the current crisis on the LAC and thus must be treated separately, is not in India’s interest. India should pitch hard to club them together and find a holistic solution. India should not confine its response to managing the border dispute but extend it to attacking Chinese commercial interests in India and aligning itself more closely with its Quad partners, especially in the maritime domain.
  1. India should also explore diplomatic and militaristic routes to counter China. Apart from colluding with the Quad countries, one such viable option is establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. India should look Ladakh crisis as an opportunity to carry out long-pending defense reforms.
  2. A big sources of concern for India’s military is the pension bill. This rise has a significant crowding-out effect on stores and modernization, two major components that determine a nation's war-fighting ability. The current approach to this problem seems to be two-fold — a farcical three-year “Tour of Duty” to attract the young and an effort to prevent pensionable soldiers from leaving.
  • Conclusion: The disengagement process is a welcome move because heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed Asian powers serve no useful purpose for anyone. But its success will finally depend on whether it is implemented on the ground in letter and in spirit.

 

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

China’s new digital currency - Total control 
 
  • Digital renminbi as arrived: In the February 2021 festival season in China, authorities in many cities gave away tens of millions of renminbi as new year “red packets” that can be downloaded on to a smartphone. Beijing and Suzhou doled out 2,00,000 red packets worth Rmb200 ($31) each in a public lottery.
  • Deeper agenda: Such visible generosity hides a deeper agenda. By handing out the traditional red packets in the form of “digital renminbi”, China’s authorities are conducting trials for a crucial new technology that could lead the world’s adoption of digital currencies and set global technical standards. Although no official launch date has been announced, China is intent on becoming the first large economy to introduce a digital currency, showcasing its position as the global leader in payments technology to the world at 2022's Winter Olympics. Cambodia launched a digital currency, the Bakong, late in 2020.
  • Way ahead: Chinese policymakers are by far the most advanced in their thinking about a digital currency, and are thinking about things that the rest of the world is nowhere near thinking about yet. The digital renminbi will put every transaction on to the radar of the People’s Bank of China [central bank].
  • International footprint: China’s digital plan dovetails with broader ambitions for its currency as Beijing hopes the technology will help promote the renminbi internationally and weaken the US dollar’s supremacy. While bankers say the focus initially will be on using the digital currency in the domestic economy, it will probably be used for trade settlement in a number of years.
  • West versus East: While in the US, cryptocurrencies are steeped in the language of libertarianism, in China the digital currency project is tied up in the Communist party’s drive to maintain control over society and the economy. The technology is partly designed to reinforce its surveillance state.
  1. China’s digital renminbi is a “central bank digital currency”, making it in some ways the opposite of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
  2. Cryptocurrencies are often decentralised; they are not issued or backed by governments.
  3. The “e-yuan”, by contrast, is part of China’s top-down design. It is issued and regulated by the central bank and its status as legal tender is guaranteed by the Chinese state.
  4. Its digital format enables the central bank to track all transactions at the individual level in real time. Beijing aims to use this feature to combat money laundering, corruption and the financing of “terrorism” at home by strengthening the already formidable surveillance powers of the ruling Communist party.
  5. Beijing also hopes to use the digital renminbi as a means to reassert state control over its fintech industry and a vast e-payments market that is dominated by two huge private companies, Ant Group and Tencent.
  6. The technology could in effect become a rival to their cashless payments platforms.
  7. China’s government is already engaged in a multipronged effort to rein in the power of the new payments firms, which led to Ant cancelling a planned $37bn initial public offering at the end of 2020.
  • Fintech takeover: China’s strategy is to popularise the digital currency by running city-level trials in 2021 and 2022, having it ready for use by the time it hosts the Winter Olympic Games in late 2022. Some 60 per cent of more than 60 central banks surveyed by the Bank for International Settlements in 2020 had said they were “conducting experiments or proof-of-concept” studies on digital currencies, up from 42 per cent in 2019.
  • What it will do: The digital renminbi will be distributed directly to the e-wallets of users by state-owned banks, thus setting up payments channels that circumvent Alipay and WeChat Pay. Users so far have been able to withdraw e-yuan via ATM machines on to their smartphones’ e-wallets. Then they pay for items by holding their smartphone app close to an e-yuan point-of-sale device. Such a system represents a clear alternative to Alipay and WeChat Pay, which are estimated to have a combined worldwide active user base of around 1.9bn.
  • Private power: Today, Alipay and WeChat Pay not only form the backbone of China’s payments system in an economy that is already largely cashless. Their business also supports the share prices of Tencent, which is one of the world’s 10 largest companies with a capitalisation of more than $ 920 bn, and Alibaba, which owns a stake in Ant Group. The digital currency will deal a blow to Alipay and WeChat as it could replace them.
  • Sovereign power: As the digital renminbi is legal tender, no merchant can refuse to accept it and will, therefore, be obliged to install e-yuan terminals and payments systems after the currency is formally launched. The same is not the case for Alipay and WeChat Pay, which merchants are at liberty to refuse.
  • Centralised: China regards its centralised banking system as a crucial instrument of the party-state's economic power. Whenever its control is threatened, as it was by the flowering of a freewheeling peer-to-peer lending sector as recently as 2016, the authorities move decisively to reassert their influence. Only some 29 of as many as 6,000 peer-to-peer lenders now remain following Beijing's clean-up campaign. Similarly, the extraordinary success of Ant Group, before its share offering was axed, was seen as a threat by a powerful lobby of Chinese state-owned banks.
  • Downside: The digital renminbi is likely to be a boon for CCP surveillance in the economy and for government interference in the lives of Chinese citizens. But if the Communist party will get insight into every trade we do through the digital renminbi, then I think a lot of people outside China will prefer not to use it. China has formed a joint venture with Swift, the Belgium-based global system for cross-border payments, in a move aimed at promoting use of the digital renminbi. The new entity, called Finance Gateway Information Services Co, is charged with integrating information systems to facilitate the rollout of the digital currency.


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    • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
Four capitals of India
  1. From a CM: The West Bengal CM had suggested that India should have four capitals. It would mean that there should be Parliament buildings in three other regions & accommodation for all MPs and adjunct staff has to be constructed.
  2. Details: The MPs in the northern parts of the country would prefer to be in their existing accommodations while others prefer to settle in the capital close to their region. During Parliament sessions, MPs will descend to their envisaged capitals leaving the residential accommodations vacant for months after every session. But this would involve huge expenditure as MPs and their staffs have to fly to and from these capitals every now and then.
  3. State-level: In the 1980s, Tamil Nadu CM had proposed to shift the State capital to Tiruchirappalli but the idea was dropped later. Moreover providing security to all the MPs will be a huge burden for the State Police and also their vacant accommodations needs to be guarded round the clock.
  4. For SC: In January 2021, the Bar Councils of five southern States asked for a Supreme Court bench in south India. This was because all people can’t afford to travel to New Delhi to engage lawyers and plead their cases. The exorbitant fee of the Supreme Court lawyers in New Delhi is another deterrent. Even the Attorney General suggested for four benches of Court of Appeal with 15 judges across the country to reduce the burden of the Supreme Court. Easy accessibility to justice for every citizen should surely be a goal.


 
Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute
  • A new book: Maharashtra's CM Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar released a book titled ‘Maharashtra-Karnataka Seemavad: Sangharsh Aani Sankalp’ (Maharashtra-Karnataka Boundary Dispute: Struggle and Pledge).
  • What is the book about: It is a collection of articles, news, and other material on the demand that Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka should be integrated into Maharashtra. The matter has been in the Supreme Court since 2004. CM Thackeray said that until the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the dispute, the areas should be declared a Union Territory. Pawar said that the government must make all legal efforts to ensure a favourable verdict in the apex court.
  • The dispute: Maharashtra has staked claim to over 7,000 sq km area along its border with Karnataka. This comprises 814 villages in the districts of Belagavi (Belgaum), Uttara Kannada, Bidar, and Gulbarga, and the towns of Belagavi, Karwar, and Nippani. All these areas are predominantly Marathi-speaking. Maharashtra wants them to be merged with the state.
  • Origin: The genesis of the dispute lies in the reorganisation of states along linguistic and administrative lines in 1956. The erstwhile Bombay Presidency was a multilingual province, and included the present-day Karnataka districts of Vijayapura, Belagavi, Dharwad, and Uttara Kannada. In 1948, the Belgaum municipality requested that the district, having a predominantly Marathi-speaking population, be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state. But the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 made Belgaum and 10 talukas of Bombay State a part of the then Mysore State (which was renamed Karnataka in 1973).
  1. While demarcating borders, the Reorganisation of States Commission sought to include talukas with a Kannada-speaking population of more than 50% in Mysore.
  2. The opponents of the region’s inclusion in Mysore have maintained that in 1956, Marathi-speakers outnumbered Kannada-speakers in those areas.
  • Significance: Political parties in Maharashtra are united on the merger of the border areas with the state. The dispute features in every election manifesto of the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, and BJP. Over the last six decades, every Governor’s address to the joint session of the Maharashtra Assembly and Council has mentioned the border dispute.
  • Karnataka’s response: The BJP government in Karnataka has accused Maharashtra of seeking to incite violence on the border dispute. Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has vowed he would “not part with an inch of land”, and said the Mahajan Commission had “long ago settled the dispute.”
  • The Mahajan Commission: It was set up by the Government of India in October 1966 to look into the border disput, led by former Chief Justice of India Mehr Chand Mahajan, and submitted its report in August 1967. It recommended that 264 villages should be transferred to Maharashtra, and that Belgaum and 247 villages should remain with Karnataka. But Maharashtra rejected the report, calling it biased and illogical, while Karnataka welcomed it.
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    • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
Earth’s mountains stopped growing for a 100 crore years
  • No movement: Starting about 180 crore years ago, the planet's continental crust thinned, slowing the flow of nutrients into the sea and possibly stalling the evolution of life. A new study published in Science points to the feature that was missing from Earth in this period - towering mountains.
  • Tectonic shifts: The restless tectonic plates of modern Earth shift continuously, in a slow-motion dance that reshapes the surface of our planet. Collisions between continents thicken the crust and heave up mountains, such as the Himalayas, that reach ever higher into the skies. But clues etched into tiny zircon crystals that formed deep in the Earth suggest that plate tectonics didn't always work the same way it does today.
  • Boring Billion: In the eon between 1.8 and 0.8 billion years ago — a time called the "boring billion" — the continents seemed to grow progressively thinner. The exact driver of this continental slimming is unknown. But at its most slender, the land was about a third thinner than it is today, partly due to a slowdown in plate tectonics.
  • Life slowed down: This thin crust could have delayed the evolution of life as we know it. Puny mountains would have slowed erosion of the planet’s rocks, limiting the supply of life-giving nutrients for creatures in the oceans. Soon after continents began to thicken again, a flush of nutrients seemed to drive evolution to ever larger and more complex life.
  • Zircon crystals: Scientists were analyzing granite rocks from the Himalaya of southern Tibet when they noticed a curious pattern in their crystals of the mineral zircon. These tiny time capsules form as magma cools within the Earth, recording the chemical fingerprints of ancient conditions on our planet—and they're nearly indestructible. Researchers have found zircons that formed soon after Earth’s birth nearly 4.4 billion years ago. They realized that the chemistry of the zircon crystals from the Tibetan samples changed in step with the continental thickness at the time their parent rocks formed.
  • Everlasting: Scientists previously determined continental thickness by looking at the relative amounts of the elements lanthanum and ytterbium in the rocks. But using the rock itself to peer into the past is difficult because few whole rocks have survived since Earth's infancy, leaving gaps in the geologic history. The everlasting quality of zircons allows scientists to glimpse a much more complete story of our planet’s past. Scientits found that the amount of the element europium in the crystals changed along with the thickness measured using prior rock chemistry methods.
  • More proof: The thinning coincided with the disappearance of many other markers for ancient mountain building that had previously been identified in the rock record. The strontium composition, which is related to erosion, starkly shifted. Similarly, the elements molybdenum and uranium all but disappeared from marine rocks. And phosphorus-rich rocks grew scarce.
  • Exact process: Though the exact process behind this crustal winnowing remains uncertain, it could be due to a slowdown in plate tectonics. Without the continuous upward march, mountain peaks would slowly flatten as erosion by wind and water worked away at the rocks.
  • Summary: The supercontinent "Nuna" began forming around 2.1 billion years ago. Then, after a minor rearrangement, the supercontinent known as Rodinia took shape, starting some 1.2 billion years ago and lasting nearly a half billion years longer. For more than an eon, the landmass formed a nearly unbroken blanket over a large swath of the planet, trapping in the heat deep below the surface. The excess heat beneath the supercontinent would also produce a cooldown under the oceanic crust, affecting the march of tectonic plates.


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    • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
COVID-19 cases dropping fast in US – Why
  • A welcome drop: Across the world, some countries are seeing Covid-19 cases drop rapidly. Scientists suggest four reasons for it - social distancing, seasonality, seroprevalence, and shots.
  • US relieved finally: COVID-19 is in retreat in America now, instead of growing! New daily cases have plunged, and hospitalizations were down almost 50 percent in February 2021. This is not due to infrequent testing, since the share of regional daily tests that are coming back positive has declined even more than the number of cases.
  • Various explanations and analyses:
  • Behaviour: Maybe Americans finally got the hang of this mask and social-distancing thing. Google mobility data shows that Americans withdrew into their homes after the winter holidays during the subsequent spike in cases. But until much of the population is vaccinated, the decline in cases is not to be seen as a green light.
  • Seasonality: Mask wearing, social distancing, and other virus-mitigating habits vary among states and countries. But the coronavirus was perhaps destined to decline this time of 2021. Since January 1, 2021, daily cases are down 70 percent in the United Kingdom, 50 percent in Canada, and 30 percent in Portugal. So perhaps the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is indeed seasonal. Many viruses fare best in cold and dry conditions; they’re not well designed to thrive in warmer, sunnier, and more humid outdoor areas. Each virus is a bundle of genes and protein encased in a fatty lipid molecule. This fatty shell breaks down more easily in warmer environments.
  • Partial immunity: Is the virus running out of bodies? The coronavirus needs bodies in order to survive and replicate, and it now has access to fewer welcome hosts. Fifteen to 30 percent of American adults have already been infected with COVID-19, according to CDC estimates. Since people recovering from COVID-19 typically develop lasting immunological protection for many months (at least), the number of antibodies swirling around the U.S. population may naturally constrict the original coronavirus’s path forward. Immunity is probably concentrated among people who had little opportunity to avoid the disease, such as homeless people, frontline and essential workers, and people living in crowded multigenerational homes.
  • Herd immunity: Nothing is herd immunity, really. But it is partial immunity among the very populations that have been most likely to contract the disease, perhaps narrowing the path forward for the original SARS-CoV-2.
  • The variants: The virus mutations from South Africa and Brazil in particular may elude the immunological protection among COVID-19 survivors. It is important to accelerate vaccinations before these variants take off.
  • Vaccines: The vaccines—especially the synthetic-mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—are highly effective at preventing infection. Among those infected, they also reduce symptomatic illness. And among those with symptoms, they reduce long-term hospitalization and death to something like zero. A vaccine is not just one line of immunological defense, but several—a high wall protecting a castle and, to fight the few who bypass the wall, a group of castle defenders holding vats of searing-hot tar to pour all over the invaders. Even if the rise of new variants slows the decline in cases, it is unlikely to lead to a sharp rise in mortality and hospitalizations.
  • Summary: Although the pandemic isn’t over, the US has perhaps reached the beginning of the end of COVID-19 as an exponential, existential, and mortal threat to its health-care system and our senior population.


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

Anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar
  1. No Chinese wanted: Widespread protests against the Feb. 2021 military coup in Myanmar have taken on an increasingly anti-Chinese tone, with rallies held outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar and calls growing for boycotts of Chinese goods and services. Rumours say Chinese soldiers have infiltrated Myanmar and that Chinese software will be used to set up a Great Firewall. The Chinese ambassador has attempted to dispel these!
  2. China didn't criticise the coup: Beijing’s public statements in response to the coup have been neutral to mildly critical, with state media describing the coup as a “major cabinet reshuffle,” while the ambassador to Myanmar said China was “unhappy with the situation.”
  3. Why democracy: Myanmar’s military allowed limited democracy in the last decade out of fear that it was becoming too dependent on China as its only backer, since it was cut off from the rest of the world through sanctions. The military now seems to value its own power over the risk of dependence on a giant neighbor.
  4. No one loves them: Anti-Chinese sentiment has a long history in Myanmar, both on the national level and at the local level, due to conflicts among ethnic Chinese communities and others. Chinese investment projects have been major flash points, especially the Myitsone Dam, which was suspended in 2011 following the move toward democracy. There is also growing anti-Chinese feeling across Southeast Asia. Many young people see parallels between the 2019 Hong Kong protests and their own resistance against local authoritarianism — resulting in the so-called Milk Tea Alliance of online activists.
Assam: Launch of ‘Mahabahu-Brahmaputra’ initiative
  • What it is: The PM virtually launched the ‘Mahabahu-Brahmaputra’ initiative in Assam on February 18, 2021.
  • Highlights
  1. Mahabahu-Brahmaputra initiative: Launch of this will be marked with the inauguration of the Ro-Pax vessel operations. The Ro-Pax vessel operations will be launched in between the Neamatighat & Majuli, Dhubri-Hatsingimari and North-South Guwahati. It also includes the inauguration of the Inland Water Transport Terminal at Jogighopa. It is being started with the aim to provide a seamless connectivity to Eastern Parts of India. It comprises various development activities for people living across the Barak and Brahmaputra rivers.
  2. Ro-Pax Service: It will the launched in the state under the Mahabahu-Brahmaputra initiative. The RO-Pax Vessel operations will help in reducing the travel time. It will also facilitate the connectivity between banks. It will also reduce the distance travelled by road.
  3. Dhubri Phulbari Bridge: The PM will also lay the foundation stone for a four lane Dhubari Phulbari bridge. This bridge will be constructed on NH-127B. It will start from the Srirampur on NH-27 which is the East-West Corridor, and will terminate at Nongstoin on NH-106 in the state of Meghalaya. It will be constructed over the Brahmaputra River connecting Dhubri in Assam to Phulbari, Tura, Rongram, and Rongjeng in Meghalaya. Total cost of the project would be Rs.4997 crores.
India to host SAARC Virtual Meet
  1. A virtual gathering: India was set to host the virtual health secretary-level meeting with the member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The virtual meeting will be held on February 18, 2021. During the meeting the members will discuss the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Pakistan has also been invited to attend the meeting.
  2. Highlights: The virtual meeting will discuss the challenges and development associated with the COVID-19 management and response to the pandemic. The members will exchange the best practices with respect to the ongoing pandemic.
  3. Background: India proposed a Coronavirus Emergency Fund COVID-19 crisis. for the SAARC region in March 2020 during a video conference of the SAARC Heads of State. The Coronavirus Emergency Fund was set up by the SAARC members in order to response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was created with the aim of mitigating the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in the South Asian region. India had proposed to contribute USD10 million for the fund.
  4. India’s Support to the neighbours: India was at the forefront in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. India provided the indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccines to the countries either as gift or on commercial line.
  5. About SAARC: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) grouping comprises of the countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It was founded on December 8, 1985. It is headquartered at Kathmandu, Nepal. It comprises of 3% of world’s area.


 
Five new all-India labour surveys
  • What it is: The Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar has launched the software applications for five all India surveys on February 18, 2021.
  • Details: The five surveys include:
  1. All-India Survey on the migrant workers: Survey on the migrant workers will be carried with the aim of finding the estimated number of migrant workers in India, and to collect the information on their living & working conditions and the socio-economic conditions.
  2. All-India Survey on Domestic Workers: The All-India Survey on Domestic Workers will be carried with the objective of estimating the proportion of Domestic Workers in the workforce coming from across India. It will calculate the percentage distribution of these domestic workers and households that employ them.
  3. All-India survey on employment generated by professionals: This survey has essentially two goals - To estimate the total number of active professionals in the country and to capture the employment generated by these professionals.
  4. All-India survey on employment generated in Transport Sector: It will assess the employment generated in Transport Sector of India.
  5. All-India Quarterly Establishment based Employment Survey: It will measure the relative change in employment situation in the successive quarters for a sizeable group of non-farm economy. It will cover all the eight important sectors of Indian economy.
  • Summary: There is a debate over poor quality of employment data in India, and this is the fresh govt. effort to streamline things.


 
TIGER X-1: Hyundai’s New Concept Vehicle
  1. What is TIGER: The Hyundai Motor Group has designed a walking car concept robot called TIGER - Transforming Intelligent Ground Excursion Robot. It comprises the wheels having capability to adapt to navigate in the challenging terrain. The ultimate mobility vehicle (UMV) uses its ability to walk when it gets stuck or when required to travel in the difficult terrain not only on Earth but on other planets as well.
  2. About TIGER X-1: This is the first version of TIGER, based on the modular platform architecture. The robot has 360-degree directional control which helps in surface evaluation in disaster prone areas. It does not carry passengers but it can carry cargo and sensors to remotely observe the surroundings. It operates autonomously, and comprises a sophisticated leg and wheel locomotion system. TIGER can be used to carry goods for the delivery or delivery of the aid packages in emergency situations. It is the second UMV by Hyundai Motor Group.
  3. Background: The first UMV by the Hyundai Motor Group was launched at the 2019 consumer electronics show. It comprises of the features like moveable legs. It could Elevate and was designed to carry the passengers. The Hyundai Motor Company is a South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer, headquartered in Seoul, and established in 1967.


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