Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 08-03-2021

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Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 06-03-2021

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. Foreign Affairs - Falling Rupee Reserves of Iran - In 2021, Indian merchants have almost entirely stopped signing new export contracts with Iranian buyers due to caution about Iran’s falling rupee reserves with Indian banks. Earlier in 2020, the Ministry of External Affairs informed that India is no longer involved in the Farzad-B gas field project of Iran. The reasons included policy changes by the Iranian government, Iran’s uncertain finances, and the USA sanctions situation. In 2020, Iran also passed a bill allowing the government to slash four zeros from the Rial and authorizing its replacement with another basic unit of currency called the toman (redenomination). Iran’s rupee reserves in India’s UCO and IDBI Bank, the two lenders authorised to facilitate rupee trade, have depleted significantly and exporters are not sure whether they would be paid on time for new shipments. Under U.S. sanctions, Tehran is unable to use U.S. dollars to transact oil sales. Iran previously had a deal to sell oil to India in exchange for rupees, which it used to import critical goods, including agricultural commodities, but New Delhi stopped buying Tehran’s oil in May 2019 after a U.S. sanctions waiver expired.
  2. Governance and Institutions - India - Sweden Virtual Summit - Indian PM held a Virtual Summit with the Prime Minister of Sweden to discuss bilateral issues and other regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest. The Summit provided an opportunity to discuss the international situation and response to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as regional and global issues of mutual importance including climate action, sustainable development, gender equality, counter-terrorism and disaster resilient infrastructure, among others. Bilateral relations between India and Sweden are friendly and based on principles of democracy and transparency, right to freedom, and rule of law. Regular interactions in political, business, scientific and academic spheres have provided dynamism to the bilateral ties of the two countries. Defence ties between India and Sweden also go back several years. The turning point, however, was in 1986 when India, then under former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, signed an agreement with Swedish defence major Bofors to procure 155-mm Howitzer field guns. This eventually turned into a huge political controversy post which defence cooperation between India and Sweden took a backseat for a long time. In 2016, when the Modi government conducted the much-talked-about ‘surgical strikes’ on Pakistan, Indian para commandos were believed to have used the Carl Gustav-84 mm rocket launchers, made by the Swedish weapons firm Saab, to hit the terror launchpads.
  3. Defence and Military - Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet Technology - The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully conducted the test of the Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) technology, which is crucial for the indigenous development of long range air-to-air missiles. SFDR technology is a missile propulsion system based on the concept of Ramjet Engine principle. The system utilises a solid fuelled air-breathing ramjet engine. Unlike solid-propellant rockets, the Ramjet takes up oxygen from the atmosphere during flight. Thus, it is light in weight and can carry more fuel. DRDO began developing SFDR first in 2017 and had conducted successful tests in 2018 and 2019 as well.
  4. Environment and Ecology - Dumping inert waste in Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary - The Supreme Court-mandated Ridge Management Board has decided to constitute an expert committee to look into the proposal of dumping inert (non-reactive) waste in the mines of Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary (Delhi). Inert waste is waste which is neither biologically nor chemically reactive and is waste which will not decompose or decompose very slowly. Inert waste includes, but is not limited to: construction and demolition material such as metal, wood, bricks, masonry and cement concrete; asphalt concrete; metal; tree branches; bottom ash from coal fired boilers; and waste coal fines from air pollution control equipment. These wastes usually don't pose a threat to the environment, or the health of animals or other people and will not endanger the quality of watercourses. However, when there is a large amount of this type of waste, it can become an issue as it begins to take up a lot of space.
  5. Governance and Institutions - EPFO: Interest Rate for 2020-21 - Recently, the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) recommended that subscribers be given 8.5% interest rate for Provident Fund contributions (under Employees’ Provident Funds Scheme) for 2020-2021. EPF is the main scheme under the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Act, 1952. This scheme offers the institution of provident funds for factory employees and other establishments. The employee and employer each contribute 12% of the employee’s basic salary and dearness allowance towards EPF. The Economic Survey 2016-17 had suggested that employees be allowed to choose whether or not to save 12% of their salary into EPF or keep it as take home pay. As per current laws, a person mandatorily becomes a member of EPF if his monthly salary does not exceed Rs. 15,000.
  6. Science and Technology - Blockchain in Space - JP Morgan has successfully tested a space-based payment infrastructure utilising blockchain technology, using GomSpace’s satellites. It is the world’s first bank-led tokenised value transfer in space. It was executed via smart contracts on a blockchain network that was established between two GOMX-4 satellites orbiting the earth in the low Earth orbit (LEO). This has validated the approach towards a decentralised network where communication with the earth is not necessary. It may lead to a potential peer-to-peer satellite marketplace in the long term, allowing data transfers between satellites against payment. Blockchains are based on DLT - distributed ledger technology - where a decentralised account-keeping system runs based on system trust. They first came in limelight when the Bitcoin was launched in 2009.
  7. World Economy - International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) - India has made the following demands wrt INSTC at the 3-day “Maritime India” summit that was conducted virtually - (a) Include Chabahar port in the 13-nation International North South Transport Corridor, (b) Expand INSTC membership by including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, (c) Establish an eastern corridor through Afghanistan would maximise its potential. It is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight. Regions involved: India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. Dry runs of two routes were conducted in 2014 - First was Mumbai to Baku via Bandar Abbas. Second was Mumbai to Astrakhan via Bandar Abbas, Tehran and Bandar Anzali. India's interest in INSTC is due to its challenge to the infrastructure being built under China's BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), especially the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).
  8. Environment and Ecology - World’s forgotten Fishes Report - According to a report by 16 global conservation organisations, nearly a third of all freshwater fish are threatened with extinction. Of the 80 freshwater species declared extinct, as many as 16 freshwater fish species were declared extinct in 2020 alone. The population of migratory freshwater fish fell 76% since 1970; that of mega-fish by 94%. Pressures on global freshwater fish populations - Habitat degradation, poorly planned dams, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, wildlife crime, climate change, releasing wastewater and draining wetlands. The WWF has called on all governments to back the implementation of a global Emergency Recovery Plan for freshwater biodiversity. The World Wide Fund for Nature (now WWF) is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1961 that works in the field of wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment. It was formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States.
  9. Agriculture - One District One Focus Product - Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, and Ministry of Food Processing Industries has finalized the products for One District One Focus Product (ODOFP). Products - Agricultural, horticultural, animal husbandry, poultry, milk, fisheries, aquaculture, marine and processed food sectors. These products - identified from 728 districts across the country - are finalized after taking inputs from States/UTs and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). They will be promoted in a cluster approach through convergence of the schemes, to increase the farmers’ income and value of the products. Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare will support ODOFP from its ongoing centrally sponsored schemes - MIDH, NFSM, RKVY, PKVY. Ministry of Food Processing Industries will support these products under the PM Formlisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (PM-FME) scheme - provides incentives to promoter and micro-enterprises. This scheme needs to be implemented by State Governments.
  10. Indian Politics - Covid update - India reported 18,599 new COVID-19 cases, 97 deaths on 07-03-2021. With this, the total number of COVID-19 cases in India surged to 1,12,29,398 while the death toll increased to 1,57,853. Around 19 states/UTs reported no COVID-19 related deaths. Meanwhie, health minister Harsh Vardhan said that 'We are in the endgame of COVID-19 pandemic in India, and to succeed at this stage, "politics should be kept out" of the COVID-19 vaccination drive. We have administered over 2 crore COVID-19 vaccine shots and have increased our vaccination rate to 15 lakh per day'.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan approved 
  • Massive new stimulus: The US Senate narrowly approved a USD 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on 06-03-2021 as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums. The huge package its total spending is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire US economy is Biden's biggest early priority. The package faced solid opposition from Republicans, who call the package a wasteful spending spree for Democrats' liberal allies that ignores recent indications that the pandemic and the economy could be turning the corner.
  • Micro win: After a night of amendments, nearly all Republicans rejected the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote. That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can send it to Biden for his signature. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, citing the country's desire to resume normalcy, added "Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future."
  • 10% of GDP: The huge package its total spending is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire US economy is Biden's biggest early priority. It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year. The vote was a crucial political moment for Biden and Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run because of Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote. They also have a a slim 10-vote edge in the House of Representatives.
  • The provisions: The new bill provides direct payments of up to USD 1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits, and vast piles of spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance. The measure follows five earlier ones totaling about USD 4 trillion that Congress has enacted since last spring and comes amid signs of a potential turnaround. Vaccine supplies are growing, deaths and caseloads have eased but remain frighteningly high, and hiring was surprisingly strong last month, though the economy remains 10 million jobs smaller than its pre-pandemic levels.
  • No minimum wages for now: The Senate voted earlier to eject a House-approved boost in the federal minimum wage to USD 15 an hour by 2025, a major defeat for progressives. Eight Democrats opposed the increase, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other progressives pledging to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight. Party leaders also agreed to restrict eligibility for the USD 1,400 stimulus checks that will go to most Americans. That amount would be gradually reduced until, under the Senate bill, it reaches zero for people earning $80,000 and couples making USD 160,000. Those amounts were higher in the House version.


 
China Feb 2021 exports post record surge
  • Chinese checkers: China's February 2021 exports grew at a record pace from a year earlier when COVID-19 battered the world's second-biggest economy, customs data showed, while imports rose less sharply. Exports in dollar terms skyrocketed 154.9% in February compared with 2020, while imports gained 17.3%, the most since October 2018.
  • Data: In the January-February 2021 period, exports jumped 60.6% from a year earlier, when lockdowns to contain the pandemic paralysed the country's economic activity. That exceeded the forecast of analysts in a Reuters poll for a 38.9% surge. Strong exports, which benefited from China's success in largely containing the public health crisis, have helped fuel the country's recovery from a pandemic-induced paralysis.
  1. The surge was driven by a rebound in foreign demand, as per customs, citing improvements in manufacturing industries in the European Union and the United States, and their increased imports of Chinese products thanks to fiscal stimulus measures.
  2. In addition, a majority of manufacturing employees (in China) chose to stay put over the Lunar New Year holidays. A lot of firms in export-oriented provinces stayed open, and orders that usually only get delivered after the new year had been delivered normally.
  3. Chinese factory activity usually goes dormant during the Lunar New Year break, which fell in the middle of February this year, as workers return to their hometowns. This year, the government appealed to workers to avoid travelling to curb the risk of a spread of the coronavirus.
  • More data: In January-February, imports increased 22.2% from a year earlier, above the 15% forecast, partly due to stockpiling of semiconductors and energy products, according to customs. China posted a trade surplus of $103.25 billion for the first two months. Analysts had expected the trade surplus to narrow to $60.15 billion from $78.17 billion in December.
  • 'NORMAL YEARS': In yuan terms, exports rose 50.1% in the two months from a year earlier, while imports gained 14.5%. Due to the impact of the new coronavirus, overall trade (in yuan terms) in January-February 2020 fell 9.7%, and the low base was one of the reasons for the larger increase this year. China's economy expanded 2.3% last year, helped by solid demand for Chinese-made goods such as medical and work-from-home equipment, although the growth was its weakest in 44 years.
  • Growth projections: This year, China has set a modest growth target of at least 6%, planning a careful course out of a year disrupted by COVID-19 and amid heightened tensions with the United States. China's trade surplus with the United States stood at $51.26 billion in January-February. Chinese customs did not give a monthly breakdown. The surplus was $29.92 billion in December 2020.

 
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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
Climate Change report on Hindukush Karakoram ranges 
  • The report: According to the 'Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region' report, snowfall over the higher reaches of the Hindukush Himalayan mountain ranges has been increasing in recent decades, which has shielded the region from glacier shrinkage. The recent massive flooding in the Alaknanda river, probably due to glacial bursts has highlighted the issue of higher glacier retreat in recent decades due to global warming, however, the report indicates a contrasting picture of the Hindukush Himalayas. "Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region Report" has been published by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). It is India’s first-ever national forecast on the impact of global warming on the subcontinent in the coming century.
  • The HinduKush Himalayan (HKH) Region: The HKH region spans Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It traverses about 5 million square kilometres and hosts a large and culturally diverse population, and is considered the Third Pole (after the North and South Poles), and has significant implications for climate. It contains vast cryospheric zones (frozen water parts) and is also the world’s largest store of snow and ice outside the polar region.
  • Points to learn:
  1. Findings - Several areas of Hindukush Karakoram Himalayas have experienced a declining trend in snowfall and also retreat of glaciers in recent decades. In contrast, the high-elevation Karakoram Himalayas have experienced higher winter snowfall that has shielded the region from glacier shrinkage. The Karakorams are part of a complex of mountain ranges at the centre of Asia, including the HinduKush to the west, the Pamirs to the northwest, the Kunlun Mountains to the northeast, and the Himalayas to the southeast. Even when the winter snowfall has increased over the high-elevation Karakoram Himalayas, the overall climate along the Hindukush Karakoram region is undergoing warming at a higher rate during the winter season as compared to other seasons.
  2. Reasons - (i) Faster Heating of Himalayas - Weather dynamics is intricate in the Himalayan region, arising due to extensive interactions of tropical and extratropical weather systems. The Himalayas have been warming at a faster rate than the rest of Indian landmass during 1951 - 2018. Besides, the warming reported from this region is higher than global mean temperatures. (ii) Global Warming - The decadal warming trend recorded over these ranges from 1951 to 2014 was 1.3 degree Celsius. This is a rise from 0.16 degree Celsius recorded from 1900 to 1950, when global warming was less pronounced.
  3. Effects - (i) Increasing Annual Mean Surface Temperature - The Report has forecast an increase in annual mean surface temperature by 2.2 degree Celsius during 2040 - 2069 and a further increase by 3.3 degree Celsius during 2070 – 2099, along these ranges. (ii) Extreme Precipitation - Due to this warming trend, there is an expected increase in the precipitation projected over the region. It is predicted that there will be a significant increase in extreme precipitation over the Hindukush Karakoram region, with maximum consecutive five-day precipitation events.
  4. Significance - (i) Driver of Monsoon - The Hindukush Karakoram ranges, along with the Tibetan Plateau, are the main drivers of the Indian Summer Monsoon. (ii) Source of Subsistence - These ranges form the source to 10 major river systems in Asia, supporting drinking water, irrigation and power supply to 1.3 billion people in the continent. Major Indian rivers which replenish due to the melted snow are Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra. After the North and the South poles, the Hindukush – Karakoram ranges, along with the Tibetan Plateau, hold the largest reserves of freshwater.
  • Knowledge Centre:
  1. The Himalayas - This is a great mountain system of Asia forming a barrier between the Plateau of Tibet to the north and the alluvial plains of the Indian subcontinent to the south. The Himalayas include the highest mountains in the world, with more than 110 peaks rising to elevations of 24,000 feet (7,300 metres) or more above sea level. One of those is the Mount Everest (Tibetan: Chomolungma; Nepali: Sagarmatha), the world’s highest, with an elevation of 29,035 feet (8,850 metres; see Researcher’s Note: Height of Mount Everest. The mountains’ high peaks rise into the zone of perpetual snow. Since ancient times the vast glaciated heights have attracted the attention of the pilgrim mountaineers of India, who coined the Sanskrit name Himalaya—from hima (“snow”) and alaya (“abode”)—for that great mountain system. In contemporary times the Himalayas have offered the greatest attraction and the greatest challenge to mountaineers throughout the world. The ranges form the northern border of the Indian subcontinent and an almost impassable barrier between it and the lands to the north, are part of a vast mountain belt that stretches halfway around the world from North Africa to the Pacific Ocean coast of Southeast Asia.
  2. Four ranges in the Himalayas - The Himalayan ranges are grouped into four parallel longitudinal mountain belts of varying width, each having distinct physiographic features and its own geologic history. They are designated, from south to north, as the (i) Outer, or Sub-, Himalayas (Siwalik Range); (ii) the Lesser, or Lower, Himalayas; (iii) the Great Himalaya Range (Great Himalayas); and (iv) the Tethys, or Tibetan, Himalayas. Farther north lie the Trans-Himalayas in Tibet proper. From west to east the Himalayas are divided broadly into three mountainous regions: (a) western, (b) central, and (c) eastern. The Himalayas stretch uninterruptedly for 2,500 km from west to east between Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet [8,126 metres]), in the Pakistani-administered portion of the Kashmir region, and Namjagbarwa (Namcha Barwa) Peak (25,445 feet [7,756 metres]), in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.


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

Eight Pacific Island States saving the world’s Tuna 
  • Rich waters, poor nations: They control the richest tuna waters on the planet, an area of the Pacific roughly one-and-a-half times the size of the United States. But 10 years ago, eight island states in whose waters most of the world’s canned tuna is fished were seeing almost none of the profits. In 2011, however, they scored a striking success for small-state diplomacy when they devised a system to raise the fees foreign fleets were paying them for the privilege of fishing in their exclusive economic zones, which extend 200 nautical miles off their coasts. At the time, all they got was a scandalously low fraction of the tuna’s value—as little as 2.5 percent.
  • Striking tuna gold: Today, the eight island nations have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They increased their take tenfold—from $50 million in 2010 to around $500 million in 2020! Not only did they grow their income, but they also imposed controls that stabilized catch rates and prevented overfishing, a rare success story in a world where ravaging the oceans is still the brutal norm.
  • Description: Six members of the agreement are microstates scattered between the Philippines and Hawaii: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu. The other two are much bigger: Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, both closer to Australia. The tuna fees have turned from relatively small change to serious income—and for some of the smaller states, it’s virtually the only non-aid source of foreign exchange. They were therefore highly motivated to make the system sustainable in the long run. For that, they had to make sure the foreign fleets did not do in their waters what they have done almost everywhere else: take too many fish, thereby reducing some populations like the bluefin tuna to 3 percent of their original numbers.
  • Small fish taking on the whales: As a result, the group—formally known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA)—have become a global model showing how poor, culturally disparate, and isolated small countries can take on the likes of the United States, China, and the European Union—and win. Some are now saying other countries whose waters have been plundered by foreign fleets, such as the nations on West Africa’s coast, should copy the PNA and do the same. Others hope the weak international bodies trying to manage fishing in the Indian, Atlantic, and Eastern Pacific oceans will also emulate them in the decades ahead.
  • Tuna fishery of the world: The equatorial belt of the Western and Central Pacific is the single biggest tuna fishery in the world, worth around $6 billion. That’s because half the world’s skipjack tuna—a particularly tasty and prolific species—calls it home. About 1.5 million tons are fished there every year, virtually all of it ending up in cans. Canned tuna is one of the world’s most affordable proteins because it is caught by a method that is both relentlessly efficient and biologically absurd.
  1. Like most tuna, skipjack—which average under 2 feet long and around 10 pounds—travel in schools. When they come across schools of smaller fish, such as anchovies, they drive them to the surface and gobble them up, attracting seabirds that are then spotted by sharp-eyed ship captains. Fishermen speed to the feeding frenzy and encircle it with huge nets, known as purse seines, that close up at the bottom and are craned into the ship’s hold. The catch is so big that the skipjack at the bottom get crushed, but no one cares because they will end up in small pieces in cans.
  2. For reasons that are poorly understood, skipjack schools also like to congregate around floating objects—logs, barrels, anything. The purse seiners discovered that setting their nets around these objects yields even bigger catches, sometimes reaching 300 tons of fish at once, according to fisheries scientist John Hampton of the Pacific Community in New Caledonia.
  • Using the money wisely: Unlike many other small-country governments that suddenly got an oil bonanza or mining windfall and egregiously wasted or stole it, the PNA countries seem to be spending their bonus’ rather wisely, redistributing much of the new income among their populations. Kiribati: It's a nation of only 117,000 people whose exclusive economic zone is about the size of India and the biggest of the group. The country saw its fishing income rise in the past decade from $27 million in 2008 to $160 million last year—even as it set aside around 11 percent of its EEZ as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, where it eventually banned all fishing. Kiribati’s extra income “has made a huge difference in the life of the people.
  • Summary: The PNA’s example shows that when financial and conservation goals coincide, even the unlikeliest players can score major victories.
 



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

India redrafts its Maritime Vision - MIV 2030
  • A new vision: While from 2015, the government spoke of the 'Sagarmala programme', an ambitious set of hundreds of large projects, changing times led to its junking. A new vision has now emerged, with the Indian PM inaugurating the ‘Maritime India Summit 2021,’ releasing the e-book of ‘Maritime India Vision-2030’ (MIV-2030).
  • MIV 2030: Why is the maritime sector in India significant? Simple reasons include India’s coastline being 1.05% of the global coastline, the Indian maritime sector accounting for 95% of EXIM (export-import) trade by volume, and it being a  significant employment generator. India accounted for 10.4% of global maritime trade in FY 2019, contributing 9.03% of the total seafarers (officers) globally. This makes Indian an integral part of the shipping ecosystem. Its position in the global maritime sector is fundamental for international trade.
  • Port capacity utilization: The maritime trade is facilitated by the growing port capacity in India, and in FY 2019, the capacity for Indian ports stood at 2,377 million tonnes per annum (mtpa). It handled traffic of 1,281 mtpa, and 12 major ports accounted for 1,514 mtpa of capacity handling 699 mtpa of traffic, leading to utilisation of a mere 46.2%. Non-major ports accounts for 863 mtpa of capacity, handling 582 mtpa of traffic, which is an utilisation of 67%. Thus, key enhancements in policy, investment, operations and technology are crucial.
  • Maritime India Vision 2030: The ministry of ports, shipping and waterways has launched the MIV-2030. It projects cargo traffic to reach 2,570 mtpa by 2030, and outlines 10 broad themes, and 150+ initiatives. These are broadly aimed at development of port ecosystem, port operations and services, waterways and, shipping and cruises.
  • Projects/initiatives being planned:
  1. Mega-port clusters - For ports, world-class infrastructure will form the backbone of the envisioned transformation. In line with global trends of mega-ports, development of four mega-port clusters with capacity of more than 300 mtpa is planned. These will come in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal-Odisha. These clusters were post evaluation of industrialisation and hinterland-connectivity potential. Since the sector has been moving towards mega vessels, an increase of the draft at all major Indian ports is targeted.
  2. Transshipment hub - India’s strategic location has long required development of a transshipment hub for better efficiency in maritime trade. The ministry would thus work towards developing a transshipment hub (TS) in South India. At present, approximately 75% of India’s transshipment cargo is handled by ports outside India. These include Colombo, Singapore and Klang. This increases the cost/TEU for EXIM players. [A TEU or Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit is an exact unit used to measure cargo capacity for container ships and container terminals. It is a shipping container whose internal dimensions measure about 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 8 feet tall.]
  3. Procedural measures - Automation of ports, seamless movement of cargo and paperless transactions are basic needs now. Currently, lack of digitalisation, lack of availability of real-time information and limited standardisation of port procedures are negatively impacting seamless trade. Hence, steps have been identified in MIV to improve ease of doing business in the maritime sector. A National Logistics Portal (Marine) is to be launched as an integrated platform for all EXIM stakeholders enabling 100% paperless processes.
  4. Manufacturing and logistics - Concrete steps have been identified for driving Aatmanirbhar Bharat through increased manufacturing and decreasing logistics cost. Pockets with high potential to undertake port-led industrialisation, spread over 6,000 acres, have been identified. This would be complemented with projects aimed at reducing logistics cost.
  5. Environment friendly - MIV-2030 also aims at building safer and environmentally-sustainable ports. Some of the key measures to develop Green Ports include - increased share of renewable energy in port operations, sustainable use of dredging material, reducing freshwater consumption and emissions, promoting development of ‘zero accident’ ports, real-time monitoring of HSE KPIs [Health and Safety KPIs (Key Performance Indicator)]
  6. Shipping - On the shipping front, MIV aims to make India the leading ship recycling and repair hub. It also aims to increase the gross tonnage of ships built in India by more than 15 times. This would be achieved through - channelization of domestic demand for ship-building and repair, leveraging Right of First Refusal (RoFR) rules under Aatmanirbhar Bharat Scheme
  7. Trade and cooperation - To increase regional maritime cooperation and trade, a BIMSTEC centre is planned to be established in India. It would facilitate infrastructure investment and trade agreements with BIMSTEC countries. (BIMSTEC - Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation)
  8. Inland water transport - India is endowed with various Inland Water Transport (IWT) options comprising rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, and tidal inlets. These provide environmentally-friendly mode of freight logistics and passenger transport with lower operating costs. The government has prioritised development, over the next 10 years, of 23 National Waterways (NWs) with significant traffic potential. NW 1 (Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly system) and NW 2 (Brahmaputra) hold immense significance as they connect neighbouring countries with India’s hinterland.
  9. Cruise tourism - Development potential of sectors like cruise tourism (both river & ocean cruise) has also been identified as a part of the vision. To this end, government has already undertaken several measures like rationalisation of port charges, cabotage relaxation for foreign vessels, expedited immig
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    • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
Granting bail is the rule, jail is exception 
  1. Many new cases: Over the recent months, it was observed that several bail applications were rejected by subordinate courts, leading to questions being raised on the judiciary's overall approach on "bail and jail". Any reforms in bail system should focus on two aspects of criminal justice system - judicial discretion & monetary surety bonds.
  2. The problem with rejecting: The power to grant bail is a discretionary power of judges & it should be exercised liberally. Today, it is exercised rarely as even subordinate courts routinely reject bail application even for minor offences. The accused persons are forced to approach the High Court or the Supreme Court. Most accused persons remain as under trials for longer periods of time leading to congestion of prisons. Two-thirds of India’s prison population comprise of under trials who are marginalised communities accused of minor offences. Even the Supreme Court has consistently reiterated that “bail is the rule, jail is an exception”. During the pandemic, pendency of bail applications increased due to shutting down of courts & increasing arrests by the police for minor offences. Refusing to grant bail deprives individual’s liberty and confines them in jails without trial and conviction.
  3. The issue with providing surety bonds: To grant bail, surety bonds whose value determined by the concerned judge should be furnished to the court. Subordinate courts fix this bail amount to Rs 10,000 even for petty offences punishable by less than three years. In cases of bail before the High Courts and the Supreme Court, this amount usually exceeds Rs 30,000. For instance, a 14-year-old minor’s surety for four cases of theft & house breaking was set Rs 2 lakh by the session’s court in Bhopal. In 'Moti Ram v. State of Madhya Pradesh' case, judges said that an unreasonable high surety is a human rights problem. As per a report by Azim Premji University, 57% Indians earn less than Rs 10,000 per month. So persons without assets either end up living in jails or incur debt by paying others when granted bail. A bogey of middlemen has also emerged due to these high bail amounts.
  4. Other worrisome bail conditions: During the lockdown, the Gwalior Bench of the M.P. High Court imposed peculiar conditions while granting bail. The court asked to install a non-Chinese LED TV at the District Hospital, register as a voluntary COVID-19 warrior & donate money for COVID-19 relief when granting bail. These conditions continued despite the orders of Principal Bench of the High Court which said that cash deposits for bail orders are unjust, irregular and improper.
  5. SC intervention needed: The Apex Court should overview the rejections of bail applications by judges of lower courts & make them accountable. Courts should introspect standards of liberty, reasonableness and proportionality while deciding bail matters. The Centre for Law and Policy Research recommends creating checklists to address individual discretion while deciding bail applications. Although granting bail without surety bond is permissible in law, it is rare phenomenon & this idea can be thought of. Surety amounts should be determined taking into consideration the socio-economic location of the accused person.

 
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    • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
Possible first exoplanet tectonic activity proof
  • A possible breakthrough: Scientists may have discovered the first evidence for tectonic activity on exoplanet. The LHS 3844b is an exoplanet that is tidally locked to its star which means that one side of it is permanently facing the star while the other faces the space. Since its discovery in 2018 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), astronomers have been studying the exoplanet named LHS 3844b. A recent study at the University of Bern, Switzerland using the data collected by TESS reveals that one side of the planet is tectonically active and volcanoes could be lighting up its night sky.
  • Details: The LHS 3844b is an exoplanet that is tidally locked to its star which means that one side of it is permanently facing the star while the other faces the space. The side that faces the Sun records temperatures up to 770 degrees Celsius while the other records temperatures below 250 degrees Celsius. Astronomers believe that the severe temperatures on the planet could affect the planet’s interior. To test this, they ran simulations with different strengths of material and internal heating sources, such as heat from the planet’s core and the decay of radioactive elements. Most simulations showed that there was only upwards flow on one side of the planet and downwards flow on the other.
  • Comparing with Earth: Experts pointed out that based on what happens on Earth, the material on the hot side of the planet was expected to be lighter, flowing upwards and vice versa on the dark side. They explained the consequences of different flow of material on the exoplanet. Yet, some of the simulations also showed the opposite flow direction. This initially counter-intuitive result is due to the change in viscosity with temperature: cold material is stiffer and therefore doesn’t want to bend, break or subduct into the interior. Warm material, however, is less viscous — so even solid rock becomes more mobile when heated — and can readily flow towards the planet’s interior. Such material flow could have bizarre consequences. On whichever side of the planet the material flows upwards, one would expect a large amount of volcanism on that particular side.
  • Similar to Hawaii: Experts compared the volcanic activity on the exoplanet with that of Hawaii and Iceland as well due to deep upwelling flows. They believe that LHS 3844b may have a whole hemisphere filled with countless volcanoes and the other one with almost none. The LHS 3844b is 1.3 times Earth in size and has 2.25 times the mass. It takes just 11 hours for the planet to complete its orbit around its Sun which is a red-dwarf star almost one-fifth size of our Sun.


 
NASA’s Perseverance rover performs first test drive on Mars
  • Yes, it moved: NASA’s latest Mars rover, Perseverance, performed its first test drive on the Red Planet, covering a distance of about 6.5 metres across the Martian landscape, a “major milestone” before it begins its science operations. The drive lasted about 33 minutes, propelling the rover forward by four metres, where it then turned to the left by 150 degrees and backed up 2.5 metres into its new temporary parking space.
  • Wheels in motion: The drive served as a mobility test to check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on the Perseverance rover, which is a major milestone before the science operations get underway. When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive. The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly.
  • Ancient life search: Regular commutes of over 200 metres are expected once the rover begins pursuing its science goals, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. As part of its mission, the rover would characterise the Red Planet’s geology and past climate, and pave the way for human exploration of Mars. It is also expected to be the first to collect and cache Martian rock and soil.
  • Check check: Since its landing on Mars on February 18, 2021, the rover has undergone several routine checks, including a a software update, replacing the computer program that helped land Perseverance with one NASA will rely on to analyse the planet. On March 2, 2021, NASA said its engineers unstowed the rover’s 2-metre-long robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours. All the while, the space agency said the rover continues to send down images from Mars using the most advanced suite of cameras ever to travel to the Red Planet.
  • Multi-national cooperation: Every picture from Perseverance is relayed by either the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, or NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They are important partners in our explorations and our discoveries.


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    • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
Agri trade freedom and Bihar’s farmers 
  1. The Bihar free experiment: In 2006, Bihar abolished state-run mandis. What followed is a forewarning for India’s new farm laws, as per a recent research. The system in Bihar was found rigged in favour of the traders who cheat on every possible parameter—from weight to moisture level—which is why very few farmers come to Bihar’s mandis to sell produce.
  2. Low prices paid: Many farmers grow two crops in a year: paddy during the monsoon for home consumption which is often washed away by floods, and maize in winter—the main source of cash for the marginal farmer. In 2020, some sold their maize harvest to a byapari, a local trader, for ?800 a quintal. That’s less than half the fair price announced by the government and lower than what it costs to grow a quintal. How did he know ?800 was the market price? “Because that is what the byapari offered," farmers say! No questions asked.
  3. No APMC law: In Bihar, which abolished state regulated mandis (wholesale markets) back in 2006, that is how the system works. Farmers cannot bargain. The produce is neither graded nor auctioned as is the practice in well-functioning markets in other states. Farmers in Bihar also have no reliable information on market prices; elsewhere, regulated markets which record daily auction data provide a benchmark price. Farmers are scared to step inside private mandis where brokers and big traders run the show. The local byapari pays him less, but at least the fellow can be trusted to pay on time.
  4. Different states: This lived experience of being a farmer in Bihar is markedly different from those in Punjab and Haryana, which boast of well-established market infrastructure coupled with robust state purchase at support prices. In Sept 2020, the Parliament enacted a set of new laws to liberalize trade in farm produce and allow traders and farmers to transact outside state regulated markets—also known as agricultural produce market committees or APMCs—without paying any taxes. The Modi government reasoned that the “freedom to trade"—coupled with provisions for contract farming and relaxations that allow businesses to stock produce without any limits—will pave the way for more investments in post-harvest infrastructure facilities like storage and processing, apart from improving farm incomes.
  5. Freedom or serfdom: Relatively prosperous farmers from Punjab and Haryana have fiercely opposed the laws, saying it will weaken existing APMC markets and lead to a gradual withdrawal of assured government purchases at a fair price. For over three months now, thousands of farmers have been camping at Delhi’s doorstep asking for the laws to be repealed. The protesting farmers have argued that the new regime will pauperize them like it did to farmers in Bihar, which, post deregulation, neither invested in creating well-equipped, state-run markets to serve as an alternative nor offered farmers the security of support prices. They ask - "If the new laws are so good, why do small farmers from Bihar come to Punjab to work as farm labourers?"
  6. The 2021 story: In mid-February, farmers in Bihar sold their maize crop between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 1,200 per quintal, while in Karnataka, regulated APMC mandi prices hovered around Rs. 1,400 per quintal. Due to the lack of regulatory oversight in agricultural trade, farmers in Bihar seldom receive even the market price. In fact, farmers often say that the price they receive is dependent on the bol bala (might) and manmani (whim) of traders. Despite the abolition of the APMC Act in 2006, private investment in the creation of new markets and the strengthening of facilities in existing ones did not take place in Bihar, leading to low market density. This was observed a 2019 report by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER). The study concluded that “participation of government agencies in procurement and the scale of procurement of grains continue to be low... farmers are left to the mercy of traders who unscrupulously fix lower prices."
  7. State apathy: An imperfect market is worsened by the absence of state support. Farmers in Bihar are nowhere close to the privilege enjoyed by those in Punjab, Haryana or Madhya Pradesh who sell food grains to government agencies at minimum support prices (MSPs). Over the past few months, Bihar farmers were selling paddy for ?1,200 per quintal, while those in Haryana and Punjab sold it to the government for ?1,868 per quintal. At the large Gulabbagh mandi in Purnea, among the largest trading centres of maize in Asia, unlike regulated APMC mandis in other states, when farmers come to Gulabbagh to sell their harvest, the produce is not sorted, graded and auctioned. Instead, brokers use a sharp and long steel instrument called bamna to pierce jute bags loaded with maize—they take a cursory look at the spilt grains and offer a price. The system is rigged in favour of traders who cheat on every possible parameter—from weight to moisture level—which is why very few come here to sell their produce, added Amanullah, who farms over 15 acres of land in Purnea.
  8. Deregulation of spirit: Evidently, deregulation of markets did the opposite of what was intended. Instead of competitive markets offering better price and services or lower transaction costs, farmers had become easy prey. While taxes and fees collected by the regulated market committees in other states is used to develop marketing infrastructure, including roads and other facilities (weighing, grading, moisture meters etc), mandis like Gulabbagh has seen very little investment since 2006.
  9. Poor investments: The infrastructure, including the mandi roads, has seen no renovation in years. During the rains, the mandi becomes a swamp. While the traders collect ?50-100 fee per transaction in the name of mandi fee, the money is not ploughed back into infrastructure upgradation but goes toward donations for the temples surrounding Gulabbagh. The truth is, Bihar never really invested in its regulated markets (even before abolishing the APMC Act) unlike states like Madhya Pradesh or Punjab. The experience with regulated APMCs suggests that when markets are well equipped and farmers participate actively in its functioning, it leads to better price discovery. The Bihar experience is a preview to what could happen in states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh if well-functioning markets weaken.
  10. Possibility of reform: Despite the well-documented shortcomings, existing state APMCs provide a framework and physical infrastructure which can be made to work for farmers. Once the reform laws take root, and as trade moves out of regulated APMC markets to save on taxes and fees, transactions will take place under a cloak of invisibility. Like in Bihar, farmers elsewhere might end up losing out on price information and bargaining power. And well-functioning mandis in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab might struggle to generate enough revenue to pay for the upkeep of existing infrastructure.
  11. Govt. data: Data from the food ministry showed that for the 2019-20 kharif season, paddy procurement in Bihar, despite being the highest in five years, was 22% of production. In comparison, 92% of the paddy grown in Punjab and 89% in Haryana was procured by government agencies. Despite the dismal state of affairs, most farmers in Araria and Purnea districts appeared resigned to their fate. Imperfect markets, in addition to denying farmers a fair price, had crushed their spirits as well. Which is why many find it better off working as a farm hand at mandis in Haryana and Punjab during the peak harvest season.

 

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

Madhya Pradesh: Conservation work of Singorgarh Fort launched 
  1. The story: The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, laid down the foundation stone for conservation works of Singorgarh Fort at the Singrampur village of Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh on March 7, 2021. The President also inaugurated the Jabalpur Circle of Archaeological Survey of India.
  2. Highlights: The Singorgarh Fort is situated in Damoh district in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is a hill-fort of Garha Kingdom. The fort is spread over the hills of a forested area. It is located at a distance of 45 km from Jabalpur city. It was a magnificent fort. Rajgond rulers of central India were the residence of this fort. The fort is currently in a ruined condition for which conservation work is launched. The fort also comprises of a pond at the hilltop that provided water. Under the rule of Rani Durgavati in the year 1564, the fort was attacked by the last war of the Garha Kingdom dynasty.
  3. Gondwana Kingdom: This was a ruling kingdom in the Gondwana region of India. The region comprises of the core region of eastern part of Vidarbha (Maharashtra), some parts of Madhya Pradesh and parts of west of Chhattisgarh. It also include some parts of western Odisha, northern Telangana and southern Uttar Pradesh.
  India-Bangladesh: ‘Maitri Setu’ to be inaugurated on 9th March
  1. The launch: Indian PM will inaugurate the ‘Maitri Setu’ between India and Bangladesh via video conferencing on March 9, 2021. He will also inaugurate and lay the foundation stone of several infrastructure projects in Tripura on the occasion.
  2. Maitri Setu’: It is a bridge that has been built in the River Feni. Feni river flows between the Indian boundary in the state of Tripura and Bangladesh. The name ‘Maitri Setu’ has been chose to symbolize the growing bilateral relations and friendly ties between both the countries. The construction of the bridge was done by the “National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd”. The total cost of the bridge project is Rs. 133 Crores. It is a 1.9 Km long bridge that connects the Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.
  3. Importance: The bridge will establish a new chapter for doing the trade and people to people movement in between the countries. After this bridge is operation, the Indian state of Tripura will become the ‘Gateway of North East’ with having access to Chittagong Port in Bangladesh. This port is located at the distance of 80 Kms from Sabroom. The “Integrated Check Post at Sabroom” will help in easing the movement of goods and passengers between India and Bangladesh. It will also provide new market opportunities for the products of North Eastern states of India. This check post will also assist the seamless movement of passengers from both the countries. The project will be undertaken by “Land Ports Authority of India”. This project has the estimated cost of Rs 232 crores.
  ‘Swadhinta Puraskar’: Highest Civilian Honour of Bangladesh
  1. The story: Bangladesh has announced on March 7, 2021 the names of nine individuals and one organization who will be conferred with the Highest Civilian Award of the Bangladesh called “Independence Award” for the year 2021.
  2. Highlights: Four individuals have been selected posthumously under the category of freedom fighters with respect to their contribution to the liberation war of Bangladesh. These four individuals include- A K M Bazlur Rahman, Brig Gen. Khurshid Uddin Ahmed, Ahsan Ullah Master and Akhataruzzaman Chowdhury Babu. Apart from them, Dr. Mrinmoy Guha Niyogi was selected for contributing to science and technology. Mahadev Saha have been selected for award for his contributions in literature. Ataur Rahman and Gazi Mazharul Anwar will be honoured with the award for their contribution in Culture while, Dr.  M Amzad Hossain was nominated for the award for his social & public service. Among the various organisations, “Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council” was nominated for the award for “Research & Training”.
  3. Independence Award: This is also called as the Independence Award, Swadhinata Padak and the Swadhinata Puroskar. It the highest civilian award which is conferred by the government of Bangladesh since 1977. It is given to the Bangladeshi citizens or organizations to recognise their substantial contribution in several fields including the education, journalism, public service, War of Liberation, Language Movement, medical science, science and technology, social science, games & sports, song, fine arts, rural development etc. The recipient of the honour gets a “Gold Medal”, a cash reward of ‘Five Lakh Taka’ and a certificate of honour.


 
   March 8: International Women’s Day
  1. What it is: The International Women’s Day was celebrated across the world on March 8, 2021. This day is observed to help shape a gender equal world. The 2021 theme was – Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.
  2. Importance: The day is observed in order to celebrate the achievements of women. It also highlights the increasing visibility of women in every sphere of life. The day celebrates the political, cultural, economic and social achievements of women. It also marks the extraordinary roles played by women in every walk of life besides celebrating the acts of courage and determination of the ordinary women.
  3. Background: The first ever women’s day was celebrated on February 28, 1908 by the Socialist Party of America. Following this, the German delegates including Kate Duncker, Clara Zetkin and Paula Thiede proposed for the organise a special Women’s day at the International Socialist Women’s Conference of 1910. In the year 1917, the women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia following which March 8 became a national holiday in Soviet Russia. United Nations started celebrating it in the year 1977.


 
    Delhi Cabinet approves constitution of Delhi Board of School Education
  1. The story: The Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, has announced that the Delhi Cabinet has given approval to constitute the Delhi Board of School Education on March 6, 2021.
  2. Highlights: CM stated that there were some 1000 govt schools and 1700 private schools functional in the Union territory of Delhi. All the government schools and most of the private schools were affiliated with Central Board of Secondary Education. The government has also planned to include 20-25 schools under the Delhi board of School Education in the academic session 2021-2022. The CBSE affiliation of all these schools will be scrapped. They would be given affiliation under the new board.
  3. Delhi Board of School Education: It will comprise a governing body headed by Education minister of Delhi government, and an executive body headed by a chief executive officer. The aim is imparting such education that will prepare a patriotic and self-dependent student who will serve the society and Nation in a selfless manner.

 
 
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https://civils.pteducation.com/2021/03/Daily-Current-Affairs-Civil-Services-DCA-CS-08-03-2021.html
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