Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 12-03-2021


Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 12-03-2021


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  1. Healthcare and Medicine - Denmark suspends use of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine - Denmark has temporarily stopped usage of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after several cases of blood clots among vaccinated people. Health Minister Magnus Heunicke tweeted that it is not yet clear whether the clots were linked to the vaccine, adding, "It needs to be thoroughly investigated." Thailand too then delayed the rollout of the AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine over reports of blood clots, despite there being no evidence of a link to the jab. The country's PM was to kick off the country's vaccination drive by getting the vaccine whih was then cancelled. Thailand's public health ministry said it made the decision because the country had not been "hard hit" by the virus and it had other vaccines it could rely on in the meantime. Around 5 million Europeans have already received the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been about 30 cases in Europe of "thromboembolic events" - or developing blood clots - after the vaccine was administered. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that there was no indication the jab was causing the blood clots, adding that its "benefits continue to outweigh its risks". In India, this foreign-researched and developed vaccine is made and sold as Covishield.
  2. Energy - Oil prices rise sharply - Oil prices have risen sharply in March, in part because of an attempted drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil-export terminal by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen. Other factors, such as a surprise agreement by opec to keep curbs on output in place until April 2021, also helped drive up prices. Brent crude breached $70 a barrel for the first time since May 2019. The surge comes amid a broader boom for commodities from copper to corn, as Chinese imports rise and supply remains constrained. But oil’s climb has been particularly vertiginous. In April 2020, the price of Brent dipped below $20 a barrel and one American futures contract briefly became less than worthless. Since late October, however, Brent’s value has risen by nearly 100%. By the third quarter, analysts at Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckon it could reach $80.
  3. Governance and Institutions - Bharat Bangla Maitri Bridge - The Indian PM inaugurated Bharat Bangla Maitri Bridge in Tripura’s South district. The bridge ‘Maitri Setu’ has been built over the Feni river which flows between Indian boundary in Tripura State and Bangladesh. Feni originates in the South Tripura district. The river passes through Sabroom town on the Indian side, and meets the Bay of Bengal after it flows into Bangladesh. The 1.9 Km long bridge joins Sabroom (in Tripura) with Ramgarh (in Bangladesh). The name ‘Maitri Setu’ symbolises growing bilateral relations and friendly ties between India and Bangladesh. The construction was taken up by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd at a project cost of Rs. 133 crore. The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited is a fully owned company of the Government of India. It is responsible for development & maintenance of National Highways & Strategic Roads of India.
  4. Religion - A time for bonding - Pope Francis made the first-ever papal visit to Iraq. The pontiff prayed among ruined churches in Mosul, the former stronghold of Islamic State, and held mass at a stadium in Erbil. It was his first international trip since the start of the pandemic. Pope Francis is leader of the Catholic Church, and he also went to Najaf where he visited Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia community. The meeting was a significant milestone in Iraqi history and the global history of interfaith dialogue. He also visited the ancient city of Ur, Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, and Mosul, where he prayed at the ruins of four churches destroyed by ISIL (ISIS). The pope’s visit to Iraq offers moral support to Iraq’s beleaguered and dwindling Christian community and will hopefully encourage the Iraqi leadership to put more effort into protecting the many minorities the country is home to. While much can be done to ensure the safety of minority communities, it has to be recognised that their plight has much to do with instability linked to Iraq’s century-long state formation process and persistent foreign interference.
  5. Science and Technology - Most distant quasar P172+18 - An international team of astronomers has discovered the most distant ‘Radio-Loud’ Quasar with the help of European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT). Quasars are very luminous objects in faraway galaxies that emit jets at radio frequencies. The word quasar is short for "quasi-stellar radio source". The name, which means star-like emitters of radio waves, was given in the 1960s when quasars were first detected. The name is retained today, even though astronomers now know most quasars are faint radio emitters. In addition to radio waves and visible light, quasars also emit ultraviolet rays, infrared waves, X-rays, and gamma-rays. Most quasars are larger than our solar system. A quasar is approximately 1 kiloparsec in width. They are only found in galaxies that have supermassive blackholes which power these bright discs. Black hole refers to a point in space where matter is so compressed as to create a gravity field from which even light cannot escape. Most active galaxies have a supermassive black hole at the centre which sucks in surrounding objects. Quasars are formed by the energy emitted by materials swirling around a blackhole right before being sucked into it. They are further categorised into the "radio-loud" and the "radio-quiet" classes.
  6. Governance and Institutions - Over 3.17 lakh cyber crimes registered in India - A total of 3,17,439 cyber crimes and 5,771 FIRs were registered online in India through a centralised portal in the last 18 months, a sizeable number of them in Maharashtra and Karnataka, the Lok Sabha was informed. The MHA operationalised the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal in 2019 to provide a mechanism to people to report cyber crimes online. This portal caters all types of cyber-crime complaints including complaints pertaining to online Child Pornography (CP), Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) or sexually explicit content such as Rape/Gang Rape (CP/RGR) content and other cyber-crimes such as mobile crimes, online and social media crimes, online financial frauds, ransomware, hacking, cryptocurrency crimes and online cyber trafficking. Cybercrime includes: Child Pornography, Cyber Bullying, Cyber stalking, Cyber Grooming, Online Job Fraud, Online Sextortion, Vishing, Smshing, SIM Swap Scam, Credit/Debit card fraud, Impersonation and identity theft, Phishing, Spamming, Ransomware, Data Breach, Website Defacement, Denial of Services (DoS), Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), Espionage, Online Drug Trafficking, Cryptojacking, Pharming, Cyber-Squatting etc.
  7. World Politics - China's parliamentary session over - China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, ended its week-long annual meeting in Beijing on March 10, 2021. It approved a new five-year economic plan, which unusually did not set a target for average annual GDP growth. The plan called for a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted for each unit of gdp by 18% between 2021 and 2025. But this would be a smaller cut than in the previous five years. Premier Li Keqiang, second in commond to Xi Jinping, spoke about why a lower growth target was set, and how the government will chase higher numbers. He expressed hope that the economy, now larger than USD 15 trillion, will grow fast.
  8. World Politics - Coronavirus updates - China launched a “passport” scheme through which its citizens can register their vaccination and testing status. It is not yet mandatory. A year after quarantine measures were imposed on the whole country, Italy passed the milestone of 100,000 deaths from covid-19. In Brazil a report warned that the country’s intensive care is close to being overwhelmed. Infections hit a new daily record. America’s Centres for Disease Control said that it is now safe for fully vaccinated people to meet indoors in small groups without social distancing or masks. However, it still urges distancing and mask-wearing in public. Pupils in England returned to school after a two-month lockdown. Despite concerns over testing and mask-wearing during classes there was little disruption.
  9. World Economy - Different strokes in GDP - South Africa’s economy shrank by 7% in 2020, the biggest contraction since at least 1946, according to official statistics. Output from construction was down by a fifth, and from manufacturing and mining by around 11%. Agriculture was the one bright spot, growing by 13%. The government imposed strict curbs on economic activity, including a ban on selling alcohol, to stop the spread of covid-19, but the country was in a mess before the pandemic. The official unemployment rate is 32.5%. Among BRICS, everyone contracted save China, that grew by nearly 2 per cent points. India's contraction was second-worst in the BRICS grouping. India assumed the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Chairmanship for 2021 and hosted the summit.
  10. World Economy - Trans-Atlantic camaraderie - America and the European Union suspended tariffs that each has imposed on the other in a dispute over state aid to the aerospace industry. The suspension is a goodwill gesture from both sides that will last four months, as they hold talks on how to resolve their disagreements on the issue, which stretch back 16 years. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, described it as a “fresh start” for the American-European partnership, which came under a lot of strain during the Trump presidency. Biden was inaugrated on 20th Jan, 2021, and just before that, the EU did an investment treaty with China.
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
India's Public Distribution System - Need for revamp?
  1. Budget 2021-22: The Economic Survey of India 2021 highlighted the issue of India’s growing food subsidy bill. Then came the Budget FY 22 that shocked everyone with a high fiscal deficit at 9.5%.
  2. India’s food subsidy bill: During 2016-17 to 2019-20, subsidy amount along with the loans taken by the FCI under the National Small Savings Fund for food subsidy was about Rs 1.65-lakh crore -Rs 2.2-lakh crore. In future, the annual subsidy bill of the Centre is expected to be about Rs 2.5-lakh crore. During these 3 years, the quantity of food grains drawn by States (annually) centred around 60 million tonnes to 66 million tonnes.
  3. NFSA, 2013: The National Food Security Act (NFSA) naturally pushed up the States’ withdrawal & under the targeted PDS scheme authorities should provide 5 kg of rice or wheat per month to each beneficiary. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, the revised estimate of the subsidy is about Rs 4.23-lakh crore, excluding the extra budgetary resource allocation of Rs 84,636 crore. So the Economic Survey suggested increasing the Central Issue Price (CIP).
  4. Increasing the Central Issue Price: The CIP has remained at Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 3 per kg for rice for years, though the NFSA envisaged a price revision after three years. But increasing the CIP is complex in states where there is nil variation between the retail issue price & CIP. Such instances occur in states like Karnataka and West Bengal for Priority Households (PHH) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) ration card holders respectively. In Tamil Nadu, rice is given free of cost for all categories which includes non-PHH. Hence a mere increase in the CIPs without a corresponding rise in the State issue prices will only burden the States which is already facing resource crunch.
  5. Food politics: Moreover the politics of rice has been an integral feature in the political discourse. Various Political parties garner the votes of citizen by announcing affordable prices of food grains in their election campaigns. Despite achieving substantial poverty reduction, it is no longer necessary to keep the retail prices of food grains at fair price shops very low. As per the Rangarajan group’s estimate in 2014, the share of people living below the poverty line (BPL) in the 2011 population was 29.5%. Hence it is time to relook the overall food subsidy system including the pricing mechanism.
  6. What now: An official committee in January 2015 called for decreasing the quantum of people covered under the NFSA from the present 67% to around 40%. Ration cardholders should have a give-up option as done in the case of cooking gas cylinders. Though the States frame criteria for identifying the PHH cardholders, Centre can push states to identify the necessary beneficiaries. The existing arrangement of flat rates prices should be replaced with a slab system. Except for the needy people, other beneficiaries can be made to pay a little more for a higher quantum of food grains. These rates can be arrived by the Centre and the States through consultations. End-to-end computerisation of PDS operations, digitisation of data of ration cardholders, seeding of Aadhaar and automation of fair price shops can be other options.
  7. Summary: PDS cannot be discontinued at any cost in a country like India, suffering from mass deprivation. Hence a revamped and need-based PDS is required to cut down the food subsidy bill and to reduce the leakages in the system.
WTO witnesses India, China cooperation on agri
  1. Hindi Cheeni bhai bhai: India and China have called upon World Trade Organization (WTO) members to address long-pending concerns over public stockholding and special safeguard measures, to check against surge in farm imports, on priority, as member countries sought to bridge differences ahead of a meeting of ministers later this year. In a special meeting, India highlighted the need to find a permanent solution to public stockholding of foodgrains, an issue which it fears could impact food security in developing countries, including its own ability to procure grains for public distribution programme, given the cap imposed in the agreement signed 25 years ago.
  2. Peace clause: While the WTO membership has agreed to a “peace clause”, which restricts any country from raising a dispute in case of a breach in the limit, India wants a final settlement, an issue that China also highlighted. Despite their tussle, India and China have similar positions on farm trade issues at WTO, which also find an echo in the larger developing country audience. At Wednesday’s meeting, Indonesia, which is one of the key reasons for the issue still hanging fire, too seemed to be backing India’s case on food stockpiling, as it also demanded that the issue of special safeguard measures be taken up.
  3. Position frozen: But despite a show of seeking to engage on pushing forward the farm trade agenda, none of the countries seemed to have changed their position. While the US did not take a firm view, according to sources in Geneva, the European Union linked the issue of public stockholding to reforms in the domestic farm support architecture, something that the government has objected to in the past, arguing that the developed countries have extracted their pound of flesh by getting countries such as India to sign the trade facilitation agreement.
  4. Rich world doesn't care: For the developed countries, the old Doha round issues of fixing trade-distorting farm subsidies, opening their doors to overseas professionals through more ambitious reforms of services sector and reworking some of the elements of the agreements that are detrimental to the interests of the poor and developing countries have now gone off the radar, as they push for global rules on 21st Century issues such as investment facilitation, e-commerce and women in trade.
  5. New DG: The challenge before the new WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is to bridge the differences. She has acknowledged that there was a huge trust deficit between the members.

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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
Independent environment regulator for India 
  • Why not: The Indian Supreme Court (SC) asked the government to explain the reasons for not setting up an “Independent Environment Regulator” to oversee green clearances.
  • Points to note: The SC had ordered the setting up of a national environment regulatory body under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to ensure independent oversight of green clearances way back in Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India case (2011), commonly known as the Lafarge mining case.
  • Envisaged functions: The regulator will carry out independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of projects for environmental clearances. It will also monitor the implementation of the conditions laid down in the clearances and impose penalties on polluters. While exercising such powers, the regulator will ensure the National Forest Policy, 1988 is duly implemented.
  • Current issues: Related to Environment Impact Assessment (2006) -
  1. Lack of capacity - The environmental clearance at the national level is overseen by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which functions on an ad-hoc basis, without much regulatory capacity. The state-level appraisal committees overseeing the clearance also function without much regulatory support. The committees function as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006.
  2. Lack of expertise - The EAC has been questioned on many occasions for lack of expertise of its members and chairpersons.
  3. Lack of proper legislation - EAC and the state-level committees are toothless due to the lack of effective legislative power and supporting institutional capacity.
  4. Multiplicity of regulations and increasing cost - There are too many clearances for the same thing; and none of them seem to be working for the environment or for protecting the rights of communities. Worse, they are adding to the burden of industry in terms of high transaction costs. Some are - (i) Forest clearance under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, (ii) Coastal clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011, (iii) Wildlife clearance under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, etc. This multiplicity of regulations and regulatory authorities help unscrupulous elements in the industry and the government.
  • What is needed:
  1. Unbiased decision making - Lack of an independent body to oversee the entire environmental regulatory process could lead to a possible political interest in the decision making.
  2. Proper compliance - The major concerns regarding EIA norms, such as the compliance monitoring and ex-post regularisation, could be tackled with proper standard-setting by a regulator.
  3. Capacity and independence - The present environmental regulation institutional mechanism in India, which lies with pollution control boards at the state and central level, lacks regulatory capacity and independence.
  4. Preventing regulatory delays - Cutting down on regulatory delays is also important. This may be possible with the help of a credible independent regulator. But an optimum level of rigour in the regulatory process and standards is important for environmental protection.
  5. Temporary solution - As per the SC till an Independent Regulator was put in place, the Environment Ministry should prepare a panel of accredited institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
  • Way forward: Independence in standard-setting, monitoring, and enforcement are important characteristics of an effective regulatory body. Setting-up of a stand-alone independent body must precede fragmented revamping of environmental laws. A second-generation reform for environmental regulation, which will safeguard environment and community rights as well as reduce time and transaction costs for the industry is the need of the hour. What is needed is to reduce multiplicity, remove archaic laws and streamline regulatory procedure.


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

China’s new Five-Year Plan 
  1. March 2021 meet: China began its biggest annual political gathering in March, the so-called Two Sessions (lianghui). The early policy documents and speeches to come out of the Beijing gathering have surprised many investors and political analysts with their caution and lack of ambition. The era of striving for sky-high growth rates is clearly over. Rather, Chinese GDP growth is likely to underperform expectations this year and beyond. With sober-minded, fiscally conservative planners now firmly in control of policy, Beijing is turning its attention to debt reduction and a daunting agenda of structural reform.
  2. Shift: The first sign of the shift came when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual Government Work Report issued a strikingly conservative GDP target of more than 6 percent. Many financial analysts, following the International Monetary Fund’s projections, had expected 8 percent or more. This was after the nearly unprecedented decision last year to set no growth target at all, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse. Leading up to this year’s Two Sessions, there were heated debates in Beijing about whether to return to the old targeting approach. Some economists argued that targets helped motivate local officials and provide an impetus for economic activity. Others advocated dropping them entirely and focusing on other metrics like employment.
  3. Settling down: In the end, Beijing compromised. In announcing his conservative GDP goal, Li noted that it would “enable [China] to devote full energy to promoting reform, innovation, and high-quality development.” He also set targets for reducing the central government’s budget deficit from 3.6 percent of GDP in 2020 to around 3.2 percent of GDP in 2021 and announced plans to lower the quota on local government special bond issuance, the crucial mechanism for financing infrastructure development. Beijing has also axed 1 trillion yuan ($140 billion) in special treasury bonds issued last year in response to COVID-19. As U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration double down on pandemic fiscal stimulus, China is rapidly phasing it out.
  4. One more shift: Another major sign of Beijing’s shifting strategy was on the second day of the Two Sessions, when the government unveiled another major document: the draft 14th Five-Year Plan, which will be the strategic blueprint for all aspects of national development through 2025. Previous plans have included explicit growth targets. This one did not. The omissions confirmed that the so-called “fiscal hawks,” who want to tackle China’s ballooning public and private debt levels, had won the internal policy debate.
  5. Regional inequality: Inequalities between provinces and regions continue to grow, as the northern rust belt provinces stagnate. Compared with previous years, this year’s Government Work Report dedicated much more attention to these domestic imbalances. Beijing also acknowledged its “low fertility trap”—marked by a 15 percent decline in births since last year. (The birth rate has fallen to the lowest level in seven decades, despite a spate of measures to encourage families to have second children.) Underlying structural trends like these are all deeply problematic for Beijing: a declining marriage rate, rising divorce rates, and financial disincentives to having more than one child.
  6. Hukou system: Chinese planners are also dragging their feet on much-needed reforms to the household registration (hukou) system. Hukou is the Chinese government’s tool for managing the internal movement by its 1.4 billion population. The system governs the country’s hundreds of millions of migrant workers—about 40 percent of the urban labor force—who move from rural areas to cities in search of work. The latest five-year plan pledges new reforms that would effectively lift most hukou requirements for rural migrant workers in cities with populations under 5 million. (The most desirable megacities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, would retain their points-based system for eligibility.)
  7. Why reform or why not: If anything, these reforms are likely to create more headaches for officials and increase economic inequality. Educated and wealthier migrants will gain hukou in richer cities with better public services. Poorer migrants will be stuck in smaller cities with tighter public finances and lower-quality social services. Some rural workers don’t want to swap their rural hukou for urban hukou at all, as it would mean losing their valuable rural land holdings.
  8. Summary: The Two Sessions was also a disappointment on environmental issues. State planners committed to ambitious anti-pollution targets, but they did not promise to cap total energy consumption and even left the door open to increased coal output. An NDRC report even seemed to contradict Li’s own, stating that China would “systematically increase [its] ability to ensure the supply of coal” and focus on expanding “clean coal,” as well as nuclear and renewables.


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

Vaccine passports arriving 
  • The story: Governments around the world are exploring the potential use of vaccine passports as a way of reopening the economy by identifying those protected against the coronavirus.
  • Points to note: A vaccine passport is an e-certificate that stores and records jabs and Covid-19 test status. It can be kept in a smartphone app or in other digital formats. Its contents can be flashed at security checkpoints when people travel across borders. The idea is modelled on the proof of vaccination that several countries required even before the pandemic. Travellers from many African countries to the USA or India are required to submit proof that they have been vaccinated against diseases such as yellow fever.
  • The first: In February 2021, Israel became the first country to introduce a certification system that allows those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 to access certain facilities and events.
  • Functions: It will digitise vaccination records across countries. It is supposed to function as proof that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and is, therefore, safe.
  • Potential beneficiary: The primary benefit will be to the tourism and the hospitality industries, which are both seen as being at the heart of Covid-19 spread and are the worst hit by the pandemic. The international air travel, which suffered massively because of the outbreak. Several associations and non-profits have been issuing their own versions for international travel also.
  1. IATA Travel Pass - The global trade body representing airlines (The International Air Transport Association) is developing an app called IATA Travel Pass that will provide airlines and other aviation industry stakeholders with a common platform to check for the proof of vaccination and its validity.
  2. CommonPass - Non-profit Commons Project has been trying out an app called CommonPass, which contains a passenger’s vaccination record.
  • Concerns: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is against the introduction of Covid-19 vaccination proofs as a requirement for international travel. There are still critical unknown facts regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.
  1. Lack of uniformity - The major difficulty in implementation will be the lack of uniformity across jurisdictions in requirement and issuance of proofs of vaccination.
  2. Inadequate availability of vaccines - Preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease. Introducing a requirement of vaccination as a condition for travel has the potential to hinder equitable global access to a limited vaccine supply and would be unlikely to maximize the benefits of vaccination for individual societies and overall global health.
  3. Will perpetuate discrimination - Experts argue that vaccine passports, in any form, might make travel inequitable. Adoption of these digital passports can perpetuate discrimination and inequality, increasing the divide between socioeconomic groups. Rich countries that have already bought millions of doses from pharmaceutical companies are ahead in the race. The poorer nations may have to wait for months, if not years, to start inoculations.
  4. Privacy concerns - These are mainly digital certificates that are accessed by a particular service provider to check for proof of vaccination, there is a possibility that they would be used by authorities to track the movement of their holders.

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    • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
Revisiting the Indra Sawhney Judgement - Mandal Case 
  • Reservations: The Supreme Court recently examined the constitutional validity of the Maratha reservation. It also said that it would look into whether the landmark 1992 decision in "Indra Sawhney v Union of India" needs to be revisited.
  • Maharashtra law facing challenge: A Constitution Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan is currently hearing the challenge to the Maharashtra law. The law provides quotas for Marathas in jobs and admissions in the state. The Bombay High Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the quota. It said that the quota should be reduced from 16% to 12-13%, as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission. The ruling was challenged before a Supreme Court Bench, which referred it to a larger Constitution Bench.
  • The Indra Sawhney case: In 1979, the Second Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission) was set up. It was tasked to determine the criteria for defining the socially and educationally backward classes, and the Mandal report identified 52% of the population at that time as “Socially and Economically Backward Classes” (SEBCs). It thus recommended 27% reservation for SEBCs. This was in addition to the previously existing 22.5% reservation for SC/STs.
  • Events: In 1990, the V P Singh led-government set out to implement the Mandal commission recommendations. This was challenged in court amidst widespread protests against the move. The case came up before a nine-judge Bench and a 6:3 verdict was delivered in 1992, popularly called the Indra Sawhney judgement.
  • The Indra Sawhney ruling: The court upheld the office memorandums that essentially implemented the Mandal report. The executive orders mandating 27% reservation for backward castes were said to be valid. The reservation was made not just on the basis of caste, even if it appears so. It is also made on the basis of objective evaluation of social and educational backwardness of classes, which is the criterion previously laid down by the court. The landmark Indra Sawhney ruling set two important precedents.
  1. First, it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”.
  2. The court also reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas it had set out in earlier judgements in 1963 (M R Balaji v State of Mysore) and in 1964 (Devadasan v Union of India).
  3. It reasoned that this was needed to ensure “efficiency” in administration. The court said this 50% limit will apply, unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
  4. The social and educational backwardness criteria stemmed from interpretation of various constitutional provisions. But the 50% limit is often criticised as being an arbitrary limit.
  • Link with Maratha reservation: There are two main constitutional questions for the court to consider in the challenge to the Martha quota law:
  1. whether states can declare a particular caste to be a socially and educationally backward class, and
  2. whether states can breach the 50% ceiling for “vertical quotas” set by the Supreme Court
  3. Notably, the 102nd Amendment to the Constitution gives the President the powers to notify backward classes. The court will have to look into whether states have similar powers under this. Also, this power flows from the Constitution. The Court will thus have to see if the President is still required to comply with the criteria set by the Supreme Court in the Mandal case. The relevance of the Indra Sawhney criteria is also under question in another case in which the validity of the 103rd Amendment has been challenged.
  • 103rd Amendment: The 103rd Amendment, passed in 2019, provides for 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the economically weaker section in the unreserved category. Similar to the Maratha issue are the cases of Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana, and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh. Additionally, with the implementation of the Maharashtra law, the vertical quota in the state could go up to 68%. This was 52% before the passing of the law. This aspect will also come under question. The Indra Sawhney verdict gives a pass to breach of the 50% quota rule only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Big implication: The potential reconsideration of the popular Indra Sawhney ruling could alter the structure of reservations that has been in place for decades. States have breached the 50% ceiling before and intend to bring more reservation. A notable example is Tamil Nadu.
  • Tamil Nadu case: The Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, SCs and STs (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and of Appointments or Posts in the Services under the State) Act, 1993 - The Act reserves 69% of the seats in colleges and jobs in the state government. However, this was done by amending the Constitution, to place the law in the Ninth Schedule after the Indra Sawhney judgment. The Ninth Schedule provides the law with a “safe harbour” from judicial review under Article 31A of the Constitution. Laws placed in the 9th Schedule cannot be challenged for reasons of violating any fundamental right protected under the Constitution. However, the Tamil Nadu law was challenged in 2007 (I R Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu). To this, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous 9-judge verdict. It said that while laws placed under 9th Schedule cannot be challenged on the grounds of violation of fundamental rights, they can be challenged on the ground that it violates the basic structure of the Constitution. A later Bench was to decide whether the Tamil Nadu law itself (breaching the 50% ceiling) violates basic structure, based on the I R Coelho verdict. The Bench has not been set up yet.
  • Population's caste break-up: Many backward caste groups have continuously demanded the caste populations in India, as gathered from Census 2011. They have also demanded that 2021 census must include a detailed caste and sub-caste counting. But governments have refused to either release earlier data, or include this new data point. Activists allege that once real nos. are out, a lot of debate would be put to rest.


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    • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
Astronomers discover longest jet of particles coming from black hole 
  1. From the earliest age: Using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Chandra Observatory, astronomers have discovered never seen before, a long jet of particles coming from a supermassive black hole in the early universe. The gigantic jet of particles originated from a galaxy 12.7 billion light-years away from Earth. The light detected from this jet was emitted at a very early age of the universe when it was 0.98 billion years old, almost one-tenth of its age now. The light detected from this jet was emitted at a very early age of the universe when it was 0.98 billion years old, almost one-tenth of its age now.
  2. Source: The source of the jet is a quasar, which is powered by a supermassive black hole named PJ352-15. The quasar sits at the centre of the galaxy and is one of the two most powerful quasars as per the radio waves detected in the first billion years after the big bang event. Its size is also estimated to be a billion times more massive than our Sun.
  3. Process used: In order to collect evidence of the X-Ray jet, astronomers had to observe PJ352-15 for three days using Chandra. When detected, it was approximately 1,60,000 light-years away from its origin in the same direction. To understand the distance covered, the Milky Way galaxy housing our solar system spreads almost 100,000 light-years.
  4. Special: What makes this discovery more important is that the first jet of particles recorded by astronomers was 5,000 light-years in length making this an astronomical record by a huge margin. The length of this jet is significant because it means that the supermassive black hole powering it has been growing for a considerable period of time.

NASA releases sound recording of laser on Mars
  1. Sound of Mars: The National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) has released the sound of lasers recorded by the Perseverance rover on Mars’ Jezero crater. The audio clips posted on NASA’s Soundcloud page were recorded by the microphone attached to the SuperCam mounted on the Perseverance rover. The acoustic recording sounds more like a snap produced from the laser hitting a rock. It sounds more like a continuous snap, instead of a ‘pew pew’ sound effect we have listened to in movies. The sound was produced from the laser hitting a rock.
  2. Thin atmosphere: The other two sound recordings shared by the US Space Agency, include the first recording on Mars and wind blowing on the surface. As expected, the sound of the wind is very different from Earth due to the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet. The sound recording is muffled and almost sounds as if it was recorded in the ocean while deep diving. NASA also shared how common sounds on Earth, like birds chirping, bells or whistles will be almost inaudible on Mars.
  3. Process: The sound of laser captured was of SuperCam firing zapping on a rock target named Maaz on March 2. This led to the generation of shockwaves due to heat and vibration of rock vapourisation which was recorded by the instrument. The sound of snaps will help to determine the hardness of the rock whereas the spectrometer and camera will help reveal details about the composition. For example, the rock zapped by the SuperCam has a basaltic composition which is common on both Earth and Mars. However, it is not yet clear whether the rock was volcanic or not.
  4. Searching for life: The SuperCam is capable of firing laser at a target up to 23 feet. This will help scientists rock composition at the Jezero crater when the rover began its journey. The crater is 45km wide and was home to an ancient river. The samples collected will help scientists understand the history of the crater and whether life existed on the planet or not.

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    • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
Parliamentary standing committee on Rural Development
  • Issues raised: The Centre government must increase the amount of pensions provided for poor senior citizens, widows and disabled people, said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development. The panel pointed out that it had previously proposed the increase of the miniscule pensions in its reports and slammed the government’s “laxity in raising the amount”.  It criticised the implementation of National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) in reaching out to the poor and downtrodden section of the society.
  • Too meagre: The committee out the meagre amount of assistance ranging from Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 per month under the different components of this Scheme. It noted the callous approach of the State Governments in the proper implementation of the provision of unemployment allowance. It pulled up the Department of Rural Development (DoRD) for issues in implementation of the flagship MGNREGA scheme.
  • Issues in MGNREGA:
  1. Lack of work supply - That too when there was an increase in the demand for work under MGNREGA due to economic distress caused by Covid-19 pandemic.
  2. Delay in release of funds - It is a huge discouraging aspect and does not go in consonance with the underlying spirit of the scheme.
  3. Disparity in wages in different states - The committee noted how it is possible that a single scheme having the provision of hundred days of guaranteed work to willing people from the rural settings can have different yardstick when it comes to the payment modalities across the length and breadth of the country. It is against the Constitutional provision of equal pay for equal work.
  • National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP): The NSAP is a welfare programme being administered by the Ministry of Rural Development. This programme is being implemented in rural as well as urban areas. The programme was first launched on 15th August 1995 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. It was brought within the umbrella of ‘Core of Core’ schemes of the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) in 2016. Currently, it has five components namely:
  1. Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) - since inception of NSAP in 1995
  2. National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) - 1995
  3. Annapurna Scheme - launched in 2000
  4. Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) - launched in 2009
  5. Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme - launched in 2009
  6. The National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS) was part of NSAP and was subsequently transferred from the Ministry of Rural development to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • Important schemes of Department of Rural Development: There are many, including - Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana - Gramin (PMAY-G), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), Antyodaya Yojana - National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAY-NRLM), National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Rurban Mission (SPMRM) and Saansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY).
Kala-azar Elimination
  • Kala-azar elimination: Bihar to Miss DeadlineThe new cases of Kala-azar or Visceral Leishmaniasis have been reported in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, casting serious doubt on the state government’s efforts to eradicate the disease in the state by 2022. Bihar has already missed the Kala-azar elimination target four times since 2010. The first deadline was 2010, under the National Health Programme, followed by 2015. It was later extended to 2017 and 2020 due to the government’s failure to eliminate Kala-azar.
  • Points to note:
  1. Kala-azar or Leishmaniasis - Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala-azar, is characterized by irregular bouts of fever, substantial weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, and anaemia. If the disease is not treated, the fatality rate in developing countries can be as high as 100% within 2 years. It is a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) affecting almost 100 countries including India.
  2. NTDs are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries. It is caused by a parasite called Leishmania, which is transmitted through the bite of sand flies.
  3. There are three types of leishmaniasis - Visceral leishmaniasis, which affects multiple organs, is the most serious form of the disease. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes skin sores, is the most common form. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis causes skin and mucosal lesions.
  4. Visceral leishmaniasis, which is commonly known as Kala-azar in India, is fatal in over 95% of the cases, if left untreated.
  • Reasons for missing the deadline: Elimination programmes lack direction and Kala-azar returns year after year. It was mostly the poor belonging to the Dalits, Other Backward Communities and Muslims, who were the main victims of the disease. There also has been a trend of decline in the number of Kala-azar cases in Bihar in the last few years. There were 23,084 cases in 2010, and by 2020, there were 2,712 cases, according to official data.
  • National Kala-azar Elimination Programme: The National Health Policy-2002 set the goal of Kala-azar elimination in India by the year 2010 which was revised to 2015. Continuing focused activities with high political commitment, India signed a Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh and Nepal to achieve Kala-azar elimination from the South-East Asia Region (SEAR). Elimination is defined as reducing the annual incidence of Kala-azar to less than 1 case per 10,000 population at the sub-district level in India.
  • NVBDCP: Presently all programmatic activities are being implemented through the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) which is an umbrella programme for prevention & control of vector borne diseases and is subsumed under National Health Mission (NHM).
  • National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme: The NVBDCP is the central nodal agency for prevention and control of six vector borne diseases i.e. Malaria, Dengue, Lymphatic Filariasis, Kala-azar, Japanese Encephalitis and Chikungunya in India. It works under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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

Bamiyan Buddhas come alive 
  • Technology brings the broken alive: The Bamiyan Buddhas were brought back to life with the help of 3D projection in the event held in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. The event called “A Night with Buddha” was held on the anniversary of annihilation.
  • History: The statues of Bamiyan Buddha, which find the place among the tallest statues of the world once, were broken into small pieces by Taliban. Taliban started to blowing up the two of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan in the month of March 2001.
  • Bamiyan Buddhas: These were two 6th-century monumental statues of Gautama Buddha. The statues were carved into the side of a cliff located in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan. The smaller buddha or the Eastern Buddha had the height of 38 m while the larger buddha or the Western Buddha was 55 m in height.
  • Gandhara Art: The statues represented a classic blended of Gandhara art style or the blend of artistic style of Guptas, Sassanian & Hellenistic style.  The statues were called by local as male “Salsal” meaning “light shines through the universe” and female “Shamama” meaning “Queen Mother”.
  • Significance: The Bamiyan Buddhas were situated in high mountains of Hindu Kush in central highlands called Bamiyan Valley of the Afghanistan. The Bamiyan valley, along the line of the Bamiyan River, was once integral part of the ancient Silk Roads. It provided passage for merchants, religion, culture and language. The region became a major cultural, religious and trade centre when Buddhist Kushan Empire spread. The countries like India, China and Rome asked for passage through Bamiyan, Kushans developed a syncretic culture. The monastic quality of the valley also reflects faith.

First “BRICS Contact Group on Economic and Trade Issues” meeting
  • First: The BRICS Contact Group on Economic and Trade Issues (CGETI) held their first meeting under the chairmanship of India. The meeting was held from March 9 to March 11, 2021. The meeting was held under the Theme –“BRICS @15: Intra BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation, and Consensus”.
  • Highlights: India presented a calendar of events for BRICS CGETI 2021. Those events comprise of priority areas for deliverables, schedule and scope of MSME roundtable conference workshop on Services Statistics and BRICS Trade Fair. It was followed by several presentations made by the concerned department on proposed deliverables during the India’s Chair ship under BRICS CGETI track.
  • Deliverables: Many points were proposed, including - (a) Action plan on the basis of document “Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025” which was adopted during Russian Presidency in 2020, (b) BRICS Cooperation on Multilateral Trading system such as cooperation for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ( TRIPS ) Waiver proposal at World Trade Organisation (WTO), (c) Framework for Consumer Protection in the E-Commerce, (d) Non-Tariff Measures Resolution Mechanism, (e) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Working Mechanism, (f) Co-operation framework for protection of Genetic Resources & Traditional Knowledge, (g) BRICS Framework on the Co-operation in Professional Services, etc.
  • BRICS 2021 – The 13th BRICS Summit: BRICS 2021 or the 13th BRICS Summit will be held under the chair ship of India under the theme ‘BRICS @ 15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus.’ The summit will hold discussions around three pillars including:
  1. Political and Security – The members will hold discussions over global and regional security for which the priority sectors include- counter terrorism cooperation & reform of multilateral system.
  2. Economic and Financial – The members will focus on the intra-BRICS cooperation in sectors including agriculture, trade, infrastructure, energy, finance & banking and small & medium enterprises.
  3. Cultural and People to People – The cultural and people to people exchanges will enhance the bonding among the members.

First “BRICS Contact Group on Economic and Trade Issues” meeting
  1. Quad taking shape: Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi will participate in the first Leaders’ Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework along with the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison; Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga and President of United States of America, Joseph R. Biden. The summit will take place virtually on March 12, 2021.
  2. Highlights: The Quad Leaders will discuss the regional and global issues which are of shared interest. They will also exchange their views on several practical areas of the cooperation to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. The virtual summit will also provide the countries an opportunity to exchange their views on the contemporary challenges like resilient supply chains, maritime security, climate change and emerging & critical technologies. Leaders will discuss the ongoing efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. They would also explore the opportunities to collaborate so as to ensure a safe, equitable and affordable vaccines in Indo-Pacific region.
  3. Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD): This is also known as the Asian NATO. It is an informal strategic forum comprising of India, United States, Japan, and Australia. The forum is maintained by semi-regular summits, military drills and information between member countries.
  4. Story: It was initiated in August 2007 by the then Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe with the support of Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh; Vice President of US, Dick Cheney and Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. This diplomatic and military arrangement is taken as a response to increasing Chinese economic and military power. The USA sees this grouping as an opportunity to regain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region in a counter to China’s increasing influence in the East Asia. Australia also shows concerns regarding China’s growing interest in the land, infrastructure, politics and universities in Australia. Japan expresses concerns with respect to China’s territorial transgression in the south China Sea and Indo-Pacific region. China continuously violates the international norms by constructing military facilities on reclaimed islands in South China Sea pose strategic challenges to India.
Fugaku: World’s most powerful Supercomputer
  • Fastest: The Japanese scientific research institute called RIKEN and Fujitsu started developing the “Fugaku” six years ago. It is the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Now this supercomputer is fully ready and developed in Japan and is now available for the research use.
  • Highlights: This supercomputer was developed with the aim of making the device core of the computing infrastructure of Japan. Then the supercomputer was tested for the particular projects in order to combat COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. Now the Fugaku is fully open and available for shared use. The Research Organization for the Information Science and Technology (RIST) of Japan has selected some 74 projects which will use this supercomputer in the financial year 2021. RIST has also proposed for the development of the new projects in several categories and has invited the researchers who are interested to apply for the same.
  • About Fugaku: It is a key national technology developed with the goal to achieve research results which ultimately will help in building a long-lived and healthy society, better energy use and disaster mitigation. It also aims to establish the government’s vision of making “ultra-smart Society 5.0”. The supercomputer has topped the top500 list, which is a “Supercomputer benchmark index”, for the second year in line. The computer comprises of 100 times the application performance of K supercomputer. It has been developed to implement the high-resolution, large-scale and long-duration simulation. Fugaku has been named after an alternative name for Mount Fuji. It started development in the year 2014 as the successor to the K computer. It is built with the Fujitsu A64FX microprocessor.

9.1 Today's best editorials to read
  • We offer you 7 excellent editorials from across 10 newspapers we have scanned. 

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    • SECTION 3 - MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions)

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PT's IAS Academy: Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 12-03-2021
Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 12-03-2021
Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 12-03-2021
PT's IAS Academy
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