Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 10-04-2021


Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 10-04-2021


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  1. People and Personalities - Prince Philip of Britain passes away - The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip of Britain passed away on April 9, 2021. He was 99 years old. Prince Philip married Queen Elizabeth II in 1947. He was the longest-serving royal consort in England’s History. In his seven decades of service, Philip often accompanied the Queen on royal engagements, and conducted thousands of his own solo appearances. He once referred to himself as "the world's most experienced plaque unveiler," while the Queen lauded him as her "constant strength and guide." He supported a number of philanthropic endeavors and was associated with around 800 organizations. He founded the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme, a youth development program that operates in more than 130 countries and territories around the world. Commonwealth leaders led international reaction to the duke's death. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled the duke for his "distinguished career in the military" and work "at the forefront of many community service initiatives". US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden joined other world leaders in sending their "deepest condolences" to the Queen, the Royal Family and the people of the UK.
  2. Governance and Schemes - International Monetary and Financial Committee - Indian Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs attended the Plenary Meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) Board of Governors. IMFC usually meets twice a year at the Fund-Bank Spring Meetings (April), and the Annual Meetings (October). Chairperson - Magdalena Andersson, Sweden's Finance Minister (The first woman to hold this position). Holds office for 3 years. The IMFC has 24 members who are central bank governors, ministers, or others of comparable rank. These members are drawn from the governors of the 190 member countries of the IMF. Each member country and each group of member countries that elects an Executive Director appoints a member of the IMFC. It discusses matters of common concern affecting the global economy and advises the IMF on the direction of its work and policies. It advises and reports to the IMF Board of Governors on the supervision and management of the international monetary and financial system. It considers proposals by the Executive Board to amend the Articles of Agreement and advises on matters referred to it by Board of Governors. Observers in the IMFC’s meetings - International institutions.
  3. Constitution and Law - Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code Ordinance, 2021 - The President promulgated the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021. The Cabinet had approved the proposal to make amendments in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, through the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021. The amendments aims to provide a Pre- Packaged alternative insolvency resolution framework for corporate persons - Classified as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) under the Code. The initiative is based on a trust model and the amendments honour the honest MSME owners by ensuring that the resolution happens and the company remains with them. The Ordinance seeks to amend the Code based on suggestions of the Insolvency Law Committee (ILC). Expected benefits of the amendment in Code Lesser burden on Adjudicating Authority, Assured continuity of business operations for Corporate Debtor (CD), Less process costs & maximum assets realization for financial creditors (FC), Assurance of continued business relation with CD and Rights protection for operational Creditors (OC).
  4. Foreign Affairs - Fonop by US protested by India - India has officially protested the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law. In a rare and unusual public statement, the U.S. Navy announced that its ship, USS John Paul Jones, had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims”. USS John Paul Jones asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law, the U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet said The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention “does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state. While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far.
  5. Science and Technology - 2001 Mars Odyssey - NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft marks 20 years of mapping red planet. NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft launched 20 years ago on April 7, has made it the oldest spacecraft still working at the Red Planet. The orbiter, which takes its name from Arthur C. Clarke's classic sci-fi novel "2001: A Space Odyssey", was sent to map the composition of the Martian surface in 2001. Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said that before Odyssey, we didn't know where water was stored on the planet. The feasibility of humans traveling to Mars was also the focus of an instrument aboard Odyssey that measured how much space radiation astronauts would have to contend with before it stopped working in 2003. The most complete global maps of Mars were made using Odyssey's infrared camera, called the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS.
  6. Defence and Military - NanoSniffer - Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ launched NanoSniffer, the world’s first Microsensor based Explosive Trace Detector (ETD). This home-grown Explosive trace detector device (ETD) - NanoSniffer can detect explosives in less than 10 seconds and it also identifies and categorizes explosives into different classes. It detects all classes of military, conventional and homemade explosives. It gives visible & audible alerts with sunlight-readable color display. NanoSniffer is a 100% Made in India product in terms of R&D and manufacturing. It has been developed by NanoSniff Technologies, an IIT Bombay incubated startup and has been marketed by Vehant Technologies, a spin-off from a former IIT Delhi incubated startup Kritikal Solutions. This affordable device will reduce India's dependence on imported explosive trace detector devices.
  7. Indian Politics - Covid Update - With a record 1,45,384 fresh cases, India’s Covid-19 tally has climbed to 1,32,05,926. The number of active cases has breached the 10-lakh mark again after around six-and-a-half months, while the death toll due to the viral disease has gone up to 1,68,436 with 794 more fatalities, the highest since October 18, 2020. Registering a steady increase for the 31st day in a row, the number of active coronavirus cases in the country has gone up to 10,46,631, accounting for 7.93 per cent of its total caseload, while the recovery rate has further dropped to 90.80 per cent. Medicines and vaccines are both in short supply across parts of India. Manufacturers of Remdesivir said a lull in demand from December to February led to low or zero production of the anti-viral drug, affecting its supply chain. Constant friction between centre and states on vaccine supply is casting a shadow on the battle against Covid.
  8. Environment and Ecology - Red Sea skrimishes - An Iranian freighter was hit by Israel in the Red Sea in retaliation for past Iranian strikes on its vessels. The blast struck the Iranian commercial vessel MV Saviz off the coast of Djibouti. The attack came as Iranian officials gathered in Vienna to negotiate the restoration of a 2015 deal Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was designed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities. The Red Sea is a semi-enclosed tropical basin, bounded by northeastern Africa, to the west, and the Arabian peninsula, to the east. The elongated and narrow-shaped basin extends between the Mediterranean Sea, to the north-west, and the Indian Ocean, to the south-east. At the northern end, it separates into the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez, which is connected to the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. At the southern end, it is connected to the Gulf of Aden, and the outer Indian Ocean, via the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb. It is surrounded by desert or semi-desert areas, with no major freshwater inflow.
  9. Constitution and Law - Indians above 18 free to choose their own religion - The Supreme Court on 09-04-2021 angrily observed that “there is no reason why somebody above 18 cannot choose one’s religion”. Hearing a plea filed by a BJP leader Upadhyay urging for a law to check religious conversions, the top court called it a “very harmful” petition. The court warned the petitioner that heavy costs will be imposed if the matter was pressed. Justice Nariman observed that this PIL was nothing but a "publicity interest litigation", which was of a "harmful kind", the bench warned the petitioner that heavy costs will be imposed if the matter was pressed. Following this, the BJP leader proceeded to withdraw the plea. The plea filed by Upadhyay also sought directions to ascertain the feasibility of appointing a committee to enact a Conversion of Religion Act to check the abuse of religion.
  10. World Economy - Alibaba hit by monopoly penalty - Chinese regulators have fined Alibaba 18 billion yuan ($2.75 billion) for violating anti-monopoly rules and abusing its dominant market position, marking the highest ever antitrust fine to be imposed in the country. The penalty, equivalent to around 4% of Alibaba's 2019 revenues, comes amid regulatory crackdown on home-grown technology conglomerates. Alibaba said it has accepted the decision. Alibaba's fortunes have plunged ever since its founde Jack Ma directly criticised communist party functionaries in the finance domain.
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
The myth of rupee over-valuation
  1. The news: In April 2021, the RBI released a new series of REER which is effective in depicting the rupee’s over/under valuation.
  2. REER: The Real Effective Exchange Rate is the standard measure to gauge the value of the home currency against the weighted average value of the currencies of its trading partners divided by a price deflator or index. A REER value above 100 denotes that the home currency is overvalued and more expensive compared to its competitors. During the global financial crisis in 2007-08, REER was around the 100 and it was moving close to 120 in 2017-18. This shows that the rupee was overvalued against its trading partners and is affecting India’s exports. The RBI has in April 2021 released new series for REER which reflects the true state of affairs.
  3. How is this different: Earlier, the REER and NEER (not adjusted to inflation) was a basket of 6 and 36 currency index respectively with a base year of 2004-05. The new series of REER has the base year of 2015-16 and the basket has been expanded from 36 to 40 currencies. Countries like Angola, Chile, Ghana, Iraq, Nepal, Oman, Tanzania, Ukraine have been included while Argentina, Pakistan, Philippines and Sweden got removed. The new basket represents 88% of India’s total trade as against 84% in the earlier 36-currency basket.
  4. Better or worse: The new series appears to be a vast improvement on the previous one in depicting the rupee’s over/under valuation. It did not cross above 100 in the period between April 2004 and February 2015 and was around 90- 100. Though the index has moved above 100 since then, the overvaluation was limited to 7%. So the new series is far more in sync with the BIS values.
  5. Problems: The selection of trading partners is based on overall merchandise trade. But it is better to consider trade in manufactured goods alone as it reflects the right amount of export competitiveness. It is also not clear whether the new series has addressed trans-shipment effect. If it was done, the weight for the UAE may have been lower. Market completion means weights are modified to take in to account countries that are trading partners as well as export competitors in other markets. Finally, adjustments in third market completion will result in higher weights for Asian countries and lower weight for Euro region which will make rupee REER more effective.
  6. Inference: It is clear that rupee is quite competitively valued and the reasons for sluggish exports lie elsewhere. The RBI has maintained that its intention is to maintain stability in the rupee movement and not targeting any specific level for exchange rate. The new series of the RBI and coupled with inflation targeting can help the rupee to stay competitive in the export markets. But there are constant demands to weaken the rupee for helping the exporters which should not be heeded to. Weak currency will hurt the importers and their profit margins besides being inflationary. Also foreign investors tend to think twice about investing in a country with a currency that is on a downward spiral. Now it is probably the time to rethink the policy of allowing the rupee to slide indefinitely.

NABARD Registers 24% Growth
  1. The story: The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) closed its business at Rs. 6.57 lakh crore in FY 2020-21, recording a growth rate of 23.5%.
  2. Points to note: Under Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, NABARD released amounts to cooperative banks,Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) and to NBFC-MFIs (Non-Banking Financial Company: Micro Finance Institution) through a Special Liquidity Facility (SLF). The SLF was with a view to augment the resources of the Cooperative banks and RRBs to enable them to extend credit to farmers. The NABARD registered a total refinance disbursement of Rs. 2.23 lakh crore to support agriculture and rural development activities during the pandemic. A refinance facility of Rs. 500 crore was introduced to support the Government of India’s Water, Sanitisation and Hygiene (WASH) programme.
  3. NABARD: It came into existence on 12th July 1982 by transferring the agricultural credit functions of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and refinance functions of the then Agricultural Refinance and Development Corporation (ARDC). It is a statutory body established under ‘National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development Act, 1981’. It is a development bank focussing primarily on the rural sector of the country, and the apex banking institution to provide finance for Agriculture and rural development.
  4. Cooperation with the RBI: The RBI provides 3 directors to NABARD’s Board of Directors. NABARD provides recommendations to RBI on issue of licenses to Cooperative Banks, opening of new branches by State Cooperative Banks and RRBs. Headquarters is at Mumbai.
  5. Major functions: It provides refinance support for building rural infrastructure. Refinancing institutions are important institutions who give loans to other institutions who ultimately give loans to the end customers. NABARD provides short-term, medium-term and long-term refinance to Cooperative banks and RRBs to supplement their resources for providing adequate credit for supporting investment activities of farmers and rural artisans. It supervises Cooperative Banks and Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) and helps them develop sound banking practices and integrate them to the CBS (Core Banking Solution) platform. CBS can be defined as a solution that enables banks to offer a multitude of customer-centric services on a 24x7 basis from a single location. It is involved in designing Union government’s development schemes and their implementation. Examples: National Livestock Mission, Interest subvention Scheme, New Agricultural Marketing Infrastructure, etc. NABARD has various international partnerships including leading global organizations and World Bank-affiliated institutions that are breaking new ground in the fields of rural development as well as agriculture. These international partners play a key consultant role in providing advisory services as well as financial assistance designed to ensure uplifting of rural peoples as well as optimization of various agricultural processes.

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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
Why India resists declaring Net Zero target
  • US comes to India: While President Trump's administration rejected the climate change idea, with President Biden it has gone into an overdrive. John Kerry, the US President’s Special Envoy on Climate, came to India in April trying to rebuild a climate action relationship. Soon, a virtual Climate Leaders’ Summit was convened by US President Joe Biden on April 22-23, where the US was expected to commit itself to a net-zero emission target for 2050. These are big developments.
  • Net zero emissions: Other countries, including the UK, France and China have already enacted laws promising to achieve a net-zero emission scenario by the middle of the century. It's almost a trend now, and India, the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the US and China, is the only major player holding out.
  • Net-zero goal: It is called carbon-neutrality goal also, and is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  1. Absorption of the emissions can be raised by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
  2. It's possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions. A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.
  3. It's argued that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times.
  • Cautious India: Over the next two to three decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions.
  1. Technologies involved are costly - Most of the carbon removal technologies right now are either unreliable or very expensive. India points towards the poor track record of developed countries on their commitment to provide money, and technology, to developing and poor countries to help them deal with the impacts of climate change.
  2. Not a part of Paris Climate Accord - The net-zero goal does not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement. It requires every signatory to take the best climate action it can. Countries need to set five- or ten-year climate targets for themselves, and demonstrably show they have achieved them. The other requirement is that targets for every subsequent time-frame should be more ambitious than the previous one.
  3. No need of parallel discussion - India has been arguing that instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside of the Paris Agreement framework, countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised
  4. Doesn’t involve any emission reduction targets - A country can become carbon-neutral at its current level of emissions, or even by increasing its emissions, if it is able to absorb or remove more.
  5. Dilution of CBDR Principle - From the perspective of the developed world, carbon neutrality is a big relief, because now the burden is shared by everyone, and does not fall only on them. This is seen as dilution of Common but Differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and Historical responsibility principle of tackling Climate Change
  • India is a responsible nation: Studies show that India is the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant to the Paris Agreement. Even the actions of the EU and the US are assessed as “insufficient”. In other words, India is already doing more, relatively speaking, on climate than many other countries.
  • Developed countries no saints: No major country achieved the emission-cut targets assigned to them under the Kyoto Protocol. India has been arguing that the 2050 carbon-neutrality promise might meet a similar fate, although some countries are now binding themselves in law. India has been insisting that the developed countries should, instead, take more ambitious climate actions now, to compensate for the unfulfilled earlier promises.
  • Summary: India does not rule out the possibility of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2050 or 2060. It is just being cautious in making any commitments.

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

Why India Pakistan trade got derailed, again
  • The April issue: Pakistan’s double U-turn on resuming trade with India shows the internal differences within Ministries, and between business and political communities. All these hint at the reality that the shadow of politics looms over trade and economy.
  • Reversing trade decision: Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) recently decided to import cotton, yarn, and 500,000 metric tons of sugar from India. The new Finance Minister Hammad Azhar announced this decision, and media dubbed it as a political breakthrough. But the ECC’s decision was based on Pakistan’s immediate economic needs and not on bilateral trade. It was only about importing three items - cotton, yarn and sugar.
  1. It was not designed as a political confidence-building measure to normalise relations with India. Despite this, a day later, Pakistan’s cabinet overruled the decision.
  2. It was clear that as long as India did not review the unilateral steps it took on August 5, 2019, normalising relations with India would not be possible.
  3. The Finance Minister accepted the cabinet’s decision as the working of “economic and political interface in a democracy.” It was left with the Prime Minister and the cabinet to “endorse, reject or modify” the ECC’s proposals.
  • ECC’s decision inevitable: For the textile and sugar industries in Pakistan, importing from India is imperative, practical and is the most economic.
  1. Textile industry - Yarn, cotton cloth, knitwear, bedwear and readymade garments form the core of Pakistan’s textile basket in the export sector. In 2020, there was a steep decline in the textile sector due to disruptions in supply and domestic production, as well as a sharp decline in cotton production.
  • Pakistan is the fifth-largest exporter of cotton globally. The cotton-related products (raw and value-added) earn close to half of the country’s foreign exchange. The projected decline means Pakistan’s cotton export would reduce, creating a domino effect on what goes into Pakistan’s garment industry.
  • So importing cotton yarn from India is an immediate need; otherwise, it would impact their export potential. Pakistan’s textile industry has thus not taken the cabinet’s decision kindly.
  1. Sugar industry - For the sugar industry, the problem stems from different issues - the availability for local consumption and the steep price increase. The sugar industry has prioritised exports over local distribution. But there was increased government subsidy. A few related administrative decisions resulted in the sugar industry attempting to make a considerable profit by exporting it. However, by early 2019, the sugar prices started increasing, and in 2020, there was a crisis due to shortage and cost. The subsidies, cheap bank loans, a few administrative decisions, manipulation and greed, especially by the sugar mill owners, meant high cost paid by the consumers. As a result, importing sugar from India would be cheaper for the consumer market in Pakistan.
  • Cabinet decision's implication: For the cabinet, the interests of its own business community and its export potential have become secondary. This implies the supremacy of politics over trade and economy, even if the latter is beneficial to the importing country. But Pakistan need not be singled out; this is a curse in South Asia, where politics play supreme over trade and economy. The meagre percentage of intra-South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) trade would underline the above. Trade is unlikely to triumph over politics in South Asia; especially in India-Pakistan relations. Another aspect is the emphasis on Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan to make any meaningful start in bilateral relations. The latest statement by Pakistan’s cabinet is that unless India rescinds the decision of August 5, 2019 in J&K, there would be no forward movement. This position hints at Pakistan’s precondition (revoking the August 2019 decision) to engage with India. Pakistan has been saying that the onus is on India to normalise the process. It is perhaps New Delhi’s turn now to tell Islamabad that it was willing, but without any preconditions, and start with trade.

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

Abolition of Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FACT)
  • The story: The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation And Conditions Of Service) Ordinance, 2021, which came into effect on April 4, has abolished the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) by amending the Cinematograph Act, 1952
  • About FCAT: It used to be a statutory body set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in 1983, under Section 5D of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
  1. Its main job was to hear appeals filed under Section 5C of the Cinematograph Act, by applicants for certification aggrieved by the decision of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
  2. The tribunal was headed by a chairperson and had four other members, including a Secretary appointed by the Government of India to handle. It was headquartered in New Delhi.
  • What it did: In India, all films must have a CBFC certificate if they are to be released theatrically, telecast on television, or displayed publicly in any way. The CBFC consists of a Chairperson and 23 members, all appointed by the Government of India. The CBFC certifies films under four categories:
  1. U: Unrestricted public exhibition (Suitable for all age groups)
  2. U/A: Parental guidance for children under age 12
  3. A: Restricted to adults(Suitable for 18 years and above
  4. S: Restricted to a specialised group of people, such as engineers, doctors or scientists.
  5. The CBFC can also deny certification a film.
  • A way out: On several occasions when a filmmaker or producer has not been satisfied with the CBFC’s certification, or with a denial, they have appealed to the FCAT. And in many cases, the FCAT has overturned the CBFC decision.
  • Some key decision:
  1. Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016): It had been denied certification in 2017, on the ground that it was “lady-oriented. Director Alankrita Shrivastava appealed to the FCAT, following whose ruling some scenes were cut and the film was released, with an ‘A’ certificate.
  2. Haraamkhor (2015): The film revolves around the relationship between a schoolteacher and a young female student. It had been denied certification by the CBFC for being “very provocative”. The FCAT cleared the film and said it was “furthering a social message and warning the girls to be aware of their rights”.
  • There were other instances – like The Messenger of God (2015), Kaalakandi (2018) – where FCAT has overruled the decisions of CBFC thereby upholding creative freedoms of film makers
  • Impact of abolition: It means filmmakers will now have to approach the High Court whenever they want to challenge a CBFC certification, or lack of it. Increasesd burden will result, on Courts, as now the appeals against decisions of CBFC reaches the door of High courts. Delay in grievance redressal of film makers is likely, as the court process for resolving the appeals will take much longer than it was before (in case of FCAT). Small film makers may not have the means to approach the courts. The FCAT discontinuation feels arbitrary as the decision was taken without any consultation with the stakeholders involved. The move is seen as empowering the hands of CBFC, a government appointed body, which in turn increases state’s role in certifying films. This can be seen as limiting the creative freedoms of film makers impacting their freedom of speech & expression under Article 19(1)(a)
Niti Aayog’s draft Migrant Labour Policy
  • The 2020 shock: Spurred by the exodus of 10 million migrants (as per government estimates) from big cities during the Covid-19 lockdown, NITI Aayog, along with a working subgroup of officials and members of civil society, has prepared a Draft National Migrant Labour policy. (Actual nos. are much higher)
  • Positives: There is an intent to better recognise migrants’ contribution to the economy and support them in their endeavours. It puts forward several radical ideas, including the adoption of a rights-based approach and establishing an additional layer of institutions to create a more enabling policy environment for migrants. It proposes a new National Migration Policy and the formation of a special unit within the Labour Ministry to work closely with other ministries. The new structure would bring about much-needed convergence across line departments and would be a huge step towards a universal understanding of the causes and effects of migration as well as the interventions needed. The draft policy calls for improving the record on the implementation of the country’s many labour laws that have, by and large, failed to make a difference to the lives of labour migrants. It discusses at length the provisions under the Equal Remuneration Act, The Bonded Labour Act, the Building and Other Construction Workers Act and the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, among others. It invokes the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda as well as the Sustainable Development Goals which aim to protect labour rights.
  • Significance of data realized: It acknowledges the challenges of welfare provision to a highly fragmented migrant workforce due to recruitment patterns and the lack of data. It refers to the importance of collective action and unions and there are detailed plans for improving the data on short-term migration, especially seasonal and circular migration.
  • Issues: The policy does not delve deeper into the causes underlying the poor implementation of labour laws that are linked to the political economy of recruitment and placement. It does not talk about gender differences in employment.  Domestic workers are one of the most important occupations for migrant women. They have been ignored. Controlling tribal migration goes against the objective of recognising migrant agency to help tribal migrants to access the opportunities offered by migration.

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    • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
Quality justice delivery through Lok Adalats
  • What's the issue: The Lok Adalats system must look beyond swift disposal of cases and focus on just and fair outcomes.
  • What are Lok Adalats: Access to justice for the poor is a constitutional mandate to ensure fair treatment under the legal system. Hence, Lok Adalats (literally, ‘People’s Court’) were established to make justice accessible and affordable to all. Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms. It is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably. Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Motor-accident claims, disputes related to public-utility services, cases related to dishonour of cheques, and land, labour and matrimonial disputes (except divorce) are usually taken up by Lok Adalats.
  • How did Lok Adalats evolve: They had existed even before the concept received statutory recognition. In 1949, Harivallabh Parikh, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised them in Rangpur, Gujarat. The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to ensure “equal justice and free legal aid”. To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by the Parliament. It came into force in 1995 - (i) to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society, and (ii) to organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity
  • Why are Lok Adalats significant: The Indian judicial system is often criticised, perhaps justifiably, for its endemic delays and excessive backlogs. Over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court, over 57 lakh cases before various HCs. Over 3 crore cases are pending before various district and subordinate courts. As a result, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party-driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement.
  • Advantages: Lok Adalats offer parties speed of settlement, as cases are disposed of in a single day. It is better when compared to litigation, and even other dispute resolution devices, such as arbitration and mediation. It also offers procedural flexibility, as there is no strict application of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. There is the economic affordability angle as well, as there are no court fees for placing matters before the Lok Adalat. Another advantage is the finality of awards, as no further appeal is allowed. This prevents delays in settlement of disputes. The award issued by a Lok Adalat, after the filing of a joint compromise petition, has the status of a civil court decree.
  • Concerns: The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory. It has no adjudicatory or judicial function. As compromise is its central idea, there is a valid concern that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice. In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against powerful entities such as insurance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others. In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them. In most cases, such litigants have to accept discounted future values of their claims instead of their just entitlements, or small compensations. It is being done just to bring a long-pending legal process to an end. Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes. Even a disaster like the Bhopal gas tragedy was coercively settled for a paltry sum, with real justice still eluding thousands of victims.
  • Summary: A just outcome of a legal process is far more important than expeditious disposal. So, besides efficiency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and offline should focus on the quality of justice delivered.

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    • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
Vaccines - the whole story of their making
  • The story today: Till now, nine vaccines against Covid-19 have been approved worldwide, with many more in various stages of preparation. That this has happened within a year of the illness coming to the world’s attention is remarkable. But it is one thing to design and test vaccines. It is another to make them at sufficient scale to generate the billions of doses needed to vaccinate the world’s population, and to do so at such speed that the rate of inoculation can outpace the spread and possible mutation of the virus.
  • Two ways to do it: Broadly, there are two ways of making antiviral vaccines.
  1. One, tried and trusted, involves growing, in tanks called bioreactors, cell cultures that act as hosts for viruses which are then used in one way or another to make the vaccine in question. Cells grown this way can be of many types—insect, human kidney, monkey kidney, hamster ovary—as can the resulting vaccines. These may be weakened or killed versions of the virus to be protected against, or live viruses of a different and less-dangerous sort that carry a gene or two abstracted from the target virus, or even just isolated target-viral proteins. The point is that the vaccine should introduce into the body, or induce that body to make, something which the immune system can learn to recognise and attack if the real target virus should ever turn up.
  2. In with the new The other method, developed recently and employed to make the mRNA vaccines, such as those of Moderna and Pfizer, that the pandemic has stimulated the invention of, requires culturing cells only at the beginning of the process. mRNA is the substance that carries instructions about how to make a protein from a cell’s DNA to the molecular factories, known as ribosomes, which do the actual manufacturing. In the case of covid-19, the instructions in question generate spike, a protein found on the surfaces of particles of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes this illness. Suitably packaged and delivered, such mRNA can induce some of the body cells of the inoculee to turn out spike, which the immune system then learns to recognise. To make this type of vaccine you therefore have to generate lots of the relevant mRNA.
  • How that works: That process does indeed start with cells, though they are bacterial cells, rather than those of animals. But it does not end with them. The bacteria used, normally a well-understood species called E coli, have spliced into them a DNA version of the part of the SARS-CoV-2 genome which describes spike. (Confusingly, as is true of many viruses, SARS-CoV-2’s actual genes are made of RNA.) The bacteria are then allowed to multiply for a few days before being broken open, their DNA filtered out, and the DNA versions of the spike gene extracted as what is known as a DNA template.
  1. Once purified, this template is mixed with a soup of pertinent enzymes and fed molecules called nucleotides, the chemical “letters” of which RNA is composed. Thus supplied, the enzymes use the templates to run off appropriate mRNAs by the zillion. These are extracted and packaged into tiny, fatty bubbles to form the vaccine.
  2. Both the cell-culture and the mRNA approaches have benefits and drawbacks. The former has the advantage of being well established. Versions of it go back to vaccine-making’s origins. But keeping cultured animal cells alive and healthy is a tricky business. A whole subfield of bioengineering is dedicated to this task. Vaccine-makers who rely on live cultures constantly struggle with yields. Using this method to make a lot of vaccine, fast, is hard.
  3. It was difficulties of this sort that Pascal Soriot, boss of AstraZeneca, cited on January 26th 2021 in defence of his firm’s failure to provide vaccine supplies which the European Union claimed it had been promised. AstraZeneca is an Anglo-Swedish company that, in collaboration with Oxford University, created one of the first vaccines to be approved.
  • De-necking the bottles: Maximising a bioreactor’s yield is as much an art as a science. The underlying health of the cells involved matters. So do environmental conditions at the manufacturing site. That AstraZeneca has not been able to meet its own production targets shows how hard it is to predict when the right balance of biology will be found. The company says it can take six to nine months to start a production site up from scratch, and that even this timetable is possible only by working with experienced partners and at an accelerated pace. At the moment, AstraZeneca is working with 25 manufacturing organisations in 15 countries to make its vaccine.
  • Scaling up: Producing mRNA vaccines at scale has problems, too. The biggest is how to protect the mRNA molecules both from the environment they must travel through in order to reach the arm of their recipient, and from the recipient’s own body, which will attack them as they journey to the ribosomes which will transcribe them. Protection from the environment is mainly a matter of having a strategically located set of refrigerators, known as a cold chain. Protection from the body, though, is where the fatty bubbles come in. Production of these bubbles was a cottage industry before the pandemic. A small Austrian firm, Polymun Scientific, is one of just a handful that can make them. Their main previous use was in niche cancer treatments. Scaling up their production, which is happening right now, has never been done before and adds uncertainty to the continued supply of mRNA vaccine.
  • GMP: The factories in which vaccines are made must be built to a high standard, known as GMP, for “Good Manufacturing Practice”. There is currently a shortage of GMP facilities. Many vaccine firms are looking to buy firms whose vaccine candidates have turned out not to work, simply in order to acquire the GMP-compliant facilities in question, as not many are available otherwise!
  • Raw materials: Supplies of raw materials such as nucleotides are also tight. On top of all this, the transport and distribution of vaccines once they have been made presents yet further challenges, and concomitant potential for hold ups. Vaccines must be stored in special non-reactive glass vials. Some, such as the current version of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, must also be kept at extremely low temperatures, though that problem may go away soon.
  • Speed: Once supply chains for both cell-culture and mRNA vaccines have been scaled up, and bottlenecks unblocked, the manufacturing processes may face a different test—how quickly they can produce new vaccines to deal with new viral variants as these emerge. The continued efficacy of approved vaccines against such variants is not guaranteed, and it may be necessary to make others. Here, the mRNA approach may have an advantage. Its production systems will require a simple tweak—the dropping in at the start of a DNA template describing the new variant’s spike protein. Cell-culture systems, by contrast, will have to be rebuilt to some degree for every new variant they aim to vaccinate against.
  • Summary: Producers, such as those in China, who use older-fashioned cell-culture techniques, will have to recalibrate their entire operations. Newer systems, like AstraZeneca’s, which use cells specially designed so as not to be influenced by the new version of the spike gene in the viruses they are carrying, should be able to get on track in the time it takes to start a culture from scratch—about a month. If variants resistant to the current crop of vaccines do evolve, then that speed and certainty in making new vaccines to combat them will be essential.

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    • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
Subsidies in Higher Education
  • Indian social situation: Almost more than a fifth of the population is below official poverty limits and 93% of the workforce is engaged in the unorganised sector, subsidized education provides access to quality education to the poor. Subsidies in education generate a host of positive externalities such as health improvement, reduction in poverty, crime and population growth. It directly or indirectly influences almost all facets of social life, and therefore should be viewed as a non-negotiable public good and by far the most potent social investment.
  • Advantages of Subsidies in Higher Education:
  1. Inclusiveness and Equity - Subsidies in higher education have enabled the marginalised and socio-economically backward sections of the society to get access to quality higher education which has largely been the domain of socially dominant groups in the society. These two are very important characteristics of a good public institution. And, over the years, this has actually increased in public institutions and that is entirely because of subsidy.
  2. Economic - Subsidized education plays a significant role in building an economy as in the case of India. Students engaged with research and specialized education go on to become better contributors to the economy. Higher education boosts innovation, creative thinking and innovations. Example: Software segment which comprises a huge share in India’s GDP is a shining example of positive externalities from subsidies in higher education.
  3. Demographic Dividend - India is one of the youngest nations in the world comprising a huge chunk of population in favourable demographic phase. However, this young population's educational and skill status is not aligned with the requirements of the market. Therefore, subsidies in the higher education sector have a greater role to play in reaping the benefits of demographic dividends.
  4. Social Mobility - Earlier, higher education used to be the exclusive preserve of elites, and other socially and economically backward classes were deprived of higher education. But due to the efforts made by the government (in the form of subsidies and other benefits) to make it within the reach of every social group, a large number of poor and the marginalised have to begin to express their aspirations for social mobility through access to higher public education institutions.
  5. Human Capital - The country has developed a wide network of institutions like CSIR, IITs and Central Universities which provide quality subsidized education to the masses. These institutions have become the nucleus of providing trained workforce in propelling research and development and economic growth in the country. Students of all sections of society from these institutions went on to occupy the higher positions in government in forms of engineers, doctors, bureaucrats etc.
  • Liberalisation and Higher Education in India: In the post-liberalisation era, public expenditure in higher education went through a period of stagnation in real terms, and the per-student public expenditure actually declined dramatically. All this happened while private higher education saw a phase of impressive expansion. So, while the overall intake of students in higher education increased considerably in the post-liberalisation era, a large proportion of this expansion was accounted for by expanding the private sector. Growth in national income did not result in an increase in public expenditure on education as a whole. It kind of stagnated. Within the education sector as a whole, there was a shift in the focus of funding in the 1990s from higher education to primary education.
  • Problem with Subsidies: Subsidies are intended to serve the vulnerable section of society. However, it is often seen that these benefits of subsidies are exploited by the middle and elite sections of society. Access without assured quality is no access. Also, there has been a lot of clamour that subsidies hamper meritocracy. There is considerable unevenness in the distribution of public finances. Student subsidies for premier institutions like the IITs and engineering colleges are incomparably higher than those for universities and colleges, particularly for liberal arts institutions. Private institutions are generally not likely to be amenable to measures promoting access and equity. Therefore, a large number of private education institutions remain inaccessible to economy weaker sections.
  • Summary: Benefits can be skewed in the absence of regulation. Therefore, eliminating free riders is the biggest challenge in the dissemination of subsidies. Technological improvement like Aadhar, direct benefit transfer can be used to eliminate inclusion and exclusion errors. The third-party verifications of the beneficiary will help in eliminating the free riders. Rationalisation of fee structure according to the demand of programmes based on marketability, affordability and input cost and according to different income groups could pave the way for optimal utilization of subsidies. Providing free or subsidized higher education to students from lower-income groups could pave the way for a more equitable and just society. Some large public universities should now approach the 20% mark as recommended by the Punnayya Committee and National Knowledge Commission. A proper regulatory mechanism should be placed in order to make private institutions in line with the government's goal of making higher education accessible and affordable to vulnerable sections.

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

    Atal Innovation Mission: CSIR Adopts 295 Atal Tinkering Labs
    • The story: The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research recently adopted 295 Atal Tinkering Labs established under Atal Innovation Mission. This will help young innovators associated with the Atal Tinkering Labs to learn from the best scientists in the country. It will pave way for them to become living inspirations for their schools and local communities.
    • The plan: The CSIR scientists are to mentor each of the Atal Tinkering Labs. CSIR and Atal Innovation Mission will conduct series of webinars for the students.
    • Significance: The pandemic has reinforced the importance of scientific and industrial research. Therefore, the partnership will boost Atal Innovation Mission and will push it towards STEM research and innovation collaborations. The collaboration with CSIR will provide great opportunities for the best young minds in the country to get access to the latest technologies.
    • Atal Innovation Mission AIM: It was launched in India to promote culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Mission has identified seventeen focus areas. They are waste in public spaces and dissuading public littering, decentralized composting, mixing blades for composting, quality of compost, waste management recycling, garbage composition devices, safe transport, instant portable water quality testing, electric mobility, alternate fuel-based transportation, smart mobility, predictive maintenance of rolling stock, fog vision system, prevention of rail failure using emerging technologies, climate smart agriculture, etc.

    India-Netherlands Strategic Partnership in water
    • The story: PM Modi held a virtual summit with his Netherlands counterpart Mark Rutte. The leaders agreed to diversify the ties in trade and economy between the countries. They also agreed to expand their relations in smart cities, agriculture, science and technology, healthcare, and space. A fast-tracking mechanism is to be set up between the two countries to facilitate bilateral trade and resolve issues of the companies in both countries. For the investors in India and Dutch companies, it is to be set up in Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT).
    • Partnership in water sector: India and Netherlands launched a strategic partnership on water. Under the partnership, the countries agreed to alleviate the joint working group on water to ministerial level. It also aimed to broaden bilateral cooperation in new areas of water. Under the partnership the countries will focus on water budgeting, converting wastewater to energy and decentralized treatment technologies and cost effective water technologies.
    • Why India signed it: Netherlands is the world leader in water management. One-fourth of Netherlands lies under sea level. Yet, the Dutch have successfully comprehended water related challenges and have tested technologies and solutions in delta management, desalination, flood control. Water security is currently the highest priority of India. The Union Government is focusing on promoting water efficiency, water safety and quality. This is achieved under initiatives such as Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Namame Gana Mission, and Jal Jeevan Shakti.
    • PMKSY: The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana was launched in 2015. It aims to provide end to end solutions in irrigation supply. The scheme promotes micro irrigation to ensure Per drop more crop.

    Crushing the Covid curve - Mass Vaccination Drive - Kerala
    • The story: The Kerala Health Department is to launch a mass vaccination drive called the “Crushing the Curve”.
    • Why drive launched: Kerala has recently witnessed a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases after the assembly elections. The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing at 700 to 1000 per day. The Health sector of Kerala had been outperforming in recent times. In September 2020, Kerala won the UN Award for Control of Non-Communicable diseases. Kerala emerged as the most successful state in fighting against COVID-19. When the transmission rate of primary carrier was 6 in the country, it was only 0.4 in Kerala.
    • Kerala’s initiatives: The Aardam Health Mission was launched in Kerala to transform the PHCs into health centres. Break the Chain campaign was launched to promote social distancing in the state.
    • Reasons behind success of Kerala: The Kerala Authorities have good access to World Health Organisation Data. It includes two-thirds of the state’s population. Testing of COVID-19 was launched in massive scale in Kerala. The Health sector of Kerala received a big push of Rs 4,000 crores from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board. The training of health personnel in Kerala is provided focusing on improving their morale. In general, the morale of health personnel in Kerala is high. High literacy rate in the state is the main reason for such good morality among the people.

    NanoSniffer: Microsensor based Explosive Trace Detector
    1. The story: The Union Education Minister launched the world’s first Microsensor based Explosive Trace Detector called the “NanoSniffer”.
    2. About NanoSniffer: It was developed by an IIT Bombay incubated startup called NanoSniff Technologies. It is marketed by the IIT Delhi incubated startup Kritikal Solutions. The NanoSniffer can detect explosives in less than ten seconds, and can detect all class of military, homemade and conventional explosives. It uses MEMS system. MEMS is Micro-Electromechanical System, and can detect even nano gram quantities of explosives. The device is priced at Rs 10 lakhs. This is one-third of the price of existing devices, and had been patented in Europe, India, and US.
    3. Patents in India: Several technology patents as that of NanoSniffer must come up in India. In India only one in 300 papers is patented. On the other hand, in the US, one in five research paper is patented. To change this scenario, more academic institution backed incubation centres should be set up. Incubation Centre is designed to grow new and small businesses by supporting them through early stages of development and change.
    4. Significance: The value of Global Explosives trace detector industry has been estimated as Rs 10,000 crores. India forms only 2% to 3% in the industry. NanoSniffer is to be marketed internationally and will thus help in growth of Indian Explosives trace detector industry. The Explosive Trace Detection is the technology used to detect explosives of small magnitude. The three ain characteristics of Explosive Trace Detection are sensitivity, light weight, and size. The sensitivity or detection limit is the lowest amount of explosive matter a detector can detect. The NanoSniffer can detect even nano quantities of explosives.

    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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    01-01-2020,1,04-08-2021,1,05-08-2021,1,06-08-2021,1,28-06-2021,1,Abrahamic religions,6,Afganistan,1,Afghanistan,35,Afghanitan,1,Afghansitan,1,Africa,2,Agri tech,2,Agriculture,150,Ancient and Medieval History,51,Ancient History,4,Ancient sciences,1,April 2020,25,April 2021,22,Architecture and Literature of India,11,Armed forces,1,Art Culture and Literature,1,Art Culture Entertainment,2,Art Culture Languages,3,Art Culture Literature,10,Art Literature Entertainment,1,Artforms and Artists,1,Article 370,1,Arts,11,Athletes and Sportspersons,2,August 2020,24,August 2021,239,August-2021,3,Authorities and Commissions,4,Aviation,3,Awards and Honours,26,Awards and HonoursHuman Rights,1,Banking,1,Banking credit finance,13,Banking-credit-finance,19,Basic of Comprehension,2,Best Editorials,4,Biodiversity,46,Biotechnology,47,Biotechology,1,Centre State relations,19,CentreState relations,1,China,81,Citizenship and immigration,24,Civils Tapasya - English,92,Climage Change,3,Climate and 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exchange,9,Formal and informal economy,13,Fossil fuels,14,Fundamentals of the Indian Economy,10,Games SportsEntertainment,1,GDP GNP PPP etc,12,GDP-GNP PPP etc,1,GDP-GNP-PPP etc,20,Gender inequality,9,Geography,10,Geography and Geology,2,Global trade,22,Global treaties,2,Global warming,146,Goverment decisions,4,Governance and Institution,2,Governance and Institutions,773,Governance and Schemes,221,Governane and Institutions,1,Government decisions,226,Government Finances,2,Government Politics,1,Government schemes,358,GS I,93,GS II,66,GS III,38,GS IV,23,GST,8,Habitat destruction,5,Headlines,22,Health and medicine,1,Health and medicine,56,Healtha and Medicine,1,Healthcare,1,Healthcare and Medicine,98,Higher education,12,Hindu individual editorials,54,Hinduism,9,History,216,Honours and Awards,1,Human rights,249,IMF-WB-WTO-WHO-UNSC etc,2,Immigration,6,Immigration and citizenship,1,Important Concepts,68,Important Concepts.UPSC Mains GS III,3,Important Dates,1,Important Days,35,Important exam 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    PT's IAS Academy: Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 10-04-2021
    Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 10-04-2021
    Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 10-04-2021
    PT's IAS Academy
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