Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 14-04-2021

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Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 14-04-2021

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. Indian Politics - Covid-19 second wave hits India with full force -  India on 14-04-2021 recorded the highest-ever, single-day increase in the new coronavirus infection as 1,84,372 Covid-19 infections were reported in 24 hours. The fatality figures are a stark reminder of how deadly the second wave is. Over 1,000 Indians died in the last 24 hours. The last time India saw over 1,000 corona deaths was in October 2020. The Union Health Ministry data also says that the number of active cases has gone past the 13-lakh mark. While the Centre has advocated mini-containment zones, the states are planning either full lockdowns or strict curfews. Maharashtra entered in tough corona curfew at 8 pm. The ‘Break the Chain’ campaign will remain in force till May 1st. The Allahabad High Court has also asked the Uttar Pradesh government to think about the lockdown, especially in the surge areas, even as the UP CM tested positive for the disease, and isolated himself. UP has seen a frightening increase in the number of fresh infections in recent days. The troubling news is the prevalence of the double mutant virus and its possible link with the latest Covid surge. Over 60% of cases in Maharashtra have shown the ‘double mutant’ strain.
  2. Foreign Affairs - Iran's nuclear programme - Iran has started its advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in a breach of its undertakings under the now troubled 2015 nuclear deal, days after the start of talks on rescuing the accord. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the three cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges, 30 IR-5 and another 30 IR-6 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Iran’s latest move to step up uranium enrichment follows an opening round of talks in Vienna with representatives of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal on bringing the U.S. back into it. The Vienna talks are focused on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed on Iran. It also focuses on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments. Iran has demanded that the U.S. first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended. USA has demanded movement from Tehran in return.
  3. Foreign Affairs - US exiting Afghanistan - Finally, President Biden has announced he'll withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. This will be 20 years after the al-Qaeda attacks that triggered America's longest war. Biden's decision would miss the May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed to by his predecessor Donald Trump. Experts say that this exit of US will bring a big change in the regional politics, with the Taliban gaining a strong hand in Afghanistan, and maybe trying to gain total power and usher in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, like the last time. America's exit is also a reminder that sophisticated armies may not necessarily be able to subdue tribal and less-equipped forces that are determined to fight on. For India, a lot is at stake as the Taliban are aligned with the Pakistani Army.
  4. World Economy - Bitcoin hits all time high of $62,741 - World's largest cryptocurrency Bitcoin rose as much as 5% to hit a new all-time-high of $62,741 on 13-04-2021. The cryptocurrency has more than doubled in price this year as major companies announced their investments in Bitcoin and enabled it as a means of payment. Recently, Tesla which has invested $1.5 billion in Bitcoin, said it would accept Bitcoin as payment. Bitcoin’s volatility has limited its adoption for payments, so entrepreneurs created stablecoins: cryptocurrencies pegged to assets such as the U.S. dollar. There is a growing sense that a bitcoin ETF might finally arrive in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. The nominated chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, has taught courses on cryptocurrency. The bitcoin market has experienced huge growth in recent months and now has the involvement of some big institutions. VanEck, Fidelity and others are again seeking regulatory approval for bitcoin ETFs. The first bitcoin ETF in North America, the Toronto-listed has amassed roughly $1 billion in assets since its February 2021 launch. One advantage of ETFs is that shares can be readily created and redeemed to arbitrage away any discount or premium, which could greatly broaden their appeal. ETFs are also cheaper, which will put pressure on fees across the bitcoin ecosystem.
  5. Indian Economy - Lockdowns to cost Indian economy $1.25 billion a week - The increasing localised lockdowns in key economic hubs can cost the Indian economy around $1.25 billion each week and may shave off 140 basis points from the first quarter nominal GDP, as per Barclays. If the current restrictions remain until May-end, the cumulative loss of economic and commercial activity could be around $10.5 billion. India is in the middle of a massive second Covid-19 wave, something that the RBI and government did not expect. The Budget 2021-22 and RBI's monetary policy were not geared to tackle this. One of the factors propelling the second wave is the emergence of a new, fast-spreading Indian variant of the virus. It is being called a “double mutant” variant because it has two mutations. Labelled B.1.617, the double mutant variant was first detected in India, but has been now found in eight countries, with 70% of samples containing the mutations originating from India.
  6. Foreign Affairs - Don't play with fire: China tells US over Taiwan issue - China warned the US to 'stop playing with fire' over Taiwan issue after America issued guidelines that'll enable US officials to meet more freely with officials from Taiwan that China claims as its own. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged the US to “immediately stop any form of US-Taiwan official contacts, cautiously and appropriately handle the matter, and not send wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces so as not to subversively influence and damage Sino-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue, and a regular source of friction between Washington and Beijing, which has never ruled out using force to bring the democratically ruled island under its control.
  7. Science and Technology - Narrow-Line Seyfert 1 (NLS1) Galaxy - Astronomers have discovered a new active galaxy identified as the farthest gamma-ray emitting galaxy that has so far been stumbled upon. This active galaxy called the Narrow-Line Seyfert 1 (NLS1) galaxy, which is about 31 billion light-years away, opens up avenues to explore more such gamma-ray emitting galaxies that wait to meet us. Scientists from ARIES, an autonomous institute of the Department of Science & Technology (DST) studied around 25,000 luminous Active galactic nuclei (AGN) from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a major optical imaging and spectroscopic survey of astronomical objects in-operation for the last 20 years. They found a unique object that emits high-energy gamma rays located at a high redshift. They identified it as a gamma-ray emitting NLS1 galaxy, which is a rare entity in space. The new gamma-ray emitting NLS1 was formed when the Universe was only about 4.7 billion years old as compared to its current age of about 13.8 billion years.
  8. Indian Economy - Adani gets the S&P shock on Myanmar links - In a shock to Adani group, the S&P Dow Jones Indices said it has removed India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to the firm’s business ties with Myanmar’s military which is accused of human rights abuses after a coup in 2021. India’s largest private multi-port operator is building a $290 million port in Yangon on land leased from the military-backed Myanmar Economic Corporation. It will be removed from the index prior to the open on Thursday, April 15. More than 700 people have been killed since a February 1 military coup that ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. India’s Adani Group said on March 31 it would consult authorities and stakeholders on its port project in Myanmar, after human rights groups reported its subsidiary had agreed to pay millions of dollars in rent to the military-controlled firm.
  9. Infrastructure - Spectrum cannot be used as security - The telecom spectrum held by telecom operators cannot be transferred to new buyers under insolvency proceedings if government dues are not cleared, NCLAT has ruled. The order comes after the Supreme Court had asked NCLAT to decide whether lenders have the rights to sell the spectrum of Aircel. Aircel and its subsidiaries owe around ₹50,000 crore to creditors. All these firms fell into trouble after the entry of Reliance Jio a few years ago, and the ensuing brutal tariff war. Then came the AGR ruling of the Supreme Court, which finished off most of the companies. (AGR - Adjusted Gross Revenues)
  10. Constitution and Law - FASTag does not hinder privacy - The Centre has informed the Bombay High Court that making FASTag mandatory for all vehicles running on national highways "does not violate a citizen's fundamental right to freedom of movement". FASTag has been made compulsory to ensure seamless traffic movement and cut travel time short, the Centre said. The government was responding to a plea that challenged its decision. The PIL has challenged the decision to make FASTag mandatory for all vehicles for electronic toll collection. It also raised questions on the decision to impose penalty on vehicles which don't have a FASTag. Centre has replied that electronic payment would reduce travel time by bringing down lines at toll-payment booths. Concerns pertaining to FASTag have ranged from possibly obstructing a citizen's right to movement and a few have also raised doubts over the possibility of surveillance. But the government has maintained that the not only is it a safe and secure way of making payments but use of FASTag would result in fuel savings.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
Global Minimum Corporate Tax 2021
  • A new chapter: The US Treasury Secretary has urged G20 nations to move towards a global minimum corporate tax. It is an attempt to reverse a “30-year race to the bottom” in which countries have resorted to slashing corporate tax rates to attract multinational corporations (MNCs).
  • Points to note: There have been murmurs over the recent years of the large-scale tax evasion or 'tax minimisation' that MNCs have enjoyed. The new US proposal wants a 21% minimum corporate tax rate, alongwith cancelling exemptions on income from countries that do not legislate a minimum tax to discourage the shifting of multinational operations and profits overseas.
  • This proposal is tailored to address the low effective rates of tax shelled out by some of the world’s biggest corporations, including digital giants such as Apple, Alphabet and Facebook, as well as major corporations such as Nike and Starbucks. It is considered unconscionable that corporations pay little or nothing in taxes, when billions are falling into poverty.
  • These companies typically rely on complex webs of subsidiaries to hoover profits out of major markets into low-tax countries such as Ireland or Caribbean nations such as the British Virgin Islands or the Bahamas, or to central American nations such as Panama.
  • Reasons for the proposal: It aims to somewhat offset any disadvantages that might arise from the proposed increase in the US corporate tax rate. The proposed increase to 28% from 21% would partially reverse the previous cut in tax rates on companies from 35% to 21% by way of a 2017 tax legislation. The increase in corporation tax comes at a time when the pandemic is costing governments across the world, and is also timed with the US’s push for a USD 2.3 trillion infrastructure upgrade proposal.
  • Importance for world economy: A global compact on this issue, at the time of pandemic, will work well for the US government and for most other countries in western Europe, even as some low-tax European jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Ireland and Luxembourg and some in the Caribbean rely largely on tax rate arbitrage to attract MNCs. The plan to peg a minimum tax on overseas corporate income seeks to potentially make it difficult for corporations to shift earnings offshore. The average headline corporate tax rate in advanced economies has fallen from 32% in 2000 to just over 23% by 2018. That is largely because smaller countries such as Ireland, the Netherlands and Singapore have attracted footloose businesses by offering low corporate tax rates. Footloose industry is a general term for an industry that can be placed and located at any location without effect from factors such as resources or transport. MNCs with increasingly intangible assets such as the global tech firms have shifted some actual business and a lot of profits into these tax havens and low-tax jurisdictions, lowering their global tax bills.
  • Response: The European Commission backed the proposal, but the global minimum rate should be decided after discussions in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The European nations, including Germany and France have supported the US proposal. The OECD and Group of Twenty (G20) have been leading the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative—a multilateral negotiation with over 135 countries, including the United States—since 2013.
  1. BEPS refers to tax planning strategies used by multinational enterprises that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to avoid paying tax.
  2. China is not likely to have a serious objection with the US call, but an area of concern for Beijing would be the impact of such a tax stipulation on Hong Kong, the seventh-largest tax haven in the world and the largest in Asia.
  3. The US proposal also has support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • Challenges: The proposal impinges on the right of the sovereign to decide a nation’s tax policy. Taxation is ultimately a sovereign function, and depending upon the needs and circumstances of the nation, the government is open to participate and engage in the emerging discussions globally around the corporate tax structure. A global minimum rate would essentially take away a tool that countries use to push policies that suit them. A lower tax rate is a tool they can use to alternatively push economic activity. For instance, in the backdrop of the pandemic, IMF and World Bank data suggest that developing countries with less ability to offer mega stimulus packages may experience a longer economic hangover than developed nations. Also, a global minimum tax rate will do little to tackle tax evasion.
  • India’s position: In a bid to revive investment activity, the Finance Minister in September 2019 brought a sharp cut in corporate taxes for domestic companies to 22% and for new domestic manufacturing companies to 15%. The Taxation Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019 resulted in the insertion of a section (115BAA) to the Income-Tax Act, 1961 to provide for the concessional tax rate of 22% for existing domestic companies subject to certain conditions including that they do not avail of any specified incentive or deductions. The existing domestic companies opting for the concessional taxation regime will not be required to pay any Minimum Alternate Tax. The cuts effectively brought India’s headline corporate tax rate broadly at par with the average 23% rate in Asian countries.
  1. China and South Korea have a tax rate of 25% each, while Malaysia is at 24%, Vietnam at 20%, Thailand at 20% and Singapore at 17%.
  2. The effective tax rate, inclusive of surcharge and cess, for Indian domestic companies is around 25.17%.
  3. The average corporate tax rate stands at around 29% for existing companies that are claiming some benefit or the other.
  • Equalisation Levy: To address the challenges posed by the enterprises who conduct their business through digital means and carry out activities in the country remotely, the government has the ‘Equalisation Levy’. The equalization levy is aimed at taxing foreign companies which have a significant local client base in India but are billing them through their offshore units, effectively escaping the country’s tax system. The Income-tax Act, 1961 has been amended to bring in the concept of “Significant Economic Presence” for establishing “business connection” in the case of non-residents in India.
  • Agreements for exchange of information: India has been proactively engaging with foreign governments with a view to facilitating and enhancing exchange of information under Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements, Tax Information Exchange Agreements and Multilateral Conventions to plug loopholes. Such agreements promote cooperation in tax matters. Besides, effective enforcement actions including expeditious investigation in foreign assets cases have been launched, including searches, enquiries, levy of taxes, penalties, etc.
  • Corporate Tax: Corporation Tax or Corporate Tax is a direct tax levied on the net income or profit of a corporate entity from their business, foreign or domestic. The rate at which the tax is imposed as per the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961 is known as the Corporate Tax Rate. The Corporate Tax rate is based on a slab rate system depending on the type of corporate entity and the different revenues earned by each of corporate entities.
  • Minimum Alternate Tax: At times it may happen that a taxpayer, being a company, may have generated income during the year, but by taking the advantage of various provisions of Income-tax Law (like exemptions, deductions, depreciation, etc.), it may have reduced its tax liability or may not have paid any tax at all. Due to an increase in the number of zero tax paying companies, Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) was introduced by the Finance Act, 1987 with effect from assessment year 1988-89. Later on, it was withdrawn by the Finance Act, 1990 and then reintroduced by Finance Act, 1996. MAT is calculated at 15% on the book profit (the profit shown in the profit and loss account) or at the usual corporate rates, and whichever is higher is payable as tax. All companies in India, whether domestic or foreign, fall under this provision. MAT was later extended to cover non-corporate entities as well. MAT is an important tool with which tax avoidance can be prevented.
  1. Domestic Company: It is one which is registered under the Companies Act of India (2013) and also includes the company registered in the foreign countries having control and management wholly situated in India. A domestic company includes private as well as public companies.
  2. Foreign Company: It is one which is not registered under the Companies Act of India and has control & management located outside India.
  3. Tax Heaven: A tax haven is generally an offshore country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically static environment.



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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
NGT orders Pollution Control Boards to raise capacity
  • The story: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) to strengthen its capacity and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to form a uniform recruitment criteria. The order was to ensure better monitoring for improved compliance of environmental norms. Earlier in January 2021, the Supreme Court (SC) had taken suo motu cognizance of pollution of water bodies by untreated sewage in Haryana.
  • Points to note:
  1. The Plea - In 2018, a case was filed with NGT’s principal bench for revising existing monitoring mechanism by State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs). This included an interval of mandatory inspections of highly polluting industries and policy for auto renewal of Consent to Operate (CTO) certificate under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 as well as the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. The plea pointed out that an earlier report of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) had established deterioration of the ground water quality in Haryana. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s 2016 report also recorded operation of several projects without valid consent to establish or CTO certificates, showing ineffectiveness of monitoring mechanism.
  2. NGT's action - The NGT passed an order for the Haryana government to revisit its inspection policy and make it adequate to ensure effective enforcement of law.
  • Haryana's Proposal: The Haryana government, in compliance to the NGT order, proposed a revised policy with increased frequency of inspection, installation of online monitoring devices to capture real-time data and pre-verification of documents before issuing renewal.
  • Current Order: Inspection at higher frequencies / Capacity enhancement of SPCBs/Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) with consent funds / Capacity enhancement of CPCB utilising environment compensation funds / Annual performance audit of state PCBs/PCCs / CPCB to prepare a format containing qualifications, minimum eligibility criteria and required experience for key positions etc.
  • Significance: In the name of ‘ease of doing business’, powers and authorities of SPCB have been compromised. The latest judgement of NGT is a fresh start to the long-delayed initiative of strengthening CPCB/SPCBs/PCCs. The judgment of NGT could be termed as landmark. The NGT has tried to erase the bottlenecks, which were being used to halt the strengthening of environmental regulation. The important part of the judgement is asking CPCB to come out with standard recruitment rules which can be followed by all states. The existing SPCBs recruitment rules have not been updated for decades.
  • Knowledge centre:
  • CPCB - It is a statutory organisation which was constituted in September, 1974 under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. It was entrusted with the powers and functions under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and serves as a field formation and also provides technical services to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change of the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • SPCB - They supplement the CPCB as they are a statutory organization entrusted to implement Environmental Laws and rules within the jurisdiction of a state.
  • Environment Compensation - It is a policy instrument for the protection of the environment which works on the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’.
  • Environment Compensation Fund - It is a specialised type of fund collected by charging the environmental violations. Example: Illegal discharge in water bodies.


 

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

India’s refugee policy
  • The story: In 2020 and 2021, there was an influx of illegal migrants into India after the military coup and subsequent crackdown in Myanmar. The current plight of the Myanmarese has been preceded by that of another group of Myanmarese, the Rohingya. Historically, India has witnessed an inflow of refugees from many neighboring countries. The refugee issue poses a problem for the state as it puts an economic burden, may trigger demographic changes in the long term, and poses security risks as well.
  • Modern context: However, taking care of refugees is the core component of the human rights paradigm. Further, in any case, refugee flows to India are unlikely to end any time soon given the geopolitical, economic, ethnic, and religious contexts of the region. Hence, there is an urgent need today to clinically address the issue of refugee protection in India and put in place appropriate legal and institutional measures.
  • India’s refugee policy: India lacks specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow. The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class. It also gives unbridled power to the Central government to deport any foreign citizen. Further, the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) strikingly excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh, and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Moreover, India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the key legal documents pertaining to refugee protection.
  • Details: In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has had a stellar record on the issue of refugee protection. India has a moral tradition for assimilating foreign people and culture. Further, the constitution of India also respects the life, liberty, and dignity of human beings. The Supreme Court in the National Human Rights Commission vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996) held that “while all rights are available to citizens, persons including foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others.”
  • India’s argument: India's logic for not signing the 1951 Refugee Convention was clear - the definition of refugees in the 1951 convention only pertains to the violation of civil and political rights, but not economic rights, of individuals. For instance, a person, under the definition of the convention, could be considered if he/she is deprived of political rights, but not if he/she is deprived of economic rights. If the violation of economic rights were to be included in the definition of a refugee, it would clearly pose a major burden on the developed world. On the other hand, this argument, if used in the South Asian context, could be a problematic proposition for India too.
  • Challenges Associated With India’s Refugee Policy:
  1. Refugees vs. Immigrants - In the recent past, many people from neighboring countries tend to illegally immigrate to India, not because of state persecution but in search of better economic opportunities in India. While the reality is that much of the debate in the country is about illegal immigrants, not refugees, the two categories tend to get bunched together. Due to this, policies and remedies to deal with these issues suffer from a lack of clarity as well as policy utility.
  2. Ambiguity in the Framework - The main reason why our policies towards illegal immigrants and refugees are confused is that as per Indian law, both categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
  3. Ad-hocism - The absence of such a legal framework also leads to policy ambiguity whereby India’s refugee policy is guided primarily by ad hocism. Ad hoc measures enable the government in office to pick and choose ‘what kind’ of refugees it wants to admit for whatever political or geopolitical reasons. This results in a discriminatory action, which tends to be a violation of human rights.
  4. Discriminatory CAA - The Government of India has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). CAA envisages providing citizenship to people who are religious minorities in India’s neighborhood and persecuted by the state. However, CAA is not the answer to the refugee problem primarily because of its deeply discriminatory nature, as it doesn’t include a particular religion under its ambit. Further, many political analysts have dubbed the CAA as an act of refugee avoidance, not refugee protection.
  • Conclusion: In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world. However, if India had domestic legislation regarding refugees, it could have deterred any oppressive government in the neighborhood to persecute their population and make them flee to India.


 

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

Integrated Health Information Platform
  • What it is: The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has launched the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP), that is the next generation highly refined version of the presently used Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP). The IIHP is an advanced disease surveillance system.
  • Points to note: It will track 33 diseases (as compared to the earlier 18 diseases) and will ensure near-real-time data in digital mode, and will provide a health information system developed for real time, case-based information, integrated analytics, advanced visualization capability. Data will be provided in real time through:
  1. Grassroots healthcare workers through their gadgets (tablets);
  2. Doctors at the PHC (Primary Healthcare Centre)/CHC (Community Health Centre)/DH (District Hospital) when the citizens seek healthcare; and
  3. Diagnostic labs which will provide data on the tests carried out.
  • Key features: Real time data reporting (along through mobile application); accessible at all levels (from villages, states and central level); Advanced data modelling & analytical tools; Geographic Information System (GIS) enabled Graphical representation of data into integrated dashboard; Role & hierarchy-based feedback & alert mechanisms; Geo-tagging of reporting health facilities. Scope for data integration with other health programs.
  • Importance: The collection of authentic data will become easy as it comes directly from the village/block level; the last mile from the country. This digital platform for scouting the earliest signs of disease spread in the smallest of villages and blocks in the country will immensely help in nipping in the bud any potential outbreak or epidemic. It is in sync with the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). NDHM aims to develop the backbone necessary to support the integrated digital health infrastructure of the country. India’s information system for precision public health is essential for delivering ‘the right intervention at the right time, every time to the right population.’ In recent years, the use of technology to enhance precision in public health, including the use of pathogen genomics, enhanced surveillance and informatics, and targeted interventions has steadily gone up. With its implementation, India is marching towards Atmanirbhar Bharat in healthcare through use of technology. This refined digital surveillance platform will help to provide and connect data and move towards ‘One Health’ approach. One Health is an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.
  • Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme: The Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP) was launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in assistance with the World Bank, in 2004. It continued as the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) during 12th Plan (2012–17) under the National Health Mission with a domestic budget. Under it, a Central Surveillance Unit (CSU) at Delhi, State Surveillance Units (SSU) at all State/Union Territories (UTs) head quarters and District Surveillance Units (DSU) at all Districts have been established.
  • Goals: To strengthen/maintain decentralized laboratory based and IT enabled disease surveillance systems for epidemic prone diseases to monitor disease trends. To detect and respond to outbreaks in the early rising phase through trained Rapid Response Teams (RRTs).
  • Programme components: Integration and decentralization of surveillance activities through establishment of surveillance units at Centre, State and District level. Use of Information Communication Technology for collection, collation, compilation, analysis and dissemination of data. Strengthening of public health laboratories. Inter sectoral Coordination for zoonotic diseases.


 

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    • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
Remembering Dr Ambedkar on 14th April, 2021
  • Annivesary: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, whose 130th birth anniversary falls on 14th of April, offered a substantive definition of democracy, radically different from the procedural definition that dominated the 20th-century theories of democracy. For him democratic mechanisms like elections and parliament were there for a purpose: ‘to bring about welfare of the people’. For most modern Indians, Ambedkar remains the architect of the constitution of a remarkably unequal society, trying to become a modern republic. But he was much more - an economist, a political scientist, a humanist, a votary of women's rights and a deep thinker on human rights.
  • About Ambedkar: Babasaheb Ambedkar was the first Indian, and perhaps the only Indian in the 20th century, who offered a theory of democracy. This needs to be remembered because the celebration of his intellectual and political legacy tends to focus almost exclusively on his critique of caste-based injustice. Today the Indian democracy itself is under steady attacks, often by those who publicly worship Ambedkar.
  • India and democracy: Dr Ambedkar’s approach to democracy was different from what others in his time thought.
  1. On the one hand were ‘liberals’ like Jawaharlal Nehru who expected the western fairytale of democracy to be replayed in India, albeit with a time lag. For them, western democracies were the model towards which India had begun its journey by enacting a Constitution and holding free and fair elections.
  2. On the other hand were the critics, mostly from the Left, who thought that the democratic experiment in India was a sham, nothing but a rule of the capitalist class cloaked in procedures of democracy. Gandhi, too, shared this disdain for Westminster-style democracy.
  3. Dr Ambedkar offered a theory of cautious and conditional optimism, an optimism drawn from the abstract promise of democracy and a caution rooted in the Indian context.
  • Ambedkar's version: He offered a substantive definition of democracy, not unmindful of the procedural aspects of democracy. All these democratic mechanisms like elections and parliament were there for a purpose: “to bring about welfare of the people”. For him democracy was “a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed.”
  1. While the western democratic though first talks of liberty, Dr Ambedkar puts equality at the heart of democracy.
  2. He said that “The roots of democracy lie not in the form of Government, Parliamentary or otherwise. A democracy is more than a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living. The roots of Democracy are to be searched in the social relationship, in terms of associated life between the people who form a society.”
  3. For this ideal, he turned to the Buddhist tradition. He insisted that Buddhist Sanghas were the models for parliamentary democracy.
  • Indian caste system: The ‘associated living’ that democracy presupposes simply did not exist in India. Caste system divided Indian society into many parallel, self-contained communities that did not allow for the conversation necessary for a healthy democracy. Thus, Ambedkar’s critique of the caste system was not merely that it was unjust and oppressive for the ‘depressed classes’, but also that it fractured national unity and made democracy impossible.
  • Pre-conditions for democracy: Dr Ambedkar turned this critique into a general theory of preconditions for a successful democracy. He reminded us, “democracy is not a plant that grows everywhere”. He would often cite the cases of Italy and Germany where the absence of social and economic democracy led to the failure of nascent political democracy. For him the first and foremost condition for democracy was that there should be no glaring inequalities, that every citizen should enjoy equal treatment in everyday administration and governance. This needs constitutional morality, widespread public conscience and the upholding of moral order in society. Dr Ambedkar reminded us that a tyranny of the majority is antithetical to democracy.
  • No violence please: Unlike the social revolutionaries of his time, he did not advocate a violent or even non-violent overthrow of the existing democratic order. In fact, at one point, he argued against the continuation of satyagraha or civil disobedience in independent India.
  1. Ambedkar was the first serious student of social consequences of political institutions. He understood that every institutional design has a built-in drag, that it has consequences irrespective of the intent of those who designed it.
  2. Whether it was the choice of the parliamentary system over the presidential, or the role and powers of an elected panchayat in a village, or the formation of linguistic states or the partition of the country, Dr Ambedkar brought a razor-sharp understanding of how each of these decisions would affect the most marginalised sections of society.


 

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    • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
B.1.617: Indian Double Mutant Strain
  • What it is: The ‘double mutant’ virus that is having a bearing on the spread of the pandemic in India, has been formally classified as B.1.617.
  • What is mutation: Mutation is an alteration in the genetic material (the genome) of a cell of a living organism or of a virus that is more or less permanent and that can be transmitted to the cell’s or the virus’s descendants.
  • Points to note:
  • Double Mutant (B.1.617) - Earlier Genome sequencing of a section of virus samples by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), revealed the presence of two mutations, E484Q and L452R. Though these mutations have individually been found in several countries, the presence of both these mutations together have been first found in coronavirus genomes from India. This double mutant from India has been scientifically named as B.1.167. However, it is yet to be classified as ‘Variant of Concern’. Till now only three global ‘Variants of Concern’ have been identified: the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), the South African (B.1.351) and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
  • Spread of B.1.617 - According to the INSACOG, sequencing a sample of genomes from coronavirus patients in India, B.1.617 was first detected in India in December, 2020. Today, nearly 70% of the genome sequences with the mutations characterising B.1.617 are from India. This is followed by the United Kingdom (23%), Singapore (2%) and Australia (1%).
  • Variant of Concern (VOC): These are variants for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.
  • Issues associated with Mutants: Mutant virus is associated with large spikes of Covid-19 cases in some countries. It enables viruses to become more infectious as well as evade antibodies. It has also been associated with a reduction in vaccine efficacy. International studies have shown reduced efficacy of vaccines particularly those by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax to certain variants. However, the vaccines continue to be significantly protective in spite of this.
  • One more: According to INSACOG, there is also a third significant mutation, P614R other than the two mutations (E484Q and L452R). All three concerning mutations are on the spike protein. The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells. Virus' spike protein may increase the risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system.
  • Resistant to T cells: L452R could even make the coronavirus resistant to T cells, that is the class of cells necessary to target and destroy virus-infected cells. T cells are different from antibodies that are useful in blocking coronavirus particles and preventing it from proliferating.
  • T Cells: These are a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the core of adaptive immunity. It creates the body's immune response to specific pathogens. The T cells are like soldiers who search out and destroy the targeted invader.
  • INSACOG: The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) is a multi-laboratory, multi-agency, pan-India network to monitor genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2. It helps in the understanding of how the virus spreads and evolves. Genomic surveillance can generate a rich source of information for tracking pathogen transmission and evolution on both national and international levels.


 

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    • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
Covid second wave in India - Analysis of death rate
  • The story: As India's second Covid-19 wave continued to push daily case numbers up to record levels, daily deaths started increasing, though initially they remained below peak levels seen in 2020. The most important target in dealing with any pandemic is to keep the number of people dying from the disease as low as possible. This has been repeatedly stressed by the government as the primary target of India’s handling of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
  • More dangerous or less: Some say it shows that the second wave is not as dangerous as the first. But a deeper look at some crucial indicators for Covid-19 fatalities shows that India may be on the cusp of an alarming trend of deaths.
  • First, a ‘base’ CFR that can serve as a comparison point. Overall, of the 1,36,86,024 people infected across the country till 12-04-2021, 1,71,108 people lost their lives to Covid-19. This places the country’s overall case fatality rate (CFR) at just a shade under 1.3%.
  • But in the initial months of the outbreak, a larger proportion of people were dying as doctors across the world took time to narrow down on effective treatments, and the health infrastructure was in the process of being strengthened.
  • As a result, India’s CFR has steadily been improving – it was 3% till the end of June 2020; and improved to 1.6% by the end of September. In the six months before the start of the second wave (from September 2020 to January 2021), only around 1.1% of cases resulted in deaths (there were 70.8 million cases and nearly 76,000 deaths). This 1.1% is a good comparison point. It is recent, and it is from a time when cases were declining.
  • So, are more people dying in the second wave? The 1.1% base CFR can be used as a yardstick to compare the death rate during India’s second wave.
  • Mortality: In order to see if the second wave has had a lower death rate, experts plotted the seven-day average of deaths (with a 14-day lag) against the seven-day average of cases since October 1, 2020, at a ratio of 0.011:1 (as the CFR since October is 1.1%). Any deviation from the 1.1% CFR would be visible in such a chart – the target would be to keep the line representing daily deaths below the line for daily cases. To be sure, all death calculations and CFRs used in this analysis have assumed a 14-day lag between cases being reported and deaths occurring. This is because a February 2020 study showed that the median time between someone testing positive for Covid and their death is around 13.8 days.
  1. We see that the death trajectory is nearly identical to the case trajectory in the second wave for new cases occurring till the first week of March. But from there on, things take a turn for the worse: deaths are rising faster than cases. This gap, if anything, appears to be getting worse by the day.
  2. After a long gap, the CFR has again started rising. For a period that lasted over four months – from the start of December till the end of March – the CFR for any week remained at 1% or below. The 1%-mark, incidentally, is significant because officials from the Union government have repeatedly stressed that their eventual goal is to bring the country’s CFR for Covid-19 to 1% or below, a number that is impressive for a country this size.
  3. With the start of the second wave, CFR started to climb again. Accounting for the two-week lag in deaths, 1.1% of the people who got infected in the week ending March 8 ended up dying. In the two weeks that followed, the CFR was 1.2%. Then, 1.3% of the people who were infected in the week ending March 29 ended up dying.
  • Record no. of deaths: If this trend of a CFR of 1.3% continues , it would mean that India is set to touch a record number of daily deaths. In the two corresponding weeks, there have been 5,48,698 (for week ending April 5) and 9,37,428 (for week ending April 12) cases. This would mean that 1,019 people may die every day across India in the coming week, and 1,741, in the week after. India’s death toll has never been this high – at the peak of the first wave, the seven-day average of daily deaths touched 1,169 for the week ending September 16.
  • Can any factor cause deaths to soar even further? Yes. The number of active cases – those Covid-19 patients who have tested positive and are under treatment at a given point of time – in a region is crucial in determining the load that a health care system is bearing. The higher this number, the more hospitals and doctors get burdened and the more resources such as ventilators and hospital beds get stretched.
  1. As of April 12, 2021, there were 1,264,430 active cases of Covid-19 in the country – the highest this number has ever been. This means that currently the health care system in the country is bearing a load of cases that it has never witnessed.
  2. An even more worrying trend is that this number is rising at the fastest rate ever recorded. On average, 67,951 active cases have been added to the national tally every day in the past week – the highest ever. This number has nearly doubled in a week (it was 35,214 a week ago).
  3. So health care system in the country is stretched the most since the start of the outbreak, and conditions are getting worse by the day. If this trend continues, it may result in an increase to the already rising CFR.


 

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

    Skymet sees ‘healthy normal’ monsoon in 2021
    • Good news for 2021: Private forecaster Skymet Weather expects the 2021 monsoon to be ‘healthy normal’ assessed at 103 per cent (with an error margin of +/- 5 per cent) of the long-period average (LPA) of 880.6 mm for the June-September period. If Skymet is proved right, it will be the third normal South-West monsoon on a trot the country will have.
    • IMD: The national forecaster, India Meteorological Department (IMD), is expected to come up with its own long-range forecast for the four-month season soon.
    1. Monsoon probabilities - According to Skymet, the monsoon probability for June-July-August-September are: 10 per cent chance of excess (seasonal rainfall that is more than 110 per cent of LPA); 15 per cent chance of above normal (between 105 per cent and  110 per cent); 60 per cent chance of normal (96-104 per cent); 15 per cent chance of below normal (90-95 per cent); and practically zero per cent chance of drought (seasonal rainfall that is less than 90 per cent of LPA).
    2. On a monthly scale, the precipitation foreshadow is as follows:
    • June: 106 per cent of LPA (LPA for June - 166.9 mm); 70 per cent chance of normal; 20 per cent chance of above normal; and 10 per cent chance of below normal.
    • July: 97 per cent of LPA (LPA for July - 285.3 mm); 75 per cent chance of normal; 10 per cent chance of above normal; 15 per cent chance of below normal.
    • August: 99 per cent of LPA (LPA for August - 258.2 mm); 80 per cent chance of normal; 10 per cent chance of above normal; 10 per cent chance of below normal.
    • September: 116 per cent of LPA (LPA for September - 170.2 mm); 30 per cent chance of normal; 60 per cent chance of above normal; 10 per cent chance of below normal.
    • Geographically: In terms of geographical risk, Skymet expects that the plains of North India along with some parts of North-East India to be at risk of being rain deficient through the season. Also, interior parts of Karnataka face scare or scanty rains in the core monsoon months of July and August. The onset month of June and the withdrawal phase of September promise good countrywide rainfall distribution. Yogesh Patil, CEO, Skymet, said that La Nina conditions prevailing in the Pacific Ocean since last year presage some softening and may remain neutral through the monsoon season.
    • El Nino and IOD: The tropical Pacific conditions continue to wield a spike mid-way through the season suggesting fresh phase of cooling, albeit marginal, over the Central Pacific Ocean. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is neutral and is oscillating lightly on either side of the zero line. This parameter seems to incline with a negative shift but remaining within the threshold limits. In this case, it may not heave the monsoon spurts but will refrain from harming the season. The Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) wave, the equatorial wave that passes over the Indian Ocean periodically, is currently sailing far away from the Indian Ocean. It barely makes three or four visits during the entire season. It is too early to comment on its impact on the monsoon just yet.


     

    Remdesivir shortage in India
    • What it is: Remdesivir is an injectable anti-virus. It is injected to prevent replication of the virus. The Remdesivir was created in 2014. It was manufactured in large scale to treat Ebola. Later it was used to treat SARS and MERS. Recently, after the COVID-19 crisis, it has been repurposed for COVID-19 treatment.
    • The problem: The State Governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh have been complaining about shortage of Remdesivir. Following this, the Directorate of Foreign Trade operating under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued an order to prohibit the export of Remdesivir. Also, the export of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients used in the production of Remdesivir has been prohibited.
    • Why the shortage: The shortage of Remdesivir is increasing day by day mainly because of rising COVID-19 cases. It is also increasing due to manufacturing and supply issues. Madhya Pradesh complained that it has received only half of its requirement. Around 70% of the total production of Remdesivir in the country is diverted to Maharashtra. In December 2020, manufacturers were left with huge piles of Remdesivir. They expected increase in sales of the drug. However, the drop in COVID-19 cases in November and December 2020 reduced the demand of the drug. Some even destroyed expired stocks. Later the COVID-19 infections began rising exponentially after double mutant variety started spreading in the country. This began around February 2021. However, the manufacturing resumed only by the end of March 2021. This is mainly because Remdesivir requires twenty-five different raw materials in its production. The supply chain in India was not strong enough to collect all the raw materials in a short span of time.
    • What next: The cycle from production to transportation of Remdesivir takes 20-25 days. Thus, the supply chain of the country must strengthened more to avoid similar crisis in the future.


     

    Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan trans-border trade center
    • The story: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have launched the construction of an international center for trade and economic cooperation called “Central Asia”. The Central Asia Trade center has been launched on the borders of the two countries.
    • Details: The Center is to be constructed in an area of 400 hectares of land. It will have a capacity to accommodate 35,000 people and five thousand trucks. After completion, the center will become a large trade and industrial platform to implement joint projects of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The center is located near the border check post of Gisht Kuprik. After China and Russia, Kazakhstan is the third largest trade partner of Uzbekistan.
    • India-Uzbekistan: Uzbekistan holds one of the largest Uranium reserves in the world. In 2019, India and Uzbekistan signed a Nuclear Agreement. Under the agreement, Uzbekistan agreed to export 2,000 tonnes of Uranium to India. It supports permanent membership of India in the United Nations Security Council.   The countries had set a bilateral trade target of 1 billion USD by 2020.
    • India-Central Asia: Central Asia is highly important to India as it serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe. India is to use the Chabahar port as a gateway to access the Eurasian markets. Also, the development of International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) will help India increase its trade with Central Asia. The INSTC is a multi-modal transportation that was established in 2000 in St Petersburg by India, Iran, and Russia. It mainly aims to promote transport of freight. At the Maritime India Summit that was held in March 2021, India proposed to include Chabahar port in the INSTC project.


    India Energy Dashboards (Version 2.0) by NITI Aayog
    • The story: The Niti Aayog has launched the India Energy Dashboards Version 2.0. It will provide single window access to the data related to utilisation, pricing, production, distribution of energy in the country. It will provide data from Central Electricity Authority, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and from Coal Controller’s Organisation. The India Energy Dashboard Version 1.0 was launched in 2017.
    • Key features: The new version of the India Energy Dashboard provides data between the financial years 2005-06 and 2019-20. It will provide enhanced data download. It allows data download in convenient spreadsheet formats. It provides data in sub-yearly frequencies. It includes monthly data from portals maintained by Government agencies. The monthly data in India is regularly published for petroleum, electricity, and natural gas sectors. It will provide technical and financial data of electricity utilities. The India Energy Dashboard will also provide data from schemes such as Saubhagya, PRAAPTI, UJALA and Vidyut PRAVAH.
    • UJALA: It is the Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All. The scheme was launched by PM Modi in 2015. It replaced the Bachat Lamp Yojana. UJALA is also called as DELP. DELP is Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme. It aims to promote the efficient usage of energy for all. Under the scheme, the LED bulbs were distributed to the Electricity Distribution Companies at subsidised rates. The scheme also aimed to reduce the green house gas emission by 79 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
    • PRAAPTI: It is a web portal launched by the Ministry of Power in 2018. PRAAPTI is Payment Ratification and Analysis in Power procurement for bringing transparency in invoicing of generators. Under the portal, the power distribution companies will clear the invoices and reply to the claims raised by the generators in the portal.

     

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      • SECTION 3 - MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions)

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