Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 04-05-2021

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Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 04-05-2021

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. People and Personalities - Bill and Melinda Gates to divorce - Legendary billionaire Bill Gates and Melinda Gates have announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage. The couple said, "We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple". "After a great deal of thought and...work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage." the couple tweeted. They have three children and jointly run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They first met in the 1980s when Melinda joined Bill's Microsoft firm. Today, Bill Gates is the fourth wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes, and is worth $124bn (£89bn). He made his money through the firm he co-founded in the 1970s, Microsoft, the world's biggest software company. Melinda, now 56, joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987, and the two sat together at a business dinner that year in New York. They began dating, but as Bill told a Netflix documentary: "We cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married." Melinda said she found Bill - methodical it seems even in matters of the heart - writing a list on a whiteboard with the "pros and the cons of getting married". They got married in 1994. The couple established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 in Seattle, which focuses primarily on public health, education and climate change. Bill and Melinda Gates pumped more than $36bn into the foundation between 1994 and 2018.
  2. Energy - Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021 - This is an annual publication that identifies and discusses recent developments in electric mobility across the globe, and is released by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Combining historical analysis with projections to 2030, it examines key areas of interest such as electric vehicle (EV) and charging infrastructure deployment, energy use, CO2 emissions and battery demand. Around 3 million new electric cars were registered in 2020, a 41% increase from 2019. The sales in the first quarter of 2021 reached nearly two and half times their level in the same period a year earlier. Based on current trends and policies, IEA projects the number of electric vehicles on the road worldwide to reach 145 million by 2030. For the first time, the 2021 report makes available two online tools, The Global EV Data Explorer, which allow users to interactively explore EV statistics and projections worldwide, The Global EV Policy Explorer, which allow users to interactively explore policy measures worldwide.
  3. Science and Technology - Covid's nature - a vascular disease - A study shows that the SARS-CoV-2’s spike proteins not only help the virus infect its host by latching on to healthy cells, but also play a key role in the disease itself. It explained that Covid-19 is not only a respiratory disease, but also a vascular disease by demonstrating how the virus damages and attacks the vascular system (comprising the blood vessels) on a cellular level. The findings help explain Covid-19’s wide variety of seemingly unconnected complications, and could open the door for new research into more effective therapies. The exposure of healthy endothelial cells (which line arteries of heart) to the spike protein showed that the spike protein damaged the cells by binding ACE2 (a human protein). This binding disrupted ACE2’s molecular signalling to mitochondria (organelles that generate energy for cells), causing the mitochondria to become damaged and fragmented.
  4. Defence and Military - P-8I Patrol Aircraft - The U.S. State Department approved the proposed sale of six P-8I patrol aircraft and related equipment to India, a deal estimated to cost $2.42 billion. In November 2019, the Defence Acquisition Council had approved the procurement of the long-range maritime surveillance aircraft manufactured by Boeing. The possible sale comes through the Foreign Military Sale route and requires that the U.S. Congress be notified. With India having signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) foundational agreement with the U.S., the six aircraft will come fitted with encrypted systems. The P-8I is based on the Boeing 737 commercial aircraft and India was its first international customer.
  5. Environment and Ecology - Xylophis Deepaki - Herpetologist Deepak Veerappan has a snake named after him. In the first four months of 2021, the Western Ghats presented new butterflies, frogs, fruit flies, and even a freshwater crab. Joining the list is a tiny snake of just 20 cm length with iridescent scales – Xylophis Deepaki. It was first stumbled upon in a coconut plantation in Kanyakumari.  It is now reported to be an endemic species of Tamil Nadu and has been sighted in a few locations in the southern part of the Western Ghats. The species is named in honour of Indian herpetologist Deepak Veerappan for his contribution in erecting a new subfamily Xylophiinae to accommodate wood snakes. Wood snakes are harmless, sub-fossorial and often found while digging soil in farms and under the logs in the Western Ghat forests. They feed on earthworms and possibly other invertebrates. Interestingly, their close relatives are found in northeast India and Southeast Asia and are known to be arboreal.
  6. World Politics - Vorukh disputed area - At least 31 people have been killed in Kyrgyzstan in heavy clashes at its disputed border with Tajikistan. More than a third of the two countries’ border is disputed, with the area surrounding the Vorukh, where recent conflict erupted. It is a regular flashpoint over territorial claims and access to water. Vorukh is a jamoat (administrative division) in northern Tajikistan. It is an enclave surrounded by Kyrgyzstan that forms part of the city of Isfara in Sughd Region. The location of the border of the enclave is disputed by the Tajik and Kyrgyz governments.
  7. Science and Technology - Pox 186 blow-away galaxy - Astrophysicists using the Gemini telescope have spotted the first ‘blow-away’ galaxy, in which the hydrogen clouds have been stripped off exposing high-energy light. This finding could give a clue to solving the puzzle of the reionisation of the universe. The galaxy, named Pox 186, is so small that it could fit inside the Milky Way. The researchers suspect that its compact size, coupled with its large population of stars -- which amount to a hundred thousand times the mass of the sun -- made the blow-away possible. The Gemini Observatory is an astronomical observatory consisting of two 8.1-metre telescopes, Gemini North and Gemini South, which are located at two separate sites in Hawaii and Chile, respectively. The twin Gemini telescopes provide almost complete coverage of both the northern and southern skies.They are currently among the largest and most advanced optical/infrared telescopes available to astronomers.
  8. Science and Technology - CT scans avoidable - Several Covid positive patients with mild to moderate Covid symptoms, and some with negative RT-PCR reports but Covid symptoms, are going for CT scans. A CT scan is a 'computed tomography scan', earlier known as computed axial tomography or CAT scan. It is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to get detailed images of the body noninvasively for diagnostic purposes. CT scans are performed by radiographers or radiology technologists. CT scanners use a rotating x-ray tube and a row of detectors placed in the gantry to measure X-ray attenuations by different tissues inside the body. The multiple X-ray measurements taken from different angles are then processed on a computer using reconstruction algorithms to produce tomographic (cross-sectional) images (virtual "slices") of a body. The use of ionizing radiations sometimes restricts its use owing to its adverse effects. AIIMS chief Dr Guleria had warned in May 2021 that CT scans may harm patients phyiscally, if done unnecessarily.
  9. World Politics - Covid update - South Korean citizens and foreigners arriving from India for a long-term stay are subject to quarantine at a government-provided facility for seven days, where they must test negative for Covid-19 twice to be able to stay at home for the remaining seven days of quarantine. A total of 148 South Koreans in India have contracted Covid-19 as of May 3. Australian former cricket star Michael Slater said Prime Minister Scott Morrison has "blood on his hands" over the travel ban between India and Australia that came into force on 03rd May 2021. Slater was in India working as a commentator for cricket's Indian Premier League when the ban came into place. The US Food and Drug Administration was poised to authorize Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine in children and teens ages 12 to 15 in a week. According to data from Brazil's National Civil Registry, 615,329 deaths were reported in the country between January 1 and April 30. Of those, 208,370 were related to Covid-19, 33.9% of the nation's total. World's Covid-19 tally was - Total cases: 154,175,712; New cases: 669,917; Total deaths: 3,226,789; New deaths: 10,505; Total recovered: 132,296,909; Active cases: 18,652,014.
  10. Indian Politics - Covid update - Continuing the vast death and infections toll, India reported 3,57,229 new COVID-19 cases (crossing the 2 crore mark) and 3,449 more deaths in the last 24 hours (03rd May, 2021), as per the Union Health Ministry. As per RBI's ex Governor Raghuram Rajan, India’s overwhelming surge of coronavirus infections has revealed complacency after 2020's first wave, as well as a “lack of foresight and a lack of leadership.” India’s job market, which was on the path of recovery, was thrown into a state of panic in April 2021 as the second Covid-19 wave spiralled and lockdowns re-emerged in various states. Open positions at the end of April dropped 31% from March to touch the lowest level in 2021, according to LinkedIn and direct postings on top job boards. The Indian Premier League (IPL) was suspended indefinitely after multiple COVID-19 cases were reported in its bio-bubble, ending a month-long relatively smooth run for cricket's most glamorous and cash-rich event in the middle of a raging pandemic. Adoption agencies, child welfare associations and NGOs across India are concerned that photographs of children who have lost parents to Covid-19 are doing the round on social media with their contacts and addresses. Sharing of children's details is attracting child traffickers and the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights has even asked the Delhi Police to be "more vigilant on social media'' and ensure "children don't fall prey to trafficking”. Total cases: 20,275,543; New cases: 355,828; Total deaths: 222,383; New deaths: 3,438; Total recovered: 16,600,703; Active cases: 3,452,457.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
SEBI creates tough situation for Mutual Fund executives
  • The story: The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) ordered in April 2021 that fund houses pay at least 20 per cent of the total compensation of fund managers and other key executives in units in mutual fund (MF) schemes they oversee. The rule is aimed at strongly aligning the interests of the people managing the funds with those of the investors.
  • Logic: This is to ensure a "“skin in the game” for everyone. But this makes salary and tax calculations complicated for key executives at fund houses. Since the value of this portion of the compensation will be market-linked and changing on a daily basis, it is unclear how it will be taken to issue the units and calculate the monthly tax outgo. Also, if a fund manager is handling several schemes, it becomes even tougher to compute the percentage of salary to be given in fund units and the tax on those.
  • Understanding: Experts say that when key employees get the mutual fund units, the market value will be taxed as salary without any cash in hand. The cost base will be available only when the MF units are sold or redeemed.
  1. More complications will arise if the fund manager earns dividend or distribution income on the mutual fund units he holds — over when and how to tax this.
  2. This could be added to salary income and taxed at full rate.
  3. When the executive is handling multiple schemes (exchange-traded, index and oversight funds, along with existing close-ended schemes, are excluded), contributions are to be done as per the weighted average of assets under management. This could result in periodical rebalancing and, hence, lead to tax outflow.
  4. These employees must hold the units for at least three years, even if they leave the fund house, as per the rule. When they redeem the units after the lock-in period, it could create further issues.
  • Salary calculations: When the employee gets the units, the market value could be taxed as salary, said experts. But how to take the base, or the salary paid in fund units during the full period, to calculate tax at the time of redemption of the units will be a challenge, as this amount will likely be different every month. Perhaps only the gains on the base should be taxed at that stage, at the long-term capital gains tax rate of 10 per cent. It is also unclear who all at fund houses, or asset management companies, will come under the new SEBI regulation. The term ‘key employees’ of AMCs has been widely defined to include compliance officers, heads of other departments, those who report to the CEO and even individuals who have no direct role in investments by mutual funds schemes.
  • Summary: The SEBI is trying to ensure that those who manage the Mutual Fund schemes think twice about all their actions and decisions, that eventually have a bearing on investor interest.
India Core Sector output - March 2021
  • The story: The eight core sectors grew by 6.8% in March 2021 (the highest in 32 months), after a 3.8% dip in February, but the spike was largely due to the base effects from March 2020. During 2020-21 (April-March), output of the eight sectors contracted by 7% as against a positive growth of 0.4% in 2019-20.
  • About eight core sectors: These 8 comprise 40.27% of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). The eight core sector industries in decreasing order of their weightage are Refinery Products, Electricity, Steel, Coal, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Cement, and Fertilizers.
  • Base effect: It refers to the effect that the basis of comparison can have on the result of present value of a parameter. For example, the base effect can lead to an apparent under- or overstatement of figures such as inflation rates or economic growth rates if the point chosen for comparison has an unusually high or low value relative to the current period or the overall data. So if in any quarter, the GDP growth was in minus (contraction), then next year in the same quarter even a small positive growth will look huge (base effect).
  • Numbers: The production of natural gas, steel, cement and electricity jumped 12.3%, 23%, 32.5% and 21.6% in March 2021, as against (-) 15.1%, (-) 21.9%, (-) 25.1% and (-) 8.2% in March 2020, respectively (low base effect).
  • IIP: The Index of Industrial Production is an indicator that measures the changes in the volume of production of industrial products during a given period. It is compiled and published monthly by the National Statistical Office (NSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. As a composite indicator, it measures the growth rate of industry groups classified under (i) Broad sectors - Mining, Manufacturing, and Electricity or (ii) Use-based sectors - Basic Goods, Capital Goods, and Intermediate Goods. The base year for IIP is 2011-2012. The IIP is an index that only measures the volume of output, not the value. So a dropping IIP means quantitywise output has dropped.
  • Importance: The IIP is used by government agencies including the Ministry of Finance, the Reserve Bank of India, etc, for policy-making purposes. It is relevant for the calculation of the quarterly and advance GDP (Gross Domestic Product) estimates.

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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
Climate change causing a shift in Earth’s axis
  • The story: Rising sea levels, heatwaves, melting glaciers and storms are some of the well-known consequences of climate change. New research has added yet another impact to this list – marked shifts in the axis along which the Earth rotates.
  • Unusual movement: A new study published in 'Geophysical Research Letters' of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) says that due to the significant melting of glaciers because of global temperature rise, our planet’s axis of rotation has been moving more than usual since the 1990s.
  1. The Earth’s axis of rotation is the line along which it spins around itself as it revolves around the Sun. The points on which the axis intersects the planet’s surface are the geographical north and south poles.
  2. The location of the Earth's poles is not fixed, however, as the axis moves due to changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet. Thus, the poles move when the axis moves, and the movement is called “polar motion”.
  3. According to NASA, data from the 20th century shows that the spin axis drifted about 10 centimetres per year. Meaning over a century, polar motion exceeds 10 metres.
  4. Generally, polar motion is caused by changes in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, oceans, or solid Earth. But now, climate change is adding to the degree with which the poles wander.
  • Latest findings: Since the 1990s, climate change has caused billions of tonnes of glacial ice to melt into oceans. This has caused the Earth’s poles to move in new directions. The north pole has shifted in a new eastward direction since the 1990s, because of changes in the hydrosphere (meaning the way in which water is stored on Earth). From 1995 to 2020, the average speed of drift was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995. Also, in the last four decades, the poles moved by about 4 metres in distance. The faster ice melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s, the study says.
  • Other causes: The other possible causes are (terrestrial water storage) change in non‐glacial regions due to climate change and unsustainable consumption of groundwater for irrigation and other anthropogenic activities. While ice melting is the major factor behind increased polar motion, groundwater depletion also adds to the phenomenon. As millions of tonnes of water from below the land is pumped out every year for drinking, industries or agriculture, most of it eventually joins the sea, thus redistributing the planet’s mass.
  • Knowledge centre:
  1. Mass of Earth - The Earth mass is a standard unit of mass in astronomy used to indicate the masses of other planets. One Solar mass is close to 3,33,000 Earth masses. The Earth mass excludes the mass of the Moon. The mass of the Moon is about 1.2% of that of the Earth, so that the mass of the Earth+Moon system is close to 6.0456×1024 kg. Most of the mass is accounted for by iron and oxygen (roughly 32% each), magnesium and silicon (roughly 15% each), calcium, aluminium and nickel (roughly 1.5% each).
  2. Precession of Earth's axis - The Earth's axis rotates (precesses) just as a spinning top does. The period of precession is about 26,000 years. So the North Celestial Pole will not always be point towards the same starfield. Precession is caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Moon on the Earth.
  3. Earth's poles - The geographic North Pole has a fixed position. It corresponds to the northern intersection of the Earth’s rotational axis with the Earth’s surface. Its coordinates are thus “90 degrees north”. The compass needle we use actually aligns with the magnetic field of the Earth. This field originates because liquid iron located in the outer core of the Earth circulates and swirls in response to the internal temperature differences and rotation of the Earth. It shields the planet from dangerous radiation and particles from outer space, and it also possesses a north and south pole. These are defined as the two points where the magnetic field lines extend into the Earth perpendicular to its surface. One of these points is located in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere, but their positions are not exactly diametrically opposed on the globe. Neither of them can be assigned a fixed geographical position because, due to magnetic storms and constant variations in the circulation of iron in the liquid outer core, their locations are constantly changing. The North Magnetic Pole was discovered in 1831, located near the Boothia Peninsula in the Canadian Arctic. From there, it has since wandered to the northwest and is now moving at a speed of around 55 kilometres per year. It is currently located north of the 85th parallel in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and is approaching Russia.

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

Border tension between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, 2021
    • The story: Skirmishes broke out on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and soon a ceasefire was announced. But the skirmishes killed about 40 people and wounded about 175. Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan belong to the central Asia region. Other countries of the region are Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
    • Points to note: Both these nations have claimed the area around the water supply facility in Kok-Tash, a dispute dating back decades to when they were both part of the Soviet Union (USSR).
    1. The current configuration of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border is the product of Soviet mapmakers drawing the dividing lines for Soviet republics, after the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in late 1991.
    2. The meandering boundary between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is particularly tense as over a third of its 1,000-km length is disputed. Restrictions on access to land and water that communities regard as theirs have often led to deadly clashes in the past.
    • International response: Both Russia and European Union (EU) welcomed the ceasefire deal and emphasised the need for a lasting and peaceful solution.
    • India in central Asia: India has a very wide array of interests in Central Asia covering security, energy, economic opportunities etc. Security, stability and prosperity of Central Asia is imperative for peace and economic development of India. Central Asia serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe, making it geopolitically axial for India. Both India and Central Asian Republics (CARs) share many commonalities and perceptions on various regional and world issues and can play a crucial role in providing regional stability.
    1. Economic - The region is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, natural gas, antimony, aluminum, gold, silver, coal and uranium which can be best utilized by Indian energy requirements. Central Asia has huge cultivable areas lying barren and without being put to any productive use, offering enormous opportunity for cultivation of pulses. The CARs are fast getting linked to the global market for production, supplies of raw materials and services. They are also increasingly getting integrated into the East-West Trans-Eurasian transit economic corridors.
    2. Indian Initiatives - India intends expansion of International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. It will act as a vital gateway to access Eurasian markets and optimally operationalize its use, requiring a Central Asian state joining the project as a direct stakeholder.
    • India-Central Asia dialogue: India has proposed setting up of ‘India-Central Asia Development Group’ to take forward development partnership between India & Central Asian countries. This group will help India to expand its footprints in the resource-rich region amid China’s massive inroads and to fight terror effectively, including in Afghanistan.
    • India-Kyrgyzstan: India has enjoyed strong bilateral ties with Kyrgyzstan since 1991, and was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with Kyrgyzstan in 1992. Since 1992, the two countries have many agreements, including on Culture, Trade and Economic Cooperation, Civil Aviation, Investment Promotion and Protection, Avoidance of Double Taxation, Consular Convention etc. In 2011, the joint ‘Khanjar’ series of exercises was started. In Kyrgyzstan, about 9,000 Indian students are studying medicine in various medical institutions in the country. Also, there are many businessmen living in Kyrgyzstan who are involved in trade and several other services there. The Kyrgyz leaderships have been largely supportive of India’s stand on Kashmir and also supports India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
    • India-Tajikistan: India and Tajikistan elevated bilateral relations to the level of a Strategic Partnership in 2012. Tajikistan supported India’s membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and also permanent membership of an expanded UNSC. India supported Tajikistan's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2013. Trade between two sides is not to expectations despite efforts from both countries, due to more transit time and lack of readily accessible trade routes. Despite limitations, trade in food processing, mining, pharmaceuticals, textiles, skill development, science & technology, Information Technology, culture and tourism are continued between two countries. India delivered major food assistance in 2001-02. To overcome a crisis caused by an unprecedented harsh winter in January-February 2008, India gave a grant of USD 2 million (USD 1 million as cash assistance and USD 1 million in kind, such as power cables, generators and pump sets). India provided 2 million doses of oral polio vaccine through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in November 2010. In March 2018, India gifted 10 Russian-made ambulances to various regions of Tajikistan drawing substantial media coverage and appreciation from high offices. The total number of Indians here is estimated at about 1550, out of which more than 1250 are students.
    • Summary: Central Asia is at the nexus of crucial political and economic transformations for centuries. With the actualization of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China, India’s Connect Central Asia policy, and the EU’s new Central Asia strategy, the 21st century could possibly be the most decisive period for the region. India’s growing global visibility and key contributions to multilateral forums like the SCO have catapulted India from an observer into a critical stakeholder. Central Asia provides India with the right platform to leverage its political, economic and cultural connections to play a leading role in Eurasia.

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

    No sops for middle-income housing surprising
    • The story: The government’s silence on extending a subsidy scheme for the middle-income group under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) beyond March 2021 has surprised potential homebuyers, experts and industry stakeholders.
    • What was the scheme: In a bid to boost demand for real estate and construction activity, the government had extended the benefit of the Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS) by a year to March end. There’s been no intimation on a further extension of the scheme, which may end up hurting PM Modi’s objective of Housing for All by 2022, apart from hitting the economy.
    1. The government started PMAY in June 2015 with the goal of building 20 million affordable houses by March 31, 2022. The scheme initially aimed to provide home loans to customers from the economically weaker section and the low-income group and was extended to the middle-income group in January 2017.
    2. The schemes for the middle-income group have benefitted the middle class. The government has been proactive in extending the MIG schemes earlier the government’s goal of Housing for All by 2022 cannot met met unless it is extended again for a yeaer.
    • What it did: The scheme has been a growth accelerator for the real estate sector, which is the second-largest employment generator, and impacts almost 300 industries directly or indirectly. The CLSS benefit is crucial in the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic that is disrupting demand again. The National Real Estate Development Council (NARDECO), a self-regulatory body under the ministry of housing and urban affairs, urged the government to extend all fiscal impetus like CLSS benefit to first-time homebuyers under the scheme until March 2022.
    1. As owning a house has become omnipotent in this pandemic life, these benefits will play a catalytic role in sustaining the demand and be conducive to affordable home buyers. The extension of benefits will also persuade the industry and help the government achieve its goal of Housing for All by 2022.
    2. Affordable and mid-income housing has emerged as the mainstay of real estate demand over the past few years, with the government’s policy initiatives including CLSS encouraging many first-time homebuyers.
    • Technicals: Under the CLSS, middle-income homebuyers with an annual income of Rs 6-18 lakh can get a 3-4% subsidy on the interest payable on loans ranging from Rs 9 lakh to Rs 12 lakh for a house with a carpet area of 1,722-2,152 square feet, while any additional loan will be at a non-subsidised rate.
    • Summary: The PMAY scheme has had a positive impact on the Indian economy, generating employment opportunities for more than 60 million workers across several sectors. Under the scheme, over 10 million houses have been sanctioned and 4.3 million have been completed across the nation. The government, through the ministry of housing and urban affairs, has committed over $24 billion for implementation of this scheme, with a total investment of almost $100 billion.

    Morals and the vaccine market

    • The story: As the second wave of the covid pandemic beats the severity of the first, a clear global bifurcation is emerging. The pandemic is abating, gradually and unevenly, across richer countries, but flaring up in several developing and emerging economies, most notably India, but also to varying degrees in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
    • Why the divide: There are many reasons for this divide, but uneven access to health care — particularly the glaring inequity in access to covid vaccines — is visible. On 18 January, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, noted that more than 39 million doses of covid vaccine had been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. By contrast, he said, “Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25."
    • Today's numbers: More than one billion vaccine doses have now been administered worldwide, but vast disparities remain. Seychelles tops the list, having fully vaccinated 59% of its citizens, while Israel (56%), Chile (34%), and the United States (30%) also rank high. Brazil, however, is 43rd globally, with just 5.9% of its population fully vaccinated, while India and Bangladesh are much lower, at 1.8% and 1.7%, respectively. And in some countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, virtually no one has been vaccinated.
    1. Given that a covid vaccine is an essential good like food and shelter, the world should be ashamed of such grave inequities. Making the problem worse, many rich countries are stockpiling vaccines beyond what they need, as a precautionary buffer.
    2. Until a few months ago, activists for access to medicines and open science were hopeful that the enormity of the pandemic would lead to a rejection of proprietary science and patent-based market monopolies. In May 2020, for example, the WHO launched the global Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) with the aim of encouraging the widespread voluntary sharing of pandemic-related intellectual property.
    • Covax update: The Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access, or Covax facility, also established in 2020, was supposed to provide subsidized vaccines to poor countries, with financial support from the rich world. But even by then, the optimism and sense of possibility that defined the early days were long gone.
    1. The failure is both intellectual and moral. With the best of intentions, many activists’ plans and proposals paid little attention to individual incentives. But while it is right to campaign for corporations to behave morally, it is folly to assume they are moral.
    2. There can be a future where people invest in knowledge creation and then contribute their findings to an open-access pool, instead of trying to make money. But for now, let the private players acquire rights over the intellectual property they create to ensure that they invest in costly research.
    3. At the same time, there is scope for cutting the profits of pharmaceutical firms considerably—by compelling them to sell products more cheaply and enable generic producers to sell in certain regions—without killing the pharmaceutical industry’s incentives to spend on research.
    • Vaccine markets today: Currently, the ‘market’ is a mishmash of competition and side deals. Governments and pharmaceutical companies in 2020 concluded 44 bilateral covid vaccine deals, many of which have undisclosed details and poorly understood escape clauses. Poor countries were, by and large, left out. The market resembles what oligopoly must have looked like before Augustin Cournot captured its essentials in 1838. Cournot’s breakthrough later enabled the development of the first antitrust laws, like the US Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which allowed firms to set prices but prohibited secret multilateral deals to prop up prices. These laws gradually became sharper.
    • IPR laws: It is clear that intellectual-property (IP) rights must continue to play a role, at least for now. On the other hand, pharmaceutical firms are arguably making vastly larger profits than needed to sustain their incentive to innovate (especially given how much of their IP has resulted from publicly funded research). In large pandemics such as the current one, we should compensate drug companies with lump-sum payments to cover costs, revoke some of their patents, and allow generic firms to mass-produce essential vaccines.
    • The right way: The popular slogan, “None of us will be safe until everyone is safe", amounts to urging the rich to be more selfish, because helping others is in their self-interest. But the pandemic is a clarion call to start thinking beyond the narrow confines of economic rationality and identify others’ interests as part of our own.

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      • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
    The inequality of Vaccines
    • The story: The Government of India unveiled a completely revamped vaccine strategy, effective May 2021. But the resultant vaccine inequity could make containment measures more difficult.
    • Latest updates: Two key elements are the hallmark of this new strategy, implemented from May 1, 2021.
    1. The phased roll-out of the vaccination drive (initiated on January 16, 2021), under which the vaccine-eligible sections of the population were gradually increased, has now been extended to the entire adult population (above 18 years)
    2. A significant deregulation of the vaccine market has been effected. Vaccine manufacturers were given the freedom to sell 50% of their vaccine production to State governments and private hospitals. This can be sold at prices that can be substantially higher than that hitherto fixed by the government.
    3. A third element of the vaccine strategy, which was not announced formally, was a grant of Rs.4500 crores to the two vaccine manufacturers to boost their capacities. These two are Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.
    • Concerns: In the middle of the second wave, the Central government has abdicated its responsibility to ensure vaccine equity through free vaccination for the poor across all age groups. The State governments were never consulted or given prior notice about the change in vaccination policy. The two vaccine manufacturers were given a free hand to decide the price at which vaccines will be sold to State governments. This made universal COVID-19 vaccination a difficult task to achieve. A large percentage of those aged 18-44 years does not have the resources to pay for vaccines, something the Supreme Court also observed in a hearing on a relevant matter. Most of them will hence go without being vaccinated. So, the States will have to take a leading role in the free immunisation programme. Nearly two dozen States have already committed to vaccinate for free the target population. It remains to be seen if they use any criteria to identify the beneficiaries. 
    • Implications: The Union government has restricted itself to vaccinating for free just 300 million. This is unprecedented, because never before has universal immunisation of nearly 600 million people been left to State governments and the private sector. With this precedent, States will probably be required to vaccinate children too, when vaccines become available. This will burden them even further and thereby actively promote vaccine inequity. Making States pay for vaccines is an ill-conceived idea. Forcing them to shell out more than what the Union government pays for the same vaccines will for sure exacerbate vaccine inequity.
    • Financial resources: The Union government has already allocated Rs.35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccination in the current Budget 2021-22, and committed to provide further funds if required. With this, it will have to spend less than Rs.10,000 crore to vaccinate for free all above 45 years. The sudden change in policy is therefore not due to lack of financial resources. But, the State governments, which have not factored in funds for vaccination, will now be required to garner funds for the same. There is hence a great compulsion to make pricing more transparent and allow States to collectively bargain for a lower price and assured timelines to receive supplies.
    • Road ahead: The new policy takes the States and the companies to a completely uncharted territory leading to competition among States, and between State governments and private hospitals. Vaccine shortage from both manufacturers is likely to last a few months (till July at least, going by Adar Poonawalla, SII's CEO's, statements made from London). There is less likely to be a smooth roll-out of vaccines for the target group given the combination of policy confusion, profiteering by vaccine manufacturers and vaccine shortage itself. India is not making the right policy moves. Course correction is advised.

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      • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
    Advances in brain technology and 'neuro-rights'
    • Brain matter: More than 10 years after Christopher Nolan's movie "Inception" was released, experts in Chile have changed the debate on security from burglar alamrs to safeguarding the most valuable real estate ever: their minds.
    • Neuro rights: Chile is aiming to legally protect their citizens' 'neuro rights' by passing a constitutional reform that blocks any technology that aims to 'increase, diminish or disturb' people's brain without consent. Experts are worried about bionic implants or any algorithm that could potentionally threaten the essence of human autonomy and free will.
    • Dystopia: Many movies and novels have explored a future with neurotechnology, and how quickly it could go awry. While movies always show these scenarios in visions of grandeur, recent developments in the field have shown how they could positively help the world, especially when it comes to learning what causes conditions like Alzheimer's or epilepsy.
    • Guarding thoughts: But with many worried about the dark side of this tech, Chile's President has asked all Ibero-American countries to legislate together on this matter. The bill that will be introduced in Chile for consideration aims to guard the human mind, set some limits to neuro-technology, allowing for equitable distribution of the technology and putting limits on neuro-algorithm.
    • Good side, bad side: Some of this technology already exists, and could be available in the next 10 years. The problem that many see is that without proper safeguards, this technology could be used to 'alter people's thoughts or re-program their wiring to dictate their patterns of consumption'. When considering dyspotian science-fiction, neuro-technology could be scary, but for every bad scenario imaginable, there are 10 beneficial ones, say experts. Breakthroughs in this field could help in alleviating symptoms of Parkinson's or restore sight to the blind.

    Covid-19 and Neanderthal Genomes

    • The story: Evolutionary biologists from different countries have shown that the regions of host genomes that increase the risk of getting severely ill and protect against the SARS-CoV-2 virus were inherited from Neanderthals. This is an extinct species of hominids that were the closest relatives to modern human beings.
    • Points to note: A region on host chromosome 3 acts as a significant genetic risk factor towards getting seriously ill and, at the same time, a group of genes on chromosomes 6,12,19, and 21 protect us against the virus. Modern day humans share a stretch of 50,000 nucleotides (nucleotides are the basic building blocks of DNA) in chromosome 3 with Neanderthals. About 50% of South Asians carry the region in chromosome 3 from Neanderthal genomes, the same region that makes us more prone to getting severely sick with the virus. A part of host chromosome 12, previously shown to protect against the virus, also was inherited from Neanderthal genomes. Nearly 30% of South Asians bear the chromosome 12 region.
    • Importance: Viruses can only survive and multiply in host cells. Therefore, understanding the host genome is paramount to studying both susceptibility and protection against the virus in a given population. While specific genes from Neanderthals are working against the virus and protecting us from getting a severe disease, others are associated with an increased risk of getting critically ill. This push and pull effect may be one of the intriguing facts about how the selection of genes happens during evolution.
    • Human evolution: It is the evolutionary process that led to the emergence of anatomically modern humans, beginning with the evolutionary history of primates—in particular genus Homo—and leading to the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species of the hominid family, the great apes.
    • Stages of human evolution: Dryopithecus - Ramapithecus - Australopithecus - Homo - Homo habilis - Homo erectus - Homo sapiens - Homo sapiens neanderthalensis - Homo sapiens sapiens
    1. Neanderthals - Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) is member of a group of archaic humans who emerged at least 2,00,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch (about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) and were replaced or assimilated by early modern human populations (Homo sapiens) between 35,000 and perhaps 24,000 years ago.
    2. Genome - A genome is all the genetic matter in an organism. It is defined as an organism’s complete set of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), including all of its genes. In humans, a copy of the entire genome contains more than 3 billion DNA base pairs.
    3. Chromosomes - In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA tightly coiled many times around proteins called histones that support its structure. In humans, each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome, while males have one X and one Y chromosome.

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      • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
    Supreme Court unhappy with Schools charging full for online-only classes
    • The story: As the Covid-19 pandemic forced closure of schools with a shift to online classes, the Supreme Court said that educational institutions must reduce fees as their running costs have come down with various facilities provided on campus remaining closed. This is the same problem as faced in 2020.
    • The bench: A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said the management of educational institutions should be sensitive to the problems faced by people due to the pandemic and take steps to provide succour to students and their parents in these harsh times. It said insisting on payment for facilities not provided to students would amount to profiteering which must be avoided by the schools.
    • Legal position: The bench made several important comments.
    1. In law, the school management cannot be heard to collect fees in respect of activities and facilities which are, in fact, not provided to or availed of by its students due to circumstances beyond their control. Demanding fees even in respect of overheads on such activities would be nothing short of indulging in profiteering and commercialisation.
    2. It is a well-known fact and judicial notice can also be taken that due to complete lockdown, schools were not allowed to open for substantially long period during the academic year 2020-21. Resultantly, the school management must have saved overheads and recurring cost on various items such as petrol/diesel, electricity, maintenance cost, water charges, stationery charges, etc.
    3. While adjudicating a batch of pleas of private unaided schools of Rajasthan against the state government’s direction to them to forgo 30% of tuition fees during the pandemic, the bench held that there is no law giving mandate to the state government to pass such an order but agreed that the schools had to reduce the fees.
    4. The bench agreed that, hence, the appellants were justified in assailing the order by the director, secondary education and must succeed. But that does not give licence to the appellants (schools of Rajasthan) to be rigid and not sensitive about the aftermath of the pandemic.
    5. The school management supposedly engaged in doing charitable activity of imparting education, is expected to be responsive and alive to that situation and take necessary remedial measures to mitigate the hardship suffered by students and their parents.
    6. It is for the school management to reschedule payment of school fees in such a way that not even a single student is left out or denied opportunity of pursuing his/her education, so as to effectuate the adage - live and let live.
    • What parents want: The parents, demanding cut in fees, had told the bench that the schools have saved colossal amount of money during the online classes towards electricity charges, water charges, stationery charges and other miscellaneous charges which are required for physical running of the school. Granting relief to students, the bench said the fees should have been refixed by the regulating authority but decided to pass order for minimum 15 percent cut to settle the issue once and for all.
    • Final verdict: SC said that the appellants (school management of the private unaided schools) shall collect annual school fees from their students as fixed under the Act of 2016 for the academic year 2019-20, but by providing deduction of 15 per cent on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by students during the relevant period of academic year 2020-21. The court also directed the schools to not debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of nonpayment of fees, arrears/outstanding fees.

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

      PM raises availability of Covid medical personnel
      • The story: The PM reviewed the growing need for adequate human resources for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. In this regard, several key decisions were taken which will significantly boost the availability of medical personnel in Covid duty.
      • Shocked by second wave: The decisions come in the backdrop of India reporting massive surge in novel coronavirus cases. More than 3.5 lakh are turning Covid positive each day in the India, for quite some time now. The total death toll crossed 2 lakhs, with more than 3000 dying each day. These are official figures, widely believed to be a gross under-estimation.
      • Decisions by Modi:
      1. Postpone the NEET-PG exam for at least 4 months; This will make a large number of qualified doctors available for Covid duties.
      2. To allow deployment of Medical Interns in Covid Management duties under the supervision of their faculty, as part of the Internship rotation. The services of Final Year MBBS students can be utilized for providing services like tele-consultation and monitoring of mild Covid cases.
      3. The services of Final Year PG Students (broad as well as super-specialities) as residents may continue to be utilized until fresh batches of PG Students have joined.
      4. B.Sc./GNM Qualified Nurses may be utilized in full-time Covid nursing duties under the supervision of Senior Doctors and Nurses.
      5. he individuals providing services in Covid management will be given priority in forthcoming regular Government recruitments after they complete minimum of 100 days of Covid duty.
      6. The medical students/professionals sought to be engaged in Covid related work will be suitably vaccinated.
      7. All such professionals who sign up for minimum 100 days of Covid duty and complete it successfully will also be given the Prime Minister’s Distinguished Covid National Service Samman from Government of India.
      8. A special Rs.15,000 crore Public Health Emergency Support was provided by the Central Government to ramp up facilities and human resources for Covid management.

      Odisha’s Gopabandhu Sambadika Swasthya Bima Yojana
      • The story: The Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik recently declared working journalists of the State of Odisha as the frontline COVID-19 warriors. This announcement was made under the Gopabandhu Sambadika Swasthya Bima Yojana. With these more than 6,500 journalists are to be benefitted in the state.
      • Gopandhu Sambadika Swasthya Bima Yojana: It is a health insurance scheme that was introduced for the journalists by the Odisha state government. The scheme provides two lakh rupees of health insurance cover to all the working journalists of the state. It was launched in 2018, and includes cashless treatment in government and private hospitals. It also covers illness and injuries faced by journalists while performing their duties.
      • Gopalbandhu Das: The scheme has been named after Gopalbandhu Das. He was a popular reformer, social worker, journalist, political activist, essayist and a poet in Odisha. His contributions to the field of culture, art and society earned him the “Epithet of Utkalmani”. It means the Jewel of Odisha. He launched a magazine called “Satyabadi”. His contributions to journalism were short but remarkable.
      • Other states: Several other states also declared journalists as frontline workers. This includes Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh. The significance of declaring journalists as frontline workers is that they will be vaccinated in Phase I of COVID-19 vaccination programme of India. The beneficiaries of phase I of COVID-19 vaccination programme are health care workers, frontline workers and those in the population greater than fifty years. The current frontline workers are home guards, armed forces, prison staff, municipal workers, civil defence volunteers including disaster management volunteers.

      Significant Economic Presence (SEP) principle
      • The story: India has notified Digital Tax threshold of two crore rupees and 300,00 users under the Significant Economic Presence principle. This threshold was notified for non-resident technology firms such as Netflix, Facebook, Google, to pay tax in India. The principle was first introduced in the Finance Bill 2018-19.
      • Why done: It was adopted to address the challenges of tax profits made by the digital companies.
      • Significant Economic Presence: It means that a transaction in goods or services or property carried out by a Non-Resident in India. This includes download of software or data. In June 2019, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called on the G-20 countries to adopt the “Significance Economic Presence”.
      • History: The Significant Economic Presence concept was introduced in 2018 under Income Tax Act, 1961. It was basically introduced to tax the income of non-residents. These incomes are those related to goods and services or property in India. In 2015, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued fifteen Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plans (AP). The BEPS-AP 1, that is, the first report of BEPS-AP is about tax challenges in the digital economy. It stated that it is important to examine enterprises that earn profit in the digital economy. Apart from Significant Economic Presence, the BEPS-AP also analysed several other challenges. This includes Equalisation Levy that was implemented in 2016 in India.
      • Equalisation Levy: It was introduced to tax business to business transactions that happen digitally. This mainly targeted at taxing the income accruing to foreign E-Commerce companies from India. Accruing is someone receiving money at increasing rate over time.

      UK-India $1.4 billion investment deal
      • The story: The Government of India and British Government recently finalised a one billion pound of trade and investment with India. This is expected to create 6,500 jobs in the UK. The deal has been finalised ahead of the virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The leaders will sign the deal formally during the summit. The summit is to be held on May 4, 2021.
      • New investment deal: The deal is a part of Enhanced Trade Partnership. The Enhanced Trade Partnership is to be signed between leaders during the summit. The Enhanced Trade Partnership will lift restrictions to enable fruit producers across UK to export pears, British Apples and quince to India for the first time. The partnership will also include acceptance of UK certificatication of Free sale in India. This will remove the additional accreditation of UK medical devices in exporting to Indian market.
      • Details: Under the partnership, the countries will commit to deepen cooperation in educational services. With this the student flows and skill transfer between the countries will increase. It will set an ambitious target of doubling the trade between UK and India by 2030, and has declared a shared intent to start the base work towards comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. It covers export deals of more than 446 million Great British Pounds. This is to create more than 400 British jobs.
      • More: The trade between India and UK is 23 billion Great British Pounds a year. This is supporting more than half a million jobs a year. The British Government recently unveiled 533 million Great Britain Pounds of Indian investment into the United Kingdom. This covers areas such as technology and health care. It also includes the 240 million Great Britain Pounds of investment to be made by the Serum Institute of India in the UK. The Serum Institute is to further expand its business to 1 billion USD in Britain. India and UK will sign a trade deal in the future that will remove current tariffs on whiskey up to 150% and on automotive up to 125% in India.

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