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

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

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. Governance and Institutions - PLIS for FPI (PLISFPI) - The Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) has launched an online portal for ‘Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Food Processing Industry’ (PLISFPI). In 2021, the Government approved a new Central Sector Scheme named ‘Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Food Processing Industry’, for 2021-22 to 2026-27, with an outlay of Rs.10,900 crore. Its goal is to support creation of global food manufacturing champions commensurate with India’s natural resource endowment and support Indian brands of food products in the international markets. The Ministry of Food Processing Industries invited applications for availing sales based incentives and grants for undertaking Branding & Marketing activities abroad, from three categories of applicants: (a) Category-I: Applicant under this category could undertake Branding & Marketing activities abroad also and apply for grant under the scheme with a common application, (b) Category-II: SMEs Applicants manufacturing innovative/ organic products who apply for PLI Incentive based on Sales, (c) Category-III: Applicants applying solely for grant for undertaking Branding & Marketing activities abroad. But PLI scheme is facing quality manpower issues now, as industry has reported.
  2. Science and Technology - Converting Nitrogen Plants to Oxygen - The second wave of coronavirus pandemic hit India hard in April 2021. The first problem was securing enough oxygen supply for patients. The Government of India explored the feasibility of conversion of existing nitrogen plants to produce oxygen. Potential industries, wherein existing nitrogen plants may be converted for production of oxygen, were identified. In the nitrogen plants Carbon Molecular Sieve (CMS) is used whereas Zeolite Molecular Sieve (ZMS) is required for producing oxygen. By replacing CMS with ZMS and carrying out few other changes such as oxygen analyzer, control panel system, flow valves etc. existing nitrogen plants can be modified to produce oxygen. A nitrogen plant modified for the production of oxygen can be either shifted to a nearby hospital. In case it is not feasible to shift the plant, it can be used for on-site production of oxygen, which can then be transported to hospital through specialized vessels/cylinders.
  3. Indian Economy - Lockdowns will cost Indian economy $38 billion till June - Barclays said that if the ongoing localised lockdowns in India continued till June 2021, it will lead to economic losses of $38.4 billion. The firm also cut India's GDP growth estimate to 10% from its previous estimate of 11% for 2021-22. India is in the "unwelcome position" of being the centre of the global pandemic now, Barclays said. The rampant sprad of the virus has severely dented the economic prospects of revival, forcing even the RBI Governor to hold an unscheduled press meet on 05th of May, to explain what the RBI is planning ahead. Mr Das said that instead of a revival, the economy now suddenly faces headwinds. He assured RBI's full cooperation for the government, in trying to beat back the slowdown.
  4. Science and Technology - 5G technology and trials - The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India approved permissions to Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) for conducting trials for use and applications of 5G technology. The applicant TSPs include Bharti Airtel Ltd., Reliance JioInfocomm Ltd., Vodafone Idea Ltd. and MTNL. The duration of the trials, at present, is for a period of 6 months. Each TSP will have to conduct trials in rural and semi-urban settings also in addition to urban settings so that the benefit of 5G Technology proliferates across the country and is not confined only tourban areas. The objectives of conducting 5G trials include testing 5G spectrum propagation characteristics especially in the Indian context; model tuning and evaluation of chosen equipment andvendors; testing of indigenous technology; testing of applications; and to test 5G phones and devices. 5G technology is expected to deliver improved user experience in terms of data download rates (expected to be 10 times that of 4G), up to three times greater spectrum efficiency, and ultra low latency to enable Industry 4.0.
  5. Healthcare and Medicine - VINCOV-19 drug for Covid-19 - The CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has developed, possibly the first specific drug for COVID-19 treatment, which contain therapeutic antibodies. The Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) has given its approval for human trials, Phase-I and Phase-II for the VINCOV-19 and expected to be tried soon in Delhi and Rajasthan. Developed by the CCMB, University of Hyderabad and Vins Bioproduct ltd combine, the VINCOV-19 is a collection of antibodies from Horses after they got injected inactivated Corona virus. The approval for its emergency use by the India’s Drug Regulator is expected once the results of phase I and II declared. VINCOV may be the first specific drug for COVID treatment and it works best when given on early stage of infection.
  6. World Politics - UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt - The British Government said that the UK Carrier Strike Group’s “globe-spanning maiden deployment will feature visits to India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore”. Earlier, the European Union had announced that it will reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific with the aim of contributing to the stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development of the region. Carrier strike groups are often formed for a specific mission rather than by platform. The carrier is typically part of a larger formation, usually including destroyers, frigates and submarines, as well as logistical-support ships. The carrier provides the primary offensive air power, while the other vessels provide the wider defence and support role and can also participate offensively, such as with the launch of missile systems. It will be led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. It will be a global deployment, from the North Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. The “28-week deployment” will span 26,000 nautical miles, and CSG will undertake over 70 engagements in over 40 nations. As part of the UK’s tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region, the CSG will conduct engagements with Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Japan and India.
  7. Social Issues - Don't expect herd immunity anytime soon - Public health experts in India said that reaching herd immunity is unlikely any time in the near future. The coronavirus will continue to circulate, and hospitalisations and deaths will continue to happen. There will be a significant reduction around six to nine months from now, i.e. around Nov-Dec 2021. Herd immunity happens once a large proportion of a stable population becomes immune to a microbe, either through infection or vaccination. At that point, others in that community who are not immune will be protected because transmission of the virus is blocked by those who are immune. To be sure, it is actually 'herd protection', not herd immunity. If a non-immune person steps out of that protective cordon and travels to a place where the virus is actively circulating, the person can still get infected. Herd immunity is a population attribute, not an individual attribute. In a highly mobile world where people are moving from place to place, a non-immune person will still be very vulnerable. Therefore, he recommends that it is better for everyone to be vaccinated.
  8. Indian Economy - PLI scheme faces talent shortage - The government of India is now aiming to build a dedicated talent pool for the sectors covered under the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme. Many of the potential investors informed the govt. that the productivity of the Indian workforce did not match global standards, thus impacting their cost. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and NITI Aayog discussed with the skills development ministry on the overall skilling strategy and the apprenticeship scheme respectively, to bring about desired changes. A detailed road map was to be laid out with a focus on creating skilled manpower for 13 specific sectors. The government has decided to take a structured approach to address the surge in demand for a skilled workforce across these sectors.
  9. World Politics - Covid update - The parliamentary inquiry into the Brazilian government's Covid-19 response kicked off with hours of testimony from former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta. He was a proponent of social distancing, supporting state governors' decisions to shut down schools and businesses, an approach that put him at sharp odds with his then-boss Bolsonaro. Seychelles saw uptick in Covid-19 cases despite having vaccinated 85% of population. In America, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hopes children and teens won't hesitate when the US Food and Drug Administration authorizes a coronavirus vaccine for them. A federal government official said that the FDA is poised to authorize Pfizer/BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine in children and teens 12 to 15 years old soon, and administration of the vaccine to them could start almost immediately. A top WHO official says the world has a shot at controlling Covid-19 -- if it comes together. Total cases: 154,977,228; New cases: 783,755; Total deaths: 3,240,705; New deaths: 13,652; Total recovered: 133,172,703; Active cases: 18,563,820.
  10. Indian Politics - Covid update - Biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 deaths were recorded in India, as 3,780 died. Also, 3.82 lakh new cases were reported. With this, the death toll due to coronavirus in the country rose to 2,26,188. As many as 3,82,315 new coronavirus cases were reported, taking the total number of cases to 2,06,65,148. The government's scientific advisor K Vijay Raghavan said that a third wave was inevitable, given the higher levels of virus. NITI Aayog's VK Paul said that the disease was not spreading through animals, but it was pure human to human transmission. The govt. said that Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar among states that show increasing trend in daily Covid-19 cases. The Health Ministry said that the liberalised policy (for vaccination) was started on May 1st, and it began smoothly in 9 states and 6.71 lakh people in the age group of 18-44 years were administered vaccine. The Himachal Pradesh cabinet on Wednesday decided to impose 10 days “Corona curfew”. Bengal's CM Mamata Banerjee said that from May 7, no air passenger would be allowed in Bengal without RT-PCR negative report not older than 72 hours. Total cases: 20,658,234; New cases: 382,691; Total deaths: 226,169; New deaths: 3,786; Total recovered: 16,938,400; Active cases: 3,493,665.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
Rural India job losses
  • The story: Rural India has erased gains made since October 2020, when the coronavirus infection started declining. It has recorded 2.84 million job losses in April 2021, for the salaried class alone. This is expected to impact rural consumption. Note that rural India is made up of both farming families and non-farming families.
  • The data: Salaried people in India’s rural pockets stood at 27.87 million in April, down from 30.72 million in March, and 33.46 million in February, showed monthly data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Around 5.59 million salaried employees lost their jobs during April and March.
  1. This shows how the second wave of the pandemic has unleashed its wrath on the rural jobs market.
  2. Job losses for the salaried class in India’s rural belt were almost four and half times more than the number of salaried jobs lost in urban pockets in April. Overall, 3.4 million salaried jobs were lost during the month.
  3. This development will have an adverse impact on rural consumption and economic revival, and push the middle-class into poverty.
  • Implications: The policy response to this rural distress has been very low. Government is struggling with oxygen and critical care breakdown in urban India. The salaried job loss in rural India will have a cascading impact on several sectors.
  1. The impact will be on spending, healthcare fear, poverty alleviations and middle-class well-being.
  2. The discretionary and non-discretionary spending on automobiles including motorcycles, small cars and tractors and general demand for consumer durable will get hit.
  • Rural hit more by virus: Sadly, the coronavirus in 2021 is much more severe in rural India. The spread of the pandemic this year is swift and called for immediate government action in terms of a stimulation package and financial support to people and more allocation to rural jobs scheme. While agriculture incomes may not get hampered this year, non-agriculture incomes have taken a beating and will show its implications on the consumption story.
  • The causal chain: People drive consumption and if they don’t have jobs, and more so in rural India, then that rural consumption cushion enjoyed in 2020 may be absent. The year 2020 saw millions slipping into poverty, following the lockdown and in 2021 the situation may get worse.
  1. The government’s national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGS) may need more fund allocation, as job losses in rural India will push people to informality and demand for MGNREGA jobs will therefore increase.
  2. Employment rate in India is already down. According to the CMIE, the employment rate fell to a four-month low from 37.56% in March to 36.79% in April.
Record GST revenues in April 2021
  • The story: It came in as a pleasant surprise when April 2021 revenues from the GST hit an all-time high, surpassing the previous month’s record.
  • Why so high: In April 2020, GST collections had dipped to a mere Rs.32,172 crore due to the national lockdown that affected all economic activities. Then, in October 2020, GST revenues was Rs.1.05 lakh crore and since then there was a steady increase with hopes of a sustained recovery. In April 2021, revenues from the GST was Rs.1,41,384 crore, surpassing the previous month’s record of about Rs.1.24 lakh crore. This was driven by the transactions in previous month, due to heightened economic activity.
  1. The rising COVID-19 cases and the fear of an impending lockdown could have driven people to make advance purchases in anticipation.
  2. Firms in the process of closing annual accounts may have remitted higher GST based on audit advice.
  3. Gradual tightening of the compliance regime, pro-active co-ordinated probes against taxpayers using fake bills to evade liabilities has also played a significant role.
  4. Perhaps a large part was contributed due to GST earned on medical supplies, procured in large quantities by hospitals and citizens due to the raging pandemic
  • What lies ahead: Going by the limited restrictions imposed in several States, supply chain disruptions are not expected to be as challenging. Weakening demand will trigger a recalibration of production and investment plans. Already, major two-wheeler producers saw reduced sales when compared to March 2021. Then plants began to shut down in order to reduce inventory build-ups. Rating agency CRISIL warned of several indicators sliding since mid-April, including GST e-way bills which fell by over 6% for two weeks in a row. As per IHS Markit, manufacturing orders’ growth hit an eight-month low in April.
  • Lockdown demanded: The pandemic surge and desperate shortage of health infrastructure have prompted industry leaders to pitch for a stringent lockdown. It is hard to expect GST and other tax revenues to stay robust until government gets a better grip on infections and vaccinations.
  • Summary: The Centre must convene the GST Council for its next meeting, and look into rationalisation of GST rate slabs, and rearrange the rates on critical pandemic supplies and the address the issue of bringing fuel under GST. It must begin release the shortfalls in GST compensation to States.

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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
Natural Gas and India's net zero targets
  • The story: The world is focusing on net zero carbon targets as a way to mitigating climate change. India is also contemplating the concept of “net zero carbon emissions” and the appropriate target year for achieving it.
  • From fossil fuels to green fuels: In this pursuit, India must first “green” its fossil fuel energy basket. This is possible by increasing the share of natural gas (NG). But the natural gas economy requires policy reforms cutting across all segments of the natural gas value chain from production (domestic and international) to transportation (pipeline and LNG) to markets (current and emergent) to commercial (pricing, taxation) and regulatory issues.
  • Natural gas: NG has multiple uses and it is the “greenest” of all fossil fuels. It is abundantly available in and within the Indian subcontinent. It is a feasible prospect because it will not generate the headwinds due to shutting down of coal mines. It will not require industries to invest heavily in retrofitting their systems. It will allow the government to meet its objective of providing secure and affordable energy to everyone without degrading the environment. The average global share of fossil fuels in the energy basket is 84% which is even more for India. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), India is the world's third largest consumer of oil. Dependence on coal and oil needs to be reduced and natural gas has to be replaced as much as possible.
  • Challenges associated with NG: There are many -
  1. Distortions in pricing - The pricing of natural gas is based on multiple price formulae. There is differential pricing for gas produced from domestic fields by the public sector companies and private companies. There also is differential pricing for production from deep waters offshore under high temperature etc. To build competitive pricing is tough in this scenario.
  2. Regressive taxation: It is a cascading structure so that the tax rates increase as the gas flows from one zone to another. This means that customers located at a distance from the source of gas pay a higher price than those closer to the source. The result is the dampening of demand. Gas is out of GST.
  3. Conflict-of-interest: The Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) is currently engaged in the production, transportation and marketing of gas. This allows GAIL to leverage its ownership of the bulk of the gas pipelines to deny its competitors access to the market. Countries have tackled this conflict-of-interest situation by separating the upstream (production/import) and downstream (marketing) interests from transportation.
  4. Centre-States issue: Completion of a national pipeline grid gets affected due to clashes between Centre and state over issues like land acquisition, pipeline routing; and royalty payments. Centre-state differences have also delayed the construction of import facilities and the creation of gas markets.
  • Summary: A key aspect of ensuring market reforms to boost gas economy, would be deregulation of pricing for domestically produced gas. It will allow freedom to price and market domestic gas and in turn boost domestic production, making it more viable for players to invest. The market-determined and affordable pricing would also boost industrial growth and economic competitiveness. These markets have greatly benefited from factors such as open access to infrastructure, system operator, unbundled marketing and transport functions and market-friendly transport access and tariff besides strong pipeline infrastructure. The institutional mechanism should be created to enable better coordination between the central and state governments. Through ensuring price benchmarks, it will drive competition across the value chain and stimulate investments in exploration and production along with downstream infrastructure. Factors such as inclusion under GST and an overarching regulatory framework will also play an important role in boosting the overall gas markets.

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

How China contained the deadly Coronavirus
    • India emulating China: The Indian PM in a speech called for a decentralised decision-making in containing the pandemic on the lines of China’s model. The world saw the draconian lockdowns China did in early 2020, and the near total opening-up of its economy in 2021.
    • How China did it: The epidemic was seen as a significant threat to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party and all party resources were mobilised to tackle this challenge. At the grassroots, the residential committees (RCs) played a significant role. Initially they were mandated to perform some administrative tasks, assist government agencies with maintaining public surveillance, health and sanitation, care for the elderly, etc. They are instrumental for the party’s for effective governance and political control. At the outbreak of the epidemic, these RCs soon took charge.
    • Residential Committees' response: In Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic outbreak, Community workers strictly enforced rules of entry and exit. No residents were allowed to leave and no non-residents were allowed to access the community area other than for essential medical needs or epidemic control operations.
    1. Volunteers were assigned shifts at the gates of the communities and checked access passes. They made calls to residents asking about family members’ health and status, knocked on residents’ doors to conduct regular temperature checks, gather information about travel history, etc. They provided home delivery of daily food necessities to people in self-quarantine and elderly residents.
    2. They also did other essential tasks -tracing contact, registering each individual, placing sick persons under community management and transferring them to designated medical facilities for quarantine.    
    3. Provisions were made to benefit the workers by providing subsidies, provision of health equipment, insurance, publicity and other institutional support. Despite some challenges, the epidemic has been successfully contained in Wuhan and elsewhere in China which gave much hope to others.
    • What India may do: Many urban areas have residential associations and local governments that can act like RCs in China. This has to be done with a centralised plan of action, which is the key aspect of China model. There have to be clear channels to pass down resources and authority from central to local organisations. Volunteers can be mobilised information dissemination, service delivery and to promote social distancing. Youth can form small committees to ensure adherence to COVID-19 restrictions. States should decide on lockdowns and other measures needed to contain the pandemic.
    • Learnings: Indian states should not be left with the sole responsibility of handling the pandemic, else it will only increase policy incoherence and unequal access to states with different fiscal capacities and healthcare infrastructure. The need of the hour is for the central leadership to step up and coordinate policy measures across the country.
    • Summary: India's economic trajectory will be severely compromised if the pandemic is not brought under control soon enough. No leader at any level in India, now, can escape responsibility from contributing to pandemic control.

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

    Summary of Vande Bharat Mission 2020
    • The story: The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), which started repatriating Indians stranded abroad due to Covid-19 and the resultant lockdowns since May 2020, has been one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country. It comes close to the remarkable 1990 airlift of Indians from Kuwait, carried out from August 13, 1990 to October 20, 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait.
    • Points to note: The VBM has many firsts to its credit -
    1. It was the biggest civilian evacuation exercise in recent years, to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad amidst the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions. It almost surpassed the large-scale airlift of 1,77,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War.
    2. The mission is undergoing its 10th phase and has carried 32 lakh passengers approximately both inbound and outbound. The National carrier Air India, alongwith its budget carrier Air India Express (AIE) carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission.
    3. AIE used its fleet to lift agricultural products, mainly fruits and vegetables (the most sought-after items among the NRI Indians), to West Asian countries, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
    4. Besides, helping distressed rural farmers and the NRIs, the aim of the mission is to keep the supply chain intact. While overseas Indians from as many as 93 countries have availed repatriation through the VBM, the government has entered into special travel arrangements called ‘air travel bubbles’ with 18 different countries so far.
    5. Transport bubbles or air travel arrangements are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the pandemic. It allows carriers of both the countries to fly passengers either way without any restrictions. Reciprocal in nature, the bilateral pact aims to benefit airlines from both countries with faster repatriations.
    6. Due to a recent spurt in Covid-19 cases in the country and many countries of late, the intensity went down.
    • Other Civilian rescue missions:
    1. Evacuation from the Gulf (1990-91) - Until the recent VBM, India's evacuation of civilians from Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf war had been the world's largest evacuation exercise of civilians by air. More than 1,77,000 Indians were caught in the war which left millions homeless and many dead. Air India, at that time, operated around 500 flights over two months.
    2. Operation Raahat - Launched by the Indian Armed Forces to evacuate 4,640 Indian citizens and 960 foreign nationals of 41 countries from Yemen during the 2015 Yemen crisis, the evacuation took place both by sea and the air.
    3. Operation Maitri - The rescue and relief operation was carried out by the government of India and Indian armed forces in the aftermath of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. The Indian Armed Forces evacuated around 5,188 persons, while nearly 785 foreign tourists were provided transit visas.
    4. Operation Safe Homecoming - It was launched by the Indian government on 26th February, 2011 to evacuate its citizens, fleeing from the Libyan Civil War. The air-sea operation was conducted by the Indian Navy and Air India. Around 15,000 civilians were rescued in the operation.
    5. Operation Sukoon - It was an operation carried out by the Indian Navy to evacuate Indian, Sri Lankan and Nepalese nationals, from the conflict zone during the 2006 Lebanon War. It was one of the largest evacuations conducted by the Indian Navy in which a total of 2,280 people were evacuated.

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      • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
    Muslim Women’s Right to initiate divorce
    • The story: A judgement of a division Bench of the Kerala High Court clarified the Muslim women’s right to initiate divorce.
    • Current options for Muslim women: One of the methods is divorce by mutual consent, through the process called 'Mubaarat'. Another right of a Muslim woman to divorce is by way of Khula, wherein she decides to terminate the marriage. This process may be called wife-initiated Talaq.
    1. (a) So far the Ulemas, particularly of the Hanafi School, have interpreted that Khula can be exercised only when the husband accedes to the wife’s request.
    2. (b) Without the intervention of courts, a Muslim woman can unilaterally divorce her husband, only if, by contract, he has delegated the right to divorce to his wife. If he refuses, the woman has no option but to approach courts of law under the provisions set out in the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act of 1939.
    • The present case: A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court was dealing with the issue of conditions in “Khula”, divorce initiated by the wife. The legal issue before the Court was - whether a Muslim wife, on deciding to leave the marriage for reasons that she feels are appropriate, has the right to pronounce unilateral extra-judicial divorce through Khula against her husband.
    • Court's observations: Compelling the wife to go to court for Khula undermines the right guaranteed to her in the personal law. The personal law is largely based on two primary sources - the Quran and Hadith (words or actions of the Prophet). Interpreting applicable verses of the Quran, the court said that the right of Khula is an unconditional right of the woman. The court draws an analogy from the right of the husband to pronounce unilateral Talaq, to say that both are of similar nature, and added that the husband’s approval as a condition in Khula is not correct. The judgment proceeded to clarify that the right to pronounce Khula is an “absolute right” conferred on the married Muslim woman. No specific reasons are required to invoke it, once there is a declaration from the wife for repudiation or termination of a marriage. The only thing the wife must do before the pronouncement of Khula is to undertake efforts of reconciliation. This is the same like how a man is obliged to, before pronouncing husband-initiated Talaq, as declared in the Shamim Ara Judgment of the Supreme Court (2002).
    • Shortcomings: A reading of the judgment suggests that despite clear suggestions regarding the absoluteness of the wife’s right to invoke Khula, she is still required to approach the court. Earlier, she could approach the court under the 1939 Act. But according to this judgment, this is available only for Faskh-e-Nikah, (loosely translated as annulment or dissolution of marriage by a judicial or quasi-judicial authority.) According to the judgment, after pronouncing Khula, the wife takes recourse under the Family Courts Act, 1984 instead of the Act of 1939.
    • Summary: The court process shall be a summary proceeding to declare the right of the wife. If the husband wants to contest the validity of such an invocation, he shall be free to do so as per law, through a separate proceeding. But if we read the grounds for the dissolution of marriage in the 1939 Act, they are of mixed nature. They are not exclusively for the annulment of marriage. It declares that it could be used for any other ground which is recognised as valid for dissolution of marriage under Muslim law. This is important because, in legal parlance, the terms “annulment” and “dissolution” attract different legal consequences. Here, the High Court is unclear when it says that the 1939 Act will be used only for Faskh-e-Nikah.

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      • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
    Corona variant nomenclature & classification
    • The story: India’s Health Ministry said that a new double mutant variant of the coronavirus was detected in addition to many other strains or Variants of Concern (VOCs) found in 18 states in the country.
    • Points to note:
    1. Virus variant - Variants of a virus have one or more mutations that differentiate it from the other variants that are in circulation. While most mutations are deleterious for the virus, some make it easier for the virus to survive. The SARS-CoV-2 (Corona) virus is evolving fast because of the scale at which it has infected people around the world. High levels of circulation mean it is easier for the virus to change as it is able to replicate faster. The original pandemic virus (founder variant) was Wu.Hu.1 (Wuhan virus). In a few months, variant D614G emerged and became globally dominant.
    2. Classification - The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies variants into three categories - (i) Variant of Interest (VOI) - A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity. An example of VOI is the B.1.617 variant of the virus which has two mutations, referred to as E484Q and L452R. This variant is classified as a VOI by the World Health Organization (WHO) as well. Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but they have been reported together for the first time in India. (ii) Variant of Concern (VOC) - A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., 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. The B.1.1.7 (UK variant), B.1.351 (South Africa Variant), P.1 (Brazil Variant), B.1.427, and B.1.429 variants circulating in the US are classified as VOCs. (iii) Variant of High Consequence - A variant of high consequence has clear evidence that prevention measures or medical countermeasures have significantly reduced effectiveness relative to previously circulating variants. So far, the CDC has not found variants of high consequence in circulation in the US.
    • Variants Under Investigation (VUI): Public Health England (PHE) says that if the variants of SARS-CoV-2 are considered to have epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, they are raised for formal investigation. At this point, the variants emerging from the B.1.617 lineage are designated as VUI.
    • Nomenclature:
    1. Phylogenetic Assignment of Global Outbreak Lineages (PANGOLIN) - It was developed to implement the dynamic nomenclature of SARS-CoV-2 lineages, known as the Pango nomenclature, and uses a hierarchical system based on genetic relatedness – an invaluable tool for genomic surveillance. It uses alphabets (A, B, C, P) and numerals starting with 1. Variant lineages are at the emerging edge of the pandemic in different geographies. Lineage B is the most prolific.
    2. Concerns with variants - In many countries, including India, variants, by virtue of increased transmissibility, have kicked off new wave(s) of epidemic transmission. Regarding virulence (propensity to cause severe/life-threatening disease), the UK variant is worse. The South Africa and Brazil variants do not seem to have higher virulence. The third concern is regarding the immunity cover offered by vaccination using antigens made from D614G variant — which applies to most vaccines in current use. Lowered efficacy of vaccines was found more with the South African and less with the Brazil variant. Hence, reinfection can occur in spite of immunity by earlier D614G infection or vaccination. Vaccine efficacy may be lower now than what was determined in phase-3 trials as VOC were not then widely prevalent. Fortunately, mRNA vaccines have broader immunity for different reasons, and they protect better against these two variants.
    3. Possible solution - Karolinska Institute in Sweden has created an antigen using new variant RBD (Receptor Binding Domain) peptide with adjuvant, and inoculated monkeys already primed with an older vaccine. A RBD is a short immunogenic fragment from a virus that binds to a specific endogenous receptor sequence to gain entry into host cells. An adjuvant is a substance that enhances the immune system's response to the presence of an antigen. The resultant booster response was not only high but also broad, covering new variants. This approach, called ‘hetero boosting’ by a different vaccine, offers a way to manage the ‘vaccine-escape’ variants until newer vaccines become available.
    • Summary: The pandemic has shown the critical importance of biomedical research and capacity building – for saving lives and economic growth. We need a foundation of broad-based research, in universities, medical colleges and biotechnology companies, all of which must be funded, encouraged, appreciated, and talent rewarded. While some endeavours have been initiated, they must take off in a big way, and India must invest heavily in biosciences. After a decade, its products and profit will make us healthier and wealthier.

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      • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
    State Assemblies - representation of youth and women
    • The story: The 2021 elections for three state assemblies - West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - show less numbers of women and youth Member of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs).
    • Age mismatch: The data of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections also showed that the participation of women was low. According to a list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 2019, India ranks 153 out of 190 nations in the percentage of women in the lower house of world parliaments. India is young but its leaders are not. The country’s median age is 29. The average parliamentarian is 55 years old! The disconnect couldn't be any starker.
    • Reasons for less women MLAs: Lack of education is one of the main hurdles in making women politically empowered. Uneven distribution of household work between men and women is also one of the important factors in this regard. The lack of openness in political decision-making and undemocratic internal processes pose a challenge for all newcomers, but particularly for women as they tend to lack insider knowledge or political networks. Due to their low proportion in the inner political party structure of India, women fail to gather resources and support for nurturing their political constituencies. Then, women do not get adequate financial support from the political parties to contest the elections. The social and cultural norms imposed on women bar them from entering politics. Overall the political parties’ environment too is not women-friendly, they have to struggle hard and face multi-dimensional issues to create space for them in the party.
    • Reasons for less youth MLAs: Political parties believe that the youth, having not seen enough of life, are unprepared for the demands of top-flight politics. They also fear that Indian electors who respect older politicians will not take young candidates seriously. Key party decision makers, typically veterans, do not want to yield space. Politicians use muscle and money power to prevent entry of good people to enter politics. The chances of failure are high and very few people become successful. General perception of a common man about a politician is someone who is deceptive and corrupt. So people from well to do fields tend to avoid themselves being listed in categories of politicians. Many fail to enter due to dirty politics and due to fear of harm to good image. Unethical practices have become the norm in politics. Sadly, nepotism plays a major role and many youth who become successful politicians belong to influential political families. Rising campaign spending and rotational reservation in municipal, panchayat and mayoral elections have created barriers to upward movement for aspiring young politicians.
    • Related initiatives:
    1. The Women's Reservation Bill 2008 - It proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 1/3rd of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women.
    2. Reservation for Women in Panchayati Raj Institutions - Clause (3) of Article 243D of the Constitution ensures participation of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions by mandating not less than one- third reservation for women out of total number of seats to be filled by direct election and number of offices of chairpersons of Panchayats.
    3. National Youth Parliament Festival - It is organised by National Service Scheme (NSS) and Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) under the aegis of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to hear the voice of youth in this age bracket of 18-25 who are allowed to vote but cannot contest in elections.
    4. National Youth Parliament Scheme - The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has been implementing the Youth Parliament programme since 1966. To strengthen the roots of democracy, inculcate healthy habits of discipline, tolerance of the view of others and to enable the student community to know about practices and procedures of the Parliament.
    • Summary: To have an equal participation of all sections of society in mainstream political activity is crucial. India can consider legally-backed youth and women quotas which could be in the form of either seats exclusively (and rotationally) reserved for youth and women or a specified proportion of young candidates all registered parties contesting an election must field. Municipal and panchayat polls should give rise to leaders who have experience at the ground level. Such leaders, after some experience, should be able to run for state and eventually the central legislative seats. Promoting Inner party democracy, where in a democratic political party the various positions like president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer etc are filled by the election process.

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

      The flop SUTRA Covid prediction model
      • What it is: SUTRA is 'Susceptible, Undetected, Tested (positive) and Removed Approach'. It was used to chart the trajectory of COVID-19, and to predict the future of COVID-19 infections, susceptibility, undetected and positive persons in the country. This SUTRA Model is backed by GoI and was developed by professors from IIT Kanpur, IIT Hyderabad.
      • It just flopped: The SUTRA model predicted in March 2021, that the second wave of COVID-19 is to peak in the third week of April. Also, it is likely to add one lakh cases per day. There are reports claiming that attention was not paid to this. According to Ministry of Science and Technology, these predictions were incorrect. The scientists who developed the model have come forward to explain that these claims are incorrect as the model can predict the future only if the virus dynamics and its transmissibility do not change. In case of COVID-19, the nature of the virus has been changing continuously.
      • Many other flaws: The model was incapable to predict the future under different scenarios. However, its predictions till February 2021 fitted in perfectly. Unlike other models that extrapolated (to predict by projecting the past experiences) cases based on behaviour of the virus, existing number of cases, and the manner of spread, SUTRA chose “Data Centric Approach”. The calibrations made were not correct. The calibrations of the model relied on the Serosurvey conducted by ICMR in May 2021. According to the survey, 0.73% of the Indian population were infected with Corona Virus, which is not correct.
      1. The equation that gave out the estimates of number of future infections and when a peak may occur needed constants. These constants relied on number of infections being reported at various intervals. The equations couldn’t say when the constants changed. Bottom line, the model failed to report rapid acceleration of cases in advance.
      2. The SUTRA Model was problematic as it relied on too many parameters. Too many parameters put the model into the danger of “overfitting”.
      3. It did not include the fact that some people were the bigger transmitters of the virus such as barbers or receptionists.
      • Summary: Makers of the model proudly boasted on Twitter in March 2021 that 'there won't be any second wave in India'. Later, they expressed no remorse either, and continued printing fancy-looking charts.

      Millisecond Pulsars discovered
      • The story: A group of astronomers has discovered 8 millisecond pulsars. These pulsars are located within the dense clusters of stars called the “Globular Clusters”. The Pulsars were discovered using the MeerKAT telescope located in South Africa.
      • Milli second pulsars: These are the most compact stars known to mankind. They spin up to 700 times per second. They are much rarer than the slower spinning pulsars. The Milli second pulsars are those pulsars whose rotational period is less than ten milli seconds.
      • Details: The Milli second pulsars are made of neutrons, and are the most extreme objects in the universe with a diameter of about 24 kilometres. Their mass is hundreds of thousands of times the mass of the earth, and emit beams of radio waves. This pulsar discovery is the first using MeerKAT telescope. It comes from two international collaborations TRAPUM and MeerTIME. The discovery will help the Globular Cluster Pulsar Survey of TRAPUM.
      • How discovered: The astronomers directed the telescope towards nine globular clusters and they discovered new pulsars in six of them. Of these, six of them orbit around another star. A pulsar is a neutron star, packed with the mass of at least 1.4 times the mass of the sun. They are formed from the explosive deaths of their parent star. Due to their strong magnetic fields the Pulsar emits radio waves at each pole.

      India-UK Roadmap 2030 and Enhanced Trade Partnership
      • The story: Indian PM Modi and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a virtual bilateral summit. During the summit, the leaders adopted an ambitious “Roadmap 2030”. This will help to elevate the bilateral ties between the countries.
      • Details: India and UK agreed to work closely in the development of India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Mark 2. They will work together to ensure ambitious outcome at the COP26. The roadmap will expand India-UK health partnership. It includes vaccines, supply chains, other medical products. The leaders agreed to remove the trade barriers between the countries and begin the negotiations of Free Trade Agreement. It is to be noted that India and European Union had been trying to sign the Free Trade Agreement for a long time. They are yet to finalise the negotiations. Now after Brexit, UK is free to sign the agreement with India.
      • MDA: They agreed on a new cooperation on Maritime Domain Awareness. This includes new agreements on maritime information sharing, invitation to the UK to join the Information Fusion Centre of India in Gurgaon. The countries are working on Logistics Memorandum of Understanding. They highlighted their commitments on the Indo-Pacific.
      • History: The 2030 vision was based on the re-energising trade, investment and technological collaboration between the countries.

      Oktoberfest
      • The story: Oktoberfest is an annual festival celebrated in the month of October for two weeks in Munich, Germany. Recently, the German Government announced that the celebrations of Oktoberfest have been cancelled due to COVID-19. This is the second consecutive year the celebrations are being cancelled in Germany.
      • What happens: It is a 16-to-18-day festival that is celebrated in the month of September-October, with more than six million people from all over the world participating. It is called d’Wiesen locally, and is a part of the Bavarian culture. It is being celebrated in the country since 1810.
      • Drink and be merry: During the festival, large quantities of Beer are consumed. In 2013, more than 7.7 million litres were served. It was originally celebrated for a duration of sixteen days. After 1994, that is, after German unification this was changed. The festival ends on the first Sunday of October usually. However, after unification of Germany, this was extended to October 3 if the first Sunday falls on October first or October second. October 3 is celebrated as German Unity Day. The official ground where the festival is called Theresienwiese. It is an open space of 420,000 square metres. It is named after the Princess Therese.
      • History: The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the celebrations of King Ludwig I wedding with Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. King Ludwig later became King Louis I. He stayed in power till the March revolution or the 1848 revolutions. During the wedding, a parade took place and it has become an annual event sine then.

      9.1 Today's best editorials to read
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        • SECTION 3 - MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions)

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      PT's IAS Academy: Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 05-05-2021
      Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 05-05-2021
      Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 05-05-2021
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