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Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1

 

Current Affairs UPSC CSE

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Nov Week 1

NATIONAL

New map of J&K and Ladakh released

Context : Following the official bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into the two Union Territories (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the Survey of India has come out with new maps of India and the Jammu and Kashmir region.

What the map depicts?

  • The new maps show the two UTs clearly demarcated, and while Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir’s Muzaffarabad and Mirpur areas have been kept as part of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, Kargil and Gilgit and Baltistan have been shown as part of Ladakh UT.
  • The President, too, issued an order recently identifying Leh, Kargil, Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory of 1947 as part of the Ladakh UT.
  • It also said that the Survey of India had prepared new maps of India on the basis of the presidential order.
  • The two UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were announced on August 5 by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament but were formally created on October 31.

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1Reorganization of the areas

  • According to the MHA, in 1947, the former State of Jammu and Kashmir had the following 14 districts — Kathua, Jammu, Udhampur, Reasi, Anantnag, Baramulla, Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Leh and Ladakh, Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory.
  • By 2019, the state government of former Jammu and Kashmir had reorganised the areas of these 14 districts into 28 districts. The names of the new districts were — Kupwara, Bandipur, Ganderbal, Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Shupian, Kulgam, Rajouri, Ramban, Doda, Kishtivar, Samba and Kargil.
  • Out of these, Kargil district was carved out from the area of Leh and Ladakh district.

Falling labour productivity of India

Context: An analysis done by India Ratings and Research of Annual Survey of Industries data on India’s labour productivity growth in the organised manufacturing sector shows a disappointing trend.

What is labour productivity?

  • Broadly speaking, productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which resources, both human and material, are converted into goods and services.
  • Besides land and capital, labour productivity plays a crucial role in deciding the rate of economic growth.
  • Indeed, India Ratings report points out that globally labour productivity growth alone accounted for about two-thirds of the gross domestic product (GDP) growth during FY01-FY10, leaving only one-third to labour/employment growth.

Why India’s labour productivity is falling?

  • Labour productivity is crucially dependent on businesses investing in knowledge and innovation even as the governments bring about structural reforms that enable such investments to bear fruit.
  • According to Indian Ratings, “a lot needs to be done quickly both on the policy front as well as companies’ level because productivity is the most powerful engine of driving and sustaining manufacturing growth, and making the sector globally competitive”.

Other findings of the study

  • There are two other crucial results from the analysis.
    • One, that between financial years 2001 and 2018, the capital intensity — that is, fixed capital used per worker — in India’s organised manufacturing has been rising.
    • Two, notwithstanding this rise in capital intensity, the output intensity — that is, the value of output per fixed capital — has actually declined over the same period.
  • In other words, while more and more capital is being used per unit of labour, it is not yielding commensurate level of output growth.

 

Glyphosate-based herbicides case

Context: German pharma company Bayer is facing thousands of lawsuits over one of its products. It is said that 42,700 plaintiffs in the US are blaming Bayer’s herbicides for their cancer, up from 18,400 plaintiffs in July this year. In August, a jury in California said that Monsanto (the company which Bayer acquired in 2018), should have warned of the alleged cancer risks. Bayer as claiming, however, that it has strong support from US farmers who want the company to keep the product.

What are these herbicides?

  • The herbicides are based on a compound called glyphosate. First developed in 1970, glyphosate is scientifically N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine under the IUPAC system of nomenclature.
  • It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill weeds. It is widely used in India, too.
  • According to a 2016 bulletin published by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the weedkiller in India goes by various brand names, including Roundup, Glycel, and Brake.
  • Describing the herbicide’s reach in the country, it says, “Glyphosate was highly accepted by the tea planters in the past two decades. It has a very good market size in the tea sector of West Bengal and Assam.
  • Presently, the consumption of glyphosate is highest in Maharas(h)tra as it is becoming a key herbicide in sugarcane, maize and many fruit crops including mango, banana, grapes, pomegranate and citrus.” 

What is the worry?

  • In 2015, the Word Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer published a study that found glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Activists have been campaignig against glyphosate-based products.
  • The harmful effects of Glyphosate on human health are yet to be established as the World Health Organization has not issued any advisory.
  • France, Italy, and Vietnam banned the herbicide’s use after the IARC finding.

The case in the US

  • In August 2018, a jury in California said that Monsanto (the company which Bayer acquired in 2018), should have warned of the alleged cancer risks. Since then, litigation against the company gathered pace.
  • It is reported that analysts were predicting a future settlement in the $8-12 billion range (approximately between Rs 57,000 and Rs 85,000 crore).

Draft Wage Rules

Context: The draft rules that would govern wages, including norms for minimum wages and fixing floor-level wages, were published by the Union Labour and Employment Ministry recently, leading some workers’ unions to raise concerns about the potentially low floor wages.

The Code on Wages

  • As part of its labour law reform agenda, the Narendra Modi government had in July introduced the Code on Wages, 2019 in Parliament, which passed it in August.
  • The code, which subsumed four laws regarding payment of wages, equal pay, payment of bonus and minimum wages, got the President’s assent on August 8.
  • The rules drafted under the code were published by the Ministry on Friday and opened up for public comments for one month.

What will be the criteria?

  • For coming up with minimum wages, the criterion would be a standard working class family of one earning worker, a spouse and two children — equivalent to three adult consumption units that would have a net intake of 2,700 calories per unit per day.
  • Under the criterion, the family would be entitled to 66 metres of cloth per year; housing rent expenditure of 10% of the food and clothing expense; fuel, electricity and other miscellaneous items of 20% of the minimum wage; and 25% of the minimum wage for expenditure on children’s education, medical needs, recreation and contingencies.
  • While the code will extend minimum wage protection to a large section of workers, including in the unorganised sector, it will not provide for a single minimum wage.

IndiGen Project

Context: The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recently announced the conclusion of a six-month exercise (from April 2019) of conducting a “whole-genome sequence” of a 1,008 Indians. The project is part of a programme called “IndiGen” and is also seen as a precursor to a much larger exercise involving other government departments to map a larger swathe of the population in the country. Project proponents say this will widen public understanding in India about genomes and the information that genes hide about one’s susceptibility to disease.

What is whole genome sequencing?

  • A genome is the DNA, or sequence of genes, in a cell. Most of the DNA is in the nucleus and intricately coiled into a structure called the chromosome.
  • The rest is in the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse. Every human cell contains a pair of chromosomes, each of which has three billion base pairs or one of four molecules that pair in precise ways.
  • The order of base pairs and varying lengths of these sequences constitute the “genes”, which are responsible for making amino acids, proteins and, thereby, everything that is necessary for the body to function.
  • It is when these genes are altered or mutated that proteins sometimes do not function as intended, leading to disease.
  • Sequencing a genome means deciphering the exact order of base pairs in an individual. This “deciphering” or reading of the genome is what sequencing is all about.
  • It has been known that the portion of the genes responsible for making proteins — called the exome — occupies about 1% of the actual gene.
  • Rather than sequence the whole gene, many geneticists rely on “exome maps” (that is the order of exomes necessary to make proteins).
  • However, it has been established that the non-exome portions also affect the functioning of the genes and that, ideally, to know which genes of a person’s DNA are “mutated” the genome has to be mapped in its entirety.
  • While India, led by the CSIR, first sequenced an Indian genome in 2009, it is only now that the organisation’s laboratories have been able to scale up whole-genome sequencing and offer them to the public.

What are the costs?

  • Anyone looking for a free mapping of their entire genome can sign up for “IndiGen”.
  • Those who get their genes mapped will get a card and access to an app which will allow them and doctors to access information on whether they harbour gene variants that are reliably known to correlate with genomes with diseases.
  • However, there is no guarantee of a slot, as the scientists involved in the exercise say there is already a backlog.
  • The project is free in so far as the CSIR scientists have a certain amount of money at their disposal.
  • The driving motive of the project is to understand the extent of genetic variation in Indians, and learn why some genes — linked to certain diseases based on publications in international literature — do not always translate into disease.
  • Once such knowledge is established, the CSIR expects to tie up with several pathology laboratories who can offer commercial gene testing services.

Adjusted Gross Revenues

Context: Recently, in a strongly-worded order, the Supreme Court of India upheld the Department of Telecom (DoT)’s interpretation of “adjusted gross revenue” (AGR), which came as a huge blow to telecom service providers. Following the order, the telcos are now staring at dues of an estimated ₹1.4 lakh crore, which needs to be paid to the government within three months. Most industry players and analysts have argued that the payout of the huge amount could be the final straw for the already distressed sector.

Why is AGR important?

  • The definition of AGR has been under litigation for 14 years.
  • While telecom companies argued that it should comprise revenue from telecom services, the DoT’s stand was that the AGR should include all revenue earned by an operator, including that from non-core telecom operations.
  • The AGR directly impacts the outgo from the pockets of telcos to the DoT as it is used to calculate the levies payable by operators.
  • Currently, telecom operators pay 8% of the AGR as licence fee, while spectrum usage charges (SUC) vary between 3-5% of AGR. 

Why do telcos need to pay out large amounts?

  • Telecom companies now owe the government not just the shortfall in AGR for the past 14 years but also an interest on that amount along with penalty and interest on the penalty.
  • While the exact amount telcos will need to shell out is not clear, as in a government affidavit filed in the top court, the DoT had calculated the outstanding licence fee to be over ₹92,000 crore.
  • However, the actual payout can go up to ₹1.4 lakh crore as the government is likely to also raise a demand for shortfall in SUC along with interest and penalty.
  • Of the total amount, it is estimated that the actual dues is about 25%, while the remaining amount is interest and penalties.
  • The total amount to the government is owed by about 15 operators. However, 10 of them have either closed operations or are undergoing insolvency proceedings in the last 14 years.
  • The least impacted by the Supreme Court order in the private sector is the relatively new entrant in the market, Reliance Jio.

The Stress in Telecom sector

  • The telecom industry is reeling under a debt of over ₹4 lakh crore and has been seeking a relief package from the government.
  • Even the government has on various occasions admitted that the sector is indeed undergoing stress and needs support.
  • Giving a ray of hope to the telecom companies, the government recently announced setting up of a Committee of Secretaries to examine the financial stress in the sector, and recommend measures to mitigate it. The move came a few days after the Supreme Court ruling.
  • The Committee of Secretaries, headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, will have Secretaries of Ministries of Finance, Telecommunication and Law, among others as members and look at “all aspects” of the financial stress.
  • It will also consider some of the long-standing demands of the industry, including granting a delay in payment of dues for spectrum for the next two financial years (2020-21 and 2021-22).
  • This move alone is expected to help telcos avoid an immediate outflow of over ₹42,000 crore, thereby increasing short-term liquidity.
  • The committee will also look at demand of a reduction in the SUC and universal service obligation fund levy.
  • Interestingly, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may also simultaneously examine the merits of a “minimum charge” that operators may charge for voice and data services.
  • Currently, telecom tariffs are among the lowest globally, driven down due to intense competition following the entry of Reliance Jio in the sector.

Way Forward

  • All the hopes of the industry are now pinned on measures the government announces as part of the relief package for the sector.
  • On the AGR-related dues, the operators have said that they are seeking clarity from the government on the total amount and have requested support to deal with this “adverse” outcome.
  • The industry body has sought waiver of the complete amount, or at the least, the interests and the penalty charges.
  • However, some experts have questioned whether the government can waive these amounts, given that the Supreme Court has explicitly said in its judgment that interest and penalty have rightly been levied.
  • The top court had held: “… we find no substance in the submission that interest, penalty, and interest on penalty cannot be realised. It is as per the agreement. In the facts and circumstances, we find no ground to reduce the same, considering the nature of untenable objections raised on behalf of the licensees.” The operators may also explore legal options and file for review.

Astrosat and the jellyfish galaxies

Context: Observations of a jelly fish galaxy, JW100, by Astrosat using its Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope have thrown up interesting puzzles. These puzzles involve star formation in hostile environments containing X-ray-emitting hot plasma. JW100 is located far away in the galaxy cluster Abell 2626. A recent work describes this analysis and poses the puzzle, vouching for the power of multiwavelength astronomy.

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1Jelly fish galaxies

  • Jellyfish galaxies are called so because they are shaped like discs that have many tentacle-like arms streaming away from the disc.
  • They are formed when a disc-shaped galaxy rams into a galaxy cluster, which is a dense region containing many hundreds or thousands of galaxies packed into a small region.
  • This can happen when the galaxy is attracted by the gravitational attraction of the cluster. As the individual galaxy rams into the galaxy cluster, the cold gas in its disc interacts with the hot plasma in the cluster.
  • Acting like a strong wind, the plasma in the cluster strips away the cold molecular gas of the disc, causing it to stream behind like tentacles.
  • Unlike usual galaxies that have stars forming in the disc, the jellyfish galaxies have star formation in the tentacles also.
  • The jellyfish galaxies’ tentacles contain a very hostile environment as they interact with the galaxy clusters that are rich in X-ray emitting hot plasma.

 Multiwavelength study

  • The jellyfish galaxies are being observed by various telescopes each sensitive to different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • The star formation in JW100 was gauged using observations of the visible (H-alpha) spectrum using the MUSE instrument of the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the ultraviolet imaging using the UVIT instrument of Astrosat.

 Puzzling behaviour

  • One of the jellyfish galaxies that UVIT has collected data about is JW100.
  • This galaxy is unusual because of its orientation. We see it edge-on so that the gas stripping can be seen perpendicular to our field of vision. It is also different from other jellyfish galaxies.
  • In other jellyfish galaxies, star formation as estimated by the H-alpha observations matches with that calculated from ultraviolet observations.
  • In JW100, there is higher contribution from H-alpha but much less from ultraviolet in the tail.
  • This could mean that other mechanisms such as shocks or thermal conduction from the hot plasma of the galaxy cluster is contributing to H-alpha emission from these regions.

Army to have first Dhanush regiment by March 2020

Context: The Army, which began inducting the indigenously upgraded Dhanush artillery guns, will have the first regiment in place by March 2020 and will get all 114 guns by 2022, Army sources said. Dhanush is the indigenously upgraded variant of the Swedish Bofors gun imported in the 1980s.

  • In April, the Ordnance Factory Board had handed over the first batch of six Dhanush guns. The Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur, received the Bulk Production Clearance from the Army on February 18, 2019.
  • Sources said the induction process was reviewed at the recently concluded Army Commanders’ Conference and “various options for the employment were discussed”.

What is Dhanush?

  • Dhanush is a 155 mm, 45-calibre towed artillery gun with a range of 36km and has demonstrated a range of 38 km with specialised ammunition.
  • It is fitted with an inertial navigation system having global positioning system-based gun recording and auto-laying, an enhanced tactical computer for on-board ballistic computations, an on-board muzzle velocity recording, an automated gun sighting system equipped with camera, thermal imaging, and laser range finder.
  • The Army recently procured 155mm Excalibur precision guided ammunition from the U.S. It is said the ammunition can be used with all 155-mm artillery guns in the inventory.

NavIC set to be commercialised by Antrix

Context: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its older commercial arm Antrix Corporation Ltd. are poised to commercialise India’s regional navigation satellite system, NavIC, with Antrix recently floating two separate tenders to identify industries that can develop dedicated NavIC-based hardware and systems.

What is NAVIC?

  • NavIC (Navigation in Indian Constellation) is the Indian system of eight satellites that is aimed at telling business and individual users where they are, or how their products and services are moving.
  • The indigenous positioning or location based service (LBS) works just like the established and popular U.S. Global Positioning System or GPS, but within a 1,500-km radius over the sub-continent.

Services provided:

  • IRNSS would provide two types of services, namely
    • Standard Positioning Services available to all users and
    • Restricted Services provided to authorised users.

What are it’s applications?

  • Terrestrial, Aerial and Marine Navigation.
  • Disaster Management.
  • Vehicle tracking and fleet management.
  • Integration with mobile phones.
  • Precise Timing.
  • Mapping and Geodetic data capture.
  • Terrestrial navigation aid for hikers and travellers.
  • Visual and voice navigation for drivers.

How many satellites does NAVIC consist of? 

  • It is a regional system and so its constellation will consist of seven satellites.
  • Three of these will be geostationaryover the Indian Ocean, i.e., they will appear to be stationary in the sky over the region, and four will be geosynchronous – appearing at the same point in the sky at the same time every day.
  • This configuration ensures each satellite is being tracked by at least one of fourteen ground stations at any given point of time, with a high chance of most of them being visible from any point in India.

Why it is necessary to have indigenous global navigation system?

  • Having a global navigation system bolsters the ability of a nation to serve as a net security provider, especially through the guarantee of such assurance policies.
  • It can also play a significant role in relief efforts post disasters such as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean region in 2004 and the Pakistan-India earthquake in 2005.

 Other countries having their positioning system

  • The GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system that is owned by the United States government and operated by the United States Air Force.
  • Apart from GPS, there is GLONASS of Russia, Galileo of the European Union and BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (or BDS) of China.

When did India get its navigation system?

  • India got its system with the launch of the IRNSS 1-G satellite, is the seventh member of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), in November 2017.
  • Its launch completed a constellation of satellites in geosynchronous and geostationary orbits that gave Indian civilian and military users, and their partners, access to a dedicated satellite navigation system that was not be dependent on foreign governments or suppliers.
  • The total cost of the IRNSS mission Rs 1,420 crore.

Way ahead

  • Antrix’s Chairman and Managing Director S. Rakesh said the company was currently identifying suitable device manufacturers on the one side and comprehensive integrators of NavIC-based systems (SIs) on the other.
  • Eligible manufacturers from the two sets would be empanelled so that they could bid for government projects that require monitoring of moving assets and fleet.
  • Another important development for NavIC was the certification of the Indian system by the 3GPP (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project), a global body for coordinating mobile telephony standards.
  • The specifications will be available in March 2020 and the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India has said it would adopt them as a national standard.

National Health Stack and National Health Bluprint

Context: With the launch last year of Ayushman Bharat, the world’s largest state-funded health insurance programme, and the slow but certain progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the challenge of making quality and affordable healthcare accessible to every one of India’s 135 crore citizens has acquired an altogether new dimension. Effective use of technology is critical to this project — this is where the National Health Stack and its rulebook of sorts, the National Digital Health Blueprint, drawn up by a committee led by the former UIDAI chairman and Communications and I-T secretary J Satyanarayana, comes in.

What is the National Health Stack (NHS)?

  • Unveiled by the NITI Aayog last year, NHS is digital infrastructure built with the aim of making the health insurance system more transparent and robust, while factoring in the uniqueness of India’s health sector, and the political realities of federalism. There are five components of NHS:
    • An electronic national health registry that would serve as a single source of health data for the nation;
    • a coverage and claims platform that would serve as the building blocks for large health protection schemes, allow for the horizontal and vertical expansion of schemes like Ayushman Bharat by states, and enable a robust system of fraud detection;
    • a federated personal health records (PHR) framework that would serve the twin purposes of access to their own health data by patients, and the availability of health data for medical research, which is critical for advancing the understanding of human health;
    • a national health analytics platform that would provide a holistic view combining information on multiple health initiatives, and feed into smart policymaking, for instance, through improved predictive analytics; and
    • other horizontal components including a unique digital health ID, health data dictionaries and supply chain management for drugs, payment gateways, etc., shared across all health programmes.

What is the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB)?

  • The NDHB is the architectural document for the implementation of the NHS. Its vision is “to create a national digital health ecosystem that supports universal health coverage in an efficient, accessible, inclusive, affordable, timely and safe manner, through provision of a wide range of data, information, and infrastructure services, duly leveraging open, interoperable, standards-based digital systems, and ensuring the security, confidentiality and privacy of health-related personal information”.
  • The key features of the blueprint include a federated architecture, a set of architectural principles, a five-layered system of architectural building blocks, a unique health ID (UHID), privacy and consent management, national portability, electronic health records, applicable standards and regulations, health analytics and, above all, multiple access channels like call centres, Digital Health India portal, and the MyHealth app.
  • A total of 23 such building blocks have been identified in the blueprint for the NHS to become a viable reality.
  • NDHB recognises the need to establish a specialised organisation, called the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) that can drive the implementation of the blueprint, and promote and facilitate the evolution of a national digital health ecosystem.

Why is the NHS necessary?

  • Currently, apart from Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, there are many secondary and tertiary care schemes running in the states — such as Swasthya Sathi in West Bengal, Aarogyasri in Telangana, Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme in Tamil Nadu, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana in Maharashtra, etc.
  • West Bengal has opted out of Ayushman Bharat, and Telangana and Odisha have never been a part of the scheme.
  • Also, there is an urgent need for integration of the two arms of Ayushman Bharat — health and wellness centres which constitute the primary care arm, and PMJAY, which is the secondary and tertiary care arm under which the target is to provide 10.74 crore families with an annual health cover of Rs 5 lakh each.
  • Without integration, the goal of continuum of care cannot be met — and that would mean PMJAY might end up becoming a perpetual drain on resources.
  • Hence, the need for a common digital language for the operationalisation and inter-operability of various health schemes, which the NHS seeks to provide.

Is the data safe?

  • One of the biggest concerns following the high-profile rollout of Ayushman Bharat has been regarding data security and privacy of patients. The concerns were aggravated after an Assam minister and a senior official of the National Health Authority posted patient details on Twitter.
  • More than a year after the Justice Srikrishna Committee prepared a draft data privacy law, there has been little meaningful movement on it.
  • Critics have argued that in the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment, the data privacy law should ideally have preceded the implementation of Ayushman Bharat.
  • The NDHB says: “The consent of the citizen plays a major role in ensuring that collection of data is done in a manner consistent with legal rights… It is also important to ensure that… the data captured is used and disclosed (in an identifiable or anonymised shape) in a manner appropriate in law and preserving the citizen-directed constraints.”

India stayed out of RCEP

Context: Recently, India decided to hold off on signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) until “significant outstanding issues” were resolved, even as all other 15 countries involved in the negotiations stated that they were ready to sign the mega trade deal in 2020. Unsatisfactory negotiations pertaining to India’s trade with China — India has an over $50 billion trade deficit — is one of the major reasons for New Delhi not joining in at this stage.

What is the RCEP?

  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade deal that was being negotiated between 16 countries. They include the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and the six countries with which the bloc has free trade agreements (FTAs) — India, Australia, China, Korea, Japan, and New Zealand.
  • The purpose of the deal is to create an “integrated market” spanning all 16 countries. This means that it would be easier for the products and services of each of these countries to be available across the entire region.
  • The RCEP is billed to be the “largest” regional trading agreement yet — the countries involved account for almost half of the world’s population, contribute over a quarter of world exports, and make up around 30% of the global Gross Domestic Product (the value of all goods and services produced in a year).
  • Negotiations to chart out the details of this deal have been on since 2013, and all participating countries had earlier aimed to finalise it by November 2019.

The Problem area

  • All the RCEP participating countries, except for India, have “concluded” text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters of the proposed deal, as well as their market access issues — and they are expected to be ready to ink the pact in 2020.
  • But India has held back because of “significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved”.
  • The deal in its present form does not fully reflect “the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP”, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What are the outstanding issues?

  • Key issues that have prevented India from coming on board include “inadequate” protection against surges in imports. This is a major concern for India, as its industry has voiced fears that cheaper products from China would “flood” the market.
  • India had been seeking an auto-trigger mechanism that would allow it to raise tariffs on products in instances where imports cross a certain threshold.
  • India has also not received any credible assurances on its demand for more market access, and its concerns over non-tariff barriers.
  • RCEP participants like China are known to have used non-tariff barriers in the past to prevent India from growing its exports to the country.
  • India had also reportedly expressed apprehensions on lowering and eliminating tariffs on several products from the country.
  • Its concerns on a “possible circumvention” of rules of origin — the criteria used to determine the national source of a product — were also not addressed.
  • Current provisions in the deal reportedly do not prevent countries from routing, through other countries, products on which India would maintain higher tariffs. This is anticipated to allow countries like China to pump in more products.
  • Despite India already having separate, bilateral FTAs with most RCEP nations, it has recorded trade deficits with these countries.
  • During negotiations, it was also not able to get a favourable outcome on its demands on the base year that would be used to reduce the tariffs on the products that would be traded as part of the pact.
  • India had sought to safeguard the interests of its domestic industry through measures like seeking a 2014 base year for tariff reductions instead of 2013, when negotiations on RCEP began, as it has raised import duties on several products between 2014 and 2019.
  • Using a base year before 2014 would mean a drastic drop in the import duties on these products.

What does this decision mean for India?

  • As all other RCEP nations have agreed to sign the treaty on the terms negotiated, they will likely try to persuade India to agree to the same. It remains to be seen whether those efforts ultimately lead.
  • “All RCEP Participating Countries will work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way. India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” the joint statement by RCEP members said.

ICEDASH  & ATITHI

Context: Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, Smt Nirmala Sitharaman recently unveiled two new IT initiatives – ICEDASH and ATITHIfor improved monitoring and pace of Customs clearance of imported goods and facilitating arriving international passengers by electronic filing of Customs baggage and currency declarations.

About ICEDASH & ATITHI :

  • ICEDASH is an Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) monitoring dashboard of the Indian Customs helping public see the daily Customs clearance times of import cargo at various ports and airports.
  • With ICEDASH, Indian Customs has taken a lead globally to provide an effective tool that helps the businesses compare clearance times across ports and plan their logistics accordingly.
  • This dashboard has been developed by CBIC in collaboration with NIC. ICEDASH can be accessed through the CBIC website.
  • With ATITHI, CBIC has introduced an easy to use mobile app for international travelers to file the Customs declaration in advance.
  • Passengers can use this app to file declaration of dutiable items and currency with the Indian Customs even before boarding the flight to India.  ATITHI is available on both, iOS and Android.

 

Acute Respiratory Infections

Context: Acute respiratory infections (ARI) accounted for 69.47% of morbidity last year which was the highest in the communicable disease category, leading to 27.21% mortality.  Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal reported a large number of patients and fatalities due to ARI as per the National Health Profile-2019, which was recently released by the Union Health Ministry.

What is ARI?

  • According to World Health Organisation, acute respiratory infection is a serious ailment that prevents normal breathing function and kills an estimated 2.6 million children annually every year worldwide.
  • Indians face the double burden of heavy air pollution in addition to the high rate of ARI which hits children the hardest, said experts here.
  • When you breathe in polluted air, particles and pollutants penetrate and inflame the linings of your bronchial tubes and lungs.
  • This leads to respiratory illness such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease, asthma, wheezing, coughing and difficulty in breathing. Children seem to be most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1Risks for Pregnant women and Children

  • The current level of air pollution poses a high risk to pregnant women and the baby. The foetus receives oxygen from the mother, and if she is breathing polluted air, it can increase the health risk of unborn babies.
  • Pregnant women in the first trimester need to be more careful as risk increases and pollution can cause a medical condition called intrauterine inflammation.
  • Prenatal exposure to pollutants increases risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight, factors that can lead to developmental disabilities later on.
  • Children are particularly susceptible as they “breathe through their mouths, bypassing the filtering effects of the nasal passages and allowing pollutants to travel deeper into the lungs.
  • Children may ignore early symptoms of air pollution effects, such as an asthma exacerbation, leading to attacks of increased severity.

Trade Deficit, India and RCEP

Context: Recently, India decided that it won’t sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Participation agreement. While India decided to pull out, the other 15 members of RCEP arrived at a consensus and are likely to formally announce the regional trade pact next year. The government claimed that its decision to pull out of RCEP showed “India’s rising stature in the world”. A key reason that India forwarded for declining to sign on was the existence of trade deficits with many of the constituents of the RCEP. For instance, against the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), India’s trade deficit was nearly $22 billion in 2018. Against South Korea it was $12 billion, against Australia $9.6 billion, against Japan almost $8 billion. Worst of all is the trade deficit with China – $53.6 billion.

What is trade deficit?

  • Simply put, the trade “balance” of a country shows the difference between what it earns from its exports and what it pays for its imports.
  • If this number is in negative – that is, the total value of goods imported by a country is more than the total value of goods exported by that country – then it is referred to as a “trade deficit”.
  • If India has a trade deficit with China then China would necessarily have a “trade surplus” with India.

What does a trade deficit signify?

  • A trade deficit means broadly can mean two things.
    • One, that the demand in the domestic economy is not being met by the domestic producers. For instance, India may be producing a lot of milk but still not enough for the total milk demand in the country. As such, India may choose to import milk.
    • Two, many a time a deficit signifies the lack of competitiveness of the domestic industry. For instance, Indian car manufacturers could import steel from China instead of procuring it from the domestic producers if the Chinese steel was decidedly cheaper, for the same quality.
  • More often than not, the trade deficit of a country is due to a combination of both these main factors.

Is a trade deficit bad?

  • Not necessarily. No trade is ever balanced. That’s because all countries have different strengths and weaknesses.
  • India may have a trade deficit with China but a surplus with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It all depends on whether a country is playing to its strength or not.
  • Trade typically enhances wellbeing all across the world by forcing countries to do what they can do most efficiently and procure (import) from the rest of the world what they cannot produce efficiently.
  • It is important to note that China is not selling milk and New Zealand is not attempting to sell steel to the rest of the world.
  • Another way to look at trade deficits is to look at the outcome of trade agreements on consumers instead of producers.
  • For instance, if cheaper and better quality milk or steel was to come into India, Indian consumers would benefit as their health improves and their cars become more affordable. Of course, Indian producers of steel and milk will cry foul but then if they are not efficient, they should be producing something else.

Do higher tariffs help in bringing down trade deficits?

  • Of course, they do. But the question is: at whose cost?
  • For instance, if cheaper milk and steel from New Zealand and China, respectively, was held off by India levying higher tariffs then the people most hurt would be Indian consumers of milk and steel – a number far in excess of the number of Indian producers of milk and steel.
  • The consumers would have to either pay a higher cost for imported steel or use equally costly or poorer quality domestic steel or indeed, go without milk (at least the poorer consumers).

Question about self reliance of a country

  • That is not to say that trade doesn’t have elements that compromise a country’s strategic interests and that is why there are some commodities in which every country wants to maintain self-sufficiency.
  • But merely levying higher tariffs or not choosing to trade do not bring about self-sufficiency.
  • For attaining self-reliance, a country’s domestic industry has to improve and the best of this happening is when one learns from the competition.

Alternative Investment Fund

Context: The Union Cabinet has approved the creation of an Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) of ₹25,000 crore to provide last-mile funding for stalled affordable and middle-income housing projects across the country recently. The Finance Minister had announced the proposal to create this fund in mid-September, which the Cabinet has now approved. All affordable and middle-income housing projects that are net worth positive and are registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) and that have not been deemed liquidation-worthy will be eligible.

What is the decision all about?

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1

  • The Cabinet decision amends the original announcement by allowing housing projects that have been classified as non-performing assets (NPA) and that are under National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) proceedings also to be eligible for financing.
  • The funds will be set up as Category-II Alternative Investment Fund registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India and will be managed by SBICAP Ventures Limited.
  • According to the government’s estimates, there are more than 1,600 housing projects in which 4.58 lakh crore units are stalled.
  • Only a few years ago, the only way to create financial assets in India was to put your money in conventional investment categories such as stocks, bonds and real estate.
  • With the increasing tribe of high net-worth individuals in the country, there is a steady rise in the demand for non-conventional investment avenues such as Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs).

What are Alternative Investment Funds?

  • In essence, AIFs are a class of pooled-in vehicles for investing in real estate, private equity and hedge funds.
  • While the regulations for AIFs were formulated just over six years ago by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), they have evidently gained acceptance among India’s ultra-rich as strong investible platforms.
  • In fact, the capital pumped in by AIFs rose to nearly Rs. 1.1 trillion in the Jan-Mar quarter of 2019, which is nearly 79% higher than it was in the same period a year ago.
  • While AIFs are currently not covered by the current jurisdiction of any regulatory body in India, they have been described and classified in detail in Regulation 2 (1) (b) SEBI (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulation, 2012.
  • As per the current definition, AIFs are privately held and managed pool of investment fund of either domestic or foreign origin, organised in the form of an LLP (limited liability partnership), corporate body, company or trust.
  • For all intents and purposes, AIFs are seen as private investment funds, and therefore, are not available through IPOs (initial public offerings) or other forms of a public issue which are applicable to Collective Investment Schemes and Mutual Funds that are registered with SEBI.

Types of AIF

  • As per existing SEBI classification, these private investment funds have been divided into 3 unique categories – Category I, Category II and Category III, with the minimum qualifying corpus amount for these schemes being Rs. 20 Crores.
  • The only exception to this rule is an ‘angel fund’, which is a subcategory of Category I AIFs, as they have lower qualifying criteria in terms of fund corpus at Rs. 10 crores:
  1. Category I: Venture Capital Funds, Startup / Early stage funds, Infrastructure funds – These are those AIFs which are positive and beneficial to the Indian economy and enhance growth. Hence, these funds receive incentives or concessions by SEBI or the government of India. Such funds generally invest in start-ups or early-stage ventures, social ventures, SMEs, infrastructure or other sectors which are considered socially or economically important for the country.
  2. Category II: Private equity funds – Private equity (PE) funds, especially Real Estate PE funds, typically reduce the risk profile by offering diversified investment portfolios managed by experienced fund managers. Thus, it provides the dual benefit of a defensive investment alternative as well as a hedging mechanism by offering an alternative investment asset class.
  3. Category III: Hedge fundsCategory III AIFs are a unique class of privately pooled funds that employ a range of complicated trading strategies including but not limited to arbitrage, margin trading, futures and derivatives trading, etc. to generate returns. This category of AIF is also allowed to utilise leverage in order to make investments in both unlisted and listed derivatives as specified by SEBI (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulation, 2012. Leading examples under this alternative investment fund category include PIPE Funds and Hedge Funds.

 

ShaalaDarpan portal

Context: Minister of State for Human Resource Development recently launched ShaalaDarpan portal, an E-Governance school automation and management system for NavodayaVidyalayaSamiti (NVS) recently. This single integrated platform has been developed for information sharing and knowledge dissemination for the 22000 employees and over 2 lakh students across schools and offices of NavodayaVidyalayaSamiti.

What is ShaalaDarpan?

  • ShaalaDarpan is an end to end e-Governance school automation and management system.
  • It has been implemented at Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti as the first major initiative to enable automation of all activities of the country’s largest residential schooling system through a single umbrella – 636 schools, 8 Regional Offices, 8 NLIs and Head Quarter.
  • The system has several pluggable components that can interact with each other. These are enlisted below:
  • School Information and Management System for complete school automation
  • Bilingual Content Management Portal for information dissemination
  • Employee ERP to manage the day to day activities of all employees
  • Budget & Finance management system
  • Inventory & Store management system
  • Library management system

System Stake-holders

  • The stake holders of the system include the following:
  • Officers of NVS can do the following:
    1. Manage their courses better
    2. Manage the entire activities in NVS schools in an efficient manner
    3. Create a information rich content store for future reference
    4. Manage their personal records better
    5. Have easy single point access to information shared across the offices of NVS
    6. Senior management can manage the courses, funds, etc. better with the aid of analytical dashboards
  • Students can access their own personal records, information rich content, their entire life in NVS as a single visual album, etc. with greater ease
  • External Audience:
  • Citizens wishing to know about NVS and their working can now visit the single Integrated Content Management Platform
  • Parents of students can get to know the life of their students inside JNV with a single click.

 

RTI and Judiciary

Context: A new study by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has found that there is a “yawning gap” between the judiciary’s pronouncements on the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the manner in which the High Courts are implementing it. The report Sunshine in the Courts has remarked that the RTI rules of several High Courts provide for a relatively inconvenient procedure when compared to the RTI rules of the Government of India.

Findings

  • It added that the lack of administrative transparency, especially financial transparency, within High Courts was a matter of grave concern.
  • In particular, the lack of transparency in financial matters of the High Courts is very worrying. Most High Courts do not proactively publish details about their budgets and expenditure. Even fewer High Courts are willing to provide copies of their budgets and audit reports under the RTI Act, the report said.
  • The report found that despite the law being crystal clear on the limits of delegated legislation, several High Courts have included patently illegal clauses in their RTI Rules.
  • It pointed out that despite Section 8 of the RTI Act restricting the number of grounds for denying information to citizens, the RTI rules of several High Courts have included additional grounds for rejecting requests for information.
  • High Courts at Bombay, Delhi, Gauhati, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Punjab and Haryana, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura have created additional grounds for non-disclosure of information.
  • On the convenience index, the Vidhi report noted that while several High Courts did recognise convenient modes of payments like postal orders, the High Courts of Allahabad, Chhattisgarh, Gauhati, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Sikkim, did not recognise it.
  • It said that the High Courts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, prescribe only court fee stamps as relevant mode of payment. “Not only are court fee stamps different in each State, they are usually available at fewer locations than postal orders, which are available in all post offices across the country,” it said.
  • Additionally, the report stated that the Gujarat High Court does not mention any mode of payment, which increases uncertainty for RTI applicants.
  • The report remarked that it should be a matter of concern to see the judiciary lagging behind the Centre when it comes to abiding by the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.
  • “The fact that the RTI rules of so many High Courts have provisions that run the risk of being declared ultra vires the RTI Act coupled with the fact that nine High Courts and most District Courts have not bothered to make any of the disclosures under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act, is indicative of serious systemic issues within the administrative side of the judiciary,” the report said.
  • “It is also telling that on our convenience index, not a single High Court was able to match the convenience offered by the Government of India’s RTI Rules,” it concluded.

Current position of  RTI

  • The Lok Sabha has passed the Right to Information Amendment Bill 2019. But the Opposition is up in the arms with Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury calling it “dangerous”.
  • The bill introduces changes in the terms and conditions of appointment of the chief information commissioner (CIC) at the Centre and the information commissioners in states. The RTI amendment bill has three provisions that have been challenged by the Opposition members in Parliament and by activists working in the field.
  • But before proceeding ahead, let’s have a look at the basic things that the RTI Act of 2005 does. The existing law says that the public authorities are required to make disclosures on
  • their organisation, functions and structure
  • powers and duties of its officers and employees
  • financial information
  • If such information is not provided by the public authorities on their own, the citizens have the right to demand the same from them under the RTI Act.
  • “Public authorities” refer to ministers and government servants among others.
  • The central information commission is headed by a chief information commissioner and 10 information commissioners.
  • They are appointed by the President (read central government) appoints them for a fixed tenure of five years and a salary of the rank of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners respectively.
  • This was done to give the central information commission autonomy and protection from government interference.

The amendments

  • In the 2019 RTI amendment bill, the Narendra Modi government has done away with the fixed tenure of five years for the chief information commissioners and the information commissioners.
  • Their salaries too have been altered. Both will now be separately notified by the government of the day.
  • This, in a political sense, means that the government can threaten or lure the chief information commissioner and information commissioners with arbitrary removal or extension and curtailment or increase in salary depending upon their suitability for the ruling dispensation.

Uncomfortable RTI pleas in background

  • This comes in the backdrop of a few orders of the information commission that were considered uncomfortable for the Modi government in recent times.
  • Two examples can be gauged from PM Modi’s degree row and the status of non-performing assets in public sector banks.
  • In January 2017, acting on an RTI activist’s application, information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu ordered the Delhi University to allow inspection of records of students who had passed BA course in 1978, the year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi passed the examination.
  • Within the next couple of days, Sridhar Acharyulu was stripped of human resource development portfolio. Then Chief Information Commissioner RK Mathur took away HRD ministry from him.
  • Interestingly, in a reshuffle within the central information commission on December 29, 2016, Acharyulu had retained HRD ministry in his portfolio.
  • In another incident from the previous Modi government’s tenure, the Reserve Bank of India had been directed on an RTI application, to provide details of the NPA in public sector banks and the details of big loan defaulters. The RBI had denied revealing information sought citing confidential nature of the same.
  • The matter reached the Supreme Court, which first in 2015, directed the RBI to make the information available and reiterated the order in April this year after the central bank failed to comply with the order.

Post-script

  • Interestingly, the central information commission has six information commissioners. Four posts of information commissioners are lying vacant with the Opposition citing the vacancies to accuse the Modi government of attempting to weaken the institution and check flow of information.
  • One curious connection before we conclude. The original RTI Act was passed after it was discussed and cleared by the Parliamentary Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.
  • In the original bill, the salaries of the CIC and ICs were equivalent to secretaries and additional secretaries respectively.
  • But the parliamentary committee recommended increasing the same to the level of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners for the CIC and the ICs respectively.
  • The parliamentary committee that recommended the change included then BJP MPs Ram Nath Kovind (now the President), Ram Jethmalani (no longer with the BJP) and Balavant Apte.

India Justice Report 2019

Context: According to recently released India Justice Report 2019 Maharashtra has topped the list of 18 large-medium States in the overall first-ever ranking of Indian States on justice delivery, followed by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana. In this category, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are at the bottom, while among seven smaller States, Goa leads the group. 

Public data

  • Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1The report is based on publicly available data from different government entities on the four pillars of justice delivery — police, judiciary, prisons and legal aid.
  • Releasing the report, Justice (Retd.) Madan B. Lokur called it a pioneering study and said: “The findings establish beyond doubt very serious lacunae in our justice delivery system.
  • It is an excellent effort to mainstream the issues concerning our justice system, which in fact affect every aspect of society, governance and the economy.”
  • The report highlights the fact that even the best performing States scored less than 60% in their performance on capacity across the police, judiciary, prisons and legal aid.
  • The country has about 18,200 judges with about 23% sanctioned posts vacant, notes the report, adding that women are poorly represented in these pillars, constituting just 7% of the police.
  • “Prisons are over-occupied at 114%, where 68% are undertrials awaiting investigation, inquiry or trial. Regarding budgets, most States are not able to fully utilise the funds given to them by the Centre, while the increase in spending on the police, prisons and judiciary does not keep pace with the overall increase in State expenditure,” the report said.

Budget constraints

  • The report added that some pillars also remain affected by low budgets.
  • For instance, India’s per capita expenditure on free legal aid is 75 paise per annum, it said.

The report looked at data indicators from the four pillars, covering themes like infrastructure, human resources, diversity (gender, Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe/Other Backward Class), budgets, workload and trends over the last five years.

 

Maternal mortality rate

Context: India’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) has seen a decline from 130 per 1 lakh live births in 2014-2016 to 122 per 1 lakh live births in 2015-2017. A decline of 8 points (6.2%) was observed during this period, according to the latest Sample Registration System (SRS) 2015-2017 bulletin for MMR released recently.

Facts and figures

  • Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1This is good news for India as nearly 2,000 maternal deaths have been averted per year, according to the bulletin. The figure has declined from 167 in 2011-2013 to 130 in 2014-2016 and to 122 in 2015-17, registering a 6.15 per cent reduction since the last survey figures of 2014-2016.
  • While Karnataka has shown the highest percentage decline in MMR, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have shown an increase by 15 points each in MMR.
  • To understand the maternal mortality situation in the country better and to map the changes, especially at the regional level, the government has categorised States into three groups: empowered action group (EAG), southern States and other States.
  • Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand and Assam fall under the EAG and Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are in the southern States group.
  • “Others” comprise the remaining States and Union Territories.
  • The decline has been most significant in EAG States from 188 to 175. The ratio has reduced considerably from 77 to 72 per 1,00,000 live births among southern States and in the other States from 93 to 90.
  • Independent MMR data of Jharkhand (76), Chhattisgarh (141) and Uttarakhand (89) has been released for the first time in the SRS 2015-2017 bulletin.
  • While Rajasthan’s MMR has shown the highest decrease by 13 points, followed by Odisha (12 points) and Karnataka (11 points), the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab have not shown any change in the ratio.
  • Retaining its first position, Kerala has reduced its MMR from 46 in 2014-2016 to 42 in 2015-2017. Likewise, Maharashtra retained its second position with 55 (down from 61) and Tamil Nadu its third position with 63 (down from 66).

INTERNATIONAL

The ‘values test’ of Canada

Context: Quebec, Canada’s largest province, will soon require potential immigrants to take a “values test” as part of a new policy. Quebec is the only province in Canada where French speakers are in a majority. According to Canada statistics, there are over 22,000 (includes non-immigrant, immigrants and non-permanent residents) Indians in Quebec, and as of 2016, there were about 17,800 Indian immigrants (those who have Canadian citizenship) living in Quebec.

What is the values test?

  • The values test for immigrants was an election promise made by the ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec party.
  • It will apply to immigrants in the “qualified worker” or “economic” category. Coalition Avenir Quebec is a rightwing nationalist and autonomist party that has been in power in the Quebec provincial government since 2018.
  • Candidates will be asked a total of 20 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and will need to secure 75 per cent marks in order to pass.
  • The test will last 90 minutes, and will be unsupervised, which means that candidates can take it remotely even from their homes.
  • While making the announcement, Jolin-Barrette said that the questions would not be very much tougher than those the immigrants answer to qualify for Canadian citizenship.
  • Candidates can prepare for the test by taking online tutorials in the language of their choice at no cost.
  • In case the candidate fails the test, he/she can retake it after a period of two weeks. If the candidate fails twice, he/she will need to take a course prescribed by the Minister in Quebec or take the test a third time and renounce to obtain the learning attestation by participating in the course.
  • The candidate needs to take the test within 60 days following the date of the Minister’s request.

 

What is the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms?

  • The values test is based on the democratic values mentioned in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
  • As per the charter, “In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.
  • In this respect, the scope of the freedoms and rights, and limits to their exercise may be fixed by law.”
  • The Quebec charter was unveiled in 2013, with the aim of creating a secular society.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Context: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently called upon member-countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to strengthen and implement all existing international laws and mechanisms “without exceptions or double standards” to combat terrorism. He urged them to invest and set up collaborations in India under the “Make in India” initiative.

 

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic and military organisation, which was founded in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in the year 2001.
  • The aim of SCO is to establish cooperation between member nations on:
  • Security-related concerns
  • Resolving border issues
  • Military cooperation
  • Intelligence sharing
  • Countering terrorism
  • Countering American influence in Central Asia

Members of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

  • Apart from the founding members (listed above), Uzbekistan joined the group later as a permanent member.
  • India and Pakistan are the newest inclusion to the Organisation and it added another 1.45 billion people in the SCO making the group cover around 40 per cent of the global population.
  • Both these nations signed the memoranda for becoming a permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2016.
  • The eight permanent members of the SCO are:
  1. China
  2. Kazakhstan
  3. Kyrgyzstan
  4. Russia
  5. Tajikistan
  6. Uzbekistan
  7. India
  8. Pakistan

Why India’s membership to SCO matters?

  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is seen as an eastern counter-balance to NATO. With India being its member, it will allow the country to push effective action in combating terrorism and on issues related to security.
  • With the presence of India and China, the world’s most populous countries, SCO is now the organisation that has the largest population coverage.
  • India’s entry into the group is expected to increase the group’s heft in regional geopolitics and trade negotiations while giving it a pan-Asian hue at the same.

 

US and the Paris Agreement

Context: Recently, the United States initiated the process of leaving the Paris Agreement, notifying the United Nations of its withdrawal from the landmark climate deal. According to a US State Department press release, the withdrawal will take effect one year from delivery of the notification. After it leaves, the US will be the only country left out of the global protocol. Syria and Nicaragua, the last remaining countries who were earlier holding out, also became signatories in 2017.

What is the Paris Agreement?

  • The Paris Agreement of 2016 is a historic international accord that brings almost 200 countries together in setting a common target to reduce global greenhouse emissions in an effort to fight climate change.
  • The deal is considered by many as the most significant international measure to address climate change since the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.
  • The pact seeks to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, and to try and limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • To this end, each country has pledged to implement targeted action plans that will limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Agreement asks rich and developed countries to provide financial and technological support to the developing world in its quest to fight and adapt to climate change.

How does a country leave the Agreement?

  • Article 28 of the Paris Agreement allows countries to leave the Paris Agreement and lays down the process for leaving.
  • A country can only give a notice for leaving at least three years after the Paris Agreement came into force. Therefore, the US was eligible to move a notice for leaving this year, which it did.
  • The withdrawal is not immediate, however. It takes effect one year after the submission of the notice. It means the United States will be out of Paris Agreement only in next year.

But why does the United States want to leave a deal on which literally the whole world agrees?

  • During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump had said the Paris Agreement was “unfair” to US interests. He had promised to pull out of the Agreement if he was elected. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, had played a pivotal role in stitching together the complex and farreaching Agreement.
  • A few months after becoming President, Trump, in June 2017, announced his government’s decision to pull out. But since the Paris Agreement had still not completed three years of coming into force, the process of pull-out could not begin.

How and why does the US’s leaving matter?

  • The United States is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If it does not reduce its emissions befitting its status as the second largest emitter, it could seriously jeopardise the world’s objective of keeping the global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times.
  • As part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement, the United States had promised to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by the year 2025 from 2005 levels.
  • While exiting the Paris Agreement does not automatically mean the abandonment of this target or of any future action by the United States on climate change, it would no longer be committed to these actions.
  • But the biggest impact of the exit of the United States from the Agreement might be on the financial flows to enable climate actions.
  • The United States plays a preeminent role in mobilising financial resources globally, and its absence from the scene could seriously hamper that effort.
  • Under the Paris Agreement, developed countries are under obligation to mobilise at least $100 billion every year from the year 2020 in climate finance meant for the developing world. This amount has to be revised upwards after five years. As it is, countries are struggling to reach this amount by next year.

Is it possible that the US returns to the Paris Agreement at a later date?

  • It can indeed, return. There is no bar on a country rejoining the Paris Agreement.
  • It is also possible that the United States does a rethink and actually never leaves the Paris Agreement. It has one full year to reconsider its decision. Almost exactly a year from now, on November 3, 2020, the United States will vote to elect a new President.
  • While it is pulling out of the Paris Agreement, it remains part of the UNFCCC, the mother agreement that was finalised in 1994.
  • The Framework Convention was the first international agreement to identify and acknowledge the problem of climate change. It had laid down the principles and guidelines to achieve the objective of stabilising the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to levels that would cause least damage to climate system.
  • The Paris Agreement is an instrument of the Framework Convention to achieve that objective.
  • The United States will be out of the Paris Agreement, but by virtue of being a signatory to the UNFCCC would continue to be a part of the other processes and meetings under the Framework Convention. 

PERSON IN NEWS

 Isabelle Huppert

Context: One of the most famous and most popular French actor of her generation Isabelle Anne Madeleine Huppert will be conferred with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Jubilee edition of International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2019.

What is the award about?

  • The Lifetime Achievement Award, IFFI, is the highest honour and the most prestigious award of the festival.
  • The award carries a cash prize of INR 10,000,00/- .
  • The French actor will be conferred this prestigious award for her remarkable artistic skills and her outstanding journey and vivid contribution to Cinema.
  • She has appeared in more than 120 films since her debut in 1971. She is the most nominated actress for the César Award, with 16 nominations. She twice won the César Award for Best Actress, for La Cérémonie and Elle.

Rajinikanth

Context: In a first, the Government of India has constituted a special award titled ‘Icon of Golden Jubilee of IFFI’ which will be conferred upon the eminent film personality Shri S Rajinikanth.

Rajinikanth – The Icon

  • In a long and eventful career, Rajinikanth has acted in over 170 films in many languages, including Tamil, Telgu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi and Bengali. He also had a starring role in the Hollywood production, Blood Stone (1988).
  • The Government of India has honoured him with the Padma Bhushan (2000) and the Padma Vibhushan (2016). At the 45th International Film Festival of India (2014), he was conferred with the “Centenary Award for Indian Film Personality of the Year”
  • 2019 marks the 50th year of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which is often counted amongst one of the earliest film festivals of the Asian continent.
  • The 50th International Film Festival of India,2019 will witness over 200 best films  from 76 countries, 26 feature films and 15 non feature films in Indian panorama section and more than 10,000 people and film lovers are expected to participate in the golden jubilee edition.

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