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Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE Oct Week 4

 

Current Affairs UPSC CSE

Table of Contents

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 4

NATIONAL

Adulteration of Milk

  • Milk samples from Telangana, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, showed the highest number of cases of adulteration, according to a national milk sample safety quality survey released by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) recently.
  • The study noted that processed milk, including that of major brands, failed to meet the prescribed quality norm in 37.7% of the total samples tested, and in the safety parameters too, 10.4% of the processed milk samples were non-compliant.
  • 4% of the total processed milk samples (of 2,607) failed to comply with the FSSAI norm as contaminants like aflatoxin-M1, antibiotics and pesticides were found. In case of raw milk, non-compliance was at an even higher rate of 47% of the total samples of 3,825.
  • In terms of quality, the survey found that 37.7% of the total sample of processed milk did not comply with quality parameters because the presence of contaminants such as fats, Maltodextrin and sugar were above permissible limits.
  • Following this report, the FSSAI has now directed the organised dairy sector to strictly start complying with the quality norms by January 1, 2020.

AflatoxinPrelims Current Affairs UPSC

  • The problem of Aflatoxin-M1 is more dominant in processed milk than raw milk. Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Kerala were top three States where Aflatoxin residue was found the most, noted the report.
  • In large doses, aflatoxins can be life threatening, usually through damage to liver.
  • Aflatoxin-M1 comes in the milk through feed and fodder that are currently not regulated in the country, and it is for the first time that such a detailed survey of the presence of this residue in milk has been done in India.
  • India is the world’s largest producer of milk. The total estimated milk production in the country was 176.35 million tonnes during 2017-18.

Centre clarifies on definition of forest

  • The States need not take the Centre’s approval to define what constitutes unclassified land as forest, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Environment Ministry, comprising independent experts and officials in the Centre’s forestry division, has clarified
  • Since 2014, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has been considering evolving a legal definition of forest and reportedly prepared drafts as late as 2016. These, however, were never made public and the FAC’s clarification officially signifies an end to such efforts.
  • The freedom to define land, not already classified as forests by the Centre or State records, as forest has been the prerogative of the States since 1996 and stems from a Supreme Court order, called the Godavarman judgment.
  • The FAC, the apex body that deliberates on granting permission to industry to fell forests, at a meeting on September 26, said, “… States, having well established forest departments, are in a better position, rather than MoEF&CC, to understand their own forests and needs, and should frame criteria for their forests… criteria so finalised by a State need not be subject to approval by MoEF&CC”.
  • The subject came up for discussion at the meeting because the Uttarakhand government had put forth a set of criteria defining forest land and asked the Ministry for its opinion, the minutes of the meeting noted.
  • The conundrum of defining forests has been around since the 1980s. The 1996 Supreme Court judgment expanded the definition of forest to include lands that were already notified by the Centre as forests, that appear in government records as forests as well as those that fell in the “dictionary definition” of forest.
  • The latter clause allows the States to evolve their own criteria and define tracts of land as forest, and these would then be bound by forest conservation laws.

‘Deemed forests’

  • Forests defined under this criteria, according to him, constituted about 1% of the country’s forests and once so defined would be known as ‘deemed forests’.
  • An all-encompassing definition of forest wasn’t possible for India, according to Mr. Das, because the country has 16 different kinds of forest.
  • A tract of grassland in one State might qualify in one region as forest, but not in another. However, once a State applied a criteria, it couldn’t be reversed.
  • The onus on the States to define forests is also significant, environmentalists have pointed out, because the States often claim that they are helpless in preventing encroachment because a patch of land in question hadn’t been notified as forest.
  • A recent instance was the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, which officially isn’t classified as forest.

NCRB report

  • The annual Crime in India Report 2017 was published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recently.
  • As per the report, 3,59,849 cases of crime against women were reported in the country.
  • Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 56,011 cases followed by Maharashtra with 31,979 cases and West Bengal 30,002.Prelims Current Affairs UPSC
  • “Majority of cases under crimes against women were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’ (27.9%) followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (21.7%), ‘Kidnapping & Abduction of Women’ (20.5%) and ‘Rape’ (7.0%),” the report said.
  • As per the report, 58,880 incidents of rioting were reported, of which the maximum incidents were reported from Bihar – 11,698, followed by Uttar Pradesh – 8,990 and Maharashtra – 7,743.
  • Of the total riots reported, communal and sectarian riots accounted for 723 and 183 incidents respectively. There were 805 riots due to caste conflict and 1909 riots occurred due to political reasons, the report said.
  • The incidents registered under the Scheduled Caste Prevention of Atrocities Act saw an increase from 5,082 in 2016 to 5,775 in 2017.
  • Incidents of crime related to Scheduled Tribes dipped from 844 in 2016 to 720 in 2017.
  • A total of 95,893 cases of kidnapping and abduction were registered during 2017, showing an increase of 9.0% over 2016 (88,008 cases).
  • The NCRB for the first time collected data on circulation of “false/fake news and rumours. Under the category, maximum incidents were reported from Madhya Pradesh (138), Uttar Pradesh (32) and Kerala (18).

Cyber stalking

  • For the first time, “cyber stalking and bullying of women” has been included in the report. A total of 542 cases were reported under this category, with the maximum incidents recorded in Maharashtra (301).
  • Cyber frauds relating to credit cards stood at 395 cases, for ATMs at 1543 cases, online fraud stood at 804, and 170 cases of posting fake news on social media were also included in the report.
  • The year 2017 saw 11,601 persons arrested for various cyber crimes and chargesheets was filed against 8,306 suspects.
  • In the same year, 162 persons were convicted and 751 were acquitted for cyber crime offences.
  • The Union Home Ministry said on Tuesday that data received by the National Crime Records Bureau on certain crimes like lynching and attacks on journalists were “unreliable and their definitions are also prone to misinterpretation”.

Increase in wealth of India

  • Total wealth in India increased fourfold between 2000 and 2019, reaching $12.6 trillion in 2019, making India the fifth globally in terms of the number of ultra-high net-worth individuals, as per a Credit Suisse study.
  • According to the study, the wealth per adult in India grew by an average of 11% annually over the period 2000–2019 and the wealth per adult is estimated at $14,569 in mid-2019 after a year of moderate growth.
  • Incidentally, while India has 8.27 lakh adults in the top 1% of global wealth holders – 1.6% share of the global pool — it is estimated that India has 4,460 adults with wealth of over $50 million and 1,790 that have more than $100 million.
  • However, the study also found that while the number of wealthy people in India has been on the rise, a larger section of the population has still not been part of the growth in overall wealth.
  • There is still considerable wealth poverty, reflected in the fact that 78% of the adult population has wealth below $10,000, while a small fraction of the population — 1.8% of adults — has a net worth of more than $100,000.
  • Meanwhile, as per the financial major, India is expected to grow its wealth very rapidly and add $4.4 trillion in just five years, reflecting an increase of 43%.

Sri Sathya Sai Sanathana Samskruti project

  • The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind laid the foundation stone for Sri Sathya Sai Sanathana Samskruti Project at Sai no Sato, Kakegawa, Japan recently.
  • Sai no Sato will be developed as a temple on the lines of Akshardham and Swaminarayan Temple to promote Indian traditional culture.
  • Speaking on the occasion, the President said that in today’s world, where we are searching for inner peace and happiness, looking to bring communities and cultures together, places like Sai no Sato provide us the right answers.

Snow Leopard Enumeration

  • In a major boost towards protecting and conserving Snow Leopards, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Shri Prakash Javadekar launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day.
  • Snow Leopard enumeration of the Nation, which is the first of its kind, has been developed by scientific experts in association with the Snow Leopard States/UTs namely, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunanchal Pradesh.
  • It is noteworthy to mention that Snow Leopard is found in 12 countries. They are India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The 4th Steering Committee meeting of the GSLEP is being attended by Ministers from Nepal, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia along with senior officials from nine of the Snow Leopard countries.
  • The Steering Committee meeting of GSLEP chaired by Nepal and Co-Chaired by Kyrgyzstan, will be sharing their experiences to intensify collaborative efforts towards conserving the Snow Leopards and its ecosystem.
  • The delegates will also be discussing sustainable development efforts to be made in the Snow Leopard habitats and take into consideration green economic development, innovative conservation financing and population assessment of global Snow Leopards.
  • The Steering Committee will also assess efforts in combating poaching and illegal wildlife trade of Snow Leopards.

Wetland Status for Sukhna Lake

  • The Chandigarh administration recently issued a draft notification for declaring Sukhna Lake as a wetland under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rule, 2017.
  • Sukhna Lake was declared a wetland more than 30 years ago as well.
  • A status report placed before the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently stated that the UT administrator had issued such a notification on July 6, 1988, as well.
  • The new notification will include the public’s suggestions and objections as required under the 2017 rules.

When was this decision taken?

  • In July this year, the Chandigarh Wetlands Authority had unanimously decided to declare the Sukhna Lake as a wetland.
  • It was the second meeting of the Union Territory of Chandigarh Wetlands Authority that was chaired by Punjab Governor and Chandigarh Administrator V P Singh Badnore.
  • At the meeting, officers of the Punjab and Haryana government were also asked to join UT in conserving the lake.

How will this help Sukhna?

  • Declaring Sukhna a wetland will help preserve the lake and conserve its ecological and biodiversity.
  • A major threat to Sukhna is the discharge of pollutants from neighbouring areas. Sukhna Wetland is spread over 565 acres.
  • The catchment area of Sukhna Wetland spreading over 10,395 acres as finalised by the Survey of India includes 2,525 acres of Haryana and 684 acres of Punjab.
  • With this, various activities will be prohibited/regulated/ promoted both in the wetland as well catchment areas.

What activities will be prohibited?

  • Encroachment of any kind, setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries, manufacturing or handling or storage or disposal of construction and demolition waste covered under the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016, hazardous substances covered under the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989, or the Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989, or the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Trans-Boundary Movement) Rules, 2008.
  • This also includes electronic waste covered under the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated waste and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements and any construction of a permanent nature within specific distance of the wetland.

What measures has the administration taken till now?

  • The administration had recently introduced a programme to include villagers of Kaimbwala under the ‘Friends of Sukhna’ — a voluntary program to keep a check on activities taking place in the area.

Change in definition of MSMEs

  • It has been reported that the government will soon change the way it defines the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
  • The change in definition would require an amendment to the MSME Development Act.
  • In February last year, the Union Cabinet had approved amendments to the MSMED Act and had decided to choose shift from a criterion of classifying MSMEs based on ‘investment in plant and machinery’ to a criterion based on ‘annual turnover’.

What is the importance of the MSME sector?

  • According to a Reserve Bank of India report, the MSMEs are amongst the strongest drivers of economic development, innovation and employment. Looking back at data since 2000-01, MSME sector growth has almost every year outstripped overall industrial growth in the country.
  • “The MSME sector also contributes in a significant way to the growth of the Indian economy with a vast network of about 63.38 million enterprises. The sector contributes about 45% to manufacturing output, more than 40% of exports, over 28% of the GDP while creating employment for about 111 million people, which in terms of volume stands next to agricultural sector,” stated the report.
  • However, the RBI report also noted that at present the sector is “exceedingly heterogeneous in terms of size of the enterprises and variety of products and services, and levels of technology employed” and that it has the potential to grow at a much faster rate.
  • One of the key attractions of this sector is that it huge employment generation potential at relatively lower capital investment.

How are MSMEs defined at present?

  • There has been no uniformity over the years about the definition of what exactly one means by “small scale industries” in India. Moreover, the definition also changes from one country to another.
  • In India, for instance, under the Industrial Development and Regulation (IDR) Act, 1951, small industries were conceived in terms of “number of employees”.
  • But it was found that obtaining reliable data on the number of employees was difficult.
  • As such, a proxy was found – and this was to look at the investments in plant and machinery; it was relatively easy to reliably ascertain and verify this data.
  • So at present, the classification of MSMEs is done based on investment in plant & machinery/equipment (see table) in accordance with the provision of Section 7 of the MSMED Act, 2006.

Classification of MSMEs in India at present

Prelims Current Affairs UPSC 

How do others define MSMEs?

  • According to the World Bank, a business is classified as an MSME when it meets two of the three following criteria: employee strength, assets size, or annual sales.
  • According to a 2014 report, as many as 267 definitions were used by different institutions in 155 economies.
  • But the most widely used variable for defining an MSME was the number of employees — 92% of the institutions use this.
  • Other definitions were based on turnover as well as the value of assets (49% and 36%, respectively).
  • Around 11% used other variables like loan size, formality, years of experience, type of technology, size of the manufacturing space, and initial investment amount etc.
  • The crucial thing, however, is that most of the countries used only one variable to define MSMEs.

How does a change in definition help?

  • Definitions based on investment limits in plant and machinery/ equipment were decided when the Act was formulated in 2006. But such a definition “does not reflect the current increase in price index of plant and machinery/equipment,” stated the RBI report.
  • Moreover, MSMEs, thanks to their small scale of operations and informal organisation, MSMEs don’t always maintain proper books of accounts. This essentially results in their not being classified as MSMEs.
  • The change of definition is likely to improve the ease of doing business for MSMEs, and in the process, make it easier for them to pay taxes, attract investments and create more jobs.
  • Gadkari said that MSMEs have created 11 crore jobs till now, but “now, the mission for five years is that we need to create more than five crore jobs in five years, particularly in tribal, rural and agricultural areas”.
  • The clear and unambiguous definition – that is also in consonance with global norms and learns from the best practices across countries – is the starting point to reforming this crucial sector of the economy.

Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Agreement

  • India has signed the Agreement with Pakistan today on the modalities for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor at Zero Point, International Boundary, Dera Baba Nanak.
  • Representatives from the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and Ministry of Home Affairs along with the representatives from Government of Punjab have been present during the signing ceremony.
  • It is very well known that the Union Cabinet passed a resolution on 22 November 2018 to celebrate the historic occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Devji in a grand and befitting manner, throughout the country and across the globe.
  • In a landmark decision, the Union Cabinet also approved the building and development of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the International Boundary, to facilitate pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, round the year, in a smooth and easy manner.
  • With the signing of this Agreement, a formal framework has been laid down for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
  • The highlights of the Agreement are: –
  • Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor;
  • The travel will be Visa Free;
  • Pilgrims need to carry only a valid passport;
  • Persons of Indian Origin need to carry OCI card along with the passport of their country;
  • The Corridor is open from dawn to dusk. Pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return on the same day;
  • The Corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days, to be informed in advance;
  • Pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and also to travel on foot;
  • India will send the list of pilgrims to Pakistan 10 days ahead of travel date. Confirmation will be sent to pilgrims 4 days before the travel date;
  • The Pakistan side has assured India to make sufficient provision for ‘Langar’ and distribution of ‘Prasad’;
  • The main issue that has been a point of discussion is the insistence of Pakistan to levy US Dollars 20 as service charge per pilgrim per visit. India has consistently urged Pakistan to not levy any fee on the pilgrims.
  • It was stressed time and again, including in the previous three Joint Secretary Level meetings and at the diplomatic level, that this is not in consonance with the religious and spiritual sentiments of Indian pilgrims.
  • India has shared its deep disappointment with Pakistan for its refusal to waive the fee.
  • However, in the interest of the pilgrims and timely operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor before the 550th Prakash Purb, India has agreed to sign the Agreement.
  • While the Agreement has been signed, Government of India continues to urge this issue with the Government of Pakistan to reconsider its insistence on levying the fee. India remains ready to amend the Agreement accordingly.

Provisions made for facilitation of Pilgrims

  • All the required infrastructure viz., the highway and the Passenger Terminal Building are nearing completion for timely inauguration of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
  • A robust security architecture has been put in place while facilitating smooth and easy passage of pilgrims.
  • For registration of pilgrims, online portal has gone live. The pilgrims may have to necessarily register themselves online on this portal and exercise their choice to travel on any day.
  • Pilgrims will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration  3 to 4 days in advance of the date of travel.
  • An Electronic Travel Authorization will also be generated. The pilgrims need to carry Electronic Travel Authorization, along with their passport, when they arrive at the Passenger Terminal Building.

Ease of doing business rankingsPrelims Current Affairs UPSC

India has improved its score in the World Bank’s global Ease of Doing Business rankings, rising 14 notches to be placed 63rd out of 190 countries on the back of “sustained business reforms”. India, along with other top improvers, implemented a total of 59 regulatory reforms in 2018-19, accounting for a fifth of all reforms recorded worldwide, stated the World Bank in a release.

What are these reforms?

  • In the course of a year, India has made it easier to start a business in the country.
  • It has further streamlined, in Delhi, the process and reduced the time and cost of obtaining construction permits and improved building quality control by strengthening professional certification requirements.
  • In addition to this, Mumbai’s streamlining of obtaining building permits has made it faster and less expensive to get a construction permit.
  • Its efforts to make it easier to trade across borders and resolve insolvency have also helped improve its ranking.
  • The government’s goal was to be among the top 50 economies by 2020.

What are the problem areas?

S. No. Indicator 2018 2019 Change
1 Resolving Insolvency 108 52 +56
2 Construction Permits 52 27 +25
3 Trading Across Borders 80 68 +12
4 Registering Property 166 154 +12
5 Paying Taxes 121 115 +6
6 Getting Electricity 24 22 +2
7 Starting a Business 137 136 +1
Overall rank 77 63 +14
  • The country still lags in areas like enforcing contracts and registering property.
  • India has improved its rank in 7 out of 10 indicators and has moved closer to international best practices (Distance to Frontier score).Significant improvements have been registered in ‘Resolving Insolvency’, ‘Dealing with Construction Permits’, ‘Registering Property’, ‘Trading across Boards’ and ‘Paying Taxes’ indicators. The changes in seven indicators where India improved its rank are as follows:
  • The important features of India’s performance this year are:
  • The World Bank has recognized India as one of the top 10 improvers for the third consecutive year.
  • Recovery rate under resolving insolvency has improved significantly from 26.5% to 71.6%.
  • The time taken for resolving insolvency has also come down significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years.
  • India continues to maintain its first position among South Asian countries. It was 6th in 2014.

Merger of MTNL and BSNL

  • The government recently announced a massive revival package of nearly Rs 70,000 crore for ailing telecom PSUs BSNL and MTNL as it looks to nurse back the “strategic”, but heavily bleeding, companies to health and profitability over the next three-four years.Prelims Current Affairs UPSC
  • The two companies—that together hold about 14% market share in the mobile business—will also be merged.
  • The merger will have to await sorting out of some operational and regulatory issues since MTNL is a listed company.
  • The package aims to make the loss-making companies competitive again by giving them access to 4G spectrum, helping retire a large number of employees through a VRS package, and monetising assets like land and telecom towers.

Manpower a major drain, revival may be a tall order

  • BSNL, with estimated loss of Rs 13,804 crore in 2018-19, has pan-India operations, except for Delhi and Mumbai.Prelims Current Affairs UPSC
  • The two metro markets are covered by MTNL, whose losses in 2018-19 were pegged at Rs 3,400 crore. Prasad said the government is confident that the two companies will be operationally profitable over the next two years, and may become fully profitable by the year 2023.
  • BSNL and MTNL, once the shining jewels in the government’s PSU lineup, have been a drain on the exchequer for the last decade as competition from private operators hit their businesses hard.
  • They lost subscribers and failed to keep pace with technology changes.
  • As landline numbers started shrinking, their operations were also pulled down due to a cocktail of negative factors such as poor management, high staff cost, government meddling and very poor customer service.
  • Manpower has been a major drain on the revenues of the two companies with an official report prepared in June pegging the staff cost as a percentage of revenues at 77% for BSNL, and 87% for MTNL (based on 2018-19 financial numbers).
  • Despite the government’s commitment, revival of the two companies appears to be a tall order due to the stiff competition in the telecom sector especially after the launch of Reliance Jio in September 2016.

Siachen Glacier now open to tourists

Recently, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the Siachen Glacier will be open for tourists, between the base camp and Kumar logistics base.

What does opening of Siachen Glacier to tourists entail?

  • As of now, civilian tourists are restricted to the Nubra Valley, which is the gateway to the Siachen Glacier, and well away from the base camp and the Siachen Battle School.
  • Now they may be permitted to venture farther in small batches.
  • In fact, between 2007 to 2016, the Army Adventure Cell had operated the ‘Siachen Trek’ in which small numbers of civilians were allowed to venture between the base camp and Kumar.
  • Today, tourists are allowed up to Warshi (towards Siachen Base Camp) and also Tyakshi village ahead of Turtuk.
  • These two villages were part of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir until the 1971 war, and were off limits to civilians until 2010, with tourists then allowed only up to Panamik in the Nubra Valley.

Under what conditions was the Siachen Trek conducted?

  • It was a 30-day trek, and participants had to undergo extreme conditioning before they were allowed at the extreme heights of the glacier.
  • The base camp is at an approximate altitude of 11,000 feet while the Kumar post is at 16,000 feet. The trek was organsied between August and September, and entailed acclimatisation at Leh and farther ahead, with a strict medical fitness regime.
  • The trek was open for any civilian below age 45 and also included cadets from Indian Military Academy, National Defence Academy and military schools. The distance between the base camp and Kumar is 60 km and the return trek takes nine days.

Challenges involved in allowing tourists on the glacier

  • There are environmental issues that would need to be addressed if tourism is allowed in greater numbers.
  • The Army presence on the glacier, which is a combat zone, causes the addition of nearly 1,000 kg of waste everyday, as per one estimate. Tourists will add more waste and measures will have to be taken to dispose of it.
  • A higher number of vehicles running close to the base camp, which itself is close to the snout of the glacier, entails the risk of increased heat and hastened retreat of the glacier.
  • Tourism will also mean a greater logistical load on the Army.
  • With hardly any civilian administrative arrangements there, the Army or IAF will be responsible for addressing medical needs including evacuation in an emergency.

Medical facilities

  • There are rudimentary civilian medical facilities in the Nubra Valley, but at some distance from the Siachen Glacier.
  • There is a Sub-District Hospital at Diskit, 120 km from Leh, which is centrally heated and has a bed strength of 50 with X-ray, ultrasound, and laboratory facilities as well as a dental unit.
  • More advanced treatment is available at the Military Hospital in Hunder and SMH Memorial Hospital in Leh, which has a bed strength of 150.

How peaceful is Siachen Glacier now?

  • Until the ceasefire came into effect in 2003, the Siachen Glacier was the highest battlefield in the world with artillery duels taking place almost every day, with raids and counter-raids by both armies.
  • Today, the artillery guns have fallen silent, but there is no let-up in the vigil at posts located as high as 23,000 feet on the Saltoro Ridge, which dominates the glacier.

INTERNATIONAL

IMF members delay quota changes

At a time when multilateral institutions stand on increasingly shaky ground, members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to maintain its funding at $ 1 trillion but postponed changes to its voting structure. The deal is a compromise with the U.S., the Fund’s largest shareholder, which has resisted changes to the organisation’s voting structure as well as increases in its permanent resource base.

Supplementary sources

  • Recent deal will allow an extension of non-permanent, supplementary sources of funds – such as the New Arrangement to Borrow (NAB), a renewable funding mechanism that has existed since 1998, and bilateral borrowings from countries – the IMF had entered into these after the 2008 financial crisis to increase its lending ability.
  • The agreement extended the bilateral borrowing facility by a year – to the end of 2020 and a potential doubling of the NAB.
  • Specifically, the agreed package will leave IMF quotas (the primary source of IMF funds), which determine voting shares, unchanged. Instead, these will be reviewed before the end of 2023.
  • IMF quotas are distributed according to a four pronged formula that considers a member country’s GDP, its economic openness, its “economic variability” and international reserves.
  • Some IMF members have become frustrated with the pace of governance reforms, as the balance of economic and geopolitical power has shifted, becoming more dispersed across the world, particularly with the emergence of China and India – among the world’s largest and fastest growing economies.
  • India’s quota is 2.76% and China’s is 6.41%, while the U.S.’s quota is 17.46 % (translates to a vote share of 16.52%) giving it a unique veto power over crucial decisions at the IMF, many of which require a supermajority of 85%.
  • The U.S. has resisted diluting its share, wary that it will benefit countries such as China.
  • Quotas are supposed to be reviewed every five years although these reviews can be delayed – as was the case with the 14th review.
  • That process, completed in 2010, needed approval of the U.S. Congress, and it was not closed out till early 2016. The review’s outcomes included a doubling of the quota total and a shift in some voting rights to underrepresented and emerging market countries. India’s vote share increased marginally.
  • The 15th quota review is currently underway.

Qantas tests longest commercial flightPrelims Current Affairs UPSC

QF7879, a Qantas Airways aircraft flying from New York to Sydney, has just landed after a historic non-stop test flight that lasted 19 hours and 16 minutes. The world’s longest commercial airplane journey had 50 passengers and crew on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for the 16,200-kilometre (10,066-mile) journey.

Project Sunrise

  • Qantas has announced three long-haul flights as part of its Project Sunrise that aims to fulfill its goal of running non-stop commercial flights on a regular basis from the east coast of Australia to London and New York.
  • For these three flights, the airlines will use the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Additionally, the flights will have no more than 40 people on board, including the crew in order to minimise the weight and give the necessary fuel range.
  • According to a statement released by the airline, the carbon footprint from the flight be “fully offset”.
  • A final approval for this project is subject to aircraft economics, regulatory approvals and industrial agreements, for which certainty is expected by December this year.
  • In 1989, a Qantas flight flew non-stop from London to Sydney.

Rohingya agree to move to Bay of Bengal island

  • Thousands of Rohingya living in Bangladesh refugee camps have agreed to move to an island in the Bay of Bengal, despite fears the site is prone to flooding.
  • Dhaka has long wanted to move 1,00,000 refugees to the muddy silt islet, saying it would take pressure off the overcrowded border camps where almost a million Rohingya live.
  • Some 7,40,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in August 2017 in the face of a military crackdown, joining 2,00,000 refugees already in makeshift tent settlements at Cox’s Bazar.
  • Bangladesh’s Refugee Commissioner, Mahbub Alam, said officials overseeing the relocation would be posted to Bhashan Char island in the next few days.
  • Rights groups have warned the island, which emerged from the sea only about two decades ago, might not be able to withstand violent storms during the annual monsoon season.

Dangerous site

  • In the past half a century, powerful cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Meghna river estuary where the island is located.
  • Safety facilities built on the island include a nine-feet high embankment along its perimeter to keep out tidal surges during cyclones, and a warehouse to store months-worth of rations, he added.
  • There was no immediate comment from the UN, although Bangladeshi officials said they expect a delegation would visit the island in the next few weeks.

Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report, 2019

The Credit Suisse Group, a Switzerland-based multinational investment bank, has released the 10th edition of its annual Global Wealth Report. The report typically tracks both the growth and distribution of wealth – in terms of the numbers of millionaires and billionaires and the proportion of wealth that they hold – as well as the status of inequality around the world.

Key findings

  • A key finding of 2019’s report is that China has overtaken the United States this year to become “the country with most people in the top 10% of global wealth distribution”.
  • As things stand, just 47 million people – accounting for merely 0.9% of the world’s adult population – owned $158.3 trillion, which is almost 44% of the world’s total wealth.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are 2.88 billion people – accounting for almost 57% of the world’s adult population – who owned just $6.3 trillion or 1.8% of the world’s wealth.
  • The other way to look at this distribution of wealth is from the prism of inequality. “The bottom half of wealth holders collectively accounted for less than 1% of total global wealth in mid-2019, while the richest 10% own 82% of global wealth and the top 1% alone own 45%,” states the report.
  • What’s more, the global financial crisis of 2008-09 seems to decidedly hurt those at the bottom of the pyramid more than the wealthiest as inequalities within countries grew in the wake of the GFC. “As a result, the top 1% of wealth holders increased their share of world wealth,” states the report.

How is wealth defined?

  • Wealth is defined in terms of “net worth” of an individual. This, in turn, is calculated by adding up the value of financial assets (such as money) and real assets (such as houses) and then subtracting any debts an individual may have.

Drivers of the wealth of nations

  • Several factors can explain why wealth per adult follows a different path in different countries.
  • For instance, the overall size of the population is one possible factor that drives wealth per adult in the country. For a country with a huge population, in terms of final calculation, this factor reduces the wealth per adult.
  • But there is a flip side as well. A big population also provides a huge domestic market and this creates more opportunities for economic growth and wealth creation.
  • Another important factor is the country’s saving behaviour. A higher savings rate translates into higher wealth. The two variables share a strong positive relationship.
  • But by far the most important factor in determining the different trends in household wealth among countries is the general level of economic activity as represented by aggregate income, aggregate consumption or GDP.
  • That’s because the expansion of economic activity increases savings and investment by households and businesses, and raises the value of household-owned assets, both financial and non-financial. But wealth and GDP do not always move in tandem, cautions the report.
  • This is especially so when asset prices fluctuate markedly as they did during the financial crisis.
  • Yet, “In the longer term, the most successful countries are those that succeed in raising wealth as a multiple of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by addressing institutional and financial-sector deficiencies. This can result in a virtuous cycle in which higher wealth stimulates GDP growth, which in turn raises aggregate wealth,” states the report.
  • It further states that China, India and Vietnam provide examples of this virtuous cycle in action.

Ozone Hole

During September and October, the ozone hole over the Antarctic has been the smallest observed since 1982, NASA and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists have reported. The annual ozone hole reached its peak extent of 16. 4 million sq km on September 8, then shrank to less than 10 million sq km for the remainder of September and October, satellite measurements show. NASA has described it as great news for the Southern Hemisphere.

What is an Ozone hole:

  • Ozone, made up of three oxygen atoms, occurs naturally in small amounts. Roughly 10 km to 40 km up in the atmosphere (the layer called the stratosphere), the ozone layer is a sunscreen, shielding Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
  • On the other hand, close to the surface, ozone created as a byproduct of pollution can trigger health problems such as asthma and bronchitis.
  • Manufactured chemicals deplete the ozone layer. Each spring over Antarctica (it is now spring there), atmospheric ozone is destroyed by chemical processes.
  • This creates the ozone hole, which occurs because of special meteorological and chemical conditions that exist in that region.

Why it’s small this year:

  • There have been abnormal weather patterns in the atmosphere over Antarctica.
  • In warmer temperatures like this year, fewer polar stratospheric clouds form and they don’t persist as long, limiting the ozone-depletion process.
  • While it is good news, NASA has cautioned it is important to recognise that what we are seeing this year is not a sign that atmospheric ozone is suddenly on a fast track to recovery.

Eradication of 2 out of 3 wild poliovirus strains

  • In an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on World Polio Day (October 24), an independent commission of experts declared that wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide.
  • This follows the eradication of smallpox and wild poliovirus type 2.
  • The achievement of polio eradication will be a milestone for global health. Commitment from partners and countries, coupled with innovation, means that of the three wild polio serotypes, only type one remains.

Polio Strains

  • There are three individual and immunologically distinct wild poliovirus strains: wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) and wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3).
  • Symptomatically, all three strains are identical, in that they cause irreversible paralysis or even death.
  • But there are genetic and virological differences, which make these three strains three separate viruses that must each be eradicated individually.

Quantum supremacy

Recently, Google announced that it has achieved a breakthrough called quantum supremacy in computing.

What is quantum supremacy?

  • It is a term proposed in 2012 by John Preskill, professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.
  • It describes the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers cannot.
  • In Google’s case, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have claimed to have developed a processor that took 200 seconds to do a calculation that would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years.

What is a quantum computer?

  • Our traditional computers work on the basis of the laws of classical physics, specifically by utilising the flow of electricity.
  • A quantum computer, on the other hand, seeks to exploit the laws that govern the behaviour of atoms and subatomic particles.
  • At that tiny scale, many laws of classical physics cease to apply, and the unique laws of quantum physics come into play.
  • Developing such a computer has been a goal of scientists for nearly four decades.

Difference that such a simulation make

  • It is about processing speed. Let us look at how a classical computer processes information. Bits of information are stored as either 0 or 1.
  • Every string of such digits (bitstrings) represents a unique character or instruction; for example, 01100001 represents the lowercase “a”.
  • In a quantum computer, information is stored in quantum bits, or qubits. And a qubit can be both 0 and 1 at the same time.
  • Quantum physics involves concepts that even physicists describe as weird.
  • Unlike classical physics, in which an object can exist in one place at one time, quantum physics looks at the probabilities of an object being at different points.
  • Existence in multiple states is called superposition, and the relationships among these states is called entanglement.
  • The higher the number of qubits, the higher the amount of information stored in them. Compared to the information stored in the same number of bits, the information in qubits rises exponentially.
  • That is what makes a quantum computer so powerful. And yet, as Caltech’s Preskill wrote in 2012, building reliable quantum hardware is challenging because of the difficulty of controlling quantum systems accurately.

Achievement of Google

  • The researchers demonstrated what a quantum computer is capable of. They built an architecture of 54 qubits with Sycamore, Google’s quantum computer.
  • While one of these did not perform, the other 53 qubits were entangled into a superposition state.
  • The team composed a random sequence of about 1,000 operations. Each time they then ran this random algorithm, the quantum computer would produce a bitstring.
  • Now, some bitstrings are more likely to occur than others, and it is possible to identify which ones are more likely.
  • However, the more complex the random quantum circuit, the tougher for a classical computer to identify the likelier bitstrings — and the difficulty grew exponentially.
  • Supremacy was achieved when they demonstrated that the quantum processor just took 200 seconds to compute a super complex random algorithm, while the fastest supercomputer would have taken 10,000 years.

So, what good does that do?

  • None, as far as practical applications are concerned.
  • The task performed isn’t super important for this milestone; it’s much more about the fact that the milestone happened in the first place, the email from Google said.
  • It cited the Wright brothers as an analogy: “For them to demonstrate that aviation is possible, it didn’t matter so much where the plane was headed, where it took off and landed, but that it was able to fly at all.”

Criticism

  • IBM has disputed Google’s assertion that its quantum calculation could not be performed by a traditional computer.
  • In a blog post, IBM has claimed that the computation described by the Google researchers could be achieved by an existing computer in less than two-and-a-half days, not 10,000 years.
  • Incidentally, IBM itself claimed a quantum computation breakthrough recently. Its researchers made a breakthrough in controlling the quantum behaviour of individual atoms, demonstrating a versatile new building block for quantum computation, IBM said on its website. The paper is published in the journal Science. Google’s research appears in Nature.

Way Ahead

  • The scientists are looking to improve on their work, including detecting and fixing errors.
  • The University of California, Santa Barbara noted that the research has already achieved a very real tool for generating random numbers.
  • Random numbers can be useful in a variety of fields — including protecting encrypted keys for decryption, which could be a potentially thorny issue for governments.
  • Quantum computers could one day result in huge advances in science research and technology. Among areas that stand to gain are artificial intelligence, and new drug therapies. All that, however, is a long way away.

PERSON IN NEWS

SA Bobde

  • Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, currently second in seniority in the Supreme Court, will be India’s new Chief Justice, heading the highest judicial court of the country.
  • A judge since 2000, he joined the Bombay High Court as an additional judge. He was nominated by the 39th Chief Justice Altamas Kabir as the Madhya Pradesh High Court Chief Justice in October 2012. In April 2013, he was elevated to Supreme Court by Kabir.
  • Bobde will take over the highest office of the Indian judiciary as the 47th Chief Justice of the country, replacing Ranjan Gogoi.
  • Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi recommended by writing a letter of appointment for second senior most judge Justice S A Bobde as the next Chief Justice of India.
  • As per tradition, the sitting CJI has to write and recommend his immediate successor.

Shri K. Parasaran

  • The Vice President of India, Shri M Venkaiah Naidu presented ‘Most Eminent Senior Citizen Award’ to legal luminary, scholar and former Attorney General of India, Shri K. Parasaran.
  • Shri Parasaran was honored with the Award on the occasion of the Elder’s Day celebration of Age Care India, an organization working for the welfare of the elderly.
  • The Vice President said that the Award was a fitting recognition of Shri Parasaran’s exceptional contribution to the field of law and justice as well as his extra ordinary personality and added that today’s event was a celebration of the incredible positive energy of a deeply spiritual legal practitioner, who has tried to blend both “dharma” and “nyaya”.
  • Known for his erudition, discipline, hard work, honesty and ethics, Shri Parasaran’s legal canvas has been wide. With equal felicity, Shri Parasaran, throughout his distinguished career, had handled a wide array of cases– be they serious constitutional matters or inter-State water disputes.

Ilham Toti

  • The European Parliament recently awarded the Sakharov Prize for human rights to Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment in China for “separatism”.
  • The outspoken former Professor of economics at a Beijing university was sentenced in 2014.
  • European Parliament head David Sassoli urged China to immediately release Ilham Tohti as he announced the award, which was certain to sow diplomatic tensions with Beijing.
  • “Despite being a voice of moderation and reconciliation, he was sentenced to life in prison following a show trial in 2014,” Mr. Sassoli told a plenary session of Parliament.
  • “By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China,” added the top MEP from Italy.

 

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