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INSIGHTS DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS + PIB SUMMARY- 21 April 2020

Table of Contents:

current affairs, current events, current gk, insights ias current affairs, upsc ias current affairs

GS Paper 2:

1. Why govt is encouraging ethanol production?

2. How Kerala’s Kasaragod has fought coronavirus?

3. Additional trade barriers violate WTO’s principle of non-discrimination: China.

4. COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility.

5. New Development Bank.

 

GS Paper 3:

1. PM-KISAN Scheme.

2. What is Monetary Policy and Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)?

3. Artificial Neural Networks based global Ionospheric Model (ANNIM).

 

Facts for Prelims:

1. What is “milk tea alliance”?

2. West Texas Intermediate (WTI).

3. World Wide Help (WWH).

4.Matterhorn

 


GS Paper  : 2


 

Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Why govt is encouraging ethanol production?

What to study?

For Prelims: ethanol- production and benefits.

For Mains: Need for blending and the demand for increased production?

Context: Surplus rice available with the FCI is allowed to be converted to ethanol for utilization in making alcohol-based hand-sanitizers and for blending in petrol.

Approval in this regard was recently given by the National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC).

Even sugar mills have simultaneously ramped up hand sanitiser manufacturing capacity to almost 100,000 litres per day to cater its rising demand following the coronavirus outbreak.

 Background:

The Government of India launched the EBP programme in 2003 for undertaking the blending of ethanol in petrol to address the environmental concerns due to fossil fuel burning, provide remuneration to farmers, subsidize crude imports and achieve forex savings.

Besides, the National Policy on Biofuels, 2018 envisages that during an agriculture crop year when there is projected over supply of food grains as anticipated by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, the policy will allow conversion of these surplus quantities of food grains to ethanol, based on the approval NBCC.

 Related- What are ethanol and molasses?

Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a liquid that has several uses. At 95% purity, it is called rectified spirit and is used as the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages. At 99%-plus purity, ethanol is used for blending with petrol.

  • Both products are made from molasses, a byproduct of sugar manufacturing. For making sugar, mills crush sugarcane which typically has a total fermentable sugars (TFS) content of 14%.
  • The TFS component consists of sucrose along with the reducing sugars glucose and fructose. Most of this TFS component gets crystallised into sugar, and the remaining part is called molasses.

Molasses stages:

The molasses go through three stages — A, B, and C, the last one being where the molasses are most un-crystallised and non-recoverable.

  • The ‘C’ molasses roughly constitute 4.5% of the cane, and have a remaining TFS of 40%.
  • After C-molasses are sent to the distillery, ethanol is extracted from them. Every 100 kg of TFS yields 60 litres of ethanol.
  • Thus, from one tonne of cane, mills can produce 115 kg of sugar (at 11.5% recovery) and 45 kg of molasses (18 kg TFS) that gives 10.8 litres of ethanol.

How more ethanol can be produced?

Mills can also produce only ethanol from sugarcane, without producing sugar at all. In this case, the entire 14% TFS in the cane is fermented. Here, a mill can make 84 litres of ethanol and zero kg of sugar.

  • In between the two extreme cases, there are intermediate options as well, where the cane juice does not have to be crystallised right till the final ‘C’ molasses stage. The molasses can, instead, be diverted after the earlier ‘A’ and ‘B’ stages of sugar crystal formation. Mills, then, would produce some sugar, as opposed to fermenting the whole sugarcane juice into ethanol.
  • If ethanol is manufactured using ‘B’ heavy molasses (7.25% of cane and with TFS of 50%), around 21.75 litres will get produced along with 95 kg of sugar from every 1 tonne of cane.

Why focus on more ethanol?

Mills currently have all-time-high stocks of sugar, and they have been at loggerheads with farmers over non-payment of dues.

Mill owners insist that the reason behind their woes is excess production of sugar and fall in its price.

Under the circumstances, ethanol is the only real saviour — both for mills and cane growers.

  1. Recently, the government approved an increase in the price of ethanol to be procured by public sector oil marketing companies from sugar mills for blending with petrol for the 2019-20 supply year from December 1.
  2. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs also allowed conversion of old sugar into ethanol, which again is expected to help mills deal with the current overproduction in the sweetener and make timely payments to farmers for the cane delivered by them.
  3. Ethanol production has been additionally facilitated with the government mandating 10% blending of petrol with ethanol.

Insta Links:

Prelims Link:

  1. What is ethanol? How is it produced?
  2. Difference between ethanol and molasses?
  3. What is ethanol blending programme?
  4. Benefits of ethanol blending?

Mains Link:

Write a note on the 2013 EBP programme.

Sources: pib.

 

Topics Covered: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

How Kerala’s Kasaragod has fought coronavirus?

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Overview of successful models in containing COVID 19 spread and how and why these models should be replicated across the country?

Context: Recently, the Centre showcased the contact tracing and containment model of Kerala’s Kasaragod, one of the earliest spots on India’s COVID-19 map, as one of the success stories of the containment exercise.

Why showcase Kasaragod?

Kasaragod reported the third case of COVID-19 in the country — a student airlifted from Wuhan on February 3. The district administration mounted a massive exercise to trace the 150-odd contacts of that one student.

  • According to figures uploaded by the Kerala government, Kasaragod has had 169 cases and zero deaths until April 19, a unique achievement in itself, given the fact that a large proportion of the district’s population have settled abroad.
  • Of those infected, 123 people have recovered so far, leaving only 46 active cases among the original 169.

What is the Kasaragod model?

  • It involves aggressive testing, technology, foolproof contact tracing, and an effective public awareness campaign.
  • A special officer was appointed to coordinate functioning of the district administration and for effective coordination between line departments at field and secretariat levels.
  • Section 144was imposed in the entire district, with seven drones employed for surveillance.
  • Under the Care for Kasaragod initiative, a detailed action plan — common coordinated action plan — was drawn up for combating COVID-19 so that all stakeholders could turn to it when the situation arose.

As per the Action plan:

  1. All quarantined people were tracked using GPS.
  2. All essentials were home-delivered in the containment/cluster zones, irrespective of whether they were rich or poor.
  3. A campaign on social distancing called “Break the Chain” was carried out to deliver the message of social distancing.
  4. Core teams were formed with incident commanders to rush to various areas and take quick action.
  5. It had a very strong social welfare component, which included free food kits for the poor and migrant workers, a strong check on hoarding and black-marketing, and health checkup on alternate days for migrants or the destitute.
  6. Community kitchens supplied free food.
  7. Jana Jagratha Samitis at the ward level ensured that the messaging reached every person.

Tests and quarantine measures:

  1. A total of 17,373 people were quarantined. On an average, 100-150 samples were tested every day and new testing labs were started.
  2. The medical college in Kasaragod with 200 beds and an ICU facility was operationalised in four days. There is also a 709-bed COVID-19 care centre.
  3. ASHAs and health inspectors carried out household surveys.
  4. All primary and secondary contacts of high-risk cases (those aged 60 or above) were quarantined in isolation centres. This was done as many homes did not have separate toilets.

What are the other successful models containment?

AGRA MODEL:

  1. Under the cluster containment and outbreak containment plan in Agra, the district administration identified epicentres, delineated the impact of positive confirmed cases on the map, and deployed a special task force as per a micro plan made by the district administration.
  2. The hotspots were managed through an active survey and containment plan. The “hotspot” area was identified within a radius of 3 km from the epicentre, while a 5 km buffer zone was identified as the containment zone.

BHILWARA MODEL:

  1. This entailed complete isolation of Bhilwara city with Section 144 CrPC being imposed.
  2. In the first phase, essential services were allowed; in the second phase, the shutdown was total with the city and district borders sealed and checkposts at every entry and exit point.
  3. Trains, buses and cars were stopped. The district magistrates of neighbouring districts too were asked to seal their borders. The message from Bhilwara was “ruthless containment”.

PATHANAMTHITTA MODEL:

  1. Kerala deployed technology to a large extent in the Pathanamthitta model too. Every person who had entered the district was screened and a database created so that they could be reached at short notice.
  2. Graphics were created showing the travel route of the positive cases and publicised. This led to self-reporting. As people realised from the route maps and the travel times that they had come in contact with someone positive for COVID-19, many walked up to be screened or treated.

Sources: Indian Express.

 

Topics Covered: India and neighbours.

Additional trade barriers violate WTO’s principle of non-discrimination: China

What to study?

For Prelims: Latest FDI measures announced.

For Mains: Need for and significance of these measures, China’s concerns.

Context: China has said that the additional barriers set by India for investors from specific countries violate World Trade Organisation’s principle of non-discrimination, and go against the general trend of liberalisation and facilitation of trade and investment.

What is the issue?

In an April 17 decision, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry imposed restrictions saying companies from countries that share borders with India can invest ‘only under the government route’.

The revised FDI policy was aimed at curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. But, it is expected to mainly hurt China. China’s footprint in the Indian business space has been expanding rapidly, especially since 2014. The latest measures will prevent Chinese expansion in India.

What are China’s concerns?

The amended policy makes every type of investment by Chinese investors subject to government approval.

It neither distinguishes between greenfield and brownfield investments nor listed and unlisted companies.

It also does not distinguish between the different types of investors, such as industry players, financial institutions, or venture capital funds.

Besides, making government approval necessary for acquisitions in private companies by Chinese investors will only reduce the number of potential investors available for a prospective seller, and drive down the valuation.

Such a blanket application could create unintended problems.

What has the China said?

The latest FDI measures by government of India do not conform to the consensus of G20 leaders and trade ministers to realise a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.

Companies make choices based on market principles and hence India should revise relevant discriminatory practices, treat investments from different countries equally, and foster an open, fair and equitable business environment.

The Principle of Non-Discrimination in International Trade Law (GATT perspective):

Non-discrimination is a key concept in WTO law, not to say is both central and essential to assuring the success of the multilateral trading system.

The principle of non-discrimination rests on two pillars: the most-favored nation (MFN) treatment obligation and the national treatment obligation.

The principle of non-discrimination is so fundamental for the balance of rights and obligations within the WTO that it continues to induce legal effects even when subject to certain exceptions.

How India defends its latest move?

India’s tweaking FDI rules are not in violation of WTO norms that allow countries to make such changes when issues of national security are at stake.

India is not the only country to make such modifications in policy. Several countries in Europe had changed their laws or made new ones to cope with similar situations.

What provoked the government?

The Indian government appears to have been spooked by the People’s Bank of China raising its stake in India’s largest non-banking mortgage provider HDFC and amid warning calls by MSMEs to prevent a ‘shopping spree’ by Chinese investors of heavily discounted Indian companies.

What next?

While the government would term the move as an act of self-defence and one that follows global pattern, this pre-emptive economic strike would impact foreign investment inflows in India and could follow a Chinese retribution against Indian companies with investments in China.

However, in times of a global pandemic, one can hardly cast a shadow on the government’s motive. As the country braces for the fallout of this decision, it is imperative for the government’s bold move to be immediately followed by a comprehensive FEMA notification and SEBI clarification that addresses the above concerns.

 Insta Links:

Prelims Link:

  1. Latest FDI amendments?
  2. What is the difference between automatic and government approved route?
  3. Sectors in which FDI is not allowed?
  4. Who decides on matters related to FDI in India?
  5. Sectors in which 100% FDI is allowed.

Mains Link:

Discuss the rationale behind the recent FDI amendments. What are its impacts?

Sources: the Hindu.

 

Topics Covered: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility

What to study?

For Prelims: Overview of the new fund, target groups and about IFAD.

For Mains: Significance and the need for supportive measures for the poor worldwide.

Context: Given the magnitude of the challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis, IFAD has launched a multi-donor COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF). 

Key facts:

  1. The RPSF is a short-term strategy that feeds into IFAD’s longer-term development objectives.
  2. IFAD will initiate the Facility with US$40 million of seed funding from grant resources and expects to mobilize at least US$200 million from Member States and other donors to scale up support.
  3. The Facility will leverage the UN Secretary-General’s Response and Recovery Fund and the work of other multilateral partners to achieve food security for the millions of poor rural people in the most remote and vulnerable communities.

Objectives:

  • It aims to improve the food security and resilience of poor rural people by supporting production, market access and employment.
  • The ultimate goal of the RPSF is to accelerate the recovery of poor and vulnerable rural people from the COVID-19 crisis.

Significance of this facility:

This initiative aligns with the UN socio-economic response framework and complements IFAD’s broader COVID-19 response efforts.

It seeks to improve the resilience of rural livelihoods in the context of the crisis by ensuring timely access to inputs, information, markets and liquidity.

The planned interventions fall into four main categories:

  1. Providing inputs and basic assets for productionof crops, livestock and fisheries.
  2. Facilitating access to markets to support small-scale farmers in selling their products in conditions where market functions are restricted.
  3. Targeting funds for rural financial services to ensure sufficient liquidity and to ease repayment requirements so as to maintain services, markets and jobs.
  4. Promoting the use of digital services to deliver key information on production, weather, finance and markets.

Eligibility:

  • All IFAD-supported country programmes that are at risk of not achieving their development outcomes due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive funding from the RPSF.
  • Preference will be given to countries with low institutional and financial capacity to respond to the crisis.
  • Ceiling amounts for countries and projects will be determined by the total amount of financing available.

Insta Links:

Prelims Link:

  1. IFAD- functions and funding.
  2. What is UN Secretary-General’s Response and Recovery Fund?
  3. Eligibility for RPSF funding.

Mains Link:

Discuss the objectives and significance of COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility.

Sources: the Hindu.

 

Topics Covered: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

New Development Bank

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: NDB- roles, composition, objectives and functions.

Context: Finance Minister of India recently attended the 5th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the New Development Bank through video-conference.

About the New Development Bank:

It is a multilateral development bank operated by the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

The New Development Bank was agreed to by BRICS leaders at the 5th BRICS summit held in Durban, South Africa in 2013.

It was established in 2014, at the 6th BRICS Summit at Fortaleza, Brazil.

The bank is set up to foster greater financial and development cooperation among the five emerging markets.

In the Fortaleza Declaration, the leaders stressed that the NDB will strengthen cooperation among BRICS and will supplement the efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global development.

The bank will be headquartered in Shanghai, China.

Unlike the World Bank, which assigns votes based on capital share, in the New Development Bank each participant country will be assigned one vote, and none of the countries will have veto power.

 Roles and functions:

The New Development Bank will mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, to supplement existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development.

Insta Links:

Prelims Link:

  1. NDB- members and voting powers.
  2. Where it can invest?
  3. Which are the NDB funded projects in India?
  4. Fortaleza declaration is related to?
  5. When was NDB established?

Mains Link:

Discuss the objectives and significance of NDB.

Sources: pib

 


GS Paper  : 3


 

Topics Covered: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions.

PM KISAN

What to study?

For Prelims: Features of the scheme.

For Mains: Significance and performance of the scheme.

Context: Under PM-KISAN Scheme Rs. 17,793 crores released for 8.89 crore farmers families during the lockdown.

About Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi:

It is implemented as a central sector scheme by the Government of India.

This scheme was introduced to augment the source of income of many small and marginal farmers.

Under the Scheme an amount of Rs.6000/- per year is transferred directly into the bank accounts of the farmers, subject to certain exclusion criteria relating to higher income status.

The entire responsibility of identification of beneficiaries rests with the State / UT Governments.

Ambit:

The Scheme initially provided income support to all Small and Marginal Farmers’ families across the country, holding cultivable land upto 2 hectares. Its ambit was later expanded w.e.f. 01.06.2019 to cover all farmer families in the country irrespective of the size of their land holdings. 

Exceptions:

Affluent farmers have been excluded from the scheme such as Income Tax payers in last assessment year, professionals like Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Chartered Accountants etc and pensioners pensioners drawing at least Rs.10,000/- per month (excluding MTS/Class IV/Group D employees).

Similar programmes by states:

  1. Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana- MP.
  2. The Rythu Bandhu scheme- Telangana.
  3. Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income augmentation (KALIA)- Odisha.

Sources: pib.

 

Topics Covered: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

What Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)?

What to study?

For Prelims: MPC- composition, objectives and functions.

For Mains: Significance of monetary policy, role of RBI and how is it managed?

Context: The rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) will be meeting five times in FY21, against seven in FY20.

Usually, the MPC meets six times a year. But, in FY20, it had an extra meeting in view of the pandemic and the urgent need to assess the current and evolving macroeconomic situation.

About MPC:

The RBI has a government-constituted Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) which is tasked with framing monetary policy using tools like the repo rate, reverse repo rate, bank rate, cash reserve ratio (CRR).

It has been instituted by the Central Government of India under Section 45ZB of the RBI Act that was amended in 1934.

 Functions:

The MPC is entrusted with the responsibility of deciding the different policy rates including MSF, Repo Rate, Reverse Repo Rate, and Liquidity Adjustment Facility.

Composition of MPC:

  • The committee will have six members. Of the six members, the government will nominate three. No government official will be nominated to the MPC.
  • The other three members would be from the RBI with the governor being the ex-officio chairperson. Deputy governor of RBI in charge of the monetary policy will be a member, as also an executive director of the central bank.

Selection and term of members:

Selection: The government nominees to the MPC will be selected by a Search-cum-Selection Committee under Cabinet Secretary with RBI Governor and Economic Affairs Secretary and three experts in the field of economics or banking or finance or monetary policy as its members.

Term: Members of the MPC will be appointed for a period of four years and shall not be eligible for reappointment.

How decisions are made?

Decisions will be taken by majority vote with each member having a vote.

RBI governor’s role: The RBI Governor will chair the committee. The governor, however, will not enjoy a veto power to overrule the other panel members, but will have a casting vote in case of a tie.

What is RBI Monetary Policy?
The term ‘Monetary Policy’ is the Reserve Bank of India’s policy pertaining to the deployment of monetary resources under its control for the purpose of achieving GDP growth and lowering the inflation rate.

The Reserve Bank of India Act 1934 empowers the RBI to make the monetary policy.

What the Monetary Policy intends to achieve?
As per the suggestions made by Chakravarty Committee, aspects such as price stability, economic growth, equity, social justice, and encouraging the growth of new financial enterprises are some crucial roles connected to the monetary policy of India.

  • While the Government of India tries to accelerate the GDP growth rate of India, the RBI keeps trying to bring down the rate of inflation within a sustainable limit.
  • In order to achieve its main objectives, the Monetary Policy Committee determines the ideal policy interest rate that will help achieve the inflation target in front of the country.

Monetary Policy Instruments and how they are managed?

Monetary policy instruments are of two types namely qualitative instruments and quantitative instruments.

The list of quantitative instruments includes Open Market Operations, Bank Rate, Repo Rate, Reverse Repo Rate, Cash Reserve Ratio, Statutory Liquidity Ratio, Marginal standing facility and Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF).

Qualitative Instruments refer to direct action, change in the margin money and moral suasion.

Sources: the Hindu.

 

Topics Covered: Awareness in space.

Artificial Neural Networks based global Ionospheric Model (ANNIM)

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: The model, how it operates and all about ionosphere.

 Context: Researchers from Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG), Navi Mumbai, an autonomous institute of the Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India, have developed a global model to predict the ionospheric electron density with larger data coverage—a crucial need for communication and navigation.

The model- Artificial Neural Networks based global Ionospheric Model (ANNIM)– has been developed using long-term ionospheric observations to predict the ionospheric electron density and the peak parameters.

How it works?

Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) replicate the processes in the human brain (or biological neurons) to solve problems such as pattern recognition, classification, clustering, generalization, linear and nonlinear data fitting, and time series prediction.

The target (output) of ANNs is the electron density as a function of altitude for any given location and time.

 Potential:

  1. ANNIM has successfully reproduced large scale anomalies of the ionosphere.
  2. It also captured the general morphological features of the ionosphere during disturbed space weather periods, such as geomagnetic storms which occurs when the magnetic cloud originated from Sun (known as Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)) interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere.
  3. The model may be utilized as a reference model in the ionospheric predictions and has potential applications in calculating the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning errors.

 Significance of the model and the need for data on this:

The ionospheric variability is greatly influenced by both solar originated processes and the neutral atmosphere origin, and therefore, difficult to model.

Scientists have tried to model the ionosphere using theoretical and empirical techniques; however, the accurate prediction of electron density is still a challenging task.

Tracking the variability of the Ionosphere is important for communication and navigation.

Sources: pib.

 


Facts for Prelims


What is “milk tea alliance”?

It is a pro-democratic front formed by thousands of internet users from Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong in social networks against the authoritarianism of the Chinese Government and its supporters.

The informal movement began by defending itself against the insults of pro- Chinese twitter users against Thailand. It has now ended up forming a social network group to combat Chinese “propaganda”.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI):

  • West Texas intermediate (WTI), also known as Texas light sweet, is a grade of crude oil used as a benchmark in oil pricing.
  • This grade is described as light crude oil because of its relatively low density, and sweet because of its low sulfur content.
  • It is the underlying commodity of New York Mercantile Exchange’s oil futures contracts.

Why in News?

US oil markets created history when prices of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the best quality of crude oil in the world, fell to “minus” $40.32 a barrel in New York. This is the lowest crude oil price ever known.

World Wide Help (WWH):

IIT Bombay has developed a platform named World Wide Help (WWH) which can be used to connect people seeking medical help with helpers, such as doctors.

How it works?

  1. The WWH platform can be used with an app or a phone. The user simply calls a dedicated number and can input basic data such as the age of the person in need of help and whom they wish to solicit help from. They can supply the phone number, too.
  2. This is registered as a task in the app and assigned to a primary helper who is a junior doctor or medicare professional. Further, the task may be re-designated by the primary helper to a senior doctor, who is the second level of helper.

Matterhorn:

  • Matterhorn is a mountain of the Alps.
  • It is situated in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy.
  • Its summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe.
  • The Matterhorn is mainly composed of gneisses from the Dent Blanche nappe, lying over ophiolites and sedimentary rocks of the Penninic nappes.
  • Sometimes referred to as the Mountain of Mountains, the Matterhorn has become an iconic emblem of the Alps in general.

Why in News?

Indian Tricolour of more than 1,000 meters in size was projected on Matterhorn Mountain, Zermatt, Switzerland to express solidarity to all Indians in the fight against COVID-19.

matterhorn

 


Insights Current Affairs Analysis (ICAN) by IAS Topper