01 December 2021 Daily Current Affairs

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Prelims Specific Question

1) With reference to Nilgiri Flycatcher, consider the following statements:

  1. These are endemic to the southern Western Ghats and confined to higher elevations.
  2. It is a Critically Endangered species under IUCN Red list.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

2) 6x6x6 Strategy was seen in news recently. The strategy is related to which of the following?

  1. TB elimination
  2. Space missions
  3. Reduce the prevalence of Anaemia
  4. School education

The 6x6x6 strategy under Anaemia Mukt Bharat (AMB) implies six age groups, six interventions and six institutional mechanisms. This strategy focuses on ensuring supply chain, demand generation and strong monitoring using the dashboard for addressing anemia both due to nutritional and non-nutritional causes.

3) Bab-el-Mandeb strait is connecting which of the following seas?

  1. Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea
  2. Red Sea and Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea
  3. Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea
  4. Irish Sea & Atlantic Ocean

Important News Items of the Day

1) CAG flags delays in Army’s offloading model

Government Owned Contractor Operated Model (GOCO Model)

  • It was one of the recommendations of the Lt. Gen. DB Shekatkar (Retd.) committee to enhance combat capability and re-balancing defence expenditure.
  • In GOCO model, the assets owned by government is operated by the private industries.
  • The private players are given full autonomy in implementing the vision set by the government, using their best practices.
  • The main advantage of the model is that it is efficient and will boost competitiveness among the private entities.

Environment

1) Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW) Initiative

According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW) Initiative is an important contribution towards combating climate change.

The study showed that for every dollar invested into the Great Green Wall (GGW) Initiative, investors can expect an average return of $1.20 with outcomes ranging between $1.10 and $4.40.

What is the Great Green Wall (GGW) Initiative?

  • The Great Green Wall Initiative was launched in 2007 by the African Union.
  • Aim: To restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million jobs for the people in the Sahel region of Africa by 2030.
  • Countries: The 11 countries selected as intervention zones for the Great Green Wall are Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.
Sahel region of Africa

What is the status of the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative?

Only four million hectares of degraded land had been restored between 2007 and 2019. This is because of the lack of financial resources.

Note: According to a UN Report, GGW countries need to speed up the current pace of land restoration to an average of 8.2 million hectares every year.

2) Farm fires added 14.6% to city’s PM2.5 in Nov.

The average contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s PM2.5 level in November was 14.6%, according to data from the government-run monitoring agency SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research).

SAFAR stands for System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research

  • It is a research program to build Air-Pollution mitigation strategies in consonance with nation’s economic development
  • It is launched in greater metropolitan cities of India to provide location specific information on air quality in near real time
  • SAFAR was developed indigenously by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune and operationalized by India Meteorological Department (IMD).
  • Comes under Ministry of Earth Sciences
  • Pollutants monitored: PM1, PM2.5, PM10, Ozone, CO, NOx (NO, NO2), SO2, , Methane (CH4), Non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), VOC’s, Benzene, Mercury.
  • Monitored Meteorological Parameters: UV Radiation, Rainfall, Temperature, Humidity, Wind speed, Wind direction.

Editorials of the Day

Editorial 1 – Small grant but a big opportunity for local bodies

In early November 2021, a potentially game-changing and transformative development went by, almost unnoticed — the release of ₹8,453.92 crore to 19 States, as a health grant to rural and urban local bodies (ULBs), by the Department of Expenditure, the Ministry of Finance. 

Some obstacles

Urban primary health-care services are weaker than what is available in rural India. Regular outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya and the struggle people have had to undergo to seek COVID-19 consultation and testing services in two waves of the novel coronavirus pandemic are some examples. The low priority given to and the insufficient funding for health is further compounded by the lack of coordination between a multitude of agencies which are responsible for different types of health services (by areas of their jurisdiction).

Essential steps

  1. First, the grant should be used as an opportunity to sensitise key stakeholders in local bodies, including the elected representatives (councillors and Panchayati raj institution representatives) and the administrators, on the role and responsibilities in the delivery of primary care and public health services.
  2. Second, awareness of citizens about the responsibilities of local bodies in health-care services should be raised. Such an approach can work as an empowering tool to enable accountability in the system.
  3. Third, civil society organisations need to play a greater role in raising awareness about the role of LBs in health, and possibly in developing local dashboards (as an mechanism of accountability) to track the progress made in health initiatives.
  4. Fourth, the Fifteenth Finance Commission health grants should not be treated as a ‘replacement’ for health spending by the local bodies, which should alongside increase their own health spending regularly to make a meaningful impact.
  5. Fifth, mechanisms for better coordination among multiple agencies working in rural and urban areas should be institutionalised. Time-bound and coordinated action plans with measurable indicators and road maps need to be developed.
  6. Sixth, local bodies remain ‘health greenfield’ areas. The young administrators in charge of such RLBs and ULBs and the motivated councillors and Panchayati raj institution members need to grab this opportunity to develop innovative health models.
  7. Seventh, before the novel coronavirus pandemic started, a number of State governments and cities had planned to open various types of community clinics in rural and urban areas. But this was derailed. The funding should be used to revive all these proposals.

Editorial 2 – India’s informal economy has not shrunk

According to a recent State Bank of India (SBI) Research report, the informal economy in India has been shrinking since 2018. Formalisation, the report says, has taken place through the gross value-added (GVA) route, consumption through increased digital payments, and the employment route.

The report claims that the share of the informal sector is just 15-20% in 2021 compared to 52.4% in 2018. If that was the case, India would have become a ‘miracle’ economy overnight, since no upper-middle-income economy in Latin America or the ASEAN or any low-middle-income country has achieved this kind of transformation. On the other hand, since the COVID-19 outbreak, informality of enterprises and workers has increased in all such economies.

Misleading claim

The SBI study adopts multiple definitions of formality (digitisation, registration in GST, cashless payments), which are not used by anyone. These could be possible instruments of encouraging formality, but cannot separately or even together be equated with formality. The SBI study confuses the shrinking of the informal sector’s share of the GDP due to demonetisation and COVID-19’s impact on the economy with formalisation

The sectors that were most impacted by the lockdowns were those with higher informality. Even formal sector activities which are considered informal (outsourcing and contractual activities) were curtailed heavily during the lockdowns. 

Registration on e-Shram

Another reason that the SBI claims that informality declined is the number of workers registered in the new e-Shram portal. Since the portal’s launch, over 9.9 crore unorganised workers have registered themselves. However, registration means documentation, not formalisation, of workers. Workers who are ‘formal’ receive social security benefits. 

Editorial 3 – Controlling the crypto genie

At one extreme we have China which has almost banned cryptocurrencies and introduced its own centrally regulated digital currency called Digital Renminbi. At the other extreme we have El Salvador which is the first country to use Bitcoin as legal tender. 

The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill of 2021 is listed for introduction this Parliament session. It seeks to “prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India” but allow for “certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology and its uses”. It also aims to “create a facilitative framework” for the creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the RBI. 

While crypto-assets or cryptocurrencies are being embraced by many, they are under fire mostly by the officialdom in many parts of the world, primarily because the transaction process using cryptocurrencies is so secure that only a money transfer can be seen and nothing can be known about the sender and the recipient. These decentralised assets, with no central bank controlling them, may therefore be used for ‘hawala’, which is a trust-based system of transferring money quickly in a parallel arrangement avoiding the traditional banking system and escaping the due tax. Anonymity and privacy are the underlying characteristics as well as the potential danger of cryptocurrencies. There have been money laundering charges using cryptocurrencies. Shadows of cryptocurrencies loom in the supply of money for terrorist activities. Cryptos have become the preferred payment system for hackers in ransomware attacks. And so, the bid to put the genie back in the bottle was inevitable.

Of course, unless all nations work together, the genie cannot be completely controlled. And, unfortunately, that’s a remote possibility. For the time being, countries are imposing their own regulations. And Mr. Musk’s tweets might continue to regulate the crypto dance.

Editorial 4 – The Iran-US deadlock over nuclear capability

The story so far: After a gap of five months, Iran, Russia, China and the European countries resumed negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that had sought to scuttle the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.

What were the terms of the nuclear agreement?

At the time of the agreement, Iran had two nuclear enrichment plants— Natanz and Fordow — that were enriching uranium at a higher purity than what’s required for a civilian programme, and had almost 20,000 centrifuges. Typically, low-enriched uranium, with less than 5% concentration of the fissile isotopes U-235, is used in nuclear power plants. While uranium with 20% and more purity is used in research reactors, the fuel with 90% purity is used in bombs. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium.

According to the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to cut its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98% to 300 kg and keep them at a low purity level of 3.67%. Restrictions were introduced on the number of centrifuges it could keep and Iran agreed to open all its facilities to the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

After pulling out of the JCPOA, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran and then invited Tehran for talks. Iran, on the other side, not just refused to talk with the Trump administration, but also resumed its nuclear programme.

Where do talks stand now?

Joe Biden, during the campaign, had promised to revive the nuclear deal. After his election, he appointed a special envoy for Iran. Indirect talks with Iran through Europeans started immediately. But no agreement was reached after six rounds in Vienna. A change of Government in Iran made matters more complicated. Now, the Iranian delegation, appointed by the new Government of President Ebrahim Raisi, has come forward for talks, which has raised hopes for a breakthrough. But there still are several thorny issues. Iran has substantially stepped up its nuclear activities since 2019.

Editorial 5 – Parliamentary scrutiny on the back burner

Data by PRS India brings this out eloquently. While 60% of the Bills in the 14th Lok Sabha and 71% in the 15th Lok Sabha were wetted by the DRSCs concerned, this proportion came down to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.

Apart from the DRSCs, the government has shown extreme reluctance to refer Bills to Select Committees of the Houses or Joint Parliamentary Committees. The last Bill referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee was The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, in 2015. Some of the most momentous Acts of Parliament in recent years such as the radical overhaul of Article 370 that revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divided the State into two Union Territories were not processed by any House committee.

However, ground was broken in 1993 when 17 Committees (later increased to 24) of Parliament, the Departmentally-related Standing Committees (DRSCs), drawing members from both Houses roughly in proportion to the strength of the political parties in the Houses, were set up.

They were envisaged to be the face of Parliament in a set of inter-related departments and ministries. 

One of the reasons given at this point in time is the novel coronavirus pandemic and the urgent need to enact safety measures. The argument of urgency seems spurious given the fact that some of the most controversial Bills introduced in the House, such as relating to labour and the farm sector, were vehemently opposed by the groups concerned and clearly aimed at market reforms. If it is urgency, then the Women’s Reservation Bill, on which there was a broad consensus in the House, should have come up upfront.

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