24 November 2021 Daily Current Affairs

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Prelims Specific Question

1) With reference to Rani Gadinlieu, consider the following:

  1. The title “Rani” was given to her by Mahatma Gandhi.
  2. She led the Heraka religious movement.

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

Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16; and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British rulers. Jawaharlal Nehru met her at Shillong Jail in 1937; and promised to pursue her release. Nehru gave her the title of “Rani” (“Queen”); and she gained local popularity as Rani Gaidinliu 

Statement 2 is correct: At the tender age of 13, Gaidinliu joined her cousin Haipou Jadonang’s Heraka movement. The Heraka movement was a spiritual movement dedicated to reviving the ancient Naga tribal religion

2) Justice Srikrishna Committee is related to which of the following:

  1. Data protection
  2. Cyber Security
  3. Monetary Policy
  4. Banking Reforms

3) HomoSEP was sometimes seen in news. Which of the following is related to the term?

  1. A new near-earth asteroid.
  2. New sustainable home designs suitable for Indian climate.
  3. New robot to clean septic tank.
  4. New Artificial Intelligence system to guide elders in home.

Important News Items of the Day

1) ‘Bharat Gaurav’ scheme eyes Railway tourism

To tap the huge potential of tourism, the Railways announced the ‘Bharat Gaurav’ scheme, under which theme-based tourist circuit trains, on the lines of the Ramayana Express, can be run either by private or State-owned operators.

Shri Ramayana Express Route Map

Service providers, who can be an individual, company, society, trust, joint venture or consortium will be free to decide themes/circuits like Guru Kripa trains for covering important places of Sikh culture or the Ramayana Express for places connected with Lord Ram.

Science

1) India’s first Virtual Science Lab for children under CSIR Jigyasa programme.

Union Minister of Science & Technology has launched India’s first Virtual Science Lab for children under CSIR Jigyasa programme.

Jigyasa programme:

  • It is a student-scientist connect programme launched in 2017.
  • Aim: To connect school students and scientists as well as to extend the student’s classroom learning to a very well-planned research laboratory based learning.
  • Implementation: It is implemented by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR) in collaboration with Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan(KVS).

What is a Virtual Science Lab for children under CSIR Jigyasa programme?

  • Aim: To provide quality research exposure and innovative pedagogy for school students to drive their scientific curiosity based on an online interactive medium.
  • Target Age Group: Students of the standard VI to XII (11-18 years) who would like to explore science using different activities, experienced researchers and faculties on the subjects of Science, Mathematics, Biology and IT.
  • Facilities that will be provided by Virtual Lab: Virtual tour of CSIR laboratories, interaction with scientists to clear doubts, Access content in regional languages; Project based support; Simulation Experiments; Science based webinars; Student Entrepreneurship etc.
  • Significance: CSIR Virtual lab will enable curiosity driven research based concepts, encourage higher order thinking skills, promote entrepreneurship and develop passion about science.

Environment

Himalayan glacier changed track 20,000 years ago: study

Nearly 20,000 years ago, a 5-km-long Himalayan glacier “abruptly” changed course and over time fused into an adjacent glacier in present day Pittoragarh, Uttarakhand

The study adds to evidence of the inherent instability of the Himalayan region, among the youngest mountain ranges in the world due to which the underlying tectonic plates that support it are not stable but are jittery and frequently trigger earthquakes and landslides.

International Relations

1) India, U.S. commit to linking economies across sectors

The United States and India committed to integrating their economies across sectors to harness the untapped potential of the bilateral relationship, at the Trade Policy Forum convened after a gap of four years.

Co-chaired by Commerce and Industry, Textiles, Consumer Affairs and Food & Public Distribution Minister Piyush Goyal and U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, the Forum resolved to take economic ties between the two countries to the ‘next high level’ and exchanged views on ‘potential targeted tariff reductions’.

‘Restore GSP benefits’

The Indian side has sought restoration of the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) benefits by the U.S. and said this would help industries from both sides in integrating their supply chain efficiently. The United States noted it ‘for suitable consideration’.

2) UN raises $600 mn for Afghanistan aid

The United Nations said that its flash appeal for more than $600 million to support the humanitarian response in Afghanistan until the end of the year was now fully funded.

According to the United Nations, Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, with more than half of its population at risk of not having enough to eat during the coming winter.

Following the Taliban takeover of the country in August, the UN held a ministerial meeting in Geneva in September, asking international donors for urgent support.

The funds are directed towards helping the 11 million most deprived people in Afghanistan.

Defence

1) DAC approves AK-203 deal with Russia

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) which met under the Chairmanship of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved the long-pending deal for the manufacture of 6.71 lakh AK-203 assault rifles in India, according to a defence source.

Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL), was set up at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh for manufacturing the rifles.

The JV is between Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) from the Indian side and Rosoboron Export and Kalashnikov on the Russian side.

Induction of GSAT-7C Satellite and ground hubs for Software Defined Radios (SDRs) will enhance the ability of the armed forces to communicate beyond Line of Sight (LoS) among one another in all circumstances in a secure mode, the Ministry statement said.

About DAC (Defence Acquisition Council)–

  • The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) is the highest decision-making body in the Defence Ministry for deciding on new policies and capital acquisitions for the three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) and the Indian Coast Guard.
  • The Minister of Defence is the Chairman of the Council.
  • It was formed, after the Group of Ministers recommendations on ‘Reforming the National Security System’, in 2001, post Kargil War (1999).

Economy

1) New Crypto Bill seeks to ban private players

The Union Government will introduce a Bill to regulate cryptocurrency and ostensibly ban all private cryptocurrencies, along with 25 other pieces of legislation, in the winter session of Parliament that begins on November 29.

The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, which is yet to be officially approved by the Cabinet, seeks to create a facilitative framework for creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India.

2) Unicorn startups

Unicorn startups are those with a valuation of over $1 billion or more. India is becoming the world’s fastest-growing startup ecosystem with over 60 unicorn startups as of now.

Similarly, Decacorn and Hectocorn are other terms used to depict companies valued over $10 billion and $100 billion respectively.

3) India to release 5 mn barrels of oil from reserves to cool prices

Where are such reserves located?

  • India’s strategic crude oil storages are located in underground rock caverns of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Mangalore and Padur in Karnataka. The locations are in the coastal areas of India and are at points from which they can easily be taken to refineries.
  • A fourth one is under construction in Chandikhol in Odisha.

Who takes care of the reserves?

The Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited manages the reserves and also the new reserves under construction. It is a subsidiary of the Oil Industry Development Board, which falls under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Why were these set up?

Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government suggested setting up oil reserves as a long term solution to any global crisis that could affect India. This was after the Gulf War in West Asia in the 1990s sent oil prices soaring, affecting India’s import bills and pushing India into a crisis.

Editorials of the Day

Editorial 1 – The road to a Himalayan blunder

The Char Dham road project, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016, is an ambitious attempt to widen nearly 900 kilometres of hill roads at the cost of ₹12,000 crore. The project, which will be executed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), aims to provide all-weather connectivity to the four major shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

In the enthusiasm for an infrastructural project that will increase pilgrimage tourism from the Indian plains and provide attendant local economic dividends, the government has ignored the facts proven by the many tragic incidents in the hills of Uttarakhand over decades. Rampant construction and its complex interaction with climate change has led to massive landslides and floods in the fragile Himalayan range.

Just this year, we saw how the floods in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers claimed over 200 lives. Landslides have occurred in the region.

And so, the question is, why did the MoRTH enter such a fragile terrain with this massive, ambitious project without even doing a basic environment impact assessment, as is mandated?

Prevention and regulation of activities seem to be the only effective way of mitigation in these fragile mountains.

Desecrating the Himalayas

Disaster-resilient, safe and stable infrastructure is the only solution for commuting by road in the hills. But double-lane paved shoulder roads are excessively wide and render the slopes vulnerable. The unique Himalayan landscape with steep slopes and sharp gradients is not amenable to human engineering.

The Char Dham project  in its current form goes against all environmental safeguards. If the government does not desist from widening the roads under this project, it will be a Himalayan blunder.

Editorial 2 – A closer look at the draft Data Protection Bill

The story so far: The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) constituted to examine India’s proposed data protection law, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, released its report on Monday. It contains a number of suggestions that could strengthen the final law, among others, a recognition that promotion of the digital economy cannot take precedence over the protection of citizen rights. However, it fails significantly when dealing with a critical issue – that of protecting individuals vis-à-vis the State.

Section 35 of the Bill, permits the Central Government to exempt any agency of the Government from the provisions of the law, if it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so, subject to procedures, safeguards, and oversight mechanisms to be prescribed by the Government. This is a very wide power that enhances the significant asymmetry in the relationship between the citizen and the State.

Why is it problematic?

  • First, the use of this provision on grounds of expediency is an extremely low bar for the Government to meet.
  • Second, there is no requirement for an exemption order to be proportionate to meeting a particular State function.
  • Third, there is no scope for oversight over the executive’s decision to issue such an order or any safeguards prescribed for this process. The provision also lacks any oversight mechanism or periodic review of the need for and scope of such an exemption.
  • Fourth, there does not appear to be sufficient reason for government agencies to be exempted in toto from basic provisions of the Bill such as the need to put in place data retention norms, appoint data protection officers, or ensure security safeguards, etc. This is particularly relevant when one considers that not all processing by law enforcement entities need directly concern their law enforcement functions.

What are the best practices followed in the world?

The JPC notes that the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), commonly seen as the pinnacle of data protection regulation worldwide, exempts from its ambit certain types of processing carried out in public interest (such as for law enforcement purposes).

Factors to be keep in mind while following these best practices –

  • EU law typically does not engage with issues concerning national security (implying that armed forces and intelligence agencies are usually not regulated by EU law), and
  • EU has in place a separate law (Directive 2016/680) that deals with the processing of personal data by law enforcement agencies. 

Countries do put in place regulations concerning processing of personal data by law enforcement agencies. For example, the U.K.’s Data Protection Act dedicates Part 3 to dealing with law enforcement processing and in this context, liberalises certain obligations while at the same time ensuring that data protection rights are also protected.

What are the other exemptions granted to the state?

Section 12 permits non-consensual processing by the “state” in various circumstances. However, the term “state” is of extremely wide import. It has been interpreted by courts to encompass a range of state entities such as state electricity boards, research and educational institutions and statutory corporations such as the LIC. 

Section 36(a) of the Bill provides for an exception in situations where personal data is being processed in the interests of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of any offence or any other contravention of any law. However, the provision is not restricted in its application only to law enforcement entities. 

Editorial 3 – MSP — the factoids versus the facts

What is Minimum Support Price (MSP)?

  • MSP is the price set by the government to purchase crops from the farmers, whatever may be the market price for the crops.
  • The MSP is meant to set a floor below which prices do not fall, and is announced by the government for 23 commodities. It is the price at which the government ‘promises’ to buy from farmers if market prices fall below it.
  • MSP is declared by Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs before the sowing time on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP)
  • Support prices generally affect farmers’ decisions indirectly, regarding land allocation to crops, quantity of the crops to be produced etc
  • MSP assures farmers agricultural income besides providing a clear price signal to the market
  • The major objectives are to support the farmers from distress sales and to procure food grains for public distribution. 

What are some of the misconceptions regarding MSP and arguments against it?

  1. Few (6%) farmers benefit
  • One, the 6% figure from the NSS data 2012-13 relates to paddy and wheat alone. Even here, however, among those who sold any paddy/wheat, the numbers are higher — 14% and 16%
  1. Only farmers of Punjab and Haryana (to some extent, western UP) benefit.
  • The Government of India has made a systematic effort to expand the reach of MSP to more States, via the Decentralized Procurement (DCP) Scheme. 
  • Introduced in 1997-98, it was not very popular in the initial years and began to be adopted by States in earnest only around 2005. 
  • Under the DCP scheme, the responsibility of procurement devolved to the State governments which were reimbursed pre-approved costs. 
  • FCI data suggest that by July 2015, as many as 15 States had taken up this programme, though not all were implementing it with equal enthusiasm. 
  • Largely on account of it, procurement began moving out of ‘traditional’ States (such as Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh). 
  • Until 2000, barely 10% of wheat and rice was procured outside the traditional States. By 2012-13, the share of the DCP States rose to 25-35%.
  • Chhattisgarh and Odisha contribute about 10% each to the total paddy procurement in the country. For wheat, decentralised procurement has taken off in Madhya Pradesh in a big way, accounting for approximately 20% of wheat procurement. 
  1. Only large farmers benefit
  • Procurement has benefited the small and marginal farmers in much bigger numbers than medium and large farmers. 
  • At the all-India level, among those who sold paddy to the government, 1% were large farmers, owning over 10 hectares of land. 
  • Small and marginal farmers, with less than 2 hectares accounted for 70%. The rest (29%) were medium farmers (2-10 hectares).
  • In the case of wheat, 3% of all wheat-selling farmers were large farmers. More than half (56%) were small and marginal farmers.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, nearly half (45%) of those who sell wheat to government agencies are small or marginal farmers.

Conclusion

Getting the facts right is an important first step in resolving the issues facing the agricultural sector and farmers’ issues. To recap, the facts are as follows: 

  • One, the proportion of farmers who benefit from (even flawed) government procurement policies is not insignificant. 
  • Two, the geography of procurement has changed in the past 15 years. It is less concentrated in traditional States such as Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, as DCP States such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have started participating more vigorously. 
  • Three, perhaps most importantly — it is predominantly the small and marginal farmers who have benefited from the MSP and procurement,

 

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