Current Affairs Analysis

15th May 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Himalayas are melting rapidly; One Nation One Ration Card; Second tranche of economic package; Tool to gain deeper insight into Parkinson’s disease; SAMARTH; National Mission of Education in Information and Communication Technology Scheme (NMEICT); New rules governing Rights issues; Hindu-Kush-Himalays (HKH); India reminds China of claims over Gilgit-Baltistan; Gilgit-Baltistan; Diamer-Bhasha dam; Global Energy Transition Index; UNCTAD report on Poverty; Exploring River Nila; Cyclone Amphan; COBAS 6800
By IASToppers
May 15, 2020

Contents

Government Schemes and Policies

  • One Nation One Ration Card
  • Second tranche of economic package

Issues related to Health and Education

  • Tool to gain deeper insight into Parkinson’s disease
  • SAMARTH

Economy

  • New rules governing Rights issues

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Himalayas are melting rapidly

Bilateral & International Relations

  • India reminds China of claims over Gilgit-Baltistan

Also in News

  • Global Energy Transition Index
  • UNCTAD report on Poverty

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Exploring River Nila
  • Cyclone Amphan
  • COBAS 6800

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Government Schemes and Policies

One Nation One Ration Card

The Finance Minister has announced the national rollout of a ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system in all states and Union Territories by March 2021.

About One Nation, One Ration Card system:

  • Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, about 81 crore persons are entitled to buy subsidized foodgrain — rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg, and coarse grains at Re 1/kg — from their designated Fair Price Shops (FPS) of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
  • Currently, about 23 crore ration cards have been issued to nearly 80 crore beneficiaries of NFSA in all states and UTs.
  • In the present system, a ration cardholder can buy food grains only from an FPS that has been assigned to her in the locality in which she lives.
  • The scheme will enable migrant workers and their family members to access PDS benefits from any Fair Price Shop in the country.
  • The new system, based on a technological solution, will identify a beneficiary through biometric authentication on electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices installed at the FPS, and enable that person to purchase the quantity of foodgrains to which she is entitled under the NFSA.

How will the system of ration card portability work?

  • Ration card portability is aimed at providing intra-state as well as inter-state portability of ration cards.
  • The Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) portal provides the technological platform for the inter-state portability of ration cards, enabling a migrant worker to buy foodgrains from any FPS across the country.
  • The other portal Annavitran hosts the data of distribution of foodgrains through E-PoS devices within a state.
  • The Annavitran portal enables a migrant worker or his family to avail the benefits of PDS outside their district but within their state.
  • While a person can buy her share of foodgrains as per her entitlement under the NFSA, wherever she is based, the rest of her family members can purchase subsidised foodgrains from their ration dealer back home.

When was the scheme launched?

  • Government launched a scheme called Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) in April 2018 to reform the public distribution system in the country.
  • To plug the leakages in the PDS system and make the system better, the government started the reform process.
  • For this purpose it used a technological solution involving the use of Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries.
  • Under the scheme, the seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar is being done.
  • Simultaneously, PoS machines are being installed at all FPS across the country.
  • Once 100 percent of Aadhaar seeding and 100 per cent installation of PoS devices is achieved, the national portability of ration cards will become a reality.
  • It will enable migrant workers to buy foodgrains from any FPS by using their existing/same ration card.)

Presently operating in states:

  • It was initially proposed to nationally roll out the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme by June 1, 2020.
  • So far, 17 states and UTs — Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu — have come on board to roll out the inter-state portability of ration cards under the NFSA.
  • Three more states — Odisha, Mizoram, and Nagaland — are expected to come on board by June 1, taking the number of States and UTs to 20 under the One Nation, Once Ration Card System.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Second tranche of economic package

The second tranche of the economic stimulus package has been announced with special focus to migrant workers has been announced recently.

Major Highlights:

  • Free food grains and pulses for migrants, more jobs for tribals and those in rural areas, and credit to small enterprises, street vendors and small farmers — these were some of the highlights of the second phase of the government’s Rs 20 lakh crore Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.
  • Totalling Rs 3.16 lakh crore, the schemes include:
    • 5kg rice or wheat and 1kg ‘chana’ (chickpea) per month for 80 million migrant families for two months (which will cost Rs 3,500 crore);
    •  Rs 1,500-crore interest discount scheme aimed at 30 million units;
    • Rs 5,000-crore special credit facility for five million street vendors;
    • Rs 6,000-crore Compensatory Afforestation Management & Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund for providing jobs to tribals;
    • Rs 30,000 crore emergency working capital scheme for farmers;
    • Rs 70,000-crore boost to lower-middle class housing; and
    • Rs 2-lakh crore concessional credit offer to 25 million farmers through Kisan Credit Cards.
[Ref: Hindustan Times]

Issues related to Health and Education

Tool to gain deeper insight into Parkinson’s disease

The scientists from IIT Dhanbad and CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology Kolkata have teamed up to find a solution to Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease:

  • Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disease that has no cure.
  • It is a movement disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination.
  • It is believed that an aggregation of a protein called alpha synuclein (ASyn) plays a crucial role in the pathology of the disease.

Concern:

  • The aggregation is found in abundance in what is called the substantia nigra portion in the midbrain of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
  • Researchers across the world are studying the mechanism of how the protein forms the aggregates, and how the aggregation results in the death of neuronal cells observed in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Unfortunately, the aggregation of ASyn is not easy to understand.
  • The scientists believe that once these mysteries are uncovered, it could help develop a drug for the disease, which is badly needed and has been long overdue.

Research:

  • The team has found that the Z-scan method is really a technique that could help in monitoring both the early and late stages of the aggregation of ASyn nicely.
  • They found that the protein possesses nonlinearity starting from its monomeric state to the fibrillar structure.
  • The team is exploring ways to use the Z-scan method to study ASyn aggregates ex vivo (in an external environment) using a suitable animal Parkinson’s disease model.
[Ref: PIB]

SAMARTH

NIT Kurukshetra has implemented Enterprises Resource Planning (ERP), SAMARTH under National Mission of Education in Information and Communication Technology Scheme (NMEICT).

Aim:

  • To provide quality education to students across all Universities & Higher Education Institutions.

Key features:

  • SAMARTH is an Open Standard Open Source Architecture, Secure, Scalable and Evolutionary Process Automation Engine for Universities and Higher Educational Institutions.
  • The e-Governance platform has been developed by the Ministry of Human Resources Development.
  • It caters to faculty, students and staff at a University/Higher Educational Institutions.
  • Now, the ERP, SAMARTH, has been implemented at National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra, a participating unit under the World Bank supported Technical Education Quality Improvement Program (TEQIP).
  • The objective of this initiative is to automate the processes of the Institute.

Significance:

  • This initiative will enhance the productivity through better information management in the institute by seamless access to information, and its utilization for various purposes.
[Ref: PIB]

National Mission of Education in Information and Communication Technology Scheme:

  • The National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of MHRD.
  • It seeks to leverage the potential of ICT in the teaching and learning process for the benefit of all the learners in Higher Education Institutions in any time any where mode.
  • This was expected to be a major intervention in enhancing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education by 5 percentage points during the XI Five Year Plan period.

Vision:

  • The three cardinal principles of Education Policy viz., access, equity and quality could be served well by providing:
    • connectivity to all colleges and universities;
    • providing low cost and affordable access-cum-computing devices to students and teachers and
    • providing high quality e-content free of cost to all learners in the country.

Key Features:

  • It seeks to bridge the digital divide among urban and rural teachers/learners in the Higher Education domain.
  • It aims to empower those who have remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy.
  • It plans to focus on appropriate pedagogy for e-learning, providing facility of performing experiments through virtual laboratories, on-line testing and certification.
  • Other initiatives include on-line availability of teachers to guide and mentor learners, utilization of available Education Satellite (EduSAT) and Direct to Home platforms, training and empowerment of teachers to effectively use the new method of teaching learning etc.
[Ref: PIB]

Economy

New rules governing Rights issues

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has announced that listed companies that come out with rights issues before July 31 would not be required to notify shareholders about the issue through postal or courier services.

What is a rights issue?

  • A rights issue is an offering of shares made to existing shareholders in proportion to their existing shareholding.
  • Companies often offer shares in a rights issue at a discount on the market price.
  • Rights issues are used by companies seeking to raise capital without increasing debt.

Purchasing shares:

  • Shareholders are not obliged to purchase shares offered in a rights issue.
  • However, not participating in a rights issue may dilute their overall stake in the company, as there would be a larger number of outstanding shares of the company post the issue.
  • Share prices also tend to come down after a rights issue as the earnings of the company in the future would be divided among a larger number of shares.

How will shareholders be notified?

  • Capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has come out with guidelines that allow listed companies to serve the letter of offer, application form, and other offer material electronically.
  • Issuers will also be required to take adequate steps to reach out to shareholders through SMS, advertisements on television or digital advertisements besides publishing an advertisement in a newspaper which is ordinarily required.
  • Issuers will also be required to publish the letter of offer and other offer material on their websites, with the Registrar of Companies, and the stock exchange.

Problems likely to arise:

  • Shareholders whose email addresses are not registered with the company may not find out about the rights issue, and therefore miss out on the opportunity to invest.
  • This may lead to an increase in the unsubscribed portion of a rights issue, allowing promoters who typically reserve a right to invest in the unsubscribed portion of the issue to increase their stake in the company.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Himalayas are melting rapidly

The Himalayan glaciers are melting rapidly due to global warming leading to consistent loss in areas the glaciers occupy.

Hindu-Kush-Himalaya:

  • The Himalayas is not only the youngest mountain range, but also the Third Pole.
  • The Hindu-Kush-Himalayan chain is spread over 3,500 square kilometers across eight countries including India, Nepal and China.
  • They are known as the Water Tower of Asia due to its reserve of frozen water.
  • According to an estimate, Hindu-Kush-Himalaya (HKH) has the maximum snow storage after the poles.
  • Being a major source of water for the rivers, these glaciers are the lifeline for one-third of the population across the globe.

Concern:

  • The glaciers are melting and receding at an alarming rate in the Himalayas.
  • As per a study, the Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayas might contain 27 percent less ice than previously suggested.
  • If the Himalayan glaciers disappear our rivers will become bone dry.
  • With no water for drinking and irrigation, life in any form would be impossible in the Indian peninsula.
  • The region is expected to lose half of its present-day glacier area by 2060, a decade earlier than the previously expected deadline of 2070.

Recent study by ICIMOD:

  • The first-ever assessment of climate change impacts on the HKH region has been conducted by the regional intergovernmental body International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
  • The study has found that the number of glaciers in the Himalayan area has increased.
  • It’s possible because the increase in the number of glaciers is primarily due to glacier fragmentation.
  • In other words, the big ones are splitting into smaller ones.
  • And this is happening due to global warming and consistent loss in areas the glaciers occupy.
  • The Eastern Himalayan glaciers have tended to shrink faster than glaciers in the central or western Himalayas.
  • It’s natural because when there is an increase in the surface area or the surface exposed to the sun, the fragmented and smaller glaciers shrink faster than the larger ones.
[Ref: Down To Earth]

Bilateral & International Relations

India reminds China of claims over Gilgit-Baltistan

The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs has reminded China about India’s claims over Gilgit-Baltistan.

What is the issue?

  • China has teamed up with Pakistan in Gilgit-Baltistan to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam.
  • India took a strong note of the mega contract and said that carrying out such projects in territories under Pakistan’s illegal occupation was not proper.

Pakistan occupied Kashmir:

POK is divided into two parts:

  • Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK): attached to the western part of Indian Kashmir.
  • Gilgit-Baltistan (referred to as the ‘Northern Areas’ till 2009)

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB):

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is a hilly region to the north of PoK and east of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • It is over five times the size of PoK. However, it is sparsely populated, with just under 20 lakh people.
  • GB is divided into three administrative divisions and 10 districts.

Significance of GB:

  • The GB region is strategically important for many reasons as it is a source of vast glaciers feeding the Indus River system that meets Pakistan’s water needs.
  • It is a gateway for China to the Indian Ocean through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
  • It also shares borders with several countries – the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province provinces (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west and Xinjiang province of China to the north.

Background:

  • The British sold Gilgit-Baltistan, along with the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, to the Dogra ruler of Jammu, Gulab Singh, after defeating the Sikh army in 1846.
  • However, Britishers retained control over the area through a lease of 20 years from the Maharaja to snoop on Russia.
  • Raja Hari Singh acceded the entire state of Kashmir including GB to independent India in 1947.
  • However, Pakistan, along with the Britishers, illegally acceded the GB to Pakistan.
  • Pakistan got the possession but had no legality.

Diamer-Bhasha dam:

  • Pakistan has signed a Rs 442 billion contract with a joint venture of a Chinese state-run firm and a commercial arm of Pakistan’s military for construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam.
  • Diamer-Bhasha in the north-west would have a generating capacity of 4,500MW and stand 272m (892ft) high, making it the world’s sixth tallest dam.
  • Located near the Himalayan peak Nanga Parbat, it would block off a huge valley system on the upper reaches of the Indus river.
  • Diamer-Bhasha dam once completed will allow Pakistan to use the waters of the Indus for irrigation
  •  Islamabad claims that the dam will help reduce downstream flood by the Indus.
[Ref: The Hindu, BBC]

Also in News

Global Energy Transition Index

The Global Energy Transition Index has been released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently.

Global Highlights:

  • WEF had released the ranking of 115 countries across the World measuring readiness for clean energy transition.
  • The study has shown that out of 115 economies 94 have made progress since 2015, but environmental sustainability continues to lag.
  • Sweden has topped the Energy Transition Index (ETI) for the third consecutive year and is followed by Switzerland and Finland in the top three.
  • France (ranked 8th) and the UK (7th) are the only G20 countries in the top ten.
  • The WEF said the “emerging centres of demand” such as India (74th) and China (78th) have made consistent efforts to improve the enabling environment, which refers to political commitments, consumer engagement and investment, innovation and infrastructure etc.
  • The results for 2020 show that 75 percent of countries have improved their environmental sustainability.
  • The report said the scores for the US (32th), Canada (28th), Brazil (47th) and Australia (36th) were either stagnant or declining.

India specific highlights:

  • India has moved up two positions to rank 74th on a global ‘Energy Transition Index’.
  • India has shown improvements on all key parameters of economic growth, energy security and environmental sustainability.
  • India is one of the few countries in the world to have made consistent year-on-year progress since 2015.
  • For India, gains have come from a government-mandated renewable energy expansion programme, now extended to 275 GW by 2027.
  • India has also made significant strides in energy efficiency through bulk procurement of LED bulbs, smart meters, and programs for labelling of appliances.
  • India’s improvements have come across all three dimensions of the energy triangle — economic development and growth, energy access and security, and environmental sustainability.
  • It indicates a strong positive trajectory, driven by strong political commitment and an enabling policy environment.
[Ref: Hindustan Times]

UNCTAD report on Poverty

According to a report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development COVID-19 pandemic is likely to drive around 40-60 million people to extreme poverty.

 About the report:

  • The report titled How COVID-19 is changing the world: A statistical perspective, comes amid a sharp decline in the global economy.
  • The report has been  prepared with the collaboration of 36 international organisations.

Major Highlights:

  • Global poverty — the share of the world’s population living on less than $1.90 (Rs 143.41) per day — is projected to increase to 8.6 percent (665 million people) in 2020, from 8.2 percent (632 million people) in 2019.
  • This unprecedented increase in global poverty was not seen since 1998, when the world witnessed the after-effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
  • Twenty-three million people will be pushed into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, while 16 million will suffer extreme poverty in south Asia.
  • Low- and middle-income countries will suffer the greatest consequences in terms of extreme poverty.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa will be the region hit hardest in terms of increased extreme poverty.
  • There was also an unprecedented shock witnessed by labour markets, with the total number of hours worked estimated to drop by 10.5 per cent in the current quarter.
  • There is typically some delay in drop of economic activity that translates into a drop in employment.
  • The employment drop implies that numerous workers around the world are facing or will face a loss of income, in many cases leading them and their families to (deeper) poverty.
[Ref: Down To Earth]

Key Facts for Prelims

Exploring River Nila

  • The Ministry of Tourism has recently organised a webinar- ‘Exploring River Nila’ as a part of the Dekho Apna Desh Webinar series.

River Nila:

  • Bharathappuzha (“River of Bhārata“), also known as the Nila is a river in India in the state of Kerala.
  • With a length of 209 km, it is the second longest river in Kerala after Periyar.
  • Although the total length of Bharathapuzha is 250 km of which 41 km runs along Tamil Nadu from where it originates.
  • Nila is a lifeline of south Malabar part of Kerala.
  • It is also referred to as “Peraar” in ancient scripts and documents.

 Cyclone Amphan

  • The India Meteorological Department has sent an alert on the upcoming storm- Cyclone Amphan to the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the chief secretaries of eight states and Union Territories.
  • The IMD had declared a cyclone alert for the coastline across the Bay of Bengal as a low-pressure area had formed over southeast Bay of Bengal and adjoining south Andaman sea.
  • It is very likely to concentrate into a Depression over the same region during next 12 hours and further intensify into a Cyclonic Storm over central parts of south BoB by the evening of 16th May.
  • Rains are predicted in the parts of India’s east coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

 COBAS 6800

  • The Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare dedicated the COBAS 6800 testing machine to the nation.
  • This is the first such testing machine that has been procured by the Government for testing of COVID-19 cases and is installed at the National Centre for Disease Control.
  • COBAS 6800 is a sophisticated machine enabled with robotics that minimizes the chance of contamination as well as the risk of infection to the health care workers since it can be operated remotely with limited human intervention.
  • As the machine requires a minimum BSL2+ (Biosafety Level 2 Plus) containment level for testing, it cannot be placed at just any facility.

COBAS 6800 can also detect other pathogens like Viral Hepatitis B & C, HIV, MTb (both rifampicin and isoniazid resistance), Papilloma, CMV, Chlamydia, Neisseria etc.

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