Current Affairs Analysis

27th March 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

H1-B visa; Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana; Indian Bank to give COVID-19 loans; Tsunami warnings after magnitude 7.8 quake near Kuril Islands; Location of Kuril Islands; Kuril Island dispute; Guidelines for Telemedicine; Protecting peatlands can help attain climate goals; Peatlands; Biomining; ACE2 receptors.
By IASToppers
March 27, 2020

Contents

Government Schemes and policies

  • Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana

Issues related to health and education

  • Guidelines for Telemedicine

Economy

  • Indian Bank to give COVID-19 loans

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Protecting peatlands can help attain climate goals

Geophysical Phenomenon

  • Tsunami warnings after magnitude 7.8 quake near Kuril Islands

Key Facts for Prelims

  • H1-B visa;
  • Biomining;
  • ACE2 receptors

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Government Schemes and policies

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana

The Union government has announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and countrywide lockdown, providing free food and cash transfers to support the poorest citizens who are most vulnerable during the crisis.

Announcements:

1.  PM Garib Kalyan Yojana will include cash transfers to the poor and migrants.

2. About 80 crore people will come under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (food scheme). Everyone under this scheme will get 5 kg of wheat/rice for free in addition to what they are already getting. The government will also give 1 kg of one choice of pulse to each household under this scheme for the next three months. People can take it in two installments as well.

3. The Finance Minister has announced medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per healthcare worker.

4. Farmers receive Rs 6,000 every year through the PM-KISAN scheme. The government will now be giving the first instalment upfront. About 8.69 crore farmers are expected to benefit from this immediately.

5. The government expects that wage increase under MNREGA will benefit 5 crore families. The wage increase will amount into an additional income of Rs 2,000 per worker.

6. The government will offer cash transfer through DBT (direct benefit transfer) in in eight parts: Farmers, MNREGA, widows, poor pensioners, divyang, women under Jan Dhan Yojana, women and households under Ujjwala scheme, self-help groups for women including those under the livelihood mission, organised sector workers under EPFO, construction workers and district mineral funds.

7. ‘Divyangs’, poor senior citizens, widows will get Rs 1,000 over the next three months.

8. For 63 lakh SHGs, which help 7 crore households, the government is doubling collateral-free loans to Rs 20 lakh.

9. About 8.3 crore families below poverty line will get free LPG cylinders for three months.

10. The government of India will pay the EPF contribution, both of the employer and employee (12 percent each), for the next three months. This is for establishment which have up to 100 employees, with 90% of them earning less than 15,000.

11. EPFO Scheme’s regulations for organised sector will be amended to allow non-refundable advance of 75% of the amount standing to the credit of the worker or three months’ wages, whichever is lower. This will benefit 4.8 crore workers who are registered with EPF and in a position to withrdraw money.

12. The state governments have been directed to use the welfare fund for building and construction labourers. The District Mineral Fund, worth about Rs 31,000 crore, will be used help those who are facing economic disruption because of the lockdown.

13. 20 crore woman Jan Dhan account holders to be given ex-gratia amount of 500 rupees per month for the next three months, to run the affairs of their household.

Criticism:

  • The Rs 1.7 lakh crore economic package announced for the vulnerable sections — farmers, women, construction workers, senior citizens, widows and the disabled — is less than 1 per cent of India’s GDP.
  • The issue at hand is not just the size of the package relative to the GDP but the urgency of monetary transfer to unorganised sector workers, who have not only lost their jobs and income, but also face a massive health scare.

Concerns:

  • There is no evidence that the government has a plan for unorganised sector workers such as dhobis, rickshaw pullers, barbers, rural labourers, etc, even if they are registered with state governments. Neither for construction workers who are not registered with states. Workers in both these segments will not be eligible for any payout.
  • The strength of the unorganised sector force stood at 47.41 crore, according to the NSSO’s Employment and Unemployment Survey, 2011-12. While the Labour Ministry does not keep data on migrant workers, the Economic Survey in the past had assumed it at 20 per cent of the total workforce.
[Ref: Deccan Herald, The Hindu, Indian Express]

Issues related to health and education

Guidelines for Telemedicine

In order to assure steady and quick medical services as movement of people has been restricted in the 21-day coronavirus lockdown, the government of India has issued a set of guidelines for telemedicine or remote delivery of medical services.

What is the move?

  • The guidelines have been issued by the Ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW), in collaboration with NITI Aayog and Board of Governors, Medical Council of India (MCI).
  • With the telemedicine guidelines in place, doctors will be able to write prescriptions based on telephonic, textual or video conversations — chat, images, messaging, emails, fax and others.
  • This will allow users to consult certified medical practitioners without going out of the house and reduce the risk of transmission even further.
  • Disasters and pandemics pose unique challenges to providing healthcare.
  • Though telemedicine will not solve them all, it is well suited for scenarios in which medical practitioners can evaluate and manage patients.
  • A telemedicine visit can be conducted without exposing staff to viruses/infections in the times of such outbreaks.
[Ref: INC42]

Economy

Indian Bank to give COVID-19 loans

Public sector lender Indian Bank has announced special emergency loans for various categories of customers such as individuals, corporates, MSMEs and self-help groups (SHGs), retail borrowers and pensioners.

What is the move?

  • Ind-Covid emergency credit line will provide additional funding of up to 10% of the working capital limits (fund-based and non-fund based) with a maximum limit of ₹100 crore.
  • Large corporates and medium enterprises that are in the standard category would be eligible for this loan.
  • The loan tenor will be 36 months with an initial moratorium of up to six months and would carry a fixed interest rate of one-year MCLR. All other charges are waived.
  • Ind-MSE Covid emergency loan will provide an additional funding of 10% of fund-based working capital limits subject to a maximum of ₹50 lakh to all MSMEs. It has a 60-month tenor.
  • To help SHGs tide over the crisis, Indian Bank has launched the SHG-Covid-Sahaya loan. Under this, each member can avail a soft loan of ₹5,000 and ₹1 lakh per SHG. The loan is for 36 months with six months moratorium.
  • Ind-Covid emergency salary loan will be given to salaried employees up to an amount equivalent to 20 times the latest monthly gross salary subject to a maximum of ₹2 lakh. This is to meet urgent medical and other expenditure. The loan will be given at a concessional rate of interest and all charges are waived.
  • Ind Covid emergency pension loan is provided up to 15 times of monthly pension subject to a maximum of ₹2 lakh, with a 60-month repayment tenor. Interest is charged at concessional rates interest and all charges are waived.
  • It is expected that these credit lines will meet the immediate liquidity requirements of businesses and other sections of the society.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Protecting peatlands can help attain climate goals

Peatlands, which play a crucial role in regulating global climate by acting as carbon sinks, are facing degradation and need to be urgently monitored, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations report released recently.

Highlights of the report:

  • Peatlands cover only three per cent of Earth’s surface. However, their degradation due to drainage, fire, agricultural use and forestry can trigger release of the stored carbon in a few decades.
  • The report highlights important case studies from Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Peru in their attempts to map and monitor peatlands.
  • Peatlands contain 30 per cent of the world’s soil carbon.
  • When drained, these emit greenhouse gases, contributing up to one gigaton of emissions per year through oxidation, according to the report.

Mapping peatlands:

  • Peatlands are formed due to the accumulation of partially decomposed plant remains over thousands of years under conditions of water-logging.
  • To prevent their further degradation, these areas should be urgently mapped and monitored.
  • Peatland mapping tells us where the peat is and what condition it is in.
  • Together, with conservation and restoration measures, mapping also helps in maintaining water regulation services (reduction of flood intensities) and biodiversity.
  • For countries keen on reducing emissions, monitoring the ground water level of peatlands is vital, or else they can turn into carbon emission sources.
  • Mapping methodologies include both ground and remotely-sensed input data.
  • The monitoring exercise of Peatlands requires a mix of satellite and ground-based exercises.

Degraded peatlands:

  • Badly degraded peatlands that have been drained for a longer period of time, potentially burned and intensely managed can become hydrophobic.
  • In this case, their re-wetting would not occur via natural means.
  • Though peatlands in North America and the Russian Federation are still intact, about 25 per cent have degraded in Europe, Central and Southeast Asia, East Africa, southern America and the Amazon.

Restoration measures:

  • Indonesia, which has 40 per cent of all tropical peatlands, has taken corrective measures to alter drainage and deforestation since the 1980s.
  • Their government created the Peat Ecosystem Restoration Information System (PRIMS), an online platform that provides information on the condition of peatlands and restoration efforts undertaken.
  • Restoration work of highland peatlands was also conducted in the Hindukush Himalayan (HKH) region.
  • This was done to ensure water security for cities in their watersheds.
  • According to an ICIMOD report, the total peat area, excluding China, in the HKH region was 17,106 square kilometres in 2008. The degrading peat area was 8,236 square kilometres.
  • In India, peatlands occupy roughly 320–1,000 square kilometres area.

Other benefits:

  • Peatlands occur in different climate zones. While in tropical climate, they can occur in mangroves, in Arctic regions, peatlands are dominated by mosses. Some mangrove species are known to develop peatland soils under them.
  • Besides climate mitigation, peatlands are important for archaeology, as they maintain pollen, seeds and human remains for a long time in their acidic and water-logged conditions.
  • The vegetation growing on pristine peatlands provide different kinds of fibres for construction activities and handicrafts.
  • Peatlands also provide fishing and hunting opportunities. It is also possible to practise paludiculture or wet agriculture on rewetted peatlands.
  • According to the Greifswald Mire Centre Strategy 2018-2022, rewetting of peatlands reduces emissions and can play an important role in achieving the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Geophysical Phenomenon

Tsunami warnings after magnitude 7.8 quake near Kuril Islands

U.S. authorities put out tsunami warnings after an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck off Russia’s Kuril Islands, but meteorological officials in Japan issued no alerts, although they said there might be slight tidal changes.

Location of Kuril Islands:

  • Kuril Islands are volcanic archipelago in Sakhalin oblast province, far-eastern Russia.
  • The archipelago extends for 1,200 km from the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia to the north-eastern corner of Hokkaido Island ,Japan.
  • It separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean. The 56 islands cover 6,000 square miles (15,600 square km).
  • The chain is part of the belt of geologic instability circling the Pacific and contains at least 100 volcanoes, of which 35 are still active, and many hot springs.
  • Earthquakes and tidal waves are common phenomenon hitting the island.

Kuril Islands Dispute:

  • Four islands – which Russia calls the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories are the subject of a 60-year-old dispute between the two nations.
  • Because of the dispute, Russia and Japan have not yet signed a peace treaty to end World War II.
  • Japanese people migrated north to the islands in the 18th and 19th century, including members of Hokkaido’s minority Ainu community.
  • In 1855, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimoda, which gave Japan ownership of the four southern islands and Russia ownership of everything to the north.
  • Communities developed on three of the islands and by the time World War II began, there were 17,000 Japanese residents.
  • Russia took control of the islands at the end of the war, and by 1949 it had deported all residents to Japan.
  • Under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed between the Allies and Japan, Japan renounced “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands“, as well as over other possessions.
  • But this resolved nothing, because Russia did not sign the treaty and the Japanese government has never recognised the four islands as part of the Kuril chain.
  • In 1956, the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration restored diplomatic ties between the two nations, but a formal peace deal remained out of reach because of the territorial dispute.
  • At the time, Russia proposed returning the two islands closest to Japan, a deal Japan rejected, in part because the two islands represent only 7% of the land in question.
  • Since then, the dispute has remained unresolved.
[Ref: The Hindu, Britannica, BBC]

Key Facts for Prelims

H1­B visa

  • The US H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in IT, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, medicine, etc.
  • Any professional level job that usually requires you to have a bachelors degree or higher can come under the H-1B visa for specialty occupations.
  • If one does not have a bachelors degree or higher he may be able to show degree equivalence through work experience and/or other qualifications.
  • The US employer petitions for the H-1B Visa in the US which has a duration of up to 6 years.

Biomining

  • Biomining is a technique of extracting metals from ores and other solid materials typically using prokaryotes or fungi.
  • These organisms secrete different organic compounds that chelate metals from the environment and bring it back to the cell where they are typically used to coordinate electrons.
  • It was discovered in the mid 1900s that microorganisms use metals in the cell.
  • Some microbes can use stable metals such as iron, copper, zinc, and gold as well as unstable atoms such as uranium and thorium.
  • Companies can now grow large chemostats of microbes that are leaching metals from their media, these vats of culture can then be transformed into many marketable metal compounds.
  • Biomining is an environmentally friendly technique compared to typical mining.
  • Mining releases many pollutants while the only chemicals released from biomining is any metabolites or gasses that the bacteria secrete.
  • Microbes can achieve things at a chemical level that could never be done by humans.
  • Bacteria can mine for metals, clean oil spills, purify gold, and use radioactive elements for energy.

ACE2 receptors

  • The speed at which COVID-19 is spreading, in comparison to the strains that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is shocking.
  • One of the reasons is the presence of the spike protein in the virus and its affinity to the ACE2 receptors (Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 receptors) in human cells.
  • Since there is a strong binding of virus with the ACE2 receptors, the virus is able to infect and multiply even with a small number of them entering the human body.
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