Current Affairs Analysis

28th April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

RBI opens ₹50,000 Crores liquidity tap for Mutual Funds; A policy road map to tackle COVID-19; Rapid test for detection of COVID-19; Strategic Petroleum Reserves; Joint Forest Management (JFM); Entry point activities (EPA); Hole in Ozone layer over Arctic closes; Ozone hole; Polar Vortex; Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); Low-cost aerosol box and face shields by ITI; Aerosol; SWAYAM, Tech Together; Jeevan Amrut Scheme
By IASToppers
April 28, 2020

Contents

Issues related to Health and Education

  • A policy road map to tackle COVID-19
  • Rapid test for detection of COVID-19

Economy

  • RBI opens ₹50,000 liquidity tap for Mutual Funds
  • Strategic Petroleum Reserves

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Joint Forest Management
  • Hole in Ozone layer over Arctic closes

Defence & Security Issues

  • Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019

Science and Technology

  • Low-cost aerosol box and face shields by ITI

Key Facts for Prelims

  • SWAYAM
  • Tech Together
  • Jeevan Amrut Scheme

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Issues related to Health and Education

A policy road map to tackle COVID-19

Policies to address the worldwide crisis brought about by COVID-19 must satisfy three criteria.

1. Minimise the direct loss of life:

  • The policy must aim to minimise the loss of life directly resulting from the disease, while recognising that there remain deep uncertainties about its true nature.

2. Restore economic and social life:

  • It must restore the elements of economic and social life as soon as possible to avoid disastrous and lasting consequences like health, schooling, food security and livelihood.
  • The costs of lockdowns have already been massive and will deepen if they result in foregone health treatments, dropouts from school, and permanent closure of businesses.
  • The indirect effects of the lockdown on health and well-being may be severe, especially for poorer persons and countries (evidence of already reduced rates of control of other infectious diseases such as Malaria and TB in India and other countries provides a case in point).

3. Effective solution to crisis:

  • It must aim at a glide path out of the crisis, that can reasonably be projected to end it once and for all — not merely to manage it indefinitely through periodic lockdowns.
  • On and off policies can result in deep damage. There are costs involved in starting and stopping schools and business,

Way ahead for government:

  • Widespread testing and contact-tracing: It needs to be continued indefinitely until a vaccine is developed.
  • Adequate public health infrastructure: The need to rebuild an effective basic health system is underlined by the few success stories to date in handling the outbreak, such as Kerala and New Zealand.
  • Funds: Increase funds to finance vaccine development and other medical innovations. This requires investment in medical innovation and can be leveraged by increasing private firms contribution or through Corporate Social Responsibilities.
  • Smart Leadership:  The need of the hour is smart leadership and smart design of policies can permit restoration of economic and social life.
  • Other Measures: They include systematic collection of test results and other data. Preventing large and dense gatherings & Financial compensation for lost earnings.
  • Delivery of Essential services: Home delivery of essential services.
  • Home isolation: Residential facilities to support self-isolation should be encouraged.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Rapid test for detection of COVID-19

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has stopped rapid tests as the newly procured kits for such tests had failed quality checks and should be returned to the suppliers.

What is a rapid test?

  • A rapid test essentially is a test that takes less time than the 8-9 hours that the standard RT-PCR test result takes.
  • In the Indian context, a rapid test means the serological tests with kits that India had imported from China, which have now failed quality tests.
  • The RT-PCR test looks to find the virus in the nasal or throat swabs of the patient, while the serological test usually looks for antibodies in the blood, which the body develops to fight the virus.
  • Blood has two components, a matrix called plasma and the blood cells.
  • The plasma minus the components of whole blood that cause it to clot, known as serum, is examined in a serological test.
  • The serological test is faster, taking less than 30 minutes, while the PCR-based test takes up to nine hours.

Different kinds of rapid tests:

  • While these commonly look for antibodies developed against the virus, rapid tests can also seek to detect the presence of the virus itself.
  • The latter kind of rapid test looks for viral proteins expressed by the SARS-CoV2 virus in a sample taken from the respiratory tract of a person.
  • If the presence of the protein is detected, it is inferred that the virus is present too.
  • This is the test kit that India had imported.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Economy

RBI opens ₹50,000 liquidity tap for Mutual Funds

Reserve Bank of India has recently decided to open a special liquidity facility for mutual funds (SLF-MFs) of ₹50,000 crore.

Why this move?

  • The RBI has opened the SLF-MFs in the backdrop of Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund deciding to close six debt schemes, citing lack of liquidity in the debt market and unprecedented redemptions in these yield-oriented schemes.

Key Features:

  • The move is aimed at easing the liquidity pressure that mutual funds face.
  • Under the SLF-MF, the RBI will conduct repo operations of 90-day tenor at the fixed repo rate.
  • The SLF-MF is on tap and open-ended, and banks can submit their bids to avail themselves of funding.
  • The special repo window will be available to all LAF (liquidity adjustment facility) eligible banks against eligible collateral and can be availed of only for on-lending to mutual funds (MFs).
  • Funds availed of under the SLF-MF shall be used by banks exclusively for meeting the liquidity requirements of MFs by extending loans, and undertaking outright purchase of and/or repos against the collateral of investment-grade corporate bonds, commercial papers, debentures and certificates of deposit held by MFs.
  • The support extended to MFs under the SLF-MF will be exempted from banks’ capital market exposure limits.

Significance:

  • The liquidity facility provided by the RBI is a good confidence-building measure for mutual fund investors and will help in the normal functioning of the market.
  • The move will reduce the stress being built in the corporate bond segment due to the impact of Covid-19 and preserve financial stability.

[Ref: The Hindu BusinessLine]

Strategic Petroleum Reserves

The crude oil prices in the world are witnessing historical low due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This is an excellent opportunity for the government to fill its strategic petroleum reserves.

What are strategic petroleum reserves?

  • Strategic petroleum reserves are huge stockpiles of crude oil that enable a country to deal with any crude oil-related crisis like the risk of supply disruption from natural disasters, war or other calamities.
  • As per the agreement on an International Energy Programme, each International Energy Agency (IEA) country has an obligation to hold emergency oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of net oil imports.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves in India:

  • Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Limited, a Government of India Special Purpose Vehicle, has established Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) facilities with total capacity of 5.33 Million Metric Tonnes (MMT) at 3 locations: (i) Visakhapatnam (1.3 MMT) (ii) Mangaluru  (1.5 MMT) (iii) Padur (2.5 MMT)
  • As per the consumption pattern of 2017-18, the total capacity is estimated to provide for about 9.5 days of crude oil requirement.
  • Government has given ‘in principle’ approval for establishing two additional SPR facilities with total storage capacity of 6.5 MMT at two locations namely (i) Chandikhol in Odisha (4 MMT) and (ii) Padur in Karnataka (2.5 MMT).

Current Stockpile:

  • Under the existing Strategic Petroleum Reserves programme, India claims to have 87 days of reserves.
  • Out of this, refiners maintain 65 days of oil storage and the rest of the reserves are held in underground salt caverns maintained by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL).
  • The existing and planned capacity for the underground reserves is 10 and 12 days of import cover for crude oil respectively.

Key Facts:

  • India became an associate member of the International Energy Agency in 2017.
  • Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Oil Industry Development Board (OIDB) under the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.
[Ref: Indian Express, Economic Times]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Joint Forest Management

The Forest Department in Rajasthan’s Banswara district has utilised the funds available under the joint forest management’s entry point activities (EPA) for distributing free dry ration kits to over needy families around remote forest areas during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Entry point activities (EPA):

  • The EPA, which mainly envisages creation of the community assets, has ensured participation of local communities in the forestry programmes and generated faith among them for the Forest Department.
  • The concept has been institutionalised in forest management after the formation of the Forest Development Agencies.
  • The Forest Department has taken up sanitation, drinking water supply and construction of hand pumps and toilets in the villages as part of the EPA initiatives for motivating the tribal population in the district to join the efforts for sustainable development of forest resources.

Joint Forest Management:

  • This concept was brought forward by the National Forest Policy of 1988.
  • This mandates State governments to encourage participation of local people and collaboratively share responsibilities as well as the benefits accrued from forests.

Key Features:

  • Under JFM, village communities are entrusted with the protection and management of nearby forests.
  • The communities are required to organize forest protection committees, village forest committees, village forest conservation and development societies, etc.
  • Each of these bodies has an executive committee that manages its day-to-day affairs.
  • In return of their services to the forests, the communities get the benefit of using minor non-timber forest produce.
  • As a result, the forest can be conserved in a sustainable manner.
  • This scheme also stresses on providing market access to the local forest produce at all levels to ensure profits for the forest dwellers and local people.
  • It aims to instill interest among them to safeguard forests and guide them in scientific lines.

Example:

  • The Gaddi and Gujjar tribes in the Himalayan states by practicing controlled grazing of cattle, prevent the widespread growth of wild grass, & thus contribute towards conservation of biodiversity.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 Hole in Ozone layer over Arctic closes

The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has recently announced that a hole in the Arctic ozone layer, believed to be the biggest reported, has closed.

About:

  • The hole in the North Pole’s ozone layer reported in February 2020 had reached a maximum extension of around 1 million sq km, according to scientists at the German Aerospace Center.
  • The ozone hole’s closing has been because of a phenomenon called the polar vortex, and not because of reduced pollution levels due to Covid-19 lockdowns around the world.

The importance of the Ozone layer:

  • Ozone (a molecule of three oxygen atoms) is found mainly in the upper atmosphere, an area called the stratosphere, between 10 and 50 km from the earth’s surface.
  • Though it is talked of as a layer, ozone is present in the atmosphere in rather low concentrations.
  • They absorb the harmful ultraviolet radiations from the sun.
  • UV rays can cause skin cancer and other diseases and deformities in plants and animals.

Ozone holes:

  • The ‘ozone hole’ is not really a hole — it refers to a region in the stratosphere where the concentration of ozone becomes extremely low in certain months.
  • The ‘ozone holes’ most commonly talked about are the depletions over Antarctica, forming each year in the months of September, October and November, due to a set of special meteorological and chemical conditions that arise at the South Pole, and can reach sizes of around 20 to 25 million sq km.
  • Such holes are also spotted over the North Pole, but owing to warmer temperatures than the South Pole, the depletions here are much smaller in size.
  • Before this year, the last sizable Arctic ozone hole was reported in 2011.

Why was the Arctic ozone hole massive?

  • This year, the ozone depletion over the Arctic was much larger.
  • Scientists believe that unusual atmospheric conditions, including freezing temperatures in the stratosphere, were responsible.
  • As per a European Space Agency report, cold temperatures (below -80°C), sunlight, wind fields and substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were responsible for the degradation of the Arctic ozone layer.
  • This year, powerful winds flowing around the North Pole trapped cold air within what is known as the polar vortex— a circling whirlpool of stratospheric winds.
  • By the end of the polar winter, the first sunlight over the North Pole initiated this unusually strong ozone depletion—causing the hole to form.
  • Scientists believe that the closing of the hole is because of the same polar vortex.

Polar vortex:

  • It is described as a whirling cone of low pressure over the poles that is strongest in the winter months due to the increased temperature contrast between the polar regions and the mid-latitudes, such as the US and Europe.
  • The term ‘vortex’ refers to the counterclockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles.
  • The polar vortex spins in the stratosphere, a layer of the atmosphere 10-48 km above the ground and above the troposphere, where most familiar weather patterns develop.
  • Usually, when the vortex is strongest, cold air is less-likely to plunge deep into North America or Europe.
  • In other words, it forms a wall that protects the mid-latitudes from cold Arctic air.
  • But occasionally, the polar vortex is disrupted and weakens, due to wave energy propagating upward from the lower atmosphere.
  • When this happens, the stratosphere warms sharply in an event known as sudden stratospheric warming, in just a few days, miles above the Earth’s surface.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Defence & Security Issues

Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019

The Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has recently released its annual report on global Military Expenditure.

Major Highlights:

  • As per the report, the US, China and India are the three top most military spenders in 2019, with Russia & Saudi Arabia in fourth & fifth place.
  • The top three military spenders accounted to 62% of the world military expenditure.
  • It is the first time in the history of the report that two Asian countries have occupied the top positions.
  • Global military spending in 2019 represented 2.2% of the global GDP and this was an increase of 3.6% from 2018.
  • In 2019, the US had spent 732 billion USD for the military, keeping the country at the top spot.
  • China’s military expenditure reached 261 billion USD in 2019, which is far ahead of India.

Rise in India’s Military Expenditure:

  • India spent 71.1 billion USD over its military in 2019 which is 6.8% more than that in 2018.
  • The expenditure grew by 259% over the 30-year period of 1990–2019, and by 37% over the decade of 2010–19.
  • India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending.
  • However, its military burden fell from 2.7% of GDP in 2010 to 2.4% in 2019.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:

  • Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is an international institute based in Sweden established in 1966.
  • It is dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.
  • SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Science and Technology

Low-cost aerosol box and face shields by ITI

The government-run Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Odisha’s Berhampur has prepared low-cost ‘aerosol box’ and ‘face shields’ for the medical staff involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Aerosol Box:

  • An ‘aerosol box’ is a transparent box with holes to enter gloved hands, which is put over the head of a COVID-19 patient placed on a ventilator in ICU during the intubation process.
  • It serves as a barrier to check possible transmission of COVID-19 droplets from the patient to the treating doctors during intubation.
  • The box is made of 4 mm transparent acrylic sheets cut by a laser cutting machine to make the joints completely airtight and are reusable after sanitisation.

Face shields:

  • The ‘face shields’ are A4 transparent shields with foam-lined elastic bands to keep them attached to the head of the user.

Aerosol:

  • Aerosol is a suspension of fine solid or liquid particles in  air or another gas.
  • Aerosols can be natural or anthropogenic.
  • Examples of natural aerosols are fog, mist, dust, forest exudates and geyser steam.
  • Examples of anthropogenic aerosols are particulate air pollutants and smoke.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Key Facts for Prelims:

SWAYAM

  • The Class Central (a free online course aka MOOC aggregator from top universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, etc.) has released the list of best 30 online courses of 2019 out of which 6 courses are from SWAYAM.
  • The ‘Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds’ (SWAYAM) is an integrated platform for online courses, using information and communication technology (ICT) which covers school (9th to 12th) to Postgraduate Level.

Tech Together

  • Google, Facebook and Twitter have joined The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), a nonprofit organisation, to support individuals with substance abuse during the COVID19 lockdown around the globe. 
  • In an initiative called Tech Together, they have come up with an online platform, which has a collection of resources to help those with substance abuse.

Jeevan Amrut Scheme

  • The Madhya Pradesh govt will distribute one crore packets of Trikuta churan (mixture of dry ginger powder, black pepper and long pepper) under its Jeevan Amrut Scheme to boost immunity.

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