Current Affairs Analysis

2nd April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Centre to borrow ₹4.88 lakh cr. in first half; China chases Indonesia’s fishing fleets; Anti-microbial coating developed by JNCASR; Punjab Village and Small Towns Act; Tablighi Jamaat; Ways and Means Advances; NCDC and IPL contributed toward COVID-19 fund; National Cooperative Development Corporation; PM CARES Fund; US Virgin Islands bans sunscreens harming coral reefs; Coral Reefs; Taipa calls for boosting telecom network capacity; Core sector’s growth rate highest in 11 months; Core sector industries; Natuna islands; Plaque forming unit (PFU); Jordan Desert
By IASToppers
April 02, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Punjab Village and Small Towns Act

Economy

  • Centre to borrow ₹4.88 lakh cr. in first half
  • NCDC and IPL contributed toward COVID-19 fund
  • Taipa calls for boosting telecom network capacity
  • Core sector’s growth rate highest in 11 months

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • US Virgin Islands bans sunscreens harming coral reefs

Bilateral & International Relations

  • China chases Indonesia’s fishing fleets

Science & Technology

  • Anti-microbial coating developed by JNCASR

Art and Culture

  • Tablighi Jamaat

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Plaque forming unit (PFU)
  • Jordan Desert

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Polity & Governance

Punjab Village and Small Towns Act

The authorities in Panchkula, Punjab have recently invoked an otherwise redundant British-era law, titled the “Punjab Village and Small Towns Act”, to curtail people’s movement during the lockdown.

What is the law?

  • The law was first enacted in 1918 in erstwhile Punjab to make provisions for nightly patrol duty by inhabitants of small villages and towns in cases of emergency.
  • Under this Act, if the Deputy Commissioner of a district in Punjab or Haryana is of the opinion that in a village, special measures need to be taken to secure public safety, he has the power to make an order requiring all “able-bodied adult male inhabitants” to patrol the village.
  • The time period of the applicability of the order is up to the Deputy Commissioner and the maximum time period is up to one year.
  • The Deputy Commissioner shall have power to alter the number of persons required for patrol duty and the method of their selection, and shall inform the village panchayat of his decision.

Current Scenario:

  • The Deputy Commissioner of Panchkula has passed such an order under section 3 of this Act and has declared that all able-bodied male inhabitants of the villages be liable to be on patrol duty both during the day and night.
  • The aim of the patrol in the present case is to keep a watch on people entering villages without a valid pass and to make sure villagers follow social distancing norms.
  • The order, which was put in place on March 27, will remain in force until May 30, 2020, until otherwise revoked or cancelled.
  • Those who are not following the provisions will be liable under sections 9 and 11 of the Act, which means they may have to pay a fine imposed by the village panchayat or a fine imposed by the deputy commissioner, not exceeding Rs 100.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Economy

Centre to borrow ₹4.88 lakh cr. in first half

RBI has raised the limit for short term credit that the government can borrow from the central bank. The limits for this credit facility, known as ‘Ways and Means Advances’, has been raised sharply to Rs 1.2 lakh crore for the first half of 2020-21.

Ways and Means Advances:

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) gives temporary loan facilities to the central and state governments.
  • This loan facility is called Ways and Means Advances (WMA).
  • The Ways and Means Advances scheme was introduced in 1997.

Purpose of the WMA scheme:

  • The Ways and Means Advances scheme was introduced to meet mismatches in the receipts and payments of the government.

How does it work?

  • The government can avail of immediate cash from the RBI, if required. But it has to return the amount within 90 days. Interest is charged at the existing repo rate.
  • If the WMA exceeds 90 days, it would be treated as an overdraft (interest rate on overdrafts is 2 percentage points more than the repo rate).

What is WMA limit?

  • The limits for Ways and Means Advances are decided by the government and RBI mutually and revised periodically.
  • For the second half of the 2019-20 financial year, RBI set Rs 35,000 crore as limit for Ways and Means Advances.

Types of WMA:

  • There are two types of Ways and Means Advances — normal and special.
  • Special WMA or Special Drawing Facility is provided against the collateral of the government securities held by the state.
  • After the state has exhausted the limit of SDF, it gets normal WMA.
  • The interest rate for SDF is one percentage point less than the repo rate.
  • The number of loans under normal WMA is based on a three-year average of actual revenue and capital expenditure of the state.
[Ref: Business Standard]

NCDC and IPL contributed toward COVID-19 fund

National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) and Indian Potash Limited have jointly contributed towards the PM CARES Fund.

National Cooperative Development Corporation:

  • The National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) was established by an Act of Parliament in 1963 as a statutory Corporation under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare.

Functions:

  • Planning, promoting and financing programmes for production, processing, marketing, storage, export and import of agricultural produce, food stuffs, certain other notified commodities etc.
  • NCDC will now be able to finance projects in the rural industrial cooperative sectors and for certain notified services in rural areas like water conservation, irrigation and micro irrigation, agri-insurance, agro-credit, rural sanitation, animal health, etc.
  • Loans and grants are advanced to State Governments for financing primary and secondary level cooperative societies and direct to the national level and other societies having objects extending beyond one State.

PM CARES Fund:

  • A special fund Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES FUND) has been set up for providing relief to the persons affected from the outbreak of Corona virus.
  • The Ordinance also amended the provisions of the Income-tax Act to provide the same tax treatment to PM CARES Fund as available to Prime Minister National Relief Fund.
  • Therefore, the donation made to the PM CARES Fund shall be eligible for 100% deduction under section 80G of the IT Act.
  • Further, the limit on deduction of 10% of gross income shall also not be applicable for donation made to PM CARES Fund.
[Ref: PIB]

Taipa calls for boosting telecom network capacity

With data traffic in the country surging by at least 30% in the past few days amid most people working from home, the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (Taipa) called for boosting telecom network capacity.

Major Highlights:

  • There is a need to quickly enhance telecom network capacity for which the States need to align their policies with the Centre’s Right of Way (RoW) 2016 norms.
  • To maintain data usage and smooth functioning of telecom services 24/7, the telecom sector needs critical, robust infrastructure.
  • With more than three years gone, only 16 States out of 36 States/UT’s have broadly aligned their policy with RoW Policy 2016.
  • The RoW rules, which were notified in November 2016, provide for a framework to give approvals for setting up of telecom towers, laying of fibre cables and settling disputes in a time-bound manner.
  • COVID-19 outbreak has created an unprecedented crisis across the globe because of which the government has directed public and private employees to work from home.
  • This has led to over 30% increase in data consumption since the lockdown began.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Core sector’s growth rate highest in 11 months

Growth in refinery products, electricity and coal production pulled up India’s core sector growth in February 2020 (year-on-year) to an 11-month high of 5.5 per cent.

Major Highlights:

  • Cement and fertilisers, too, posted an increase in production during the month but crude oil, natural gas and cement output declined, according to data released by the Commerce and Industry Ministry.
  • The outlookndoesn’t seem very bright for March 2020, as the lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19 has disrupted the production process in the country and globally.

Cumulative growth:

  • The eight core industries comprise 40.27 per cent of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).
  • The cumulative growth in the core sector during April to February 2019-20 was 1 per cent.
  • Electricity generation (weight of 19.85 per cent) rose 11 per cent in February, 2020 over February 2019. Its cumulative index increased by 1.8 per cent during April-February, 2019-20 over the corresponding period of the previous year.
  • Coal production (weight of 10.33 per cent) increased by 10.3 per cent in February 2020 but its total growth in the April-February 2019-20 period fell by 1.2 per cent.
  • Petroleum refinery production (weight of 28.04 per cent) increased by 7.4 per cent in February 2020 over February 2019. Its cumulative index increased by 0.3 per cent during April-February 2019-20 over the corresponding previous period.
  • Steel production (weight of 17.92 per cent) fell marginally by 0.4 per cent in February 2020. However, in the first 11 months of the fiscal, steel production posted an overall increase of 5 per cent.
  • Crude oil production (weight of 8.98 per cent) declined by 6.4 per cent in February 2020 and, overall, its cumulative index declined by 6 per cent during April-February 2019-20 over the corresponding previous period.
  • Cement production (weight of 5.37 per cent) went up by 8.6 per cent in February 2020 while in the April-February 2019-20 period, it rose by 1.8 per cent.

Core Industry and their percentage weight:

  • Eight Core Industries in India are Electricity, Steel, Refinery products, Crude oil, Coal, Cement, Natural gas and Fertilizers.
  • The eight core industries comprise 40.27 per cent of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).
  • The decreasing order of the weightage of Core sector industries is as: Refinery Products> Electricity> Steel> Coal> Crude Oil> Natural Gas> Cement> Fertilizers.
[Ref: The Hindu Business line]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

US Virgin Islands bans sunscreens harming coral reefs

The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) banned sunscreen products with chemicals known to be harmful to coral reefs and marine life.

What is the issue?

  • The ban came into effect on March 30, 2020, making USVI territory the first in the United States to implement it.
  • Sunscreens containing the 3 Os — oxybenzone, octocrylene and octinoxate — harm the coral reefs that protect the Virgin Islands’ shoreline.
  • Sunscreens containing mineral alternatives such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been exempted.
  • The concentration of these chemicals is 40 times more than acceptable levels in some of the territorial waters.
  • The archipelago nation of Palau is set to become the first country to enact a sunscreen ban, which will take effect in 2020.

Coral Reefs:

  • Coral reefs are large underwater structures composed of the skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called coral.
  • They are important hotspots of biodiversity in the ocean and animals in the class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria.
  • They secrete CaCO3 to form a hard skeleton.
  • Coral Reefs are found only in the tropical seas between 30°N-25°S and the salinity requirement is 27 to 40%.
  • Optimal temperature is 23°C-25°C, and must not fall below 20°C and above 35°C.

Importance:

  • Coral reefs control the level of carbon dioxide in the water by converting it into a limestone shell.
  • They support a wide range of species and maintain the quality of the coastal biosphere.
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Bilateral & International Relations

China chases Indonesia’s fishing fleets

Backed by armed Chinese Coast Guard ships, Chinese fishing fleets have been raiding Natuna islands of the South China Sea that are internationally recognized as exclusively Indonesia’s to fish.

China’s intrusions:

  • China’s illegal fishing near the Natuna islands carries global consequence, reminding regional governments of Beijing’s expanding claims to a waterway through which one-third of the world’s maritime trade flows.

Natuna Islands:

  • The Natuna Regency is an archipelago of 272 islands located in the south part of the South China Sea in the Natuna Sea.
  • It is part of the larger Tudjuh Archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo.
  • Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, a 200-nautical-mile zone overlaps with China’s capacious nine-dash line claim, under which Beijing asserts rights over nearly 90 per cent of the critical waterway and Natuna Islands.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Science & Technology

Anti-microbial coating developed by JNCASR

Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), an autonomous institution under the Department of Science and Technology, has developed a one-step curable anti-microbial coating which, when coated on different surfaces such as textile, plastic and so on could kill a range of virus types including COVID 19.

Major Highlights:

  • This covalent coating has been found to completely kill influenza virus as well as resistant pathogenic bacteria and fungi, including methicillin-resistant microbes.
  • The coating can be fabricated on a variety of surfaces, and its ease and robustness eliminate the necessity of skilled personnel for procurement of the coating.
  • The molecules developed have an ability to chemically cross-link with different surfaces upon UV irradiation.
  • Upon the formation of the coating, it has been shown to permeabilize the membranes of pathogens (i.e. bacteria) leading to their inactivation.
  • Molecules were designed, keeping in mind their optimum solubility in a wide range of solvents (such as water, ethanol, chloroform etc.) and a cost-effective three to four-step synthetic strategy with easy purification and high yield.
  • For coating on cotton, the sheets were dipped in a water solution of the compounds whereas, for other cases, ethanolic substrates were drop-casted on them followed by UV irradiation.
  • After coating, the surfaces were evaluated for their antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activity.

Significance:

  • Microbial attachment and their colony formation on different surfaces play a major role in the transmission of deadly infections in the community as well as healthcare settings.
  • The recent outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 has created an unprecedented stir in the global public health. Corona virus, like influenza, is also an enveloped virus.
  • Therefore it is anticipated that the coating may inactivate SARS-CoV-2 upon contact and can help prevent contamination if coated on various surfaces.
  • The molecule can be synthesized in large scale through a CRO (Contract Research Organization) and can be coated on various personal protective tools such as masks, gloves, gowns, etc. in collaboration with the private organizations.
  • The molecules can also be coated on other medical devices and tools to avoid hospital-acquired or nosocomial infections.
[Ref: PIB]

Art and Culture

Tablighi Jamaat

Over 200 have tested positive for COVID-19 from among 4,000-odd who had gathered in Delhi’s Markaz Nizamuddin, the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat.

What is Tablighi Jamaat?

  • Tablighi Jamaat, which literally means a society for spreading the faith, is a Sunni Islamic missionary movement.
  • The proselytising movement aims to reach out to ordinary Muslims and revive their faith, particularly in matters of ritual, dress, and personal behaviour.

How did the movement begin?

  • Its roots lie in the Deobandi version of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence.
  • It was launched by Deoband cleric and Islamic scholar Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Khandhalaw in 1927 in Mewat.
  • While Maulana Ilyaz taught at the Mazaharul Uloom in Saharanpur in the mid-1920s, a few hundred kilometers away were the economically and educationally backward Meo peasants, mostly Muslims who were largely practicing Hindu traditions.
  • Maulana Ilyaz began bringing Meo Muslims back into the fold of traditional Islam; he trained several young men from Deoband and Saharanpur and sent them to Mewat, where the Tablighi Jamaat established a network of madrasas and Mosque.

How wide is its reach?

  • In two decades after its launch, the Tablighi Jamaat had spread beyond the Mewat region.
  • In the first Tablighi conference held in 1941, approximately 25,000 people from across North India attended.
  • After Partition in 1947, a Pakistan chapter was started in the town of Raiwind, Lahore.
  • Currently, Bangladesh has one of the largest chapters.
  • The Tablighi Jamaat also has a significant base in the United States and Britian, which has a large Indian subcontinent diaspora.
  • It also has a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

How does it promote Islam?

  • The Tablighi Jamaat is based on six principles.
  • The first is the kalimah, an article of faith in which the Tabligh accepts that there is no God but Allah and that Prophet Muhammad is his messenger.
  • The second is salaat, or prayer five times daily.
  • The third is ilm and dhikr, the knowledge and remembrance of Allah conducted in sessions in which the congregation listens to preaching by the imam, performs prayers, recites the Quran and reads the Hadith.
  • The fourth principle is ikram-i-Muslim, the treatment of fellow Muslims with honour.
  • The fifth is ikhlas-i-niyat, or sincerity of intention.
  • And the sixth is dawat-o-tabligh, or proselytisaton.

Structure of the Tablighi Jamaat:

  • There is no defined structure, but there exists a hierarchic network of elders and mosques.
  • Originally, it used to be headed by the Ameer, who would preside over the shura (council), the core of the organisation, and deal with important matters including international congregations known as Aalmi Ijtama.
  • After the death of Maulana Inamul Hasan Kandhlawi, the third Ameer (1965-95), the post of Ameer was abolished, and Aalmi Shura (international advisory council) was appointed.
  • After the death of Maulana Kandhlawi’s son Zubair ul Hasan Kandhlawi in 2015, the movement has been marked by factionalism.

What are these factions?

  • There are camps in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
  • The “Nizamuddin camp” is headed by Maulana Saad Kandhalwi, great-grandson of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, while a rival faction is based in Raiwind, Pakistan.
  • Bangladesh, which hosts the biggest annual Aalmi Ijtama in Tongi, with around two million people attending, is another faction.
  • In the Ijtama this year, the first phase was held on January 12 with the Tongi faction and the second phase on January 17 with the Nizamuddin faction.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Key Facts for Prelims

Plaque forming unit (PFU):

  • A plaque-forming unit (PFU) is a measure used in virology to describe the number of virus particles capable of forming plaques per unit volume.
  • It is a proxy measurement rather than a measurement of the absolute quantity of particles: viral particles that are defective or which fail to infect their target cell will not produce a plaque and thus will not be counted.

 

 

Jordan Desert:

  • Jordan is a relatively small country situated at the junction of the Levantine and Arabian areas of the Middle East.
  • The country is bordered on the north by Syria, to the east by Iraq, and by Saudi Arabia on the east and south.
  • To the west is Israel and the occupied West Bank, while Jordan’s only outlet to the sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, is to the south.
  • Jordan occupies an area of approximately 96,188 square kilometers including the Dead Sea, making it similar in size to Austria or Portugal.

 

The Eastern Desert or Badia Region:

  • Comprising around 75% of Jordan, this area of desert and desert steppe is part of what is known as the North Arab Desert.
  • It stretches into Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with elevations varying between 600 and 900 meters above sea level.
  • Climate in the Badia varies widely between day and night, and between summer and winter.
  • Daytime summer temperatures can exceed 40°C, while winter nights can be very cold, dry and windy.
  • Rainfall is minimal throughout the year, averaging less than 50 millimeters annually.

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