Daily Current Affairs: 4th and 5th February

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Report of 15th Finance Commission
  2. Operation Vanila
  3. Study on Missing Women and Children
  4. Reverse Osmosis
  5. Maharashtra tops list of States hit by global medical data leak
  6. Only 7 in 100 anganwadi beneficiaries are in cities
  7. Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA)
  8. Facts for Prelims

1 . Report of 15th Finance Commission


Context : The report of the Fifteenth FC, along with an Action Taken Report, was tabled in Parliament

Background

  • The Fifteenth Finance Commission (FC) has considered the 2011 population along with forest cover, tax effort, area of the state, and “demographic performance” to arrive at the states’ share in the divisible pool of taxes.
  • As had been widely anticipated, shares of the southern states, except Tamil Nadu, have fallen — with Karnataka losing the most.

About Finance Commission

  • The Finance Commission is a constitutionally mandated body that decides, among other things, the sharing of taxes between the Centre and the states.
  • Article 280 (1) requires the President to constitute, “within two years from the commencement of this Constitution and thereafter at the expiration of every fifth year or at such earlier time as the President considers necessary
  • FC shall consist of a Chairman and four other members
  • Under Article 280(3)(a), the Commission must make recommendations to the President “as the distribution between the Union and the States of the net proceeds of taxes which are to be, or may be, divided between them under this Chapter and the allocation between the States of the respective shares of such proceeds”.
  • Accordingly, the Commission determines a formula for tax-sharing between the states, which is a weighted sum of the states’ population, area, forest cover, tax capacity, tax effort and demographic performance, with the weights expressed in percentages. This crucial role of the Commission makes it instrumental in the implementation of fiscal federalism.

15th Finance Commission

  • The report of the Fifteenth FC, along with an Action Taken Report, was tabled in Parliament
  • The Commission has reduced the vertical devolution — the share of tax revenues that the Centre shares with the states — from 42% to 41%. The 1 per cent decrease in the vertical devolution is roughly equal to the share of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which would have been 0.85% as per the formula described by the Commission.
  • The Commission has said that it intends to set up an expert group to initiate a non-lapsable fund for defence expenditure.
  • The terms of reference of the Commission included considering the Centre’s demand for funds for defence and national security. It may do so by creating a separate fund from the gross tax revenue before computing the divisible pool — which means that states would get a smaller share of the taxes.

Population Parameter

  • The population parameter used by the Commission has been criticised by the governments of the southern states.
  • The previous FC used both the 1971 and the 2011 populations to calculate the states’ shares, giving greater weight to the 1971 population (17.5%) as compared to the 2011 population (10%). The Fifteenth FC has reasoned that the terms of reference leave it with no choice but to use the 2011 population; it has also argued that in the interest of fiscal equalisation, it is necessary to use the latest Census figures.
  • The use of 2011 population figures has resulted in states with larger populations like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar getting larger shares, while smaller states with lower fertility rates (the number of children born to a woman in her life) have lost out.
  • The combined population of the Hindi-speaking northern states (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand) is 47.8 crore. This is over 39.48% of India’s total population, and is spread over 32.4% of the country’s area, as per the 2011 Census. They also get a slightly more than the proportional share of the divisible pool of taxes (45.17%).
  • On the other hand, the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and undivided Andhra Pradesh are home to only 20.75% of the population living in 19.34% of the area, with a 13.89% share of the taxes. This means that the terms decided by the Commission are loaded against the more progressive (and prosperous) southern states.

The demographic effort

  • In order to reward population control efforts by states, the Commission developed a criterion for demographic effort — which is essentially the ratio of the state’s population in 1971 to its fertility rate in 2011 — with a weight of 12.5%. States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have fertility rates below the replacement rate, or the number of children that have to be born to a woman of reproductive age in order for the population to maintain itself at the current level without migration.
  • However, the effect of the demographic effort in increasing states’ devolution is not clear. Shares of states like Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, along with Tamil Nadu, all of which have fertility rates below the replacement level, have increased slightly. On the other hand, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and West Bengal’s shares have fallen, even though their fertility rates are also low.
  • Incidentally, Karnataka, the biggest loser in this exercise, also had the highest tax-GSDP ratio in 2017-18, as per an RBI report on state finances. Tax effort was also used by the Commission to decide the states’ shares, with a weight of 2.5%.

Income distance criterion

  • The total area of states, area under forest cover, and “income distance” were also used by the FC to arrive at the tax-sharing formula.
  • Income distance is calculated as the difference between the per capita gross state domestic product (GSDP) of the state from that of the state with the highest per capita GSDP, with states with less income getting a higher share in order to allow them to provide services comparable to those provided by the richer ones.
  • The Commission used the per capita GSDP of Haryana as the reference for calculating the income distance, and gave it a weight of 45%, down from the 50% assigned by the 14th FC. The weight assigned to state area was unchanged at 15%, and that of forest cover was increased from 7.5% to 10%.

2 . Operation Vanila


Context : India’s flood relief outreach to Madagascar will be followed up this week, as the island’s Defence Minister Rakotonirina Leon Jean Richard travels to Lucknow and Delhi from Tuesday — the first such high level visit since Delhi incorporated the island into the “Indian Ocean Region (IOR)

About the News

  • Indian navy conducted “Operation Vanilla”, with INS Airavat delivering relief material including food, clothing, medicines and water to cyclone hit Madagascar.
  • Humanitarian gesture by New Delhi also showcased India’s strategic capabilities in the furthermost islands of the IOR.

What are the ‘Vanilla Islands’

  • Vanilla Islands is a grouping of six island nations in south-west Indian Ocean who joined hands in 2010 to integrate their efforts to boost tourism. Mayotte, Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, Reunion and Madagascar are its members.
  • The term ‘Vanilla’ is used because these countries are known for their exp

3 . Study on Missing Women and Children


Context: The highest number of women and children who go missing in the country are from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh respectively, according to a study by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). 

Background

  • In 2019, the Supreme Court had directed the NCRB to analyze the data on missing persons, mainly women and children, so that areas prone to persons being trafficked can be identified.

About the Study

  • The NCRB study was based on the annual Crime in India Reports of the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Key Findings

  • The study states that the highest number of women and children who go missing in the country are from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The trend was observed for all the considered years of 2016, 2017 and 2018.
  • According to the report, the States where the highest number of women went missing in the three years of the study are Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh.

Importance of the study

  • Considering the fact that incidents of missing women and children are not uniform across the country, the study aimed to identify the areas where registered cases of missing persons, specifically women and children, are higher than in other areas.
  • Such areas could be one of the sources, transit or destination sites for child/women trafficking.
  • This will help the state plan appropriate preventive measures for implementation in such areas.

4 . Reverse Osmosis


Context : The Union Environment Ministry has published a draft notification that effectively prohibits users from installing membrane-based water purification, mainly reverse osmosis, systems in their homes if the water has been sourced from a supply that meets the Bureau of Indian Standards’ drinking water norms.

Background of the case

  • In May this year where NGT had directed that wherever RO is to be permitted, condition of recovery of water to the extent of more than 60% is required
  • The Ministry has issued this order to comply with an order of the National Green Tribunal, which has prohibited the use of reverse osmosis (RO) purifiers in places where total dissolved solids (TDS) in the supplied water are below 500 mg per litre.
  • Current BIS regulations consider 500 mg/litre—1,200 mg/l of total dissolved solids, which consists of salts and some organic matter, as acceptable though there is no lower limit.
  • According to the order installation or use of MWPS [Membrane based Water Purification System] shall be prohibited, at the point of use or at the point of entry for purification of supplied water which is subjected to conventional flocculation, filtration and disinfection process or is from any sources which are in compliance with acceptable limit for drinking water prescribed by Bureau of Indian Standard 10500:2012,” the Ministry said in the notification, made public on Monday. The proposed regulation is not the final word and the Ministry will await comments from the public for 30 days, after which it may incorporate the changes before it becomes a law.

Issue with Reverse Osmosis

  • Reverse Osmosis is used to separate out solid constituents and other dissolved particulates by forcing water under pressure through a micro-sieve. By using this technology, even brackish water can be made drinkable.
  • For every litre of potable water produced, the RO purifier dumps 3-4 litres of waste water.
  • If you pass 4 litres of water through an RO purifier, it would produce only 1 litre of potable water.
  • Now, this wastage is admissible if one is trying to convert brackish water into drinking water.
  • But the water that is supplied through borewells or tankers or cans is not brackish. They are largely usable, with minimal filtration and UV.
  • Since the RO purifiers are designed for treating even brackish water, they perform poorly in the normal household conditions. For every one litre of water produced, the remaining 3 litres go waste when they could have actually been used for non-drinking applications.

Osmosis

  • Osmosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is a process where a weaker saline solution will tend to migrate to a strong saline solution.
  • Examples of osmosis are when plant roots absorb water from the soil and our kidneys absorb water from our blood.
  • A solution that is less concentrated will have a natural tendency to migrate to a solution with a higher concentration.
  • For example, if you had a container full of water with a low salt concentration and another container full of water with a high salt concentration and they were separated by a semi-permeable membrane, then the water with the lower salt concentration would begin to migrate towards the water container with the higher salt concentration.
Osmosis Color

semi-permeable membrane is a membrane that will allow some atoms or molecules to pass but not others. A simple example is a screen door. It allows air molecules to pass through but not pests or anything larger than the holes in the screen door. Another example is Gore-tex clothing fabric that contains an extremely thin plastic film into which billions of small pores have been cut. The pores are big enough to let water vapor through, but small enough to prevent liquid water from passing.

Reverse Osmosis

  • Reverse Osmosis is the process of Osmosis in reverse. Whereas Osmosis occurs naturally without energy required, to reverse the process of osmosis you need to apply energy to the more saline solution.
  • A reverse osmosis membrane is a semi-permeable membrane that allows the passage of water molecules but not the majority of dissolved salts, organics, bacteria and pyrogens.
  • However, you need to ‘push’ the water through the reverse osmosis membrane by applying pressure that is greater than the naturally occurring osmotic pressure in order to desalinate (demineralize or deionize) water in the process, allowing pure water through while holding back a majority of contaminants.
  • When pressure is applied to the concentrated solution, the water molecules are forced through the semi-permeable membrane and the contaminants are not allowed through.
Reverse Osmosis Color

Working of Reverse Osmosis

  • Reverse Osmosis works by using a high pressure pump to increase the pressure on the salt side of the RO and force the water across the semi-permeable RO membrane, leaving almost all (around 95% to 99%) of dissolved salts behind in the reject stream.
  • The amount of pressure required depends on the salt concentration of the feed water. The more concentrated the feed water, the more pressure is required to overcome the osmotic pressure.
  • The desalinated water that is demineralized or deionized, is called permeate (or product) water. The water stream that carries the concentrated contaminants that did not pass through the RO membrane is called the reject (or concentrate) stream.
  • As the feed water enters the RO membrane under pressure (enough pressure to overcome osmotic pressure) the water molecules pass through the semi-permeable membrane and the salts and other contaminants are not allowed to pass and are discharged through the reject stream (also known as the concentrate or brine stream), which goes to drain or can be fed back into the feed water supply in some circumstances to be recycled through the RO system to save water.
  • The water that makes it through the RO membrane is called permeate or product water and usually has around 95% to 99% of the dissolved salts removed from it.
Ro Membrane 1

5 . Maharashtra tops list of States hit by global medical data leak


Context : Medical details of over 120 million Indian patients have been leaked and made freely available on the Internet, according to a recent report published by Greenbone Sustainable Resilience, a German cybersecurity firm.

About the Report

  • The first report was published in October 2019, in which Greenbone revealed a widespread data leak of a massive number of records, including images of CT scans, X-rays, MRIs and even pictures of the patients.
  • The follow-up report, which was published in November, classifies countries in the “good”, “bad” and “ugly” categories based on the action taken by their governments after the first report was made public.India ranks second in the “ugly” category, after the U.S.

About the issue

  • The number of data troves containing this sensitive data went up by a significant number in the Indian context a month after Greenbone’s initial report was published.
  • As per the follow-up report, Maharashtra ranks the highest in terms of the number of data troves available online, with 3,08,451 troves offering access to 6,97,89,685 images. The next is Karnataka, with 1,82,865 data troves giving access to 1,37,31,001 images.

Reasons for the Leak

  • Greenbone’s original report says the leak was facilitated by the fact that the Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) servers, where these details are stored, are not secure and linked to the public Internet without any protection, making them easily accessible to malicious elements.

Concerns

  • “The leak is worrying because the affected patients can include anyone from the common working man to politicians and celebrities. In image-driven fields like politics or entertainment, knowledge about certain ailments faced by people from these fields could deal a huge blow to their image.
  • The other concern is of fake identities being created using the details, which can be misused in any possible number of ways,” a Maharashtra cybersecurity officer said.

Way Forward

  • Any communication between a doctor and a patient was privileged one. A doctor or a hospital is thus ethically, legally and morally bound to maintain confidentiality.

6 . Only 7 in 100 Anganwadi beneficiaries are in cities


Context: or every 100 anganwadi beneficiaries in the country, only seven are in urban areas, according to the government’s response to a Right to Information (RTI) query from The Hindu This is primarily because of a severe lack of anganwadis in cities, leading to poor coverage of the government’s flagship programme in early childhood development.

Anganwadis under ICDS

  • Anganwadis or day-care centres are set up under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) by the Women and Child Development Ministry to provide a package of six services.
    • The services include supplementary nutrition; pre-school non-formal education; immunisation, nutrition and health education; as well as referral services.
  • The aim of the scheme is to reduce infant mortality and child malnutrition.
  • Beneficiaries include children in the age group of six months to six years, and pregnant women and lactating mothers.

About the Issue

  • While there were a total 7.95 crore beneficiaries of the anganwadi scheme in the country as on September 30, 2019, only 55 lakh were registered at urban anganwadis.This is primarily because of an acute paucity of anganwadi centres in urban areas.
  • There are as many as 13.79 lakh anganwadis operational across the country, out of which 9.31 lakh centres are linked to the government’s web-enabled data entry system called Rapid Reporting System. Of those anganwadis that can be monitored online, 1.09 lakh centres are in urban areas and the remaining 8.22 lakh were in rural areas of the country.
  • As per Census 2011, 32% of India’s 1.2 billion population live in cities, though experts have said that if the definition of an urban settlement was broadened, the share of urban population will be much higher.
  • A recent first-of-its-kind pan-India study on nutrition status, the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18, found that 35% of children under five were stunted and 17% were wasted. It also said 22% of children in the age group of 5-9 years were stunted and 23% were thin for their age. Also, 20% of those in the 10-19 years age group were thin for their age.
  • At the same time, 2% of under four-year-olds, 8% of children in the 5-9 years age group, and 6% of adolescents, were overweight. Data also showed that children in urban areas showed two to three times higher prevalence of obesity as compared to their peers in rural areas.

Way forward

  • With these facts before it, the NITI Aayog has prepared a draft working paper to strengthen the ICDS programme in urban areas, keeping in mind challenges such as migration, population density and the long commute involved for workers and beneficiaries.

7 . Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA)


Context : During her Budget speech on Saturday, Finance Minister said the government was abolishing in “public interest” an anti-dumping duty that was levied on imports of a chemical called PTA.

What is PTA?

  • Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA) is a crucial raw material used to make various products, including polyester fabrics. PTA makes up for around 70-80% of a polyester product and is, therefore, important to those involved in the manufacture of man-made fabrics or their components, according to industry executives.
  • This includes products like polyester staple fibre and spun yarn. Our cushions and sofas may have polyester staple fibre fillings. Some sportswear, swimsuits, dresses, trousers, curtains, sofa covers, jackets, car seat covers and bed sheets have a certain proportion of polyester in them

What led to the government decision?

  • PTA is a raw material for many of the industries. There has been persistent demand that they should be allowed to source that particular product at an affordable rate, even if it means importing it. Easy availability of this “critical input” at competitive prices was desirable to unlock “immense” potential in the textile sector, seen as a “significant” employment generator.
  • The duty had meant importers were paying an extra $27-$160 for every 1,000 kg of PTA that they wanted to import from countries like China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Korea and Thailand. Removing the duty will allow PTA users to source from international markets and may make it as much as $30 per 1,000 kg cheaper than now, according to industry executives.

Why was it imposed in the first place?

  • The anti-dumping duty on PTA was imposed after two domestic manufacturers, MCC PTA India Corp Pvt Ltd and Reliance Industries Ltd, approached the Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) in October 2013.
  • The companies, which submitted that they accounted for over 50% of the domestic PTA industry, had argued that some countries had been exporting the product to India at prices lower than its value in their own domestic markets. This dumping of PTA into the Indian market had a “significant” adverse impact on the domestic industry, they argued.
  • Following an investigation, DGTR agreed with MCCPI and RIL’s claims, and imposed anti-dumping duties on PTA imported from South Korea and Thailand in 2014 and 2015, and from China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Iran and Malaysia in 2015 and 2016.

Why was the move controversial?

  • Companies using PTA to manufacture polyester products claimed that the move went against the government’s vision of making the textiles sector a globally competitive industry. According to them, the move left them with limited domestic suppliers of PTA.
  • The companies had alleged that the product’s cost had become more expensive domestically, which made their own products pricier and less attractive for their domestic and international buyers.
  • This had led to a drop in exports of some of these products during 2014-16, and an increase in imports of the products they had been producing, as there was no safeguard against imports of cheaper versions of these downstream polyester-based products.
  • On top of this, the domestic industry had argued that domestic PTA producers had not only been unable to ramp up capacity to cater to demand for the product, shutdowns of their manufacturing facilities once a year for maintenance purposes had also led to shortages of the raw material. PTA users claim that they had not been manufacturing as much polyester as they were capable of, operating at 70% of their capacity at any given time.

8 . Facts for Prelims


Indian National Defence University (INDU)

  • Indian National Defence University (INDU) was proposed by the Kargil Review Committee in 1999
  • It was recommended to address the deficiencies in India’s security management system. The Union Cabinet accorded in-principle approval in May 2010 for establishing it in Gurugram at an estimated cost of ₹395 crore. “The land was acquired in September 2012; however, the setting up of the INDU is yet to fructify even after two decades of the Kargil War

Bhutan Sustainable Development Fees

  • Government in Thimphu has decided to levy a daily ₹1,200 ($17) fee for “regional tourists” from India, the Maldives and Bangladesh, beginning July 2020.
  • The fee, called a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), is meant to help the government deal with burgeoning numbers in tourist traffic, which it is seeking to regulate through a new tourism policy.

Anguilla 

  • Anguilla is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean. 
  • It is one of the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, lying east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and directly north of Saint Martin.
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