Daily Current Affairs : 3rd and 4th July

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Report on leopard sightings
  2. MGNREGs
  3. Draft ‘Defence Production & Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP) 2020
  4. Gratuity
  5. Chinese Institutions
  6. Dispersal patterns of organisms across different environments
  7. Time Capsule
  8. Unified gas transport tariff

1 . Report on leopard sightings


Context : The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is set to release a dedicated report on leopard sightings by the month-end

About Leopard census

  • The leopard census will be conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India as a part of WII’s global tiger quadrennial census.
  • The last formal census was in 2014 which estimated the cat’s population at between 12,000 and 14,000. They also estimated 8,000 leopards in the vicinity of tiger habitat.

Methodology

  • The forest departments in 18 States with tiger reserves conducted the study, dividing protected areas into 15-square-kilometre grids to look for leopard scat and other signs of the animal.
  • Where there were indications of leopards, camera traps were set up and the number of leopard images were recorded. Repeats were excluded.
  • Based on these numbers and spread, the researchers then extrapolated the leopard population.

Need for separate leopard survey

  • Conducting a leopard survey, along with the tiger survey, is problematic as the former is adapted to living on the edge of forests and human habitats, unlike the tiger which is an elusive creature.
  • The number of leopards concluded in the last survey in 2014 was also a guess-estimate derived from a figure of 7,910 leopards present in and around tiger forests of 13 states. Even the figure 7,910 itself was an extrapolation from 1,647 individual leopards that were actually photographed — some, multiple times — by camera traps set up to count tigers.
  • Even the census did not cover the high altitude non-tiger areas. This could lead to gross errors in estimating the true numbers of leopards.

2 . MGNREGS running out of funds


Context: One-third of the way through the financial year almost half of the allocated funds under MGNREGA have been used.

Background

  • A survey was conducted of 13 States and the report was published by the Azim Premji Foundation (APF)

Findings of the survey

  • Out of the expanded allocation of ₹1 lakh crore announced following the COVID-19 outbreak almost half has been used.
  • The survey has highlighted that a number of gram panchayats in vulnerable areas have already exhausted their funds for the scheme
  • There are lower employment rates as the monsoon has stopped work in several States and also fewer livelihood options for more than four lakh families across the country which have completed their allotted 100 days of work.
  • The study noted that wages in the scheme are 25-30% lower than the minimum wages for agricultural workers in most States.
  • The study found that though the demand for work is high yet workers in several states are being given the impression that MGNREGA work is suspended during the monsoon season.
  • According to the report the payments are more or less in time where banking correspondents are in place. Payments through banks continue to be inefficient as “rural branches of banks have limited capacity and infrastructure, and are often overwhelmed by the overcrowding of workers leading to congestion, confusion and lack of desirable services.

Recommendations by APF

  • The APF has recommended that the Centre should allocate another ₹1 lakh crore to the scheme, and double the permitted work limit to 200 days per household.
  • Further sets of projects should be created.
  • The entire process cycle of implementation needs to be eased at this time of distress to respond to the current needs for work and payments.
  • It commended the Odisha government for investing the pradhans of its Gram Panchayats with magisterial authorities for efficient decision-making concerning the implementation and making payments under MGNREGA.

3 . Draft policy to ramp up defence exports


Context: Ministry of Defence (MoD) has put out a draft ‘Defence Production & Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP) 2020’ for public feedback

About the DEPP 2020

  • The DPEPP 2020 is envisaged as overarching guiding document of MoD to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports

Details of DPEPP 2020

  • The aim is to achieve a manufacturing turnover of $25 bn or ₹1,75,000 crore, including exports of $5 bn in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2025.
  • Policy intents to enhance procurement from domestic industry which is currently at 60%, it is planned to double the procurement from the current ₹70,000 crore to ₹1,40,000 crore by 2025.
  • To increase defence exports the Defence Attachés have been mandated and will be supported to promote export of indigenous defence equipment abroad. This effort would be supplemented by selected Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU), which would work as export promotion agencies for certain countries with earnings linked to success fee, to promote export of defence products abroad.
  • Subject to strategic considerations, domestically manufactured defence products will be promoted through Government to Government agreements and Lines of Credit/Funding.
  • The opportunities in the aerospace industry have been identified in the following segments — aircraft build work, aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), helicopters, engine manufacturing and MRO work, line replaceable units, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and upgrades and retrofits.
  • A Project Management Unit will be set up for estimation of development and production lead times specifications and technologies involved.
  • n addition, with the aim to move away from licensed production to design, develop and produce indigenously and own the design rights and Intellectual Property (IP) of the systems projected in Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) of the Services a Technology Assessment Cell (TAC) would be created.
  • Policy states that a negative list of weapons and platforms will be notified with year-wise time lines for placing an embargo on import of such items from those dates.

4 . Gratuity


Context: The Parliamentary Committee on Labour has recommended reduction of gratuity period to one year from the present provision of five years.

About the news

  • The Parliamentary Committee on Labour submitted its report on Social Security Code recently.
  • The committee has recommended that the eligibility period for gratuity payable to an employee on termination of his employment should be reduced to continuous service of one year from the present provision of five years.
  • This has come in the wake of extensive retrenchment in all sectors in COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic slowdown.

Recommendation by the Parliamentary Committee on Labour

  • The committee has recommended that the provision should be extended to all kinds of employees, including contract labourers, seasonal workers, piece rate workers, fixed term employees and daily/monthly wage workers.
  • This recommendation was made keeping in view the nature of India’s Labour Market where most employees are employed for a short duration period only, making them ineligible for gratuity as per extant norms.
  • The committee has also stressed on a robust redressal mechanism in case an employer does not pay up the dues.
  • The panel has recommended that the Social Security Code should have provisions to hold the employer liable for payment of gratuity to the employees within a stipulated time frame.
  • The Committee also flagged the concern that the threshold limit of 20 or more employees for EPFO registration can be used by the employers to exclude themselves from EPFO coverage.
  • The Committee is also exploring the possibilities to make the EPF Act applicable to all the workers, including self-employed.
  • The panel has also recommended that the social security code should empower the Central government to reduce the employee’s contribution to EPF in exceptional circumstances like disasters in terms of the Disaster Management Act, including pandemics, because this would enable the Government to provide relief to the affected persons in COVID-19 like pandemics.

What is gratuity?

  • Gratuity is given by the employer to his/her employee for the services rendered by him/her during the period of employment.
  • It is usually paid at the time of retirement but can be paid earlier, provided certain conditions are met.
  • A person is eligible to receive gratuity only if he has completed minimum five years of service with an organisation.

5 . Chinese Institutions


Context : India to review Chinese language programmes across universities

Background

  • Recently govt through National Education Policy (NEP) has dropped Mandarin (Chinese) from its list of foreign languages that can be taught in schools. The language was included in the draft policy released in May 2019, but is missing from the final document approved by the Cabinet.
  • However, Higher Education Secretary has pointed that Schools are free to offer other languages.
  • The plan for teaching Mandarin in Indian schools and Hindi language instruction in Chinese schools was part of an Education Exchange Programme signed by both countries in 2006, which was renewed by Prime Minister Modi during his visit to China in 2015.The plan included a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2012.
  • In 2014, the CBSE then introduced Mandarin in some schools, but the plan floundered due to unavailability of Chinese language teachers.
  • Since 2017, the government has systematically curbed annual scholarship programmes with China as well.
  • Ministry of Human Resource Development) has decided to put several higher education institutes that offer Chinese language training under the scanner.

About the issue

  • Ministry is looking closely at universities that have in the past had links with the official Chinese language training department “Hanban” that runs hundreds of “Confucius Institutes” (CI) abroad.
  • The Ministry of Human Resource Development and University Grants Commission (UGC) are in the process of reviewing the work being done by higher education institutions as part of agreements/educational arrangements with foreign institutions. As part of this process it would review the activities undertaken by the Confucius Centre in your university/ institution affiliated to your university
  • CIs have come under scrutiny recently in Europe, the U.S. and other countries with allegations of them being used as espionage hubs. Chinese Ministry of Education plans to re-brand Hanban as an NGO called the “Centre for Chinese language education and cooperation”, in order to “disperse western misinterpretation”.

6 . Dispersal patterns of organisms across different environments


Context : The prestigious U.S. biology journal Evolution has published the findings of a team of researchers at the Pune-based Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) dealing with the dispersal patterns of organisms across different environments.

About the Study

  • The three scientists carried out experiments to study the phenomena of ‘density-dependent dispersal’ by observing around 29,000 fruit flies to see if evolution had modified their tendency to move towards or away from crowded regions.

Importance of the Study

  • Many animals, including humans, move from one place to another. Such ‘dispersal’ is generally to find resources like food or escape from potential threats.
  • The study of this biological dispersal finds applications in epidemiology, conservation of biodiversity as well as control of agricultural pests

Details of the Study

  • The team first “evolved” tens of thousands of fruit flies for over 75 generations (or three years), thus making them “better” dispersers than their ancestors.
  • We observed around 29,000 fruit flies over this period to see if evolution had modified their tendency to move towards or away from crowded regions. Not only did we find a sharp change in this behaviour owing to evolution, but a crucial discovery was that the dispersal rates of males and females had changed completely, adding while females had been dispersing more than the males initially, the males overtook females in movement after evolution.
  • Finding was indeed the first evidence for an evolutionary reversal in the dispersal of the two sexes. By establishing that these behaviours are evolutionarily malleable, the study highlights the need to frequently assess movement patterns of ecologically relevant species.
  • “On the one hand, moving further away from each other hampers the survival chances of endangered species. On the other hand, the very same behaviour accelerates the takeover of an ecosystem by invasive species. Similarly, this can affect pathogen spread via altered movement of disease vectors

7 . Time Capsule


Context : Ahead of the laying of the foundation stone for the Ram temple in Ayodhya, claims and denials have emerged about plans by the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust to put in a time capsule, or ‘kaal patra’. While Trust member Kameshwar Chaupal said the “capsule would carry a message about Ayodhya, Lord Ram and his birthplace and it will be preserved so as to last thousands of years”, the Trust’s general secretary Champat Rai has dismissed reports of a time capsule being installed on August 5.

What is a time capsule?

  • It is a container of any size or shape, which accommodates documents, photos and artefacts typical of the current era and is buried underground, for future generations to unearth.
  • The time capsule requires special engineering so that the contents don’t decay, even if pulled out after a century. Material such as aluminium and stainless steel are used for the encasing, and documents are often reproduced on acid-free paper.
  • While the term “time capsule” was coined in the 20th century, among the earliest examples of one dates back to 1777, found by historians inside the statue of Jesus Christ in a church in Spain during restoration work in December 2017.
  • The International Time Capsule Society (ITCS), based in the US and formed in 1990, is now defunct but continues estimating the number of time capsules in the world. As per its database, there are “10,000-15,000 times capsules worldwide”.

Are there any time capsules in India?

  • There have been a number of prominent examples. One time capsule, outside the Red Fort and placed underground in 1972 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was dug out by the subsequent government. Other time capsules are at a school in Mumbai, IIT-Kanpur, Lovely Professional University in Jalandhar, and Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar.
  • The Red Fort time capsule was supposed to be dug out after 1,000 years. Professor Salil Misra, a historian who currently teaches at Delhi’s Ambedkar University, said, “In 1972, Mrs Gandhi decided to create a repository. These were huge, cylindrical shaped cases made of metal which could endure the test of time. Inside, there were written records, data and artefacts. In 1977, when the Janata Party came in to power, they dug out the time capsule.”

What have the other time capsules preserved?

  • On March 6, 2010, President Pratibha Patil buried the time capsule on the IIT Kanpur campus. An aerial map of the institute, annual reports of 1961, 1984 and 2008, menu of the hostel mess, the blazer crest, a DVD of a film on IIT Kanpur, some photographs, and oral records of the interviews conducted by Sunil Shanbag are inside the time capsule.
  • All the documents were printed on acid-free paper… A lot of information was put on pen-drives and external hard-drives, put in the capsule, and then oxygen was taken out so that no decay happens. It is made of brass and the encasing is an inch thick, so no oxygen goes in.

9 . Unified gas transport tariff


Context : Major players in the natural gas sector have raised objections to the government’s proposal to implement a unified gas transport tariff for integrated gas transportation networks, including a network of seven GAIL pipelines and a network of two Gujarat State Petronet Ltd pipelines.

About the Proposal

  • Currently, tariffs for transportation of gas are set by the PNGRB separately for each pipeline based on the assumptions of volume of gas transported on the pipeline and its operating life, aimed at providing the operator a post-tax return of 12 per cent. Tariffs for pipeline usage are divided into zones of 300 km with the tariff increasing for zones further away from the point where gas is injected. Further, if a buyer needs to use multiple pipelines even from the same operator, his transport tariff would increase. These tariffs increase the cost for buyers of gas further away from the point of injection of natural gas.
  • The PNGRB has proposed a unified price system with one price for those transporting gas nearby, within 300 km, and one price for those transporting gas, beyond 300 km. This would fix tariff prices within the integrated pipeline networks of GAIL and GSPL.

Benefits

  • The proposal by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) is aimed at boosting overall gas consumption by rationalising gas transportation costs for consumers located further away from LNG terminals which are predominantly located on the west coast of the country.

Disadvantages

  • Major companies, involved in the production and distribution of gas have raised objections to the proposal pointing out that consumers using pipelines outside the proposed integrated pipeline network would still have to pay additive tariffs for the use of multiple pipelines and that the unified tariff structure would likely lead to higher tariffs for consumers near the gas source.
  • Industry body FICCI also noted that the proposal would work against gas-producing states as they would lose their advantage in attracting investment from gas-consuming industries. “… the consumers at source, both current and future, will end up subsidizing consumers away from the source. This will lead to cross subsidizing which is undesirable
  • FICCI also noted that industrial units using gas set-up close to gas sources would lose their cost advantage to a similar unit which has been set up far away from the port if the freight for gas was equalised.

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