Daily Current Affairs : 12th & 13th October 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. SVAMITVA
  2. FELUDA paper strip test
  3. Skal International Asia Area (SIAA) congress
  4. Blue Flag Certification
  5. Issues with RTI Act
  6. Effects of Lock down
  7. Next Generation Treasury Application (NGTA)
  8. Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences
  9. New LTC Scheme
  10. India – Male
  11. The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019
  12. Facts for Prelims

1 . Survey of Villages Abadi and Mapping with Improvised Technology In Village Areas (SVAMITVA)


Context : PM launched the distribution of property cards under the ‘SVAMITVA’ (ownership) scheme via videoconference.

The scheme uses drone and satellite technology to map physical assets in rural areas and aims at digitisation of property records, easing the way for village dwellers to access institutionalised credit against property.

About SVAMITVA

  • SVAMITVA Scheme is a Central Sector scheme launched by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India on National Panchayat Day i.e 24th April 2020.
  • The Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) is the Nodal Ministry for implementation of the scheme. In the States, the Revenue Department / Land Records Department will be the Nodal Department and shall carry out the scheme with support of State Panchayati Raj Department. Survey of India shall work as the technology partner for implementation.
  • The scheme aims to provide an integrated property validation solution for rural India.
  • The demarcation of rural abadi areas would be done using Drone Surveying technology. This would provide the ‘record of rights’ to village household owners possessing houses in inhabited rural areas in villages which, in turn, would enable them to use their property as a financial asset for taking loans and other financial benefits from Bank

Objectives of the Scheme

  • To bring financial stability to the citizens in rural India by enabling them to use their property as a financial asset for taking loans and other financial benefits.
  • Creation of accurate land records for rural planning.
  • Determination of property tax, which would accrue to the GPs directly in States where it is devolved or else, add to the State exchequer.
  • Creation of survey infrastructure and GIS maps that can be leveraged by any department for their use.
  • To support in preparation of better-quality Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) by making use of GIS maps.
  • To reduce property related disputes and legal cases

2 . FELUDA paper strip test


Context : Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that his Ministry will soon roll out the FELUDA paper strip test for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis.

About FELUDA Paper strip test

  • It has been developed by CSIR-IGIB and has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch.
  • Test showed 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity. “This compares favourably to the ICMR’s current acceptation criteria of RT-PCR Kit of at least 95% sensitivity and at least 99% specificity
  • Type of Samples : Either saliva or blood. Saliva is preferred for testing
  • Kit takes around 45 minutes to give the result
  • The paper strip generates two lines for a positive result and one line for a negative result. This is a nucleic acid test and not a protein based one

3 . Skål International


Context :Jammu & Kashmir won the bid to host the 50th annual Skal International Asia Area (SIAA) Congress in 2021 during the annual general meeting recently against four other cities.

About the News

  • Skål International is a an organisation of tourism leaders around the world, promoting global tourism and friendship.
  • The Congress is likely to be held between April 8 and 11 next year at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC).
  • Kashmir won the spot against four top cities of Europe and Asia. This event will pave way for international tourism players to visit Kashmir and flip the international tourist footfall

About Skal International

  • Founded in 1934, Skål International is the only organization that brings together the entire tourism industry and promotes friendship, business and tourism worldwide.
  • Skål International began in 1932 with the founding of the first Club of Paris, promoted by the friendship arising between a group of Parisian Travel Agents who were invited by several transport companies* to the presentation of a new aircraft destined for the Amsterdam-Copenhagen-Malmo fligh
  • Motivated by their  experience  and the good international friendships that emerged in these trips, a large group of professionals  led by Jules Mohr, Florimond Volckaert, Hugo Krafft, Pierre Soulié and Georges Ithier, found the Skål Club in Paris on December 16th 1932.  
  • The idea of International  friendship  between Tourism  Professionals grew, and by early 1934 there were already 12 Clubs formed in five countries. It was then that the idea arose to create a partnership, that brings together all the Clubs, with the aim of fostering goodwill and friendship in the  Travel and Transport sectors  around the world. 
  • The ‘Association Internationale des Skål Clubs’ (AISC) was established on April 28th 1934 at the Hotel Scribe in Paris, in a General Assembly composed of 21 delegates, representatives of 11 clubs, plus two observers from London, who together elected Executive Committee,  under the chairmanship of Florimond Volckaert:
  •  Tourism body has 15,000 members and 150 chapters across the world

4 . Blue Flag Certification


Context : Eight beaches in India, spread across five states and two union territories, have been awarded the Blue Flag certification.

About Blue Flag Certification

  • Blue Flag is one of the world’s most recognised voluntary eco-labels awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators.
  • Central to the ideals of the Blue Flag programme is the aim of connecting the public with their surroundings and encouraging them to learn more about their environment.
  • It was started in France in 1985 and has been implemented in Europe since 1987, and in areas outside Europe since 2001, when South Africa joined..
  • Blue Flag programme is operated by Non Profit Organisation Foundation for Environmental Education and is headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Japan and South Korea are the only countries in South and southeastern Asia to have Blue Flag beaches. Spain tops the list with 566 such beaches; Greece and France follow with 515 and 395, respectively
  • In order to qualify for the Blue Flag, a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria must be met and maintained.

Criteria

  • There are nearly 33 criteria that must be met to qualify for a Blue Flag certification, such as the water meeting certain quality standards, having waste disposal facilities, being disabled- friendly, have first aid equipment, and no access to pets in the main areas of the beach. Some criteria are voluntary and some compulsory.

Beaches

  • Eight beaches that have been honored with the prestigious international certification are Ghoghla (Diu), Shivrajpur (Dwarka-Gujarat), Kasarkod and Padubidri (Karnataka), Kappad (Kerala), Rushikonda (Andhra Pradesh), Radhanagar (Andaman &Nicobar Islands), and Golden Beach (Puri-Odisha).
  • This is for the first time that eight Indian beaches have managed to grab that eco-label tag.
  • Beaches are given the qualification for a year and must apply annually to continue meriting the right to fly the flag at their locations.

5 . Issues with RTI Act


Context : Fifteen years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force, more than 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions, which are the final courts of appeal under the transparency law.

Details of the Issue

  • A report card brought out by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies to mark the anniversary on Monday found that Maharashtra had the highest number of pending appeals, with over 59,000 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (47,923) and the CIC (35,653).
  • At the current rate of disposal, the Odisha commission would take more than seven years to dispose of all pending complaints, while the CIC would take more than two years

Main Reasons for Backlog of cases

  • Lack of Manpower : The increasing backlog is exacerbated by the fact that most commissions are functioning at a reduced capacity, including the Central Information Commission (CIC), which has been headless since August.
    • Odisha is functioning with just four commissioners, while Rajasthan has only three. Jharkhand and Tripura have no commissioners at all, and have been defunct for months. The CIC has no chief, and only five commissioners. Under the law, every commission should have a chief and up to 10 commissioners.
  • Lack of Penalities and Punishments : The analysis also found that government officials face hardly any punishment for violating the law. Analysing data from 16 commissions in 2019-20, the report found that penalties were imposed in only 2.2% of cases that were disposed of, despite previous analysis showing a rate of about 59% violations which should have triggered the process of penalty imposition.
    • Non-imposition of penalties in deserving cases by commissions sends a signal to public authorities that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences. This destroys the basic framework of incentives built into the RTI law and promotes a culture of impunity

Significance at the time of Pandemic

  • “The need to scrutinise the functioning of information commissions now is perhaps greater than ever before, given the unprecedented crisis gripping the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “If the poor and marginalised affected by the public health emergency are to have any hope of obtaining the benefits of government schemes, they must have access to relevant information
  • At a time when incentives for secrecy are great, and the scope for discretionary actions wide, the role of information commissions is crucial to ensure that people can obtain information on healthcare facilities, social security programs and delivery of essential goods and services meant for those in distress,” the report underlined.

6 . Effects of Lock down


Context : The extended closure of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic could dent India’s future earnings by anywhere between $420 billion and $600 billion

Effects of extended closure of Schools

  • Depleted learning levels of students will translate into poorer productivity going forward
  • As many as 5.5 million students could drop out of schools across South Asia dropouts, combined with substantial learning losses for those who remain enrolled in schools, would cost South Asia as much as $622 billion in future earnings and gross domestic product.
  • South Asian governments spend only $400 billion a year on primary and secondary education, so the total loss in economic output would be substantially higher. Regional loss is largely driven by India.
  • The estimated costs of the school closures in terms of learning and earning losses are substantial. They have kept 391 million students out of school in primary and secondary education, further complicating efforts to resolve the learning crisis.
  • Being out of school means that children not only stop learning new things, they also forget some of what they have learned It added that engaging children through remote learning programmes had been difficult, despite most governments’ best efforts to mitigate the impact of school closures.
  • The projected learning loss for the region is 0.5 years of learning-adjusted years of schooling at present, and this will already lead to substantial future earning losses
  • Labour productivity will also take a greater hit from COVID-19 than most previous natural disasters, not just due to the disruptions in training and education.

Other Effects

  • Increased integration of the global economy will amplify the adverse impact of COVID-19.
  • Contagion prevention and physical distancing may render some activities, for example the hospitality sector, unviable unless they are radically transformed, which will take time. Even in less directly affected sectors such as manufacturing, banking and business, severe capacity underutilisation lowers total factor productivity while restrictions to stem the spread of the pandemic remain in place.
  • Disruptions to training, schooling and other education in the event of severe income losses, even once restrictions are lifted, will also lower human capital and labour productivity over the long term

7 . Next Generation Treasury Application (NGTA)


Context : In a bid to improve its functioning, the Reserve Bank has decided to move to the Next Generation Treasury Application (NGTA) for managing the country’s foreign exchange and gold reserves.

About NGTA

  • The NGTA, according to the RBI, would be a web-based application providing scalability, maneuverability and flexibility to introduce new products and securities, besides supporting multi-currency transactions and settlements.
  • The NGTA, for which the RBI has invited bids from eligible vendors, would be supporting various transactions in asset classes like Fixed Income (FI), Forex (FX), Money Market (MM) and Gold.
  • Besides other things, the propose NGTA should automatically fetch all the relevant details of a security/contract from a trading platform. It should support all internationally accepted conventions pertaining to day count, interest computation, holiday logic, shut period-dividend, ex-dividend, cash flows, and odd coupon.
  • With respect to transactions in gold, the NGTA should support purchase, sale, deposit (including rollover and premature withdrawal). On maturity of a gold deposit, there can be exact, under or over delivery, the document said.

Objectives

  • Objectives of the proposed system includes, dealing in various asset classes (like Fixed Income Securities, Forex, Money Market, Gold); portfolio management; workflow management; reserve management; integration with various third party and in-house systems; and dashboards, reports, widgets.

Benefits

  • It would be used for managing the foreign exchange reserves in a more efficient way, mitigate risk, achieve operational efficiencies, dealing in various asset classes and reporting,” the bid document said.

8 . Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences


Context : Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year’s Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel — popularly, albeit incorrectly, referred to as the Nobel Prize for Economics — to Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson. In its announcement, the Academy said the pair were receiving the award for “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats

What is auction theory?

  • Auction theory studies how auctions are designed, what rules govern them, how bidders behave and what outcomes are achieved. Essentially, it is about how auctions lead to the discovery of the price of a commodity.
  • Overtime more and more goods and services have been brought under auction other than the typical auctioning process of bankrupt person’s property. The nature of these commodities differs sharply. In other words, no one auction design fits all types of commodities or seller.
  • This is also true because the purpose of an auction also differs with the commodity and the entity conducting the auction. More often than not, private sellers want to maximise their gains while public authorities may have other goals in mind.
  • For instance, when selling telecom spectrum, a government could either think in terms of maximising its revenues or aim at making telecom more affordable to everyone. If it wants to maximise revenues, the auction has to be designed one way, but doing so will imply that the company eventually winning the contract will make telecom services costlier and, in the process, deprive the poorest sections of affordable telephony and Internet access. The up-side, however, is that the government will get more money in its kitty and can use it whichever way it likes — possibly even subsidise the telecom costs of the poorest.
  • On the other hand, if the government’s goal is to enable the broader society to access the benefits of the telecom revolution and allow even the poorest to use the Internet at an affordable rate, it may want to focus more on how best a company can ensure that. In fact, before auctions became the norm for limited resources such as radio waves, governments used to allocate them as one would conduct a beauty contest. This would involve asking how a company might use the spectrum and assessing which company is best suited to receive the license. This approach, however, led to a proliferation of lobbying.
  • But even when a beauty contest approach was replaced with an auction, it mattered how the auction was designed. For instance, if spectrum is auctioned at the regional level, national players may not get seamless access to optimum quality of spectrum across the country; as a result, they may not bid as aggressively. In the US, such a mistake led to a second-hand market where companies traded among themselves with little revenue accruing to the government.
  • How an auction is designed, therefore, has a tremendous impact not just on the buyers and the sellers but also on the broader society.

What are the key variables that determine the outcome of an auction?

Three key variables need to be understood while designing an auction.

  • One is the rules of the auction. Imagine participating in an auction. Your bidding behaviour is likely to differ if the rules stipulate open bids as against closed/sealed bids. The same applies to single bids versus multiple bids, or whether bids are made one after another or everyone bids at the same time.
  • The second variable is the commodity or service being put up for auction. In essence, the question is how does each bidder value an item. This is not always easy to ascertain. In terms of telecom spectrum, it might be easier to peg the right value for each bidder because most bidders are likely to put the spectrum to the same use. This is called the “common” value of an object. But this may not be the case with some other commodities, say a painting. Person A may derive considerably more “private” or personal value — just by looking at it endlessly — than person B. In most auctions, bidders allocate both “common” as well as “private” values to the object being auctioned and this affects their eventual bids.
  • The third variable is uncertainty. For instance, which bidder has what information about the object, or even the value another bidder associates with the object.

Contribution of Milgrom and Wilson

  • Milgrom and Wilson have done pioneering work on auction theory and much of our current understanding is due to their research.
  • Wilson developed the theory for auctions of objects with a common value — a value which is uncertain beforehand but, in the end, is the same for everyone”. Wilson showed what the “winner’s curse” is in an auction and how it affects bidding. As shown in the illustration, it is possible to overbid — $50 when the real value is closer to $25. In doing so, one wins the auction but loses out in reality. The winner’s curse explains “why rational bidders tend to place bids below their own best estimate of the common value: they are worried about the winner’s curse — that is, about paying too much and losing out”.
  • Milgrom “formulated a more general theory of auctions that not only allows common values but also private values that vary from bidder to bidder”. He “analysed the bidding strategies in a number of well-known auction formats, demonstrating that a format will give the seller higher expected revenue when bidders learn more about each other’s estimated values during bidding”.
  • With each passing year, as societies have become more complex Milgrom and Wilson responded by inventing new formats “for auctioning off many interrelated objects simultaneously, on behalf of a seller motivated by broad societal benefit rather than maximal revenue”.

9 . New LTC Scheme


Context :Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Monday announced two sets of measures to generate consumption demand and boost capital spending in the economy. The measures announced by the government, along with participation of states and the private sectors, are, according to the government, projected to create “additional demand” of Rs 1 lakh crore in the economy.

Details of the Proposals

  • Some proposals are aimed at advancing expenditure while others are “directly linked to increase in GDP (Gross Domestic Product)
  • The ministry has decided to allow government and private sector employees to use their Leave Travel Concession tax-free benefit for various types of purchases subject to certain conditions while an interest-free festival advance of Rs 10,000 is being given to government employees. Measures have been announced to step up capital expenditure by the Centre and the states.

About the New LTC Scheme

  • The government announced that Central Government employees will be provided tax benefits on LTC component without them having to actually travel. These employees would, however, be required to spend three times of the LTC fare component for purchasing items that attract 12 per cent or more GST.
  • What this effectively means is that if your fare component of LTC is Rs 40,000, you need to spend Rs 1.2 lakh on goods that fall in 12% or more GST slab in order to save tax on Rs 40,000.
  • On the other hand, if you don’t spend that amount, you may have to pay tax as per your marginal tax rate on the LTC component. So if you fall in 10% tax slab, you will have to pay additional tax of Rs 4,000 and if you fall in 30% tax slab, you will have to pay additional tax of around Rs 12,000 on the LTC fare amount of Rs 40,000.
  • As for the leave encashment component of LTC, the employee will have to spend an equivalent amount towards the purchase of goods that attract GST of 12 per cent or more.

What benefit will it give to the economy?

  • Through the LTC consumption boost plan, the government expects a demand generation of Rs 28,000 crore in the economy. While it expects additional demand creation of around Rs 19,000 crore on account of demand from central government employees, it expects additional demand generation of another Rs 9,000 crore from state government employees.
  • Besides, the government has said that the same benefits will be available to private-sector employees if the employers decide to offer the scheme to their employees and they decide to avail it.

How does it benefit the government’s revenue?

  • While GST collections have been severely impacted in the first half of the fiscal due to Covid-19 pandemic, a consumption boost from LTC component of the salary of central and state government employees will lift GST collections in the second half of the year as the scheme calls for expenditure to be done till March 31, 2021.
  • If private sector employees also participate, it may lead to a significant jump in overall consumption and rise in GST collections.

What is the special festival advance scheme?

  • The government has restored festival advance, which was abolished in line with recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission, for one time till March 31, 2021.
  • Under this, all central government employees will get interest-free advance of Rs 10,000 that the government will recover in 10 instalments. It will be given in the form of a pre-loaded Rupay card of the advance value and the government expects to disburse Rs 4,000 crore under the scheme.
  • According to the finance ministry, if all states provide similar advance, another Rs. 8,000 crores is likely to be disbursed. This is expected to generate consumption demand ahead of festivals like Diwali

What are the measures to boost capital expenditure and their impact?

  • Special assistance will be provided to states in the form of interest-free 50-year loans of Rs 12,000 crore with certain conditions. States have been categorised among three groups:
    • Group 1 having north-eastern states (Rs 1,600 crore) and Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (Rs 900 crore)
    • Group 2 having other states which will get Rs 7,500 crore in proportion of their share as per Finance Commission devolution
    • Group 3 having states which will get total Rs 2,000 crore if they meet three out of four reforms including One Nation One Ration, outlined in the government’s Atma Nirbhar package announced earlier in May.
  • The funds, which need to be spent by March 31, 2021, can be used by states for ongoing and new projects and settling contractors’ bills on such projects.
  • The funds provided to states will be over and about their borrowing ceilings.
  • Capital expenditure has “a high multiplier effect” on the economy and it is expected to boost demand for a number of sectors across the economy

10 . India – Male


Context : Following up on India’s announcement of a $500 million package to the Maldives, the Exim Bank of India and the Maldives’s Ministry of Finance signed an agreement for $400 million in Male.

Details of the Agreement

  • The line of credit (LoC) will fund the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), a key pledge of President Ibrahim Solih. India has also pledged a grant of $ 100 million for the initiative.
  • The grant and LoC come in addition to the previous LoC of $800 million, among India’s largest loans extended in the region.

Development Cooperation with other Countries

  • Development cooperation is a key instrument in India’s foreign policy.
  • Developmental cooperation with the partner countries is mainly being executed through instruments such as Grant assistance, Lines of Credit and Concessional Financing Scheme.

About Line of Credit provided by the Govt of India

  • Department of Economic Affairs on behalf of Government of India had been extending Lines of Credit (LOCs) to friendly developing foreign countries.
  • Till 2003-04, the LOCs were from Government to Government. Accordingly the full amount covered by the LOCs, used to be provided in the Budget.
  • In 2003-04, The Government of India (GOI) formulated the Indian Development Initiative (IDI), now known as Indian Development and Economic Assistance Scheme (IDEAS) with the objective of sharing India’s development experience through: capacity building and skills transfer, trade and infrastructure development,
  • Hence since 2003-04, this system has been substituted by extending GOI supported Lines of Credit through Exim Bank of India.
  • Goods and services for minimum 75% value of the contract covered under these loans must be sourced from India
  • Under the existing Guidelines for extending LOCs, countries have been classified into the three broad categories :
    • Low and Lower middle income countries for which IMF has prescribed a minimum binding concessional requirement
    • Low and Lower middle income countries for which there is no prescribed minimum binding concessional requirement
    • Other developing countries

Lines of Credit (LOCs)

  • One of the main instruments of India’s development cooperation include Lines of Credit (LOCs). GoI LOCs are governed by a set of guidelines jointly developed by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) in the Ministry of Finance.
  • These are the the guidelines under the Indian Development and Economic Assistance Scheme (IDEAS) and the latest version of the guidelines was issued on 07 December 2015.
  • These guidelines may be accessed from the website of DEA.

Grant Assistance

  • Grant assistance initiatives are undertaken in compliance with the General Financial Rules (GFR) of GoI and CVC Guidelines issued from time to time.
  • Funds for the grant projects are allocated from the Ministry’s budget.

Concessional Financing Scheme

  • Concessional Financing Scheme is governed by the ‘Guidelines on Concessional Financing Scheme (CFS) to support Indian Entities bidding for strategically important infrastructure projects abroad’ as revised in August 2018. These guidelines also are available on the website of DEA.

11 . The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019


Context : Climate change is largely to blame for a near doubling of natural disasters in the past 20 years according to the United Nations report

About the Report

  • The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 report is released by UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

Details of the Report

  • The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said 7,348 major disaster events had occurred between 2000 and 2019, claiming 1.23 lives, affecting 4.2 billion people and costing the global economy some $2.97 trillion.
  • The figure far outstrips the 4,212 major natural disasters recorded between 1980 and 1999
  • The sharp increase was largely attributable to a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events like floods, drought and storms. Extreme heat is proving especially deadly.
  • The odds are being stacked against us when we fail to act on science and early warnings to invest in prevention, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction
  • The report did not touch on biological hazards and disease-related disasters like the coronavirus pandemic.

12 . Facts for Prelims


Effects of Climate Change on Animal Species

  • Rising average temperatures in the Himalayan region have driven several dozen species of butterfly and moth to habitats higher up the mountains, a new study commissioned by the government has found.
  • The findings of the study will be used as a baseline indicator to track the impact of climate change on animal species over the coming decade, officials said. The Himalayas are home to more than 35 per cent of Lepidoptera — the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths – species found in India.
  • Butterflies are sensitive species that are extremely susceptible to changes in climate. They are, therefore, good indicators of long-term change in climatic conditions
  • The Common Map and Tailless Bushblue butterflies were previously found at 2,500 m, as has been recorded in historical data. During our survey we recorded them at 3,577 m at the Ascott wildlife sanctuary in Uttarakhand

Double-blinded trial

  • Double-blinded trial are vaccine trials in which neither the doctors nor the volunteers know who are the ones vaccinated and who have been given the placebo
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