Daily Current Affairs : 2nd and 3rd March 2021

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Generalised System of Preference
  2. Phase 2 of Swachh Bharat Mission
  3. Revision of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013
  4. Spectrum Auction
  5. Red Echo & ShadowPad
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Generalised System of Preference


Context : According to President’s Trade Agenda and 2020 Annual Report — an annual report submitted by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to Congress, calling India’s policies “trade-restrictive” and saying the “Make in India” campaign epitomises the challenges to the trade relationship. The report describes the Trump administration’s revocation of India’s preferential trading status under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program in June 2019 and the ensuing discussion to achieve a mini trade deal (“package”) throughout 2020.

Background

  • In 2019 US had announced that it intends to “terminate” India’s designation as a beneficiary of its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). 

What is GSP programme

  • The GSP, the largest and oldest US trade preference programme, allows duty-free entry for over 3,000 products from designated beneficiary countries. It was instituted on January 1, 1976, and authorised under the US Trade Act of 1974.
  • India has been the biggest beneficiary of the GSP regime and accounted for over a quarter of the goods that got duty-free access into the US in 2017.
  • Exports to the US from India under GSP — at $5.58 billion — were over 12% of India’s total goods exports of $45.2 billion to the US that year. The US goods trade deficit with India was $22.9 billion in 2017.

2 . Phase 2 of Swachh Bharat Mission


Context : The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), which is currently awaiting Cabinet approval for financial proposals for the second phase of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), launched the sixth edition of the annual Swachh Survekshan.

About Second Phase of SBM

  • The second phase of the SBM, announced in the Union Budget, will be responsible for sewage management in all cities that have less than 1 lakh population.
  • Major focus will be the segregation of waste at the source.
  • The other mandates of the second phase of SBM will target legacy landfills, single-use plastic, and construction and demolition waste.

Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)- SBM(G) Phase-II

  • The Centre has launched the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)- SBM(G) Phase-II.
  • It will be implemented from 2020-2021 to 2024-2025 in a mission mode with an outlay of one lakh 40 thousand 881 crore rupees.
  • The second phase will focus on sustaining the gains made under the programme in the last five years in terms of toilet access and usage, ensuring that no one is left behind.
  • It will also ensure that effective solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) is instituted in every Gram Panchayat of the country.

About Swachh Survekshan Survey

  • The objective of the Swachh Survekshan (SS) survey, which is conducted by an independent third party, is to encourage large scale citizen participation, ensure sustainability of initiatives taken towards garbage free and open defecation free cities, provide credible outcomes validated by third party certification, institutionalize existing systems through online processes and create awareness amongst all sections of society about the importance of working together towards making towns and cities a better place to live in.  
  • Additionally, the survey also intends to foster a spirit of healthy competition among towns and cities to improve their service delivery to citizens, towards creating cleaner cities.
  • ​As a prelude to encouraging cities to improve urban sanitation, MoHUA had conducted Swachh Survekshan 2016 survey for the rating of 73 cities in January 2016, followed by Swachh Survekshan 2017 conducted in January-February 2017 ranking 434 cities. Swachh Survekshan 2018, which became the world’s largest cleanliness survey, ranked 4203 cities followed by Swachh Survekshan 2019 which not only covered 4237 cities but was also the first of its kind completely digital survey completed in a record time of 28 days. Swachh Survekshan 2020 continued the momentum and saw an unprecedented participation of 1.87 crore citizens.  Going a step forward, to ensure sustainability of on-ground performance of cities, the Ministry has also introduced Swachh Survekshan League, a quarterly cleanliness assessment of cities and towns to be done in three quarters and 25% weightage integrated into the final Swachh Survekshan results.

3 . Revision of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013


Context : The NITI Aayog recently circulated a discussion paper on a proposed revision in the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.

Why a discussion on a revision?

  • The NFSA provides a legal right to persons belonging to “eligible households” to receive foodgrains at subsidised price– rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg and coarse grain at Rs 1/kg — under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). These are called central issue prices (CIPs).
  • A revision of CIPs is one of the issues that have been discussed. The other issues are updating of the population coverage under the NFSA, and beneficiary identification criteria.
  • Under sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Act, the term “eligible households” comprises two categories — “priority households”, and families covered by the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
  • Priority households are entitled to receive 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month, whereas AAY households are entitled to 35 kg per month at the same prices

For how long are these prices valid, an how are they to be revised?

  • Under Schedule-I of the Act, these subsidised prices were fixed for “a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act”. While different states began implementing the Act at different dates, the deemed date of its coming into effect is July 5, 2013, and the three-year period was therefore completed on July 5, 2016.
  • However, the government has yet not revised the subsidised prices. The government can do so under Schedule-I of the Act, after completion of the three-year period. To revise the prices, the government can amend Schedule-I through a notification, a copy of which has to be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as possible after it is issued.
  • Even the Economic Survey of 2020-21 had recommended a revision in the CIPs.
  • The revised prices cannot exceed the minimum support price for wheat and coarse grains, and the derived minimum support price for rice

What is the extent of coverage, and how is it to be updated?

  • The Act has prescribed the coverage under “eligible households” — 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population.
  • On the basis of Census 2011 figures and the national rural and urban coverage ratios, 81.35 crore persons are covered under NFSA currently. This overall figure has been divided among the states and Union Territories, based on the NSSO Household Consumer Expenditure Survey 2011-12.
  • Section 9 of the Act deals with an update of coverage of population under the Act. It states: “The percentage coverage under the Targeted Public Distribution System in rural and urban areas for each State shall, subject to sub-section (2) of section 3, be determined by the Central Government and the total number of persons to be covered in such rural and urban areas of the State shall be calculated on the basis of the population estimates as per the census of which the relevant figures have been published.” Thus, the number of NFSA beneficiaries was frozen in 2013.
  • However, given the population increase since then, there have been demands from the states and union territories to update the list by ensuring an annual updating system under NFSA, sources said.
  • It was in this context that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution had asked the NITI Aayog to suggest an alternative methodology for “covering beneficiaries under NFSA, including prospective beneficiaries”.

What has the NITI Aayog proposed?

  • In its discussion paper, the NITI Aayog has suggested that the national rural and urban coverage ratio be reduced from the existing 75-50 to 60-40. if this reduction happens, the number of beneficiaries under the NFSA will drop to 71.62 crore (on the basis of the projected population in 2020).
  • To make these changes in the law, the government will have to amend sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the NFSA. For this, it will require parliamentary approval.
  • Besides the Food Ministry and the NITI Aayog, discussions on the proposed revisions include the Chief Economic Adviser and top officers of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. According to sources, several meetings have been held under the chairmanship of Prof Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog, to review the population coverage criterion.

What is the implication of the revision for the Centre and the states?

  • If the national coverage ratio is revised downward, the Centre can save up to Rs 47,229 crore (as estimated by the NITI Aayog paper). However, the move may be opposed by some of the states.
  • On the other hand, if the rural-urban coverage ratio remains at 75-50, then the total number of people covered will increase from the existing 81.35 crore to 89.52 crore —an increase of 8.17 crore. This estimate by the NITI Aayog is based on the projected 2020 population, and, according to the paper, will result in an additional subsidy requirement of Rs 14,800 crore

4 . Spectrum Auction


Context : The long-delayed spectrum auction for 4G airwaves, where the government is putting on offer frequencies in the 700, 800, 900, 1,800, 2,100, 2,300, and 2,500 MHz bands, began on Monday (March 1). A total 2,251 MHz of spectrum for a reserve price of Rs 3.92 lakh crore is up for bids.

About Spectrum

  • Spectrum is nothing but invisible airwaves which are used for the purpose of communication. These airwaves are required for the purpose of making calls, radio, satellite television etc.
  • These waves differ in terms of frequency and wavelength. These airwaves are a part of a larger spectrum known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

Frequency

  • Frequency is the number of repetitions of the wave you see in a second.
  • Top-most wave is low-frequency, and so it repeats slowly. In the time that it makes three repetitions, the bottom-most (high-frequency) wave repeats 10 times.
  • The high-frequency wave has obviously traveled a lot further in the same amount of time, but in a straight line, they’ve both gone as far – so the high frequency wave needs much more energy to travel the same distance.
  • On the other hand, in the space it takes for three pieces of data in the first wave, you can fit 10 in the second, so you can pack more information into high-frequencies, in the same amount of time.

Bands

  • Spectrum refers to the waves that are there all around us at all times, passing through everything and this means that it needs to be regulated.
  • If any one could broadcast signals at any frequency, there would be total chaos, and it would lead to a lot of interference, effectively rendering the spectrum useless for any kind of meaningful communication. That’s why the spectrum gets divided into bands by the government.
  • This is necessary as otherwise traffic from one source (say, the home Wi-Fi connection) could get in the way of traffic from your phone, resulting in a crash that stops everything from working.
  • So the spectrum is divided between different types of technology – your AM and FM channels are all spread around 100MHz – 200MHz. Telecom spectrum starts from 800MHz, and goes up to 2300MHz. Beyond that, we start getting into the unlicensed bands used for technology such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – Wi-Fi used to be 2.4GHz (2400MHz) and has started to shift to the 5GHz band.

Why does the government auction spectrum ?

  • Just like oil, gas and land are controlled by governments, so are the airwaves. By auctioning the airwaves of different frequencies, the government attempts to perform spectrum management. The government manages these as the airwaves are scarce. Further, the new technologies of 5G,4G, 3G and 2G have made it even more important for the government to manage it.

What is the auction process?

  • The upcoming auction is being conducted online. It is termed as Simultaneous Multiple Rounds Ascending (SMRA) e-auction.
  • The government hopes to raise Rs 3.92 lakh crore by selling airwaves in 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz and 2500MHz.
  • The auction process is conducted in two stages. There are the Clock Stage and the Frequency Identification Stage. Under the Clock Stage, the bidders will bid for blocks of spectrum in given service areas/circles whereas in the Frequency Identification Stage, specific frequency bands will be determined for the winning bidders.
  • The winning bidders are provided with the choice to pay the entire bid amount upfront or may exercise an option to pay a certain amount upfront and remaining amount in a maximum up to 16 equated annual instalments, after a moratorium of two years.

5 . Red Echo & ShadowPad


Context : On February 28, Massachusetts-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future published a report saying it had observed a “steep rise” in the use of resources like malware by a Chinese group called Red Echo to target “a large swathe” of India’s power sector.

About Red Echo & ShadowPad

  • A group of hackers linked to China is nicknamed as RedEcho
  • It is linked to China because it used infrastructure connected to the malware ‘ShadowPad’, attributed to other Chinese hacker groups.

About ShadowPad

  • ShadowPad was discovered in 2017. The malware had been injected into software updates provided by a legitimate software provider, NetSarang, that is headquartered in the US and South Korea.
  • The ShadowPad malware steals data from a ‘victim’ computer and is able to automatically communicate with the computer servers at the hacker’s end. Once every eight hours, ShadowPad sends back information like user name, domain name, host name to the hacker’s computer system.
  • When an “interesting” target is found, the hacker’s computer server can seek more information from the victim system via the malware and even deploy more malicious code.
  • The 2017 ShadowPad hack was attributed to ‘APT41’, APT41 is a prolific cyber threat group that carries out “Chinese state-sponsored espionage activity” apart from financially motivated activity “potentially outside of state control”

RedEcho shadow on critical Indian sectors

  • According to its report, the US cybersecurity firm had identified that an internet address of an Indian critical sector organisation was potentially sending data back to an internet domain set up by RedEcho.
  • The study detected that on 30 December 2020, “at least 1.29 MB” of data was sent back to an internet address linked to RedEcho from a victim’s internet address.
  • However, the 1 March power ministry statement refutes this. It stated that “no communication & data transfer” to internet addresses linked to RedEcho had taken place.
  • According to Recorded Future, among the list of “suspected victim organizations” are the Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO), regional-level electricity Load Despatch Centres for West, South, Northeastern and Eastern parts of the country, state-level electricity load despatch centres for Telangana and Delhi, and the Mumbai Port Trust.
  • It said 10 distinct Indian power sector organisations were targeted, including four Regional Load Despatch Centres (RLDCs) that are responsible for the smooth operation of the country’s power grid by balancing the supply and demand of electricity. Recorded Future said the group also targeted two Indian seaports.

6 . Facts for Prelims


Himalayan Serow

  • Biologist has decribe a Himalayan serow as resembling a cross between a goat, a donkey, a cow, and a pig. It’s a medium-sized mammal with a large head, thick neck, short limbs, long, mule-like ears, and a coat of dark hair.
  • There are several species of serows, and all of them are found in Asia. The Himalayan serow, or Capricornis sumatraensis thar, is restricted to the Himalayan region. Taxonomically, it is a subspecies of the mainland serow (Capricornis sumatraensis).
  • Himalayan serows are herbivores, and are typically found at altitudes between 2,000 metres and 4,000 metres (6,500 to 13,000 feet). They are known to be found in eastern, central, and western Himalayas, but not in the Trans Himalayan region.
  • Previously assessed as ‘near threatened’, the Himalayan serow is now been categorised as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  • It is listed under Schedule I of The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which provides absolute protection.
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