Daily Current Affairs: 24th November 2021


Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics covered

  1. India-US Trade policy Forum 
  2. Bharat Gaurav’ scheme
  3. Strategic Crude oil reserves
  4. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Urban India Index
  5. Rani Gaidinliu
  6. Facts for Prelims
  7. Places in News

1. India-US Trade policy forum


Context: India and the United States held the twelfth Ministerial-level meeting of the India-United States Trade Policy Forum (TPF) in New Delhi on November 23, 2021, after four long years.

About TPF

  • The India-US TPF was established in 2005 with the Office of the USTR and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in India serving as nodal agencies. 
  • This programme was created with the goal of increasing bilateral trade and investment flow.
  • The India-US Trade Policy Forum has five focus groups –
    • agriculture,
    • investment,
    • innovation , reativity (intellectual property rights)
    • services
    • tariff and non-tariff barriers.
  • The TPF last met in October 2017 in Washington DC. However, both the US and Indian governments then decided to begin negotiating a trade deal directly rather than having the annual dialogue.
  • The revived forum will help in expanding bilateral trade that has never liven up to its potential. It will help in deepening bilateral trade by establishing regular contact of resolving obstacles.

Some Key Outcomes

  • The Ministers welcomed the agreement to finalize work on market access facilitation for mangoes and pomegranates, pomegranate arils from India, and cherries and alfalfa hay for animal feed from the United States. 
  • The Ministers welcomed the enhanced engagement on intellectual property (IP) and recognized that the protection and enforcement of IP contributes to the promotion of innovation as well as bilateral trade and investment in IP-intensive industries.
  • They agreed further to utilize the revitalized TPF and its Working Groups as a means of rapidly engaging on new trade concerns as they arise, and that they would take stock at quarterly intervals to evaluate progress in this regard.
  • The Ministers reviewed their particular interests for achieving progress in the area of market access. In this regard, India highlighted its interest in restoration of its beneficiary status under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences program; the United States noted that this could be considered, as warranted, in relation to the eligibility criteria determined by the U.S. Congress.  
  • The United States and India also exchanged views on potential targeted tariff reductions.
  • The United States noted its support for India’s ambitious goal of reaching 20 percent ethanol blending with petrol by 2025 and expressed an interest in supplying ethanol to India for fuel purposes. 

U.S. Generalized System of Preferences program

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

GSP vs MFN

  • The concept of GSP is very different from the concept of “most favored nation” (MFN).
  • MFN status provides equal treatment in the case of tariff being imposed by a nation but in case of GSP differential tariff could be imposed by a nation on various countries depending upon factors such as whether it is a developed country or a developing country.
  • Both the rules comes under the purview of WTO.
  • GSP provides tariff reduction for least developed countries but MFN is only for not discriminating among WTO members.

2. Bharat Gaurav scheme


Context: To tap the huge potential of tourism, the Railways announced the ‘Bharat Gaurav’ scheme, under which theme-based tourist circuit trains, on the lines of the Ramayana Express, can be run either by private or State-owned operators.

About Bharat Gaurav scheme

  • Under the scheme private tour operators can now take trains on lease from the railways and run them on any circuit of their choice, with the freedom to decide routes, fares and quality of services.
  • The railways has earmarked 3,033 ICF coaches for this purpose, roughly translating to 150 trains.
  • Anyone, from societies, trusts, consortia and even state governments can apply to take these trains and run them on special tourism circuits based on a theme.
  • By theme-based tourism, the railways means trains like Guru Kripa that goes to all places related to Guru Nanak or a Ramayan-themed train to touch upon places related to Lord Ram.

Scope

  • Service Provider would be free to decide theme like Guru Kripa trains for covering important places of Sikh culture, Ramayana trains for places connected with Lord Shri Ram etc.
  • Service Provider to offer all inclusive package to tourist including rail travel, hotel accommodation, sightseeing arrangement, visit to historical/heritage sites, tour guides etc.
  • Full flexibility to decide package cost based on level of services being offered.
  • Choice of coachessuiting the clientele, different segments like luxury, budget etc.
  • Free to design/furnish interior of the coaches based on the theme.
  • Branding and advertisement permitted both inside and outside of train.
  • Train composition will be of 14 to 20 coaches including 2 SLRs(Guard Vans).

Theme based circuit tourism

  • Swadesh Darshan is a Central Sector Scheme that was launched in 2014 -15 for integrated development of theme based tourist circuits in the country.
  • Under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme, 15 themes have been identified for developing theme based circuits.
  • These themes include Buddhist Circuit, Coastal Circuit, Desert Circuit, Eco Circuit, Heritage Circuit, Himalayan Circuit, Krishna Circuit, North-East Circuit, Ramayana Circuit, Rural Circuit, Spiritual Circuit, Sufi Circuit, Tirthankar Circuit, Tribal Circuit and Wildlife Circuit.

3. Strategic Crude oil reserves


Context: India is set to release 5 million barrels of crude oil from its strategic reserves as part of a coordinated move along with the US, China, Japan and South Korea aimed at lowering international prices. The US will release 50 million barrels of crude oil from its reserves as part of the effort.

Background

  • Last week, the US had made the unusual request to some of the world’s largest oil consuming nations, including China, India and Japan, to consider releasing crude stockpiles in a coordinated effort to lower global energy prices after members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies rebu
  • India, which is the world’s third-biggest importer, will release 5 million barrels of crude oil from its strategic petroleum reserves in a concerted effort to bring down global crude oil prices, which were crossing $85 a barrel last month.
  • The 5 million barrels is roughly equivalent to a day’s consumption in the country, which implies that it is more of a symbolic gesture in tandem with the US, Japan and other major economies to band together against ‘s reign over high crude prices.

Reason

  • OPEC and other ally producers — including Russia, known collectively as OPEC+ — have been adding around 4,00,000 barrels per day to the market on a monthly basis, which many see as not sufficient to cool prices that had been rising as demand returns to pre-pandemic levels.
  • India and other major oil consumers have been unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Opec-plus grouping that rising crude prices will have an impact on global economic recovery. Opec+ countries are scheduled to meet on December 2 to take a call on raising or maintaining production levels
  • India is dependent on imports to meet 85% of its oil demand, and Opec accounts for a majority of India’s crude oil imports. The country imports roughly 226 million tonnes of crude oil every year

Indian Context

  • India believes that high oil prices are starting to produce unwanted inflation and undermine recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • India is particularly at a disadvantage as any increase in global prices can affect its import bill, stoke inflation and increase the trade deficit. So far, all of India’s repeated requests to Opec have been rebuffed by the oil cartel, which has kept supplies just below demand to sustain high oil prices.
  • The move to rein in oil prices could also mean that similar steps could be taken to bring down steel and basic raw material prices at the international level.
  • India has repeatedly expressed concern at supply of oil being artificially adjusted below demand levels by oil producing countries, leading to rising prices and negative attendant consequences.”
  • This is the first time ever that India, which stores oil in underground caverns at three locations along the east and west coasts, is releasing reserves. The contribution comprises round 13% of the total 38 million-barrel stockpile India holds.

About Strategic Crude oil reserves in India

  • Strategic petroleum reserves are huge stockpiles of crude oil to deal with any crude oil-related crisis like the risk of supply disruption from natural disasters, war or other calamities.
  • Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Limited (ISPRL), a Government of India Special Purpose Vehicle, has established Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) facilities with total capacity of 5.33 Million Metric Tonnes (MMT) at 3 locations, namely
    1. Vishakhapatnam,
    2. Mangaluru
    3. Padur.
  • As per the consumption pattern of 2019-20, the total capacity is estimated to provide for about 9.5 days of crude oil requirement.
  • In addition, Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) in the country have storage facilities for crude oil and petroleum products for 64.5 days, thus the current total national capacity for storage of crude oil and petroleum products currently is 74 days.
  • Taking advantage of low crude oil prices in April/May 2020, the Strategic Petroleum Reserves have been filled to full capacity, leading to notional savings of approximately INR 5000 crore.
  • Under Phase II of the SPR Programme, the Government has given ‘in principle’ approval in June 2018 for establishing two additional SPR facilities with total storage capacity of 6.5 MMT at two locations namely
    1. Chandikhol in Odisha (4 MMT)
    2. Padur in Karnataka (2.5 MMT).

Crude oil price in India

  • A release of 5 million barrels of crude oil would equate to about 12. 8 per cent of India’s strategic oil reserves of 5.33 million tonnes of crude oil, which is estimated to be equivalent to 9.5 days of its crude oil requirement.
  • A nearly 60 per cent rise in the price of crude oil in the past year has contributed to fuel rates reaching record highs in India this year.
  • Despite a cut in central excise duty of Rs 5 per litre on petrol and a cut of Rs 10 per litre on diesel, fuel prices across major metros are still significantly higher than record highs prior to 2021.
  • In the national capital, petrol is retailing at Rs 104.0 per litre and diesel at Rs 86.7 per litre — up 28 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively, from a year ago.
  • In 2020, the Government had increased central excise duties on petrol by Rs 13 per litre and on diesel by Rs 16 per litre as part of efforts to shore up revenues amid the pandemic.

4 . Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Urban India Index


Context : Shimla, Coimbatore, Chandigarh and Thiruvananthapuram are among the top 10 performing urban areas in the NITI Aayog’s first Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Urban India Index, while Dhanbad, Meerut, Faridabad and Patna are among the bottom 10 performers, according to the findings of a report released by the NITI Aayog

About the SDG Urban India Index

  • The SDG Urban Index and Dashboard ranks 56 urban areas on 77 SDG indicators across 46 targets of the SDG framework. The data on these indicators have been sourced from official data sources such as NFHS, NCRB, U-DISE, data portals of various ministries, and other government data sources.
  •  The index and dashboard are a result of the NITI Aayog-GIZ and BMZ collaboration focused on driving SDG localization in our cities, under the umbrella of Indo-German Development Cooperation.
  • The index and dashboard will further strengthen SDG localization and institute robust SDG monitoring at the city level. It highlights the strengths and gaps of ULB-level data, monitoring, and reporting systems. Tools such as this index and dashboard will contribute to the creation of an ecosystem in which all stakeholders will be equipped to adopt and implement data-driven decision making. This transformative change is quite essential, given the increasing prominence of our cities and urban areas in charting the future of development in India.

Methodology

  • The statistical methodology for the SDG Urban Index is drawn from the globally accepted methodology developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).
  • A comprehensive list of 77 indicators, covering 46 global SDG targets across 15 SDGs, are used in the index.
  • SDG 14 (life below water) has not been included as it is relevant for only coastal areas, which are only a few of the selected cities, and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) has been excluded as the progress of its targets are monitored at the national level. While progress under SDG 15 (life on land) has been measured using two indicators, they have not been used in estimating the scores, owing to lack of adequate coverage.
  • The indicators are aligned with MoSPI’s National Indicator Framework.
  • The most recent data on these indicators have been sourced from various official data sources such as NFHS, NCRB, U-DISE, data portals of ministries, and other government data sources and 62 percent of the indicators are sourced from 2019 or later.
  • Out of 56 urban areas ranked in the index, 44 are with population of above one million. 12 are State capitals with population of less than a million. While for some indicators, “urban area” implies ULBs, in other cases, it refers to all urban areas within a district collectively. This is owing to the usage of different data sets which have collated urban data at different administrative units. However, for any given indicator, the same definition has been used for all urban areas.
  • For each SDG, the urban areas are ranked on a scale of 0-100. A score of 100 implies that the urban area has achieved the targets set for 2030; a score of 0 implies that it is the farthest from achieving the targets among the selected urban areas. Overall or composite urban area scores are then generated from the Goal-wise scores to measure aggregate performance of the urban area.

Urban areas have been classified as below based on their composite score:

  • Aspirant: 0–49
  • Performer: 50–64
  • Front-Runner: 65–99
  • Achiever: 100

Ranking

  • Top 10 urban areas in SDG Urban Index and Dashboard 2021-22 are Shimla, Coimbatore, Chandigarh, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Panaji, Pune, Tiruchirappalli, Ahmedabad and Nagpur. The bottom 10 urban areas in SDG Urban Index and Dashboard 2021-22 are Dhanbad, Meerut, Itanagar, Guwahati, Patna, Jodhpur, Kohima, Agra, Kolkata and Faridabad.

5 . Rani Gaidinliu


 Context : Union Home Minister Amit Shah virtually laid the foundation stone for the ‘Rani Gaidinliu Tribal Freedom Fighters Museum’ in Manipur’s Tamenglong district.

About Rani Gaidinliu

  • Rani Gaidinliu was a spiritual and political leader of the Rongmei tribe, was born on January 26, 1915 at Luangkao village, now in Taosem Sub-Division under Tamenglong District of Manipur.
  • At 13, she became associated with freedom fighter and religious leader, Haipou Jadonang, and became his lieutenant in his social, religious and political movement.
  • Jadonang, who was also a Rongmei, started the ‘Heraka movement’, based on ancestral Naga religion, and envisioned an independent Naga kingdom (or Naga-Raja).
  • After the execution of Jadonang, she took up the leadership of the movement — which slowly turned political from religious. Rani started a serious revolt against the British and was eventually imprisoned for life. She was released after 14 years, in 1947.
  • Acknowledging her role in the struggle against the British, Jawaharlal Nehru called her the “Daughter of the Hills” and gave her the title “Rani” or queen.
  • She was bestowed a number of honours including the Tamrapatra in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 1982, Vivekananda Sewa Summan in 1983, and Stree Shakti Puraskar in 1991. She posthumously was awarded the Bhagwan Birsa Munda Puraskar in 1996. The Government of India also issued a commemorative stamp in her honour in the same year.
  • The Indian Coast Guard commissioned a Fast Patrol Vessel “ICGS Rani Gaidinliu” in 2016. In 2015, the Centre, on her birth anniversary, issued commemorative coins of Rs 100 and a circulation coin of Rs 5 in her honour.

6 . Facts for Prelims


Veerashaiva- Lingayats

  • The Lingayat sect is believed to have stemmed from the principles of the 12th century social reformer and Kannada poet Basava.
  • However, many scholars believe he furthered an established sect. Inspired by the ‘Bhakti’ movement, Basava rejected temple worship and Brahmin rituals and envisaged a religion free of gender and religious discrimination.
  • Several people from backward castes opted to be Lingayats over the centuries to escape the rigid Hindu caste system.
  • Veerashaivas are the followers of the five peethas (religious centres), called pancha peethas. These peethas are set up on similar lines to the four peethas set up by Adi Shankara.
  • They even claim a mythological background. They believe that they are born straight out of the Shivalingam – the phallic symbol worshipped by Shaivas.
  • While both Veerashaivas and Lingayats pray to the Hindu god Shiva, the two sects are not synonymous.
  • Like the Brahmins believe they were born from the ear of Brahma, the Veerashaivas believe themselves to be born of Shiva’s lingam or phallus.

Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD) scheme 

  • PRASHAD scheme was launched by the Ministry of Tourism in the year 2014-15 for integrated development of identified pilgrimage and heritage destinations.
  • The name of the scheme was changed from PRASAD to “National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD)” in October 2017.
  • The scheme aimed at infrastructure development such as entry points (Road, Rail and Water Transport), last mile connectivity, basic tourism facilities like Information/ Interpretation Centers, ATM/ Money exchange, eco-friendly modes of transport, area Lighting and illumination with renewable sources of energy, parking, drinking water, toilets, cloak room, waiting rooms, first aid centers, craft bazars /haats/ souvenir shops/ cafeteria, rain shelters, Telecom facilities, internet connectivity etc. 
  • This scheme seeks to leverage the voluntary funding available for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for improved sustainability of the projects under this scheme.
  • The Central Government provides 100% funding for the project components undertaken for public funding. 
  • The following cities are identified under the PRASAD scheme- Amritsar (Punjab), Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Ajmer (Rajasthan), Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Gaya (Bihar), Kamakhya (Assam), Dwaraka (Gujarat), Puri (Odisha), Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh), Kanchipuram(Tamil Nadu), Velankanni (Tamil Nadu).

Operation snow leopard

  • Indian Army bolstered its dominance over a number of strategic heights overlooking key Chinese-held positions around Pangong lake area in eastern Ladakh last week even as brigade commanders and commanding officers of the two militaries held talks to cool tensions in the region.
  • The Indian Army waited for three months of planning before it executed ‘Operation Snow Leopard’ to control key heights along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
  • India and China had been involved in a military standoff from early May 2020, and the two sides had been discussing disengagement. It was during this period that troops from both sides got involved in a hand-to-hand combat in the Galwan Valley, near Patrolling Point (PP) 14 , on June 15, which resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers, and at least four Chinese troops.
  • Recently a memorial has been built for the 20 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in action against the Chinese Army in the Galwan Valley after evicting them from an observation post near the Y-junction area under Operation Snow Leopard.
  • Col Santosh Babu accorded Mahavir Chakra posthumously for resisting Chinese Army attack while establishing an observation post in the face of the enemy in Galwan valley in Ladakh sector during Operation Snow Leopard.

Constitution Day

  • Constitution Day (or Samvidhan Divas), also known as National Law Day, is celebrated in India on 26 November every year to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution of India.
  • On 26 November 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India adopted to the Constitution of India, and it came into effect on 26 January 1950.

AK-203

  • The AK–203 is a gas-operated, magazine-fed, select-fire assault rifle designed to chamber 7.62×39mm cartridge.
  • The firearm, originally known as AK-103M was renamed AK-203 in 2018 and was originally designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov.
  • It is considered to be the latest and most advanced version of the AK-47 rifle.
  • According to experts, the Russian rifle is reliable, durable and easy to maintain.
  • It also has better ergonomics, accuracy and density of fire.
  • The Defence Acquisition Council cleared a $687.7 million deal to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles in India, in partnership with Russia.
  • The new signing means the AK-203 rifles will replace the Indian Army’s standard-issue 7.62 mm INSAS rifles.

7 . Places in News


Char Dham road project

  • Char Dham National Highway (NH) connectivity programme comprises projects of improvement/development of 889 km length of NHs leading to Yamunotri Dham, Gangotri Dham, Kedarnath Dham, Badrinath Dham and part of route leading to Kailash Mansarovar yatra at total project cost for Rs. 11,700 crore. 
  • Projects under Char Dham lie within the State of Uttarakhand only.
  • The projects under Char Dham Programme include widening of existing roads along with adequate/sufficient slope protection by way of erection of retaining walls and breast walls and by deploying drapery system, netting, anchoring, reinforced wall etc. as per Detailed Project Reports.
  • The projects also include mitigation measures/ stabilisation of chronic landslide & sinking spots/zones as standalone project or part of road widening projects to avoid land slide and safety of road users.
  • Bio engineering methods like hydro seeding are being used for vegetative growth on fragile slopes for their stability. All these measures shall safeguard the highway and habitation against natural calamity.
  • The works under Char Dham Pariyojna are being implemented on Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) mode of contract.
  • These projects are being implemented by 3 executing agencies of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, viz, Uttarakhand State PWD, Border Road Organization (BRO) and National Highway & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). 

Chamundi hills

  • The Chamundi Hills are located 13 km east of Mysore, Karnataka, India.
  • The name comes from the Chamundeshwari Temple at the peak.
  • The average elevation is 1,060 metres (3,480 ft).
  • The Chamundeshwari Temple is located atop the Chamundi Hills. Patronised for centuries by Mysore rulers, it was renovated during the time of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1827).

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