Daily Current Affairs :14th January 2022

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Forest Cover Report
  2. Currency Swap & Asian Clearing Union
  3. Millimeter Wave band
  4. India – UK FTA
  5. Facts for Prelims

1 . Forest Cover Report


Context : The India State of Forest Report has found the country’s forest cover has increased by 1,540 sq km since 2019. But a decline in the Northeast, and degradation of natural forests are a concern, experts note.

About India State of Forest Report

  • It is an assessment of India’s forest and tree cover, published every two years by the Forest Survey of India under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The first survey was published in 1987, and ISFR 2021 is the 17th.
  • Data is computed through wall-to-wall mapping of India’s forest cover through remote sensing techniques
  • ISFR is used in planning and formulation of policies in forest management as well as forestry and agroforestry sectors.
  • ISFR 2021 has some new features. It has for the first time assessed forest cover in tiger reserves, tiger corridors and the Gir forest which houses the Asiatic lion.

Key findings

ISFR 2021 has found that the forest and tree cover in the country continues to increase with an additional cover of 1,540 square kilometres over the past two years.

  • India’s forest cover is now 7,13,789 square kilometres, 21.71% of the country’s geographical area, an increase from 21.67% in 2019. Tree cover has increased by 721 sq km.
  • The states that have shown the highest increase in forest cover are Telangana (3.07%), Andhra Pradesh (2.22%) and Odisha (1.04%).
  • Five states in the Northeast – Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland have all shown loss in forest cover.
  • Mangroves have shown an increase of 17 sq km. India’s total mangrove cover is now 4,992 sq km.
  • The survey has found that 35.46 % of the forest cover is prone to forest fires. Out of this, 2.81 % is extremely prone, 7.85% is very highly prone and 11.51 % is highly prone
  • The total carbon stock in country’s forests is estimated at 7,204 million tonnes, an increase of 79.4 million tonnes since 2019.
  • Bamboo forests have grown from 13,882 million culms (stems) in 2019 to 53,336 million culms in 2021.
  • The forest cover in tiger corridors has increased by 37.15 sq km (0.32%) between 2011-2021, but decreased by 22.6 sq km (0.04%) in tiger reserves. Forest cover has increased in 20 tiger reserves in these 10 years, and decreased in 32. Buxa, Anamalai and Indravati reserves have shown an increase in forest cover while the highest losses have been found in Kawal, Bhadra and the Sunderbans reserves.Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh has the highest forest cover, at nearly 97%.

What kind of forests are growing?

  • ISFR 2021 has shown an increasing trend in forest cover overall, the trend is not uniform across all kinds of forests.
    • Three categories of forests are surveyed – very dense forests (canopy density over 70%), moderately dense forests (40-70%) and open forests (10-40%). Scrubs (canopy density less than 10%) are also surveyed but not categorised as forests.
  • Very dense forests have increased by 501 sq km. This is a healthy sign but pertains to forests that are protected and reserve forests with active conservation activities. Experts say that was is worrying is a 1,582 sq km decline in moderately dense forests, or “natural forests”.
  • The decline, in conjunction with an increase of 2,621 sq km in open forest areas – shows a degradation of forests in the country, say experts, with natural forests degrading to less dense open forests.
  • Also, scrub area has increased by 5,320 sq km – indicating the complete degradation of forests in these areas, they say.

What explains the decline in the Northeastern states?

  • The Northeast states account for 7.98% of total geographical area but 23.75% of total forest cover. The forest cover in the region has shown an overall decline of 1,020 sq km in forest cover. While states in the Northeast continue to have some of the largest forested areas, such as Mizoram (84.5% of its total geographical area is forests) or Arunachal Pradesh (79.3%), the two states have respectively lost 1.03% and 0.39% of their forest cover, while Manipur has lost 1.48 %, Meghalaya 0.43%, and Nagaland 1.88%.
  • The report has attributed the decline in the Northeastern states to a spate of natural calamities, particularly landslides and heavy rains, in the region as well as to anthropogenic activities such as shifting agriculture, pressure of developmental activities and felling of trees.
  • Experts say that this loss is of great concern as the Northeastern states are repositories of great biodiversity. While natural calamities may have led to much of the loss, the declining forests will in turn increase the impact of landslides, they say. It will also impact water catchment in the region, which is already seeing degradation of its water resources. Unlike other states, where forests are clearly managed by the forest department and state governments, the Northeastern states follow a different ownership pattern — community ownership and protected tribal land – which makes conservation activities challenging.

What impact has climate change had?

  • The report estimates that by 2030, 45-64% of forests in India will experience the effects of climate change and rising temperatures, and forests in all states (except Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland) will be highly vulnerable climate hot spots. Ladakh (forest cover 0.1-0.2%) is likely to be the most affected. India’s forests are already showing shifting trends of vegetation types, such as Sikkim which has shown a shift in its vegetation pattern for 124 endemic species.
  • In 2019-20, 1.2 lakh forest fire hotspots were detected by the SNPP_VIIRS sensor, which increased to 3.4 lakh in 2020-21. The highest numbers of fires were detected in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Criticism

  • Experts say the survey results could be misleading as it includes plantations – such as coffee, coconuts or mango and other orchards – under forest cover. These plantations are distinctly different from natural forests where one hectare would be home to hundreds of species of trees, plants and fauna, whereas such plantations house only one species of tree. The forest survey is carried out as an assessment of India’s biodiversity, but such an overarching survey does not meet that objective, experts say.

2 . Currency Swap & Asian Clearing Union


Context : India on Thursday confirmed a $400 million currency swap with Sri Lanka while deferring another $500 million due for settlement to the Asian Clearing Union (ACU), in a move aimed at helping the island nation witnessing an unprecedented economic crisis.

About the News

  • RBI assistance includes deferring the payment of $500 that Sri Lanka owes to the ACU, a regional initiative with the Central Banks and Monetary Authorities of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • In July 2020, the RBI extended a similar swap facility — of $400 million — to help Sri Lanka cope with the impact of the first wave of the pandemic, and later provided a three-month roll over until February 2021, when the Central Bank of Sri Lanka settled it.
  • India’s assistance follows a request from Sri Lanka during Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi in December, for emergency financial assistance, including Lines of Credit for importing essentials and a currency swap to boost Sri Lanka’s draining foreign reserves.
  • Sri Lanka is facing a severe dollar crunch that economists say might lead to a default on external debt and create a food shortage in the imports-reliant nation. Colombo must service over $7 billion outstanding debt in 2022, including bond repayments of $500 million in January and $1 billion in July.

About Currency Swap

  • In the swap arrangement, a country provides dollars to a foreign central bank, which, at the same time, provides the equivalent funds in its currency to the former, based on the market exchange rate at the time of the transaction.
  • The parties agree to swap back these quantities of their two currencies at a specified date in the future, which could be the next day or even two years later, using the same exchange rate as in the first transaction. In Sri Lanka’s case, it’s more than two years.
  • The RBI also offers similar swap lines to central banks in the SAARC region within a total corpus of $2 billion. Under the framework for 2019-22, the RBI will continue to offer a swap arrangement within the overall corpus of $2 billion. Other countries can withdraw funds in the US dollar, the euro, or the Indian rupee. This facility originally came into operation on November 15, 2012 to provide a backstop line of funding for short-term foreign exchange liquidity requirements or balance of payment crises until longer term arrangements were made.
  • India already has a $75 billion bilateral currency swap line with Japan, which has the second highest dollar reserves after China.

Benefits

  • These swap operations carry no exchange rate or other market risks, as transaction terms are set in advance. The absence of an exchange rate risk is the major benefit of such a facility.
  • This facility provides the country, which is getting the dollars, with the flexibility to use these reserves at any time in order to maintain an appropriate level of balance of payments or short-term liquidity.

About Asian Clearing Union

  • The Asian Clearing Union (ACU) was established with its head-quarters at Tehran, Iran, on December 9, 1974 at the initiative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), for promoting regional co-operation.
  • The main objective of the clearing union is to facilitate payments among member countries for eligible transactions on a multilateral basis, thereby economizing on the use of foreign exchange reserves and transfer costs, as well as promoting trade among the participating countries.
  • The Central Banks and the Monetary Authorities of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are currently the members of the ACU.
  • Asian Monetary Units (AMUs) is the common unit of account of ACU and is denominated as ‘ACU Dollar’, ‘ACU Euro’ and ‘ACU Yen’, which is equivalent in value to one US Dollar, one Euro and one Japanese Yen respectively. All instruments of payments under ACU have to be denominated in AMUs.

3 . Millimeter Wave band


Context : An industry body that represents interests of the communication satellite ecosystem in India has voiced concerns over the Government’s plan to include the mmWave bands in the spectrum auction, which is slated for later this year. 

What are the industry association’s concerns?

  • The Satcom Industry Association-India (SIA), in its submission to TRAI, has urged the regulator to limit the inclusion of mmWave spectrum in the 5G auction as 27.5-31 GHz and 17.7-21.2 GHz bands have been preserved for satellite-based broadband services as per the decision taken by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The industry body pointed to Europe’s “5G Roadmap”, which is built on the ITU’s decision to hold these bands for satellite-based broadband services. 
  • The SIA also noted that offering excessive spectrum resources in the upcoming 5G auction will result in Indian citizens being denied the benefits of high-demand, advanced satellite broadband services. In addition to this, it will result in a massive loss to the Indian economy of up to $184.6 billion by 2030, along with the loss of foreign direct investment (FDI) and employment generation benefits.

What is a millimeter Wave band? 

  • Millimetre Wave band or mmWave is a particular segment of radio frequency spectrum that range between 24 GHz and 100 GHz.
  • This spectrum, as the name suggests, has a short wavelength, and is apt to deliver greater speeds and lower latencies. This in turn makes data transfer efficient and seamless as the current available networks work optimally only on lower frequency bandwidths. 
  • 5G services can be deployed using lower frequency bands. They can cover greater distances and are proven to work efficiently even in urban environments, which are prone to interference. But, when it comes to data speeds, these bands fail to hit peak potential needed for a true 5G experience. So, mmWave is that quintessential piece in the 5G jigsaw puzzle for mobile service providers. 

How could this disrupt the satellite communication industry?

  • Internet has largely been provided to users via fibre-optic based broadband connectivity or mobile network. Of late, another class of Internet vendors is showing up. These are satellite-based communication service providers. For example, SpaceX’s Starlink and Bharti Airtel’s OneWeb are some of the players in this market.
  • This segment uses Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to provide broadband to both urban and rural users. Their service could also be used for weather predictions.
  • According to an IEEE Wireless Communications paper on Spectrum Policy, “the 24.25-27.5 GHz band had been the subject of controversy due to out-of-band emissions into the passive satellite band used for weather satellites at 23.6-24 GHz.” This issue was later resolved by setting a limit for base station emissions into the satellite band. The limit would become more restrictive in 2027, and any equipment installed prior to that date will be made acceptable. 
  • This compromise was reached in the hope that it will allow an immediate rollout of 5G in this band while pressing manufacturers to decrease, in the long term, out-of-band emissions into the nearby passive band where they may impact weather prediction data.
  • The satellite communication industry is looking to pre-empt mobile telephony companies’ move by ensuring that the bands don’t go to them in the first place. But, until 2027, these bands can be auctioned off to mobile Internet service providers. 

4 . India – UK FTA


Context : Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and U.K. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan kicked off talks for an ambitious, comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on Thursday. Mr. Goyal said the negotiations are expected to be completed within a year

Why is the FTA important?

  • A deal will be critical for India at a time when the country has walked out of key FTAs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and begun to renegotiate others. India finds existing agreements to be not benefitting domestic industry. Imports had been rising over the past years and exports grew at a tepid pace.
  • India has chalked out an aggressive Atmanirbhar Bharat plan which aims to make it an export powerhouse with $1 trillion exports by 2030. So fewer trade barriers with a large market like the UK could give a push to exporters.

What do the two countries want?

  • India wants enhanced mobility for its professionals and reduced fee for work and tourism visas, safeguards for agriculture, better market access for vaccines, basmati rice, wool, yarn, instant coffee, and tea pre-mix, among others.
  • The UK, on the other hand, wants the ease of doing business, removal of tariffs of up to 150% on whisky and 125% on British-made cars. Also, removal of barriers to trade in services, food and drink, healthcare and medical devices. On the table is partnership on using green energy for industries and long-term academic collaborations between the two nations

5 . Facts for Prelims


Siachen

  • The Siachen glacier demarcates central Asia from the Indian subcontinent, and separates Pakistan from China in the region.
  • The Saltoro Ridge of the Siachin glacier serves as a divide that prevents direct linking of PoK with China, stopping them to develop geographical military linkages in the area.
  • Siachen also serves as a watchtower for India to keep a deep watch on Gilgit and Baltistan regions of Pakistan.
  • If Pakistan gets the location advantage in Siachen, it would become a big threat to  India from the west in Ladakh in addition to Chinese threats from Aksai Chin of the east.
  • Due to its control over Saltoro Ride, India is better placed to strike a bargain while settling bilateral territorial disputes with Pakistan in the future.
  • Siachen also helps India to keep a close watch on China ’s activities as Beijing has vastly improved its infrastructure in this region. China has developed all weather rail and road links in the Shaksgam region, which was ceded to China by Pakistan in 1960s. Ceding Indian-controlled Karakoram Pass triangle region to Pakistan would have further strengthened the Sino-Pakistan footprints on these strategic heights.
  • India took control of Siachen Glacier through Operation Meghadoot

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