Daily Current Affairs : 27th and 28th September 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Cess
  2. Flood Inundation Map using Cloud Computing
  3. Central Road Fund
  4. India – Japan Maritime bilateral exercise JIMEX
  5. Human Challenge Trial
  6. Industrial Relations Code & Trade Unions
  7. Study on Amphibians in the central Indian Panna Tiger Reserve
  8. Facts for Prelims

1 . Cess

Context: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has submitted its latest audit report of government accounts. 

Findings of the report

  • According to the report Union government withheld in the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) more than ₹1.1 lakh crore out of the almost ₹2.75 lakh crore collected through various cesses in 2018-19.
  • Over ₹1.24 lakh crore collected as Cess on Crude Oil over the last decade had not been transferred to the designated Reserve Fund — the Oil Industry Development Board and had instead been retained in the Centre’s coffers. 
  • Similarly, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Compensation Cess was also “short-credited” to the relevant reserve fund to the extent of ₹47,272 crore in two years (₹40,806 crore in 2018-19 and ₹6,466 crore in 2017-18).
  • The CAG has found non-transfer of cesses objectionable as the cess collections are supposed to be transferred to specified Reserve Funds that Parliament has approved for each of these levies. 

What is a cess?

  • The Union government is empowered to raise revenue through a gamut of levies, including taxes (both direct and indirect), surcharges, fees and cess. 
  • Direct taxes, including income tax, and indirect taxes such as GST are taxes where the revenue received can be spent by the government for any public purpose in any manner it deems appropriate for the nation’s good
  • A cess is a earmarked tax that is collected for a specific purpose and ought to be spent only for that. Every cess is collected after Parliament has authorised its creation through an enabling legislation that specifies the purpose for which the funds are being raised. 
  • Article 270 of the Constitution allows cess to be excluded from the purview of the divisible pool of taxes that the Union government must share with the States.

How many cesses does govt. levy?

  • A report titled ‘Cesses and Surcharges: Concept, Practice and Reforms since 1944’, prepared by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in August 2018 and submitted to the Fifteenth Finance Commission listed 42 cesses that have been levied at various points in time since 1944. 
  • The very first cess was levied on matches.
  • Post Independence, the cess taxes were linked initially to the development of a particular industry, including a salt cess and a tea cess in 1953. 
  • A cess was introduced to ensure labour welfare.  Some cesses that exemplified this thrust were the iron ore mines labour welfare cess in 1961, the limestone and dolomite mines labour welfare cess of 1972 and the cine workers welfare cess introduced in 1981. 
  • The introduction of the GST in 2017 led to most cesses being done away with and as of August 2018, there were only seven cesses that continued to be levied.
  • These were Cess on Exports, Cess on Crude Oil, Health and Education Cess, Road and Infrastructure Cess, Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess, National Calamity Contingent Duty on Tobacco and Tobacco Products and the GST Compensation Cess
  • In February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a new cess — a Health Cess of 5% on imported medical devices — in the Finance Bill for 2020-2021.


  • The purpose of GST cess is to help recompense States for the loss of revenue on account of their having joined the GST regime by voluntarily giving up almost all the power to levy local indirect taxes on goods and services. 
  • The share of revenue to the Centre’s annual tax kitty from cess had risen to 11.88% of the estimated gross tax receipts in 2018-19, from 6.88% in 2012-13. 
  • As cess is not a part of the divisible pool of resources the increasing share of cess in the Union government’s tax receipts has a direct impact on fiscal devolution.

2 . Flood Inundation Map using Cloud Computing

Context: Researchers have developed a tool for a near real-time mapping of flood extent

What are Flood Inundation Maps?

  • Maps showing where flooding may occur are known as flood inundation maps

About the New Mapping Technology

  • International team has developed a powerful tool for a near real-time mapping of flood extent using openly accessible satellite data and a cloud computing platform
  • Space-based sensors known as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) have been used widely for monitoring and mapping of flood-water inundation.
  • SAR is capable of acquiring data in all-weather condition, making it useful for mapping and monitoring flood inundation areas. These sensors operate on the constellation of two SAR satellites belonging to the Copernicus Programme launched by the European Space Agency.
  • The data from the satellites was utilised on a cloud-based platform known as Google Earth Engine (GEE) for the rapid processing of big data. The GEE also has publicly made available numerous satellite image collections and has functions for image processing and analysis.

Analysis & use of Machine Learning to generate Maps

  • The team studied water inundation maps from 2015 and their analysis was clearly able to show the areas submerged underwater in 2018.
  • Then on this data machine learning and computer vision techniques  were applied to quickly generate the water inundation maps.
  • The new flood inundation maps showed an accuracy of over 94%.
  • The team also analysed the rainfall data from 1981 to 2018 and were able to predict the major reasons behind this flood. “The monsoon season of Kerala has seen an increasing rainfall trend and this has played a major role. This also depicts that more floods are likely to happen in the near future. “Other studies have also pointed out that the flooding event would have not taken place if the capacity of the major six reservoirs would have been 34% more.”

Benefits of the new maps

  • Using machine learning and computer vision techniques to quickly generate the water inundation maps can help in swiftly deploying the rescue team and rescue operations can be started immediately
  • It can also help in better flood risk preparedness. 

About Copernicus Programme

  • Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme, looking at our planet and its environment for the ultimate benefit of all European citizens. It offers information services based on satellite Earth Observation and in situ (non-space) data.
  • The Programme is coordinated and managed by the European Commission. It is implemented in partnership with the Member States, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), EU Agencies and Mercator Océan.
  • Vast amounts of global data from satellites and from ground-based, airborne and seaborne measurement systems are being used to provide information to help service providers, public authorities and other international organisations improve the quality of life for the citizens of Europe. The information services provided are freely and openly accessible to its users.
  • Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer, who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at the center of the universe, in all likelihood independently of Aristarchus of Samos, who had formulated such a model some eighteen centuries earlier.

3 . Central Road Fund

Context: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has mooted an investigation against the Central government’s accounting officials for incorrectly recording ₹10,250 crore of cess receipts from additional excise duties on petrol and diesel, as non-tax receipts for the exchequer in 2018-19.

About the issue

  • Incorrect recording was done through a journal entry made after the end of the financial year, which the CAG said was done ‘primarily for the purpose of artificially inflating revenue receipts of the year’. The national auditor also dismissed the finance ministry’s explanation and rebuttals on the matter as ‘untenable.’
  • Cess collections from petrol and diesel are to be routed to the Central Road Fund (CRF), created by the Parliament

Central Road Fund (CRF)

  • The Central Road Fund (CRF) was created by the Parliament as a dedicated non-lapsable Reserve Fund to be used only for cess collections from petrol and diesel
  • The CRF was replaced with a Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF) through amendments introduced in the Union Budget for 2018-19.
  • The administrative control of Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF) falls under the Ministry of Finance earlier it was with Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
  • Central Road Fund Act (Amendment), 2018 allowed using the proceeds of the road cess under CRIF to finance other infrastructure projects including waterways, some portion of the railway infrastructure and even social infrastructure including education institutions, medical colleges etc.

4 . India – Japan Maritime bilateral exercise JIMEX

Context: The 4th edition of India – Japan Maritime bilateral exercise JIMEX, which is conducted biennially between the Indian Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) will be held in North Arabian Sea from 26 to 28 September 2020.


  • JIMEX is a bilateral maritime exercise between India and Japan.
  • JIMEX series of exercises commenced in January 2012 with special focus on maritime security cooperation.
  • The last edition of JIMEX was conducted in October 2018 off Visakhapatnam, India

About JIMEX 20

  • JIMEX 20 will showcase high degree of inter-operability and joint operational skills through conduct of a multitude of advanced exercises, across the spectrum of maritime operations. 
  • Multi-faceted tactical exercises involving weapon firings, cross deck helicopter operations and complex surface, anti-submarine and air warfare drills will consolidate coordination developed by the two navies.
  • JIMEX 20 will be spread over three days and is being conducted in a ‘non-contact at-sea-only format’, in view of COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Indigenously built stealth destroyer Chennai, Teg Class stealth frigate Tarkash and Fleet Tanker Deepak, under the command of Rear Admiral Krishna Swaminathan, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, will represent the Indian Navy. 
  • The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force will be represented by JMSDF Ships Kaga, an Izumo Class Helicopter Destroyer and Ikazuchi, a Guided Missile Destroyer, led by Rear Admiral Konno Yasushige, Commander Escort Flotilla – 2 (CCF – 2). In addition to ships, P8I Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft, integral helicopters and fighter aircraft will also participate in the exercise.


  • This is the first military exercise after the two countries signed a landmark agreement (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement – ACSA), that will allow their militaries to access each other’s bases for logistics support.
  • JIMEX 20 will further enhance the cooperation and mutual confidence between the two navies and fortify the long standing bond of friendship between the two countries.
  • JIMEX-20 is indicative of the continued upswing in Indo-Japanese defence relations and continued efforts by both governments to work closely for a more secure, open and inclusive global commons, in accordance with international regulations.

5 . Human Challenge Trial

Context: In January 2021, London will begin the world’s first human challenge trial. 

What are human challenge trials?

  • Under human challenge trials, participants of both the vaccine group and placebo group upon consent are deliberately exposed to the infection – thus are “challenged” by the disease organism.
  • Proponents of the method believe that such trials could save valuable time in developing a Covid-19 vaccine, as researchers would not have to wait for participants to contract the infection under real-world conditions.

Previous use of Human Challenge Trial

  • Human challenge trials have been performed safely in tens of thousands of people in the last 50 years and it has helped accelerate the development of vaccines against typhoid and cholera. 
  • Such a study was also conducted for Zika virus. 
  • The yellow fever experiments conducted in the early 1900s helped prove that mosquitoes transmit the virus causing yellow fever. 
  • The human-challenge studies have generally been used for testing less deadly diseases such as influenza, dengue, typhoid, cholera and malaria.

Advantage of a human challenge trial

  • Controlled human challenge trials of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates could accelerate the testing and potential rollout of efficacious vaccines.
  • By replacing conventional Phase 3 testing of vaccine candidates, such trials may subtract many months from the licensure process, making efficacious vaccines available more quickly.”
  • It also helps in understanding infection and disease. One such example is of the norovirus infection studies, where human infection was the only way to study the disease for 30 years, since there were no animal models. 

Importance of Human Challenge trial for Novel coronavirus?

  • In the case of SARS-CoV-2, there are many things that is not understood about the virus- the infectious dose, the kinetics of the immune response, susceptibility to disease and correlates of protection, which could be learned from human challenge, and that would help to design better treatments and vaccines.

Human challenge trials: The ethical concerns

  • Critics have questioned undertaking such trials for Covid-19, a potentially deadly disease for even those who are less at risk, and which researchers are still in the early stages of studying.
  • Human challenge studies have been conducted over hundreds of years and have contributed vital scientific knowledge that has led to advances in the development of drugs and vaccines. Nevertheless, such research can appear to be in conflict with the guiding principle in medicine to do no harm. Well documented historical examples of human exposure studies would be considered unethical by current standards. It is essential that challenge studies be conducted within an ethical framework in which truly informed consent is given.
  • When conducted, human challenge studies should be undertaken with abundant forethought, caution, and oversight. The value of the information to be gained should clearly justify the risks to human subjects.

6 . Industrial Relations Code & Trade Unions

Context: Three Codes on labour law were passed by Parliament recently amid strident criticism and vociferous protests by many trade unions. 

What are the main features of the Industrial Relations Code?

  • The Industrial Relations Code combines the features of three erstwhile laws — the Trade Unions Act, 1926, the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
  • It defines ‘workers’ to include, besides all persons employed in a skilled or unskilled, manual, technical, operational and clerical capacity, supervisory staff drawing up to ₹18,000 a month as salary.
  • It has introduced ‘fixed term employment’, giving employers the flexibility to hire workers based on requirement through a written contract. Fixed term employees should be treated on a par with permanent workers in terms of hours of work, wages, allowances and other benefits, including statutory benefits such as gratuity.
  • The Code states that any establishment that employs 300 or more workers must prepare standing orders relating to classification of workers, manner of intimating to them periods and hours of work, holidays, pay days etc, shifts, attendance, conditions for leave, termination of employment, or suspension, besides the means available for redress of grievances.
  • It confers on the ‘appropriate Government’, that is the Centre or the State governments, the power to exempt, with or without conditions, any industrial establishment or class of industrial establishments from all or any of the provisions of the Code, if it is satisfied that adequate provisions exist to fulfil its objectives.

What does it say on trade unions?

  • Where there is more than one trade union in an establishment, the sole negotiating union status will be given to the one that has 51% of the employees as its members. 
  • It has been brought down from the 75% requirement in the 2019 version. 
  • Where no union qualifies under this criterion, the employer must constitute a ‘negotiating council’ consisting of representatives drawn from the various unions, with only those with at least 20% of employees as its members.

What are the provisions on lay-off and closure?

  • The provisions that require the prior permission of the government for lay-off, retrenchment and closure are made applicable to only establishments that had employed 300 or more workers on an average per working day in the preceding 12 months. 
  • The Code also allows the government to raise this threshold by notification. 
  • A lay-off would be deemed illegal if it is effected without permission or is done despite refusal of permission, but it will not be so if the employee had been offered alternative employment that does not require any special skill or cause undue hardship. 
  • The Code prescribes notice period, or payment in lieu of notice period, and prior government permission before retrenchment of anyone who has been in continuous service for a year or more. 
  • Such a prior permission requirement is in place also for closure of a unit, with the application to be filed 90 days prior to the intended closure.

How does the new Code affect the right to strike?

  • The Code prohibits strikes and lock-outs in all industrial establishments without notice
  • No unit shall go on strike in breach of contract without giving notice 60 days before the strike, or within 14 days of giving such a notice, or before the expiry of any date given in the notice for the strike. 
  • Further, there should be no strike during any conciliation proceedings, or within seven days of the conclusion of such proceedings; or during proceedings before an industrial tribunal or 60 days after their conclusion or during arbitration proceedings. Similar restrictions have been given on the employer from announcing a lock-out. 
  • The restrictions on announcing strikes extend to all establishments.

7 . Study on Amphibians in the central Indian Panna Tiger Reserve

Context: A study was conducted by researchers from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, on amphibians in the central Indian Panna Tiger Reserve and they have come up with a list of five species hitherto undocumented in this region. 

About the study

  • The researchers compiled an entire amphibian inventory of this region.
  • They have recorded a call library of eleven species and also have obtained molecular confirmation (through DNA) of the cryptic species (a term used to refer to species that appear the same but show up a difference when their DNA is examined.)
  • The study was conducted in Central India as it is dry and  amphibians are spotted here only during the monsoons (late June to early August).
  • In this window, the team spent 86 days over two years to study the area.
  • The team used to locate breeding aggregation of frogs following their ‘chorus’.
  • Among the total of 15 species studied by the group, 12 are frogs and three are toads.

Species added

  • Of the five species that the group has added to the faunal list of Madhya Pradesh are the 
  1. Dwarf toad found in peninsular India
  2. Odisha paddy frog, an inhabitant of eastern India
  3. Wrinkled cricket frog, earlier observed in Karnataka
  4. Pierre’s cricket frog, seen in Nepal, Bhutan and Assam
  5. Western burrowing frog, earlier seen in western India.


  • Among the achievements of the group is recording the advertisement calls of the western burrowing frog for the first time.
  • This frog was identified for the first time in 2017 from populations in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. 

8 . Facts for Prelims

Lantana camara

  • Lantana camara is an invasive weed.
  • Lantana camara is a species of flowering plant within the verbenafamily, native to the American tropics.
  •  It’s a small perennial shrub which can grow to around 2 m tall and form dense thickets in a variety of environments.
  • Camara is often cultivated indoors, or in a conservatory, but can also thrive in a garden with sufficient shelter. 
  • It has spread from its native Central and South America to around 50 countries, where it has become an invasive species.
  • Camara will often out-compete other more desirable species, leading to a reduction in biodiversity.
  • It can also cause problems if it invades agricultural areas as a result of its toxicity to livestock, as well as its ability to form dense thickets which, if left unchecked, can greatly reduce the productivity of farmland.

Sandalwood Spike Disease

  • It is a disease that infects the Sandalwood trees.
  • It is caused by phytoplasma — bacterial parasites of plant tissues — which are transmitted by insect vectors.
  • SSD has been one of the major causes for the decline in sandalwood production in the country for over a century. 
  • The disease was first reported in Kodagu in 1899. More than a million sandalwood trees were removed in the Kodagu and Mysuru region between 1903 and 1916, prompting the Maharaja of Mysuru to announce a reward in 1907 of ₹10,000 for anyone finding a remedy. 
  • Later 98,734 trees were extracted during 1917-1925 in Salem also due to SSD.
  • In an effort to combat the killer disease, the Institute of Wood Science & Technology, Bengaluru  will join hands with the Pune-based National Centre for Cell Sciences for a three-year study, initiated by the Union Ministry of Ayush with a financial allocation of ₹50 lakh.

Calcutta Cricket Club

  •  Calcutta cricket club is the first cricket club outside Britain
  • Founded in 1792, and the first match was played 12 years later between the Etonians, senior civil servants and other company officials.

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