Daily Current Affairs : 28th and 29th November 2023

Topics Covered

  1. Rate Hole Mining
  2. Dollarisation
  3. Lightning
  4. AISHE Report
  5. Need to disclose Political Donations
  6. Weights for Lending
  7.  Parthenon Sculptures
  8. Facts for Prelims

1 . Rat Hole Mining


Context: Rat-hole mining is being done to rescue trapped Uttarkashi tunnel workers.  

What is rat-hole mining? 

  • Rat hole mining is a method of extracting coal from narrow, horizontal seams, prevalent in Meghalaya. 
  • The term “rat hole” refers to the narrow pits dug into the ground, typically just large enough for one person to descend and extract coal. 
  • Once the pits are dug, miners descend using ropes or bamboo ladders to reach the coal seams. The coal is then manually extracted using primitive tools such as pickaxes, shovels, and baskets. 
  • Rat-hole mining is broadly of two types:
    • The first one is the side-cutting procedure, wherein narrow tunnels are dug on the hill slopes and workers go inside until they find the coal seam. The coal seam in hills of Meghalaya is very thin, less than 2 m in most cases. 
    • In the other type of rat-hole mining, called box-cutting, a rectangular opening is made, varying from 10 to 100 sqm, and through that a vertical pit is dug, 100 to 400 feet deep. Once the coal seam is found, rat-hole-sized tunnels are dug horizontally through which workers can extract the coal. 

Environmental and safety concerns

  • Rat hole mining poses significant safety and environmental hazards. The mines are typically unregulated, lacking safety measures such as proper ventilation, structural support, or safety gear for the workers. 
  • The mining process can cause land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution. 
  • The method has faced severe criticism due to its hazardous working conditions, environmental damage, and numerous accidents leading to injuries and fatalities. Despite attempts by authorities to regulate or ban such practices, they often persist due to economic factors and the absence of viable alternative livelihoods for the local population. 

When was it banned, and why? 

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned the practice in 2014, and retained the ban in 2015.  
  • The NGT observed that during the rainy season, due to rat-hole mining water flooded into the mining areas resulting in death of many.  
  • The order was in connection with Meghalaya, where this remained a prevalent procedure for coal mining. The state government then appealed the order in the Supreme Court. 

2 . Dollarisation


Context: Javier Milei, the recent winner of Argentina’s presidential election, has drawn attention for his unconventional policies, one of them being the plan to replace the country’s currency of peso with the dollar. 

What is dollarisation?  

  • Dollarization is the term for when the U.S. dollar is used in addition to or instead of the domestic currency of another country. It is an example of currency substitution. 
  • Dollarization usually happens when a country’s own currency loses its usefulness as a medium of exchange, due to hyperinflation or instability. 

Significance

  • Dollarisation can act as a solution to hyperinflation by breaking the feedback link between rising prices and rising money supply. If the domestic currency is replaced by dollars, so the theory goes, money supply can no longer be controlled by vested political interests who can increase spending for political ends. 
  • The incessant rise of prices would be forced to moderate since consumers would no longer be able to access currency easily, thus slowing down consumption demand. 
  • Dollarisation can also have positive effects on growth. Since a small economy can only access dollars through foreign trade and/or capital inflows, it would incentivise the economy to focus on export successes and easing conditions for foreign capital, who would be more willing to invest in an economy with a stable currency. 
  • The stable value of the dollar would ensure that economic agents,both foreign and domestic, would be able to make long-term plans regarding economic activity, plans that would otherwise not be possible under a currency that rapidly lost value. 

Issues

  • The adoption of dollars as a currency implies that economies lose an important source of policy leverage, with monetary policy now unable to control money supply. 
  • On the foreign trade front, countries would no longer be able to take recourse to depreciation to boost exports, focusing only on export promotion to stave off downturns. 
  • The dangers of adopting an external currency without the ability to chart independent policy can be seen in the case of Greece. In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, Greece was bereft of both fiscal and monetary policy space, with monetary policy being determined by the European Central Bank (ECB) and fiscal policy restrained as a pre-condition for adopting the Euro. The Greek economy saw no alternative but to adopt crushing austerity in exchange for financial assistance from the IMF and the ECB. 

3 . Lightning


Context: Twenty-seven people were killed in lightning strikes as unseasonal rains and hailstorms have been battering Gujarat since Sunday. 

About Lightning

  • Lightning is a natural phenomenon formed by electrostatic discharges through the atmosphere between two electrically charged regions, either both in the atmosphere or with one in the atmosphere and on the ground, temporarily neutralizing these in a near-instantaneous release of an average of one gigajoule of energy. 
  • This discharge may produce a wide range of electromagnetic radiation, from heat created by the rapid movement of electrons, to brilliant flashes of visible light in the form of black-body radiation.  
  • Lightning causes thunder, a sound from the shock wave which develops as gases in the vicinity of the discharge experience a sudden increase in pressure.  
  • Lightning occurs commonly during thunderstorms as well as other types of energetic weather systems, but volcanic lightning can also occur during volcanic eruptions. 
  • It is an atmospheric electrical phenomenon and contributes to the global atmospheric electrical circuit. 

Types of Lightning

  • Three primary types of lightning are defined by the “starting” and “ending” points of a flash channel: 
    • Intra-cloud (IC) or in-cloud lightning occurs within a single thundercloud unit. 
    • Cloud-to-cloud (CC) or inter-cloud lightning starts and ends between two different “functional” thundercloud units. 
    • Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning primarily originates in the thundercloud and terminates on an Earth surface, but may also occur in the reverse direction, that is ground to cloud. 

Effects of Lightning 

  • Fire Hazard: Lightning strikes can ignite fires when they hit dry vegetation, trees, or structures. These fires can lead to significant damage to ecosystems and property. 
  • Structural Damage: Buildings, trees, and other structures can be damaged or destroyed by a direct lightning strike or by the secondary effects of the electrical discharge, such as fire or shock waves. 
  • Power Outages: Lightning strikes can damage power lines, transformers, and other components of the electrical grid, leading to power outages. This can affect homes, businesses, and infrastructure. 
  • Injury or Death: Direct strikes or lightning-related accidents can cause injuries or fatalities. The electrical current from a lightning bolt can affect the nervous system and vital organs, leading to severe injuries or death. 
  • Wildlife Impact: Lightning can have adverse effects on wildlife. Direct strikes can kill animals, and the resulting fires can destroy habitats, disrupt ecosystems, and impact biodiversity. 
  • Agricultural Impact: Lightning strikes can damage crops and affect agricultural productivity. Fires caused by lightning can destroy crops and contribute to economic losses for farmers. 

Government steps to tackle Lightning

  • NDMA guidelines: The national disaster management authority has published comprehensive instructions that outline dos and don’ts as well as actions that the general people should take during lighting. 
  • Lightning Alert System: It provides a location-specific forecast of thunder, lightning, strong winds, high winds, and hailstorm occurrences for up to 48 hours. 
  • Damini App: A GPS notification from the app, which was created by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and Earth System Science Organization, alerts users when lightning is nearby and is between 20 and 40 kilometres away. 
  • Lightning Resilient India programme: By 2022, the programme hopes to reduce lightning-related fatalities to 1,200 annually. The Climate Resilient Observing-Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), the NDMA, the IMD, the Union Ministry of Earth Science, World Vision India, and UNICEF are all involved in the joint endeavour.  
     

4 . Need to disclose Political Donations


Context: With the hearings in the Supreme Court on the electoral bonds challenge having concluded, it is a good time to discuss how important the outcome of this challenge will be to democracy and rule of law in India. 

Need for disclosure

  • The need for public disclosure of funding arises because political parties are the pillars of representative democracy and transparent accounts are the key to preserving citizens’ trust in parties and politicians, maintaining the rule of law and removing corruption in the electoral and political process. 
  • Limits on donations are imposed because unchecked large donations to political parties and their allies have the effect of bringing democracy into disrepute. 
  • It is to ensure that the outcome of elections should not depend on which party has more money to campaign and woo, or buy voters. 
  • To uphold the separation of wealth from power, which is a basic condition of a democratic system. 

International Examples

  • As far back in 1910, the United States of America enacted the Publicity Act, which not only made all funding of political parties and candidates to be disclosed, it also imposed limits on political contributions. These conditions were challenged and the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley versus Valeo in 1976, not only upheld the public disclosure requirements of funding of political parties, but also upheld the limits on contributions to be received, as being constitutional. It held that to the extent that large contributions are given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders, the integrity of the system of representative democracy is undermined. The danger, is not of actual quid pro quo arrangements but of the appearance of corruption and the opportunities for abuse inherent with large financial contributions, even when the identities of the contributors and their contributions are fully disclosed. The mere impression of misuse may be sufficient to erode confidence in the political system and democracy.
  • In 2014, the European Union enacted a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the funding of European political parties and European political foundations. Under this Regulation, there were limits set on the value of donations that parties and foundations may accept per year and per donor. While donations from natural persons under a certain value can be anonymised, all donations exceeding that value have to be disclosed. Large donations above a certain value require not just disclosure but immediate reporting to the authority. Further, political parties are also required to file annual financial statements of their revenue and expenditure, their list of donors and corresponding donations.
  • In the U.K., under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, there are restrictions on the donations and loans a political party can accept, and requirements for the declaration of the source of the donations. There are thus two distinct requirements that most legal regulations have for funding of political parties — complete disclosure of donors above certain minimal amounts and limits or caps on donations.

Way forward

  • For a healthy democracy, it is absolutely necessary to have a law that ensures full publication of all donations made to political parties. 
  • The legislation should mandate public disclosure of the identity of donors to political parties, candidates or political foundations which are above a certain nominal limit, the immediate reporting of large donations to the election commission, mandating that political party accounts be made public and reported to the election commission, auditing of accounts of political parties by an independent authority, setting limits on funding and expenditure by political parties and mechanisms on enforcement of the law. 
     

5 . Weights for Lending


Context: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) directed banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) to reserve more capital for risk weights.  

What is Credit Risk

  • Credit risk refers to the risk entailed by a borrower being unable to meet their obligations or defaulting on commitments.
  • ‘Risk weights’ are an essential tool for banks to manage this risk. This metric, in percentage factors, adjusts for the risk associated with a certain asset type.
  • It is an indicator of the essential holding the lender should ideally have to adjust the associated risk. T

Proposal by RBI

  • The primary purpose of effective risk management by banks is to maximise their returns by maintaining credit risk exposure within acceptable parameters. 
  • RBI has directed that the risk weight for consumer credit exposure be increased by 25 percentage points to 125%, for all commercial banks and NBFCs. 
  • This would apply to personal loans (and retail loans for NBFCs), excluding housing loans, education loans, vehicle loans and loans secured by gold and gold jewellery. 
  • Bank credit to NBFCs, excluding core investment companies, also had their risk weights increased by 25 percentage points. This would, however, not apply to housing finance companies and loans to NBFCs classified into the priority sector. 

Why were the changes necessary? 

  • Governor Shaktikanta Das had flagged concerns about the “high growth” in “certain components of consumer credit.” 
  • Ratings agency Moody’s also put forth that higher risk weights are intended to “dampen lenders’ consumer loan growth appetite. 

Concerns

  • The primary concerns relate to the impact on capital adequacy and the bank’s overall profitability. 
  • The immediate effect will likely be higher interest rates for borrowers, slower loan growth for lenders, reduced capital adequacy, and some hit on profits. 
  • NBFCs face a “double-whammy” because of higher risk weights on their unsecured loans and on account of the bank lending mandates to NBFCs. It is expected that the increased costs would be passed onto borrowers. 

6 . Parthenon Sculptures or Elgin Marbles 


Context: A diplomatic row sparked between Greece and the UK recently after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the status of the Parthenon Sculptures housed at the British Museum. 

What are the Parthenon Sculptures? 

  • The Parthenon Sculptures at the British Museum are more than 30 ancient stone sculptures from Greece that are more than 2,000 years old. 
  • Most of them originally adorned the walls and grounds of the Parthenon temple on the rocky Acropolis hill in Athens. Completed in 432 BC, the temple is dedicated to the goddess Athena and is seen as the crowning glory of Athens’ Golden Age.  
  • While one notable sculpture, which is 75 metres long, depicts a procession for the birthday of Athena, others show gods, heroes or mythical creatures.  

How did the sculptures reach Britain? 

  • They were removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and then-British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. 
  • The marbles were taken to Britain and purchased by the British Museum in 1816. 

Were the sculptures stolen? 

  • While Athen accused Lord Elgin of theft, he insisted he had permission to remove the marbles from the Ottoman Empire, which used to control Athen at the time.  
  • The original letter giving him permission, however, has been lost and its text remains disputed. 
  • Athens has been demanding the return of the sculptures since it became independent in the early 1830s. 
  • The campaign gained momentum in the 1980s after Greek Oscar-nominated actress Melina Mercouri launched a movement for their return when she was culture minister between 1981 and 1989. 

Britain’s response 

  • The British Museum, the caretaker of the sculptures, claims that they were acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman Empire and has rejected the demands of their return. 
  • It also said that the public would benefit more from having the sculptures divided between two museums, that bringing them back together into a unified whole is impossible as some parts were lost or destroyed, and that the sculptures could not be safely returned. 
  • UK PM Rishi Sunak said the marbles are a “huge asset” to the UK and ruled out changing a law that would allow the sculptures to be given back to Greece. 

What happens now? 

  • A day after the meeting was cancelled between Sunak and Mitsotakis, Greek officials said they would continue talks with the British Museum about the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. 
  • Reports suggest that although the Tory government insists that Britain owns the marbles, the Labour party, expected to win next year’s national elections, will allow a loan agreement between the British Museum and the Greek government. 

7 . Facts for Prelims


 Asia – Pacific Economic cooperation 

  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is an inter-governmental forum for 21 member economies in the Pacific Rim that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  
  • It started in 1989, in response to the growing interdependence of Asia-Pacific economies and the advent of regional trade blocs in other parts of the world; it aimed to establish new markets for agricultural products and raw materials beyond Europe. 
  • It is headquartered in Singapore.  

 NISAR

  • The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar mission is a joint project between NASA and ISRO to co-develop and launch a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on an Earth observation satellite.  
  • The satellite will be the first radar imaging satellite to use dual frequencies. 
  • Under the terms of the agreement, NASA will provide the mission’s L-bandsynthetic aperture radar (SAR), a high-rate telecommunication subsystem for scientific data GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder, and a payload data subsystem. 
  • ISRO will provide the satellite bus, an S-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), the launch vehicle, and associated launch services. 

Satyajit Ray Award

  • The IFFI Satyajit Ray Lifetime Achievement Award (formerly IFFI Lifetime Achievement Award) is an international honor instituted by the International Film Festival of India. 
  • The recipient is honored for their “outstanding contribution to the growth and development of World cinema.” 

Optical fibres

  • Optical fibres are made of thin cylindrical strands of glass. The diameter of a typical fibre is close to the diameter of a human hair. These fibres can carry information, such as text, images, videos, telephone calls, and anything that can be encoded as digital information, across large distances almost at the speed of light. 
  • A fibre optic communication system consists of three parts — a transmitter which encodes information into optical signals (in the form of rapidly blinking light pulses of zeros and ones); an optical fibre that carries the signal to its destination; and a receiver which reproduces the information from the encoded signal.  
  • Optical waves allow a high data-transmission rate, up to several terabits per second in a single fibre. 
  • Unlike radio or copper-cable-based communication, fibre cables are also insensitive to external perturbations such as lightning and bad weather. 

Rythu Bandhu Scheme

  • Rythu Bandhu scheme, also known as Farmer’s Investment Support Scheme (FISS), is a welfare program to support farmer’s investment for two crops a year by the Government of Telangana. 
  • The scheme offers a financial help of ₹10,000 per year to each farmer (two crops). 
  •  There is no cap on the number of acres, and most of the farmers are small and marginal. 

Kambala

  • It is a folk sport practised in coastal Karnataka districts, especially in regions where Tulu speakers form a majority.  
  • In the past, races were hosted by various families and groups in sludgy fields in the days after paddy was harvested. More recently, various Kambala Samithis or organising bodies have come up, which host weekly events from the end of November till the first half of April across Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. 
  • It is a matter of prestige for many families, especially from the Bunt community in the coastal areas. Pairs of buffaloes are groomed by them round the year in the hope of winning a Kambala event. 
  • Kambala is generally held under four categories :
    • First is Negilu (plough), where light ploughs are used to tie buffaloes for the race. The event is for entry-level animals. 
    • The second is Hagga (rope), where buffaloes are raced by jockeys with just a rope tying the pair together.  
    • The third category is Adda Halage, in which jockeys stand over a horizontal plank dragged by buffaloes. Thus, unlike Hagga and Negilu, where jockeys run behind the animals, in this, buffaloes drag the jockeys. 
    • Kane Halage is the fourth category, where a wooden plank is tied to buffaloes. The plank, on which the jockeys stand, has two holes through which water gushes out as the plank is dragged along the slush tracks. The height to which water splashes determines the winner of the event.  

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