Daily Current Affairs - 23-03-2021

The Union Cabinet has given its approval for Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) which was signed between India and Japan for bilateral cooperation in the field of water resources. This will help in increasing exchange of information, knowledge and technology.

Highlights

According to official statement,  memorandum of cooperation was signed in between ‘Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation’ under ‘Ministry of Jal Shakti’ of government of India and ‘Water & Disaster Management Bureau’ under ‘Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism’ of government of Japan.

Significance of the MoC

MoC was signed with the objective of developing a long-term cooperation in the field of water and Delta management. It would also help in developing cooperation in the field of water technology. The cooperation would increase exchange of knowledge, technology and information. This will also help in exchanging  scientific allied experience and implementation of joint projects between both the countries. It will also help in achieving water security, improved irrigation facility and sustainability across the water resources development.

The central PSU named Power Grid Corporation of India has established an e-Tendering Portal called PRANIT. This portal will help in maintaining the less paperwork, ease of operation and making the tendering process more transparent. The portal has been certified by the Standardisation, Testing and Quality Certification Directorate (STQC) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The POWERGRID is the only organization in India which have an e Procurement solution on the SAP Supplier Relationship Management which also comply with all the applicable requirements related to the security and transparency.

Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID)

It is an Indian central public sector unit and a Maharatna company. The company is owned by Ministry of Power. It is headquartered in Gurugram, India. The company is engaged mainly in the Transmission of Power. The company transmits around 50 percent of the total power generated across India through its transmission network. The former subsidiary company of the POWERGRID called “Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO)” is engaged in the power management for the National Grid and all state transmission utilities. The company also operates the telecom business called POWERTEL. The current chairman and managing director of the company is Shri Kandikuppa Sreekant.

Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO)

It is a wholly owned Government of India enterprise working under the Ministry of Power. The organisation is responsible for ensuring the integrated operation of Grid in a reliable, secure and efficient manner. It comprises of 5 Regional Load Despatch Centres (RLDCs) and a National Load Despatch Centre (NLDC).

Russia has successfully put 38 satellites for 18 countries into orbit from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Highlights

The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, published a video showing its Soyuz rocket was launched against the grey and cloudy skies. The rocket successfully placed satellites (into orbit) from countries including Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Italy, Germany and Brazil. The launcher also launched “Challenge-1 satellite”, which is the first satellite completely made in Tunisia, created by Telnet Telecommunications group.

Soyuz-2.1a

It is the carrier rocket comprising of the Fregat upper stage. The 2.1a version of the Soyuz satellite comprise of conversion from analog to digital flight control system and the uprated engines on booster.  This new digital flight control and telemetry systems rocket which is launched from the fixed platform rather than angled launch platform. The digital control system also provides for the launch of larger commercial satellites comprising of the wider and longer payload fairings like ST-type fairing.

Soyuz

It is a family of Soviet expendable launch systems which has been developed by OKB-1. It was manufactured by  Progress Rocket Space Centre in Samara, Russia. It is the most frequently used launch vehicle across the world. These vehicles are used as the launcher for crewed Soyuz spacecraft under the Soyuz programme.

Significance of the launch

Launch of 38 satellites in one go by Russia is of great significance in the light that, the Russian Space Sector is lagging behind ever since the fall of Soviet Union. It also lagged behind the international competitors because of several by corruption scandals and technological stagnation. In the year 2018, Russia had launched a Soyuz rocket carrying the Russian cosmonaut and a NASA astronaut. But this mission was failed mid-flight and crew had to carry out emergency landing.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced on March 22, 2021 that it has successfully demonstrated its free-space Quantum Communication for a distance of 300 metres for the first time in India. It was demonstrated at the Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad in between the two line-of-sight buildings within its campus.

Highlights

Several numbers of the key technologies were indigenously developed to achieve this major feat. This space quantum communication includes the use of indigenously developed NAVIC receiver for the time synchronisation in between the transmitter and receiver modules. It also includes a gimbal mechanism system instead of the bulky large-aperture telescopes for the optical alignment of the system.

About the Demonstration

ISRO’s demonstration of the Free Space Quantum Communication includes the live video conferencing using the quantum-key-encrypted signals. It is a major milestone to achieve the unconditionally secured satellite data communication using the quantum technologies.

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technology

The Quantum Key Distribution technology uses the Quantum Communication technology which ensures the unconditional data security using the principles of the quantum mechanics on the basis of Laws of Physics. This technology cannot be used with the conventional encryption systems. The conventional cryptosystems are used for the data-encryption rely on complexity of the mathematical algorithms. Quantum Cryptography is the future-proof because no future advancements in computational power can break the quantum-cryptosystem.

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) or NAVIC

NAVIC is an autonomous regional satellite navigation system which provides the accurate real-time positioning and timing services. The satellite covers India and the region extending up to 1,500 km across it. The extended service area of the satellite lies in between primary service area and the rectangle area which is enclosed by 30th parallel south to 50th parallel north and 30th meridian east to 130th meridian east. This system currently comprises of the constellation of seven satellites with two additional stand-by satellites on ground.

The Supreme Court of India has refused to interfere with the decision of the government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on the loan moratorium scheme declining to extend moratorium period of six-months.

Highlights

The supreme court has also highlighted that the additional reliefs like total waiver of interest cannot be allowed because it will affect the depositors. The apex court also added that no interest on interest will be charged on the borrowers during moratorium period irrespective of loan amount. If any amount has been collected will be refunded.

Background

The Supreme Court pronounced its verdict following a batch of pleas by several trade associations from the real estate and power sectors who were seeking an extension of the loan moratorium and other reliefs in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan had reserved the verdict on December 17, 2020.

Centre’s Take

The Centre had submitted in the court that, if it were to consider the waiving interest on all the loans & advances of all the categories of borrowers for six-month moratorium period, then the amount foregone will account for more than Rs 6 trillion. If banks were to bear the burden of this amount then, it would necessarily wipe out the substantial part of their net worth. It will also render most of the lenders unviable.

Loan Moratorium

Loan Moratorium is the period of time wherein the lenders do not have to pay an EMI on the loan they have taken. This period is also EMI holiday. Such breaks are offered to help the individuals who are facing the temporary financial difficulties to plan their finances in a better manner. In India, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had announced the loan moratorium scheme which allowed the lending institutions to grant the temporary relief to the borrowers in their installments of term loans amid the covid-19 pandemic. This was announced with the aim of providing the borrowers more time to pay their EMIs because of the economic fallout.

The Commerce Ministry has said that, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) will be assisting the states and union territories in order to prepare the “Annual Export Ranking Index” of different districts. The index would be ranking each district on the export competitiveness.

Highlights

The union government is working on ‘developing districts as export hubs’ in order to decentralise the export promotion activity. Earlier the export promotion was dealt by the Central government only. No state or districts was involved into the decision-making process of the promoting goods and services which are produced at the grassroots level.

District as Export Hub Initiative

The idea to implement the District as export hub initiative was put forward in order to create an institutional framework across the states and in the districts. This framework will be utilised to assess every district with respect to the ongoing export activities, with respect to the capacities to enhance those activities and to make a time bound action plans so as to take those initiatives forward. Under the initiative, each district is being mobilised in order for the districts to realise its potential as the export hub.

Significance of the Move

This move will help in boosting the domestic production and making the districts an active stakeholder in driving the export growth of local products and services. This is being done with the objective of enabling the MSMEs, farmers and small industries so as to get benefit of export opportunities in the international markets. It also seeks to shift the focus on district-led export growth to attain the self-sufficiency and self- reliance.

District Export Action Plan

This plan was announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the year 2019 during the Independence Day speech. Under the initiative, a district export action plan will be formulated which will include identification of the goods & services which are having export potential in each district. The plan will comprise of the institutional or other responsibilities, regulatory & operational reform, specifics of policy, and infrastructure or utilities or logistics interventions which are required from producer or farm to the export destination. It will cover the aspects like production, improvements required in design, productivity or competitiveness, aggregation, transportation through cold chain and import & export formalities. It will also identify the Issues in GI production, registration, marketing and exports.

The health Ministry has decided to increase the interval between first and second doses of Covishield to up to eight weeks in the ongoing covid-19 vaccination drive.

Highlights

This decision was taken following the data of the global trials of AZD122 which shows that extending the duration of doses to 12 weeks has increased its efficacy much more. While the interim findings reported following the trials in the US, Chile and Peru that the vaccine had an efficacy of 79 percent even when second dose of the vaccine was given four weeks after its first dose.

What does experts recommend?

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has taken decision to increase the dose interval on the recommendation of two expert groups namely National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) and the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC). The groups examined the scientific evidence from the clinical trials of Covishield vaccine and concluded that the protection provided by the vaccine is enhanced if the second dose is administered in between 6-8 weeks.

Report from other countries

The report on trials of AZD1222 vaccine from other countries also states that, efficacy of the vaccine was increased when its second dose was given on the gap of six weeks after the first dose. The efficacy of the vaccine AZD1222 was around 54.9 percent when the second dose was given on the gap of less than six weeks during the phase 3 clinical trial across the Brazil, UK and South Africa. The report further states that, the efficacy of the vaccine increased to 59.9 percent when its second dose was administered 6-8 weeks after its first dose. It increased to 63.7 percent when second dose was given after the gap of 9-11 weeks while it increased to 82.4 percent when the interval increased to 12 weeks or more.

The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill, 2021 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 22, 2021. Under the bill, the government will soon set up a “National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development”. This bank will also get government guarantee support as well as the direct access to liquidity from the apex bank RBI with the objective of kick-start infrastructure financing in the country.

Key Provisions of the Bill

The bill seeks to set up the government backed Development Finance Institution (DFI). It will also be allowed for the private infrastructure financiers after getting the approval of Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The bill further provided that, to help the 100 percent government owned organisation to raise low-cost funds in the initial phases, the borrowings can be guaranteed by the government.  The Central Government can guarantee the bonds, debentures & loans after the request of Institution. The guarantee will be provided at the concessional rate and it shall not exceed 0.1 percent.

Funding Facilities to DFI

As per the provisions of the bill, the government will also guarantee the bonds, debentures & loans to the DFI to borrow from the multilateral institutions, sovereign wealth funds, and other foreign institutions. Under the provisions, the DFI will get direct access to the funding facilities of the Reserve Bank of India. It will also be able to borrow money from the apex bank “against bills of exchange or the promissory notes coming out of the bona fide commercial or trade transactions which are maturing within five years from the date of the borrowing.

Development Finance Institution (DFI)

DFI is also called as the development bank or development finance company (DFC). It is a financial institution which gives the risk capital for the economic development projects on the non-commercial basis. It plays a crucial role to finance the private and public sector investments in the developing countries. It provides financing in the form of higher risk loans, guarantees and equity positions.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) relaxed the norms for valuing perpetual bonds on March 22, 2021 after the finance ministry opposed the norms which proposed to value banks deemed residual maturity of Basel III additional tier 1 (AT1) bonds as 100-year debt.

Highlights

The statement released by the SEBI highlighted that the maturity would be 10 years till March 31, 2022. Later it will be increased to 20 and 30 years over subsequent six-month period. The statement further highlighted that, from April 2023 onwards, the residual maturity of the AT1 bonds will become 100 years from date of issuance of these bonds. It further states that, the deemed residual maturity of the Basel III Tier 2 bonds will be considered for 10 years or contractual maturity until March 2022. After March 2022, residual maturity will be in accordance with the contractual maturity. These guidelines were published by SEBI after the Finance Ministry opposed the norm which would have been valuing the deemed residual maturity of Basel III additional tier 1 (AT1) bonds of the banks as a 100-year debt from April 1, 2021.

Background

Earlier, the SEBI had issued a circular on March 15, 2021 to cap the debt mutual fund (MF) exposure to perpetual bonds. It also included the AT1 bonds and Tier 2 bonds. SEBI had also directed the MFs to use 100-year valuation norms to price such bonds. This move was not supported by the Industry player as well. They mentioned that, deferring the 100-year valuation norm by two years will provide the fund managers and banks time to recalibrate investments and bond issuances.

About AT-1 Bonds

The Additional Tier-1 bonds (AT-1 bonds) are an unsecured, perpetual bonds which is issued by the banks to support their core capital base to meet with the Basel-III norms. These bonds can be acquired from the “Initial private placement offers for the bonds by banks who are looking after raising money and from the Secondary market buys of AT-1 bonds which are already traded”. These bonds are similar to other bonds issues by banks or companies but they pay a higher rate of interest.

The government of India may soon ask the auto companies in India to manufacture the passenger and commercial vehicles that run on the multiple fuel configuration with the aim of reducing the use of polluting fossil fuels and cutting down the harmful emissions.

Highlights

In the line, the government is actively looking up after the use of “Flexible Fuel Vehicles” which will ensure the increased use of the bio-fuels to run the vehicles. Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) are the modified version of the vehicles which can run both on the gasoline and the doped petrol with varying levels of ethanol blends. These vehicles are currently being used in Brazil successfully. FFVs gives people the option to switch the fuel based in the price and convenience. Majority of the vehicles sold in Brazil are FFVs.

Flexible-fuel vehicle (FFV)

It is also called as the “dual-fuel vehicle” or a flex-fuel vehicle. FFV is an alternative fuel vehicle which comprises of the internal combustion engine which run on more than one fuel. It usually run on the gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel. Both of the fuels are stored in same common tank. The engines of the vehicle are capable of burning any proportion of the resulting blend in its combustion chamber. The fuel injection and spark timing are automatically adjusted in accordance with the actual blend detected by the fuel composition sensor. The FFV is different from the bi-fuel vehicles. In the bi-fuel vehicle, two fuels are stored in the separate tanks and engine runs on one fuel at a time.

Advantages of FFVs in India

In India, the FFVs will present a different advantage because the vehicles will allow the vehicles to use the different blends of ethanol mixed petrol which are available across the country as opposed to the current regulation. The current regulation allows to mix up to 10 percent ethanol in petrol. But due to shortage in supply & other transportation challenges, 10 percent blended petrol is available only across 15 states. The FFVs would be allowing the vehicles to use all the blends and would run on unblended fuel as well.

The state government of the Andhra Pradesh has decided to set up “India’s first government-run ambulance network” for animals. This decision was taken in order to further boost the animal husbandry and veterinary sector in the state.

Highlights

The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, has made this ambulance network as one of its main missions in order to help in reaching out to the distressed animals to provide them proper animal healthcare. The Animal Husbandry Department was directed to set up one Mobile Ambulance Veterinary Clinic at each of the assembly constituency.

About Animal Ambulance Network

Under the animal ambulance network, 175 mobile ambulances (veterinary) clinics will be placed in total at Assembly Constituency Level. These clinics is being set up on the lines of 108 Services to provide the Veterinary services at the doorstep. The mobile ambulances will provide the veterinary first aid services besides the spot diagnosis and attending all the emergency cases. The ambulance will also be providing the “Hydraulic Lift Facility” to lift the animals and shift them to the nearest Government Veterinary Facility in the emergency cases. The ambulance will always be carrying one veterinary doctor and one para-veterinary worker. These ambulances will also run a 24/7 toll-free call centre.

Veterinary Dispensaries

The department of Animal Husbandry has highlighted that in total 1,576 veterinary dispensaries have been established across the state. In these dispensaries around 1,376 veterinary doctors have been recruited. More doctors will be recruited to ensure better functioning and treatment.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set up a “standing external advisory committee (SEAC)” on March 23, 2021. This panel will evaluate the applications for the universal banks and small finance banks (SFBs).

Standing External Advisory Committee

This committee comprises of five members. The chairperson of the committee will be the former RBI deputy governor, Shyamala Gopinath. Other members of the committee include- Director of the central board of RBI, Revathy Iyer; Former executive director of the National Payments Corporation of India, B Mahapatra; Former Chairman of the Canara Bank, T N Manoharan, Former MD of the State Bank of India, Hemant G Contractor. The committee has a tenure of three years. The secretarial support to the panel will be provided by Department of Regulation of the RBI. The committee will meet periodically, as and when it will be required. The panel will be free to ask for more information and can held discussions with any applicant for clarification on any issue. After this, the committee will submit its recommendations to the apex bank.

Guidelines regarding application

As per the guidelines of the RBI, the applications for universal banks and SFBs will first be evaluated by the central bank which will be ensuring the prima facie eligibility of the applicants. Following this, the standing external advisory committee will evaluate the applications. The guidelines further highlight that, for the ‘on-tap licensing of the universal banks for 2016’ across the private sector and for the ‘on-tap licensing of the Small Financial Banks, 2019’ the SEAC will be set up which will evaluate the application across these spaces. The guidelines also mention that the newly set up panel will set up its own procedures for screening the applications.

The Jal Shakti Ministry has signed a pact with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the government of Denmark on March 22, 2021 in order to bring the tap water connections to the 11 water-scarce districts of the Bundelkhand and Vindhya regions in Uttar Pradesh under the Jal Jeevan mission.

Highlights

The project will comprise of the supports like capacity building, creation of village action plans, grassroot water quality monitoring methods and community mobilisation. All these supports will be facilitated by UNOPS. The project has set a million-dollar budget for the year 2021. However, the project will be scaled up in the year 2022.

Jal Jeevan Mission

This mission was launched on August 15, 2019. It is envisioned to provide safe and adequate drinking water by individual household tap connections. It seeks to provide the tap water connections to all the rural households across India by 2024. The programme also implements the source sustainability measures like recharge & reuse through the grey water management, rain water harvesting and water conservation as mandatory elements. The mission is based on the community approach of water. The key component of the mission also includes extensive Information, Education and communication.

Objectives of the Mission

The Jal Jeevan Mission was launched with the following objectives:

  1. Providing Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) to every rural household.
  2. Prioritizing the provision of FHTCs in quality affected areas, villages of the drought prone and desert areas etc.
  3. Providing functional tap connection across Anganwadi centres, Schools, Health centres, GP buildings, wellness centres and community buildings.
  4. Monitoring the functionality of tap water connections.
  5. Promoting and ensuring voluntary ownership across the local community by contributing in cash, kind or labour.
  6. Assisting in ensuring the sustainability of water supply system like water supply infrastructure, water source and funds.