Daily Current Affairs - 24-03-2021

Power and new and renewable energy minister, Raj Kumar Singh, launched “Gram Ujala scheme” on March 24, 2021 in Varanasi.

Gram Ujala Scheme

Gram Ujala scheme offers world’s cheapest LED bulbs across rural areas at rupees 10. This scheme is financed on the basis of carbon credits. It will claim carbon credits under “United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)”. Carbon credits will contribute to rupees 60 per piece while rupees 10 will be paid by rural consumer Under the scheme, incandescent and compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs will be taken back from the rural customers.

Significance of Scheme

Scheme will boost rural employment as well as local economies. It will also uplift villages of India and will contribute in climate change mitigation. Use of LED Bulbs will help in saving energy because a 12-watt LED bulb provides light equivalent to 100-watt incandescent bulb. It will result in to savings of 2025 million kWH per year and reduce the CO2 emission by 1.65 million tonne CO2 per year. The scheme will enable better illumination at the affordable price.

First Phase

First phase of this scheme was launched from Arrah district in Bihar. It does not come with any government support or subsidy. Under this phase, 15 million LED bulbs will be distributed across villages of Arrah (Bihar), Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh), Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Nagpur (Maharashtra) and western Gujarat. Under phase 1, around one crore 50 lakh LED bulbs will be distributed.

Who will offer bulbs?

LED bulbs under the scheme will be offered by state-run Convergence Energy Services Ltd (CESL) which is a subsidiary of Energy Efficiency Services Ltd. Around 600 million LED bulbs will be offered in rural areas at rupees 10 per piece.

Background

India is second-largest LED market across the world by value. Government’s previous Unnat Jyoti by Affordable Lighting for All scheme (UJALA Scheme) was providing LED bulb at rupees 70 per piece.

Joe Biden administration has decided to re-establish “Homeland Security Dialogue” with India. This dialogue was discontinued by former President of United States Donald Trump.

Highlights

This decision was taken after the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas hold talks with Ambassador of India to US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu on March 22, 2021. Security Secretary of Homeland extended his support to further strengthen the partnership between both the sides.

About India-US meeting

In the recent meeting, Sandhu and Mayorkas have agreed to re-establish Homeland Security Dialogue between India and United States. They also planned to discuss several important issues during the security dialogue including cybersecurity, emerging technology and addressing violent extremism. Both the ministers also highlighted the positive engagement which took place during Joe Biden administration like Quad. They also addressed major commitments to cooperate on Covid-19 and climate actions. Both sides also recognised significant contributions of entrepreneurs and students which have made both the countries stronger.

Background

The Homeland Security Dialogue was the initiative of Barack Obama’s administration. First Homeland Security Dialogue was held in May 2011 between Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Home Minister of India P Chidambaram. The second security dialogue was held in Washington DC in 2013 between Indian Home Minister, Sushil Kumar and homeland secretary, Ms Napolitano.

United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

DHS is U.S. federal executive department which is responsible for public security. The stated missions of the department include border security, anti-terrorism, cyber security, immigration & customs, disaster prevention and management.

American credit rating agency, Fitch, has published its ‘Global Economic Outlook (GEO)’. Fitch has revised GDP growth estimate of India to 12.8% for the fiscal year 2021-2022 from the previous 11%. Ratings were revised in the backdrop of loose fiscal stance, stronger carryover effect, and better virus containment.

Key Points

Ratings agency finds that level of India’s GDP will remain well below its pre-pandemic forecast trajectory. It also projects that GDP growth will ease to 5.8% in Fiscal Year 2023. In its report, fitch also highlights that India’s recovery from “lockdown-induced recession” in second quarter of 2020 has been swifter than expected. GDP has surpassed its pre-pandemic level in fourth quarter of the fiscal 2020-2021. As per the report, High-frequency indicators point for a strong start to 2021. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index PMI remained elevated in February, 2021. Report also highlights that, pickup in mobility and a rise in services PMI point to further gains in the services sector. Fitch also notes that, it doesn’t expect Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to cut its policy rate now because of brighter short-term growth outlook and limited decline in inflation.

Fitch Ratings Inc.

It is an American big credit rating agency along with the two big rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Fitch is one among the three nationally recognized statistical rating organizations (NRSRO) which was designated in 1975 by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It is headquartered in New York and London. It was founded by John Knowles Fitch on in 1914 as Fitch Publishing Company in New York. The firm is the third largest NRSRO rating agency.

According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), North Korea has fired two cruise missiles off the West Coast on March 21, 2021. It marks first missile test of Pyongyang since April 14, 2020.

Highlights

Firing of two cruise missiles is being seen as testing administration of the US President, Joe Biden. North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since the year 2017.

USA’s stand

United States made no big deal with respect to the firings. US President just said “nothing much has changed”. The senior administration officials were of the view that, launches were not in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. A senior US administration official considered the launches as normal military activity by North Korea.

Background

On April 14, 2020, North Korea had launched its multiple short-range cruise missiles into East Sea to mark the birthday of late national founder and South Korea’s general elections.

North Korea–United States relations

The political and diplomatic relations between both the countries have been historically hostile since Korean War. Present day relation between US and North Korea is largely defined by US economic sanctions against North Korea for North Korea’s nuclear program, Joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in South China Sea, Heavy U.S. military presence in South Korea and North Korea’s demand of eliminating US nuclear arsenal which could reach Korean peninsula. Both the countries have not adopted “No First Use Nuclear Weapons Policy”.

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Nuclear Weapons Program of North Korea comprises of six tests of nuclear weapons and development of long-range missiles which have the capability to strike targets thousands of miles away. It also comprises of North Korea’s ongoing threats to strike United States and South Korea with the help of nuclear weapons and conventional forces.

United States’ Nuclear Weapons Program

US launched its Nuclear Weapon Program in Guam island which comprise of B1-B bombers and B2 Spirit bombers. these nuclear weapons are 60 times more destructive than bomb dropped on Nagasaki. US conducts precision strike exercises to simulate pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea, from Guam.

The annual Permanent Indus Commission meeting was recently held after a gap of over two years. Before the meeting, Pakistan had raised objections to the designs of Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower plants which are under construction in Jammu and Kashmir. In response, India has justified its stand.

Highlights

Pakistan had also sought more information regarding the projects in Ladakh which were sanctioned after abrogation of Article 370. In the meeting, both the sides also discussed other issues under Indus Waters Treaty. Indian side was led by PK Saxena, India’s Indus Commissioner while the delegation from Pakistan was led by Indus Commissioner Syed Muhammad Meher Ali Shah. The meeting was significant because this is the first important engagement between both the countries after Indian and Pakistani militaries had announced to strictly observe a ceasefire along Line of Control and other sectors.

Pakal Dul Dam

This is an under-construction concrete-face rock-fill dam. It is being constructed on Marusadar River which is a tributary of Chenab River. The dam is located in Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir. It is being constructed with the objective of generating 1000 MW of hydroelectric power. The dam will divert water towards south, into power station of the reservoir of DULHasti Dam on Chenab river, through 10 km long headrace tunnel. The project was awarded to consortium of domestic and foreign countries in February 2014.  The consortium includes JP Prakash Associate, AFCONS and Bharat Heavy Electricals. Construction of the dam is opposed by Pakistan which is of the view that it violates Indus Water Treaty.

Chenab River

The river flows in India and Pakistan. It is one of the 5 major rivers in Punjab region. The river originates from upper Himalayas in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh and flows in Jammu, Punjab & Pakistan, before joining the Indus River near Uch Sharif. Under the Indus Water Treaty, waters of river Chenab were allocated to Pakistan.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh Smarak was inaugurated in New Delhi by Education Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ on March 23, 2021.

Key points

Education minister also paid homage to Bhagat Singh in the chamber located in basement of Viceregal Lodge of Delhi University. Bhagat Singh was imprisoned in this chamber. To commemorate the 90 years of martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, the university has organised a programme. On the occasion, an existing collection of books on freedom fighters which has been converted into “Shaheed Smriti Pustakalaya” was also made available for the students and teachers of Delhi university. Bhagat Singh Smarak will remain open for the students and university community to instil the values of freedom and sacrifice.

Bhagat Singh

He was an Indian socialist revolutionary and folk hero of India’s Independence movement following his two acts of dramatic violence against the British and his execution at age 23. Bhagat Singh and his associate Shivaram Rajguru had shot a British police officer, John Saunders in December 1928. Following this, Bhagat Singh (aged 23) was convicted and hanged on March 23, 1931.

Background

Bhagat Singh was a Sandhu Jat. He was born in 1907 in Punjab Province of British India. On his birth, his father Kishan Singh and two uncle, Ajit Singh & Swaran Singh, were released from jail. His father and uncles were members of Ghadar Party which was led by Kartar Singh Sarabha and Har Dayal.

Shivaram Hari Rajguru

He was an Indian revolutionary from Maharashtra. He was known for his involvement in assassination of a British Raj police officer. He was hanged on March 23, 1931 by British government along with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar.

Sukhdev Thapar

The Indian revolutionary was a senior member of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. He participated in several actions with Bhagat Singh and Shivaram Rajguru. Sukhdev was hanged on March 23, 1931 at the age of 23 along with Bhagat Singh and Rajguru in the assassination case.

Parliament has passed the “Finance Bill 2021” on March 23, 2021. Bill seeks to bring financial proposals of central government in effect for the financial year 2021-22.

Highlights

Bill was passed by lower house of the Parliament with several amendments. It proposes for some changes in proposals which were made in union budget 2021 with the objective of boosting the ease of doing business and easing compliance burden.

Finance Bill 2021

The bill provides 10-year income-tax exemption to National Bank in order to Finance the Infrastructure and Development. It also provides for 5-year tax exemption to the private sector development finance institutions. The exemption is extendable to another five years.  Bill amends the Finance Act, Income Tax Act, 1961; Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956; Central Sales Tax Act, 1956; Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956  and SEBI Act, 1992. According to the bill, senior citizens who gets pension and interest income have exempted from filing tax returns. However, no changes have been made in the income tax rate.

New provisions to the Income Tax Act, 1961

This provision will discourage the practice of not filing returns by ‘specified person’ whose case has been deducted or collected. Further, person in whose case TDS/TCS of Rs. 50,000 has been made for past two years and who has defaulted in filing return of income then the rate TDS/TCS will be deducted at higher rates.

Limited liability partnership Act, 2008

Finance Minister also proposed to take up decriminalisation of Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) Act, 2008 on the lines of decriminalisation of procedural and technical compoundable offences under Companies Act, 2013.

Small Companies’ definition

The minister also proposed to revise definition of small companies under Companies Act, 2013 for the small Companies by increasing their thresholds of Paid-up capital. Threshold has been increased from “not exceeding Rs 50 lakh” to “not exceeding Rs 2 crore”.

Saudi Arabia government has proposed UN-sponsored ceasefire in Yemen and is awaiting a response from the rebel Houthi movement. This peace initiative by Saudi Arabia is in line with previous proposals like consultation efforts to end crisis.

Key Points

Deputy Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia, Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, also highlighted that Saudi Arabia will keep supporting the government of Yemen in country’s fight against Houthi rebels. The government of Saudi Arabia seeks to bring about peace in Yemen. The country hopes that Houthi rebels will accept the ceasefire proposal to negotiate peace consultations between Yemeni parties in a bid to reach out to a comprehensive and sustainable political settlement.

How Saudi Arabia will help Yemen?

Under the peace initiative, Saudi Arabia has planned to resume operation of the international airport in Sana’a, capital of Yemen. The country will help in partial removal of the blockade from Yemeni port of Al Hudaydah. It will also help in funnelling the proceeds from using the port in Yemen to joint account of southern & northern authorities in central bank.

International support

Countries like United States of Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Qatar have extended their support towards new peace initiative by Saudi Arabia. But the Houthi rebels in Yemen are of the view that, Saudi Arabia’s proposal has nothing new. Houthi rebels have urged Saudi government to take back its military activity in Yemen.

What is the issue?

Yemen is going through an internal conflict between movement by Houthi rebels and government forces for 6 years. Following the request of President, Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi, Saudi Arabia led coalition has been conducting air campaign in Yemen against the Houthi rebels since 2015. But Houthi rebels have maintained their control over significant areas in northern part of Yemen.

India’s Stand

India has welcomed the peace initiative by Saudi Arabia to promote peace in Yemen. India has also extended its support towards all forms of efforts & political solution to end the crisis in Yemen.

World Tuberculosis Day is observed each year on March 24. Theme of the day for this year is “The Clock is Ticking” which marks the urgency to take measures against the disease. It has become more important to act right now in the light of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has led to negligence towards TB patients.

Key Points

World Tuberculosis day is celebrated to raise public awareness regarding the debilitating impact of TB on health, social and economic wellbeing of the person. The day also works to step up efforts to end the global epidemic of Tuberculosis.

Background

The day is observed on March 24 to commemorate the discovery of bacterium causing Tuberculosis that is “TB bacillus” in the year 1882. This bacterium was discovered by Dr Robert Koch at the University of Berlin’s Institute of Hygiene. This discovery opened ways for diagnosing and curing the disease.

Proclamation of TB Day

Proposal to proclaim March 24 as World TB day was put forward by International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) in the year 1982 which also marked the one-hundredth anniversary of Robert Koch’s presentation. This proclamation was a part of year-long centennial effort by IUATLD and World Health Organization under the theme “Defeat TB: Now and Forever.”

First World TB Day

First ever World TB Day was hosted by WHO and Royal Netherlands Tuberculosis Foundation (KNCV) in the fall of 1995 in Den Haag, Netherlands.

About Tuberculosis (TB)

TB is an infectious disease which is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. The disease generally affects lungs and it can also affect other parts of the body. Most of the infections have no symptoms. In this case, the disease is called as latent tuberculosis. The global epidemic remains one of the deadliest infectious killers. It causes the death of around 4000 lives to TB each day and 1.5 million lives each year while around 28,000 people fall ill each day and 10 million people each year. Half of the TB cases are found in 8 countries namely, India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Philippines and South Africa.

Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment aims to launch ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ for the Elderly to provide them ‘nutrition support’.

Poshan Abhiyan for elders

Under the mission, supports will be provided to indigent elders who are not staying in Old Age Homes and are victims of malnutrition. Mission will focus on procuring healthy food material which are available locally to serve hot-cooked mid-day meals. Scheme will be implemented by “Gram Panchayats and Urban Municipalities”. ‘Senior Citizens Welfare Fund’ will be utilized to fund & implement the mission.

National Action Plan for Senior Citizens

Government of India has been implementing several schemes and programmes under an Umbrella Scheme for Senior Citizens called “National Action Plan for Senior Citizens”. This scheme provides for financial security, shelter & welfare, healthcare & Nutrition, protection of life & property, awareness generation and active & productive ageing.

Poshan Abhiyan or National Nutrition Mission (NNM)

The multi-ministerial initiative called NNM was launched in 2018 to tackle the malnutrition problem which is prevalent in India. It was launched to improve nutritional outcomes of children, adolescents, pregnant & lactating women. Key objective of the mission is “to reduce the level of under-nutrition”. It was launched for children to enhance their nutritional status. The mission seeks to eliminate malnutrition by 2022. It specifically targets towards reducing stunting, undernutrition, anaemia and low birth weight.

National Council on nutrition

This council has been set up under Poshan Abhiyan. Vice chairman of NITI Aayog is the chairperson of the council. It offers policy directions in a bid to address ‘nutritional challenges’ and review its programmes.

Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has initiated cabinet approved National Biopharma Mission with the objective of strengthening emerging biotechnology enterprise across India. Mission is entitled as “Industry-Academia Collaborative Mission for Accelerating Discovery Research to Early Development for Biopharmaceuticals – Innovate in India (I3) Empowering biotech entrepreneurs & accelerating inclusive innovation”.

National Biopharma Mission

National Biopharma mission was launched to support small and medium enterprises in order for them to overcome the risks associated with early stages of development of products. It promotes entrepreneurship by supporting enhanced industry-academia inter-linkages. It also provides mentoring & training for academia, innovators and entrepreneurs. The mission further promotes domestic manufacturing by shared national facilities like GLP Analytical facilities, cell line repositories and setting clinical trial network.

Objectives of the mission

Biopharma mission was launched with understated objectives:

Targets of the Mission

Specific targets of the mission are:

Innovate in India (I3)

I3 is an industry- academia collaborative mission by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) which was launched in collaboration with World Bank to accelerate discovery research. It will be implemented by Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). Mission was launched with the aim of enabling and nurturing an ecosystem to preparing technological and product development capabilities of India in biopharmaceutical to make it globally competitive. It also seeks to transform the health standards of India’s population by developing affordable product.