21st NOVEMBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1.New Ramsar Sites

News: The Lonar Lake in Maharashtra and Sur Sarovar, also known as Keetham lake, in Agra, have been added to the list of recognised Ramsar sites.

Lonar Lake

  • Lonar Lake, also known as Lonar crater, is a notified National Geo-heritage Monument, saline (pH of 10.5), Soda Lake, located at Lonar in Buldhana district, Maharashtra.
  • It was created by an asteroid collision with earth impact during the Pleistocene Epoch. It is one of the four known, hyper-velocity, impact craters in basaltic rock anywhere on Earth. It sits inside the Deccan Plateau—a massive plain of volcanic basalt rock created by eruptions some 65 million years ago.

Sur Sarovar

  • It is a scenic lake just outside Agra on the Agra – Delhi highway (NH 2) and a declared bird sanctuary.
  • The riverine belt of River Yamuna surrounds the area of Sur-Sarovar. It is today home to more than 165 species of migratory and resident birds. It is the same place that inspired the famed poet Soordas to compose the “Bhakti Kavya” one of the finest pieces of devotional poetry.

Other such sites

  • India now has 41 wetlands, the highest in South Asia, with two more added to the list of recognised sites of international importance under the treaty of Ramsar Convention.
  • Recently, Kabartal in Bihar’s Begusarai district was recognised as a wetland of international importance, the first such wetland in the State, under the Ramsar Convention.
  • The Asan Conservation Reserve in Dehradun, the first wetland from Uttarakhand to be recognised by Ramsar convention, was added to the list in October this year.

Wetlands

  • A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil.
  • Wetlands provide a wide range of important resources and ecosystem services such as food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood moderation, erosion control and climate regulation.

Ramsar Convention:

  • The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat is a treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of such sites. The convention, signed in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, is one of the oldest inter-governmental accords for preserving the ecological character of wetlands.
  • Also known as the Convention on Wetlands, it aims to develop a global network of wetlands for the conservation of biological diversity and for sustaining human life. Over 170 countries are party to the Ramsar Convention and over 2,000 designated sites covering over 20 crore hectares have been recognised under it.

2.mRNA Vaccines

News: The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines which recently announced their success use the same technology, based on messenger RNA, or mRNA.

What is mRNA?

  • Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a single-stranded RNA (Ribo Nucleic Acid) molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that leaves the cell nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm where proteins are made.
  • During protein synthesis, an organelle called a ribosome moves along the mRNA, reads its base sequence, and uses the genetic code to translate each three-base triplet, or codon, into its corresponding amino acid.

What is the mRNA vaccine?

  • Such vaccines make use of the messenger RNA molecules that tell the body’s cells what proteins to build. The mRNA, in this case, is coded to tell the cells to recreate the spike protein of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.
  • It is the spike protein — which appears as spikes on the surface of the coronavirus — that initiates the process of infection; it allows the virus to penetrate cells, after which it goes on to replicate.
  • A coronavirus vaccine based on mRNA, once injected into the body, will instruct the body’s cells to create copies of the spike protein.
  • In turn, this is expected to prompt the immune cells to create antibodies to fight it.
  • These antibodies will remain in the blood and fight the real virus if and when it infects the human body.

Ribo Nucleic Acid (RNA)

  • RNA is an important biological macromolecule that is present in all biological cells. It is principally involved in the synthesis of proteins, carrying the messenger instructions from DNA, which itself contains the genetic instructions required for the development and maintenance of life. In some viruses, RNA, rather than DNA, carries genetic information.
  • The type of RNA dictates the function that this molecule will have within the cell.
  • Aside from the coding region of messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that will be translated into proteins, other cellular RNA elements are involved in different processes.

3.United Nations Peace Keeping missions

News: With China significantly scaling up its troop contribution for United Nations Peace Keeping (UNPK) missions, India and the U.S. are looking to undertake training of military personnel for the missions from Southeast Asian countries on the lines of the ongoing initiative for African countries.

India and the UN Peacekeeping:

  • India has consistently been among the top troop contributing nations to the UN and is the fifth largest with 5,424 personnel in eight countries.
  • India’s contribution to the regular budget is 0.83% and 0.16% of the peacekeeping budget. India has so far participated in 51 of the 71 missions and contributed over 2 lakh personnel.
  • It has troop deployment in Lebanon, Golan Heights, Congo and South Sudan in addition to staff officers in other missions. India has also set up two field hospitals in South Sudan and one in Congo.
  • Since 2018, India has co-opted a contingent from Kazakhstan at the mission in Lebanon.

The US and UN Peacekeeping:

  • The U.S. on the other hand has never contributed ground troops but contributes 27% of the U.N. peacekeeping budget.
  • In 2016, India and the U.S. began a joint annual initiative “UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners” to build and enhance the capacity of African troop and police-contributing countries to participate in the U.N. and regional peacekeeping operations. While this is going on, the U.S. is keen on a similar initiative for South East Asian nationslike Vietnam and others.

China and the UN Peacekeeping:

  • It currently has over 2,500 troops in various UN missions and has committed another 8,000 troops as standby. Once implemented, it will make China the largest provider of troops to the UNPK.
  • China contributes 12% of the UN regular general budget and 15% of the peacekeeping budget.

Peacekeeping and It’s significance:

  • United Nations Peacekeeping is a joint effortbetween the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Operational Support. Every peacekeeping mission is authorized by the Security Council.
  • The financial resources of UN Peacekeeping operations are the collective responsibility of UN Member States. According to the UN Charter, every Member State is legally obligated to pay their respective share for peacekeeping.

Composition:

  • UN peacekeepers (often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmetsbecause of their light blue berets or helmets) can include soldiers, police officers, and civilian personnel.
  • Peacekeeping forces are contributed by member states on a voluntary basis. Civilian staff of peace operations are international civil servants, recruited and deployed by the UN Secretariat.

Basic principles:

  • Consent of the parties.
  • Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.

4.Kerala Optical Fibre Project

News: Kerala aims to provide free Internet for poor families, public offices by December.

About the Project:

  • The project seeks to fulfil the government’s aim of making internet access a ‘citizen’s right’.
  • Aimsto provide free high-speed internet to over 20 lakh below poverty line (BPL) households.
  • It is a collaborative initiativeof the state’s power utility Kerala State Electricity Board and Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd. Internet service providers and cable television operators can also join the optic-fibre network project to provide their services.
  • As many as 30,000 government offices and schools would be linked through the high-speed network, said the state government.

Significance:

  • The project, when launched, will be another milestone for the state that has achieved several human development indicators (HDI) that match those of first-world countries, especially in connection with health.

5.Sex Ratio in India

News: According to the 2018 report on “vital statistics of India based on the Civil Registration System”, Arunachal Pradesh recorded the best sex ratio at birth in the country while Manipur recorded the worst sex ratio at birth. The report was published by the Registrar General of India. Sex ratio at birth is number of females born per thousand males. It is an important indicator to map the gender gap of a population.

Details:

  • Arunachal Pradeshrecorded 1,084 females born per thousand males, followed by Nagaland (965), Mizoram (964), Kerala (963). The worst sex ratio was reported in Manipur (757), Lakshadweep (839) and Daman & Diu (877), Punjab (896) and Gujarat (896). Delhi recorded a sex ratio of 929, Haryana – 914.
  • The ratio was determined on the basis of data provided by 30 States and Union Territoriesas the requisite information from six States namely Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal is not available.
  • Major statesare states with populations 10 million and above as per the 2011 Census. The Sample Registration System (SRS) Report 2018 shows that sex ratio at birth in India, declined marginally from 906 in 2011 to 899 in 2018.
  • Contrary to popular perception, India’s sex ratio at birth declined even as per capita income increased nearly 10 times over the last 65 years,according to an IndiaSpend analysis of government data.
  • This could be because rising income, which results in increased literacy, makes it easier for families to access sex-selective procedures.

Related Issues

Gender-imbalance:

  • Amartya Kumar Sen,in his world famous article “Missing Women‟ has statistically proved that during the last century, 100 million women have been missing in south Asia.
  • This is due to discrimination leading to death, experienced by them from womb to tomb in their life cycles.
  • An adverse child sex ratio is also reflected in the distorted gender makeup of the entire population.

Distortion in the Marriage System:

  • Adverse ratio results in a gross imbalance in the number of men and women and its inevitable impact on marriage systems as well as other harms to women.
  • In India, some villages in Haryana and Punjab have such poor sex ratios that men “import” bridesfrom other States. This is often accompanied by the exploitation of these brides. There are concerns that skewed sex ratios lead to more violence against both men and women, as well as human-trafficking.

Way Forward

Bringing Behavioural Change:

  • Increasing female education and economic prosperity help to improve the ratio. In this pursuit, the government’s Beti-Bachao Beti Padhao Campaignhas achieved remarkable success in bringing behavioural change in the society.

Sensitizing Youth:

  • There is an urgent need to reach young people for reproductive health education and services as well as to cultivate gender equity norms.
  • For this, the services of Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA)can be leveraged, especially in rural areas.

Stringent Enforcement of Law:

  • India must implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994more stringently and dedicate more resources to fighting the preference for boys.
  • In this context, the Drugs Technical Advisory Board decisionto include ultrasound machines in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 is a step in the right direction.

6.Fake News

News: The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to explain its “mechanism” against fake news and bigotry on air, and to create one if it did not already exist.

Centre’s stand:

  • The media coverage predominantly has to strike a balanced and neutral perspective.
  • It explained that as a matter of journalistic policy, any section of the media may highlight different events, issues and happenings across the world as per their choice.
  • It was for the viewer to choose from the varied opinions offered by the different media outlets.

What is Fake news?

  • Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers.
  • Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.
  • There are three elements to fake news: Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation.

Causes for Rise in Fake News:

  • Widespread use of Internet and Social media.
  • Lack of Checking Authenticity.
  • No codes of practice for Social Media.
  • Stratified Organization of Fake News: Organized and shrewdly disseminated to a target population.

Laws and Regulation to Curb Fake News in India:

  • There is no specific law against fake newsin India. Free publication of news flows from Article 19 of the Constitution guaranteeing Freedom of Speech.
  • Press Council of India:It is a regulatory body which can warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist if it finds that a newspaper or a news agency has violated journalistic ethics.
  • News Broadcasters Association: It represents the private television news and current affairs broadcasters. The self-regulatory bodyprobes complaints against electronic media.
  • Indian Broadcast Foundation:It looks into the complaints against contents aired by channels.
  • Broadcasting Content Complaint Council:It admits complaints against TV broadcasters for objectionable TV content and fake news.
  • Indian Penal Code: Section 153(wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and Section 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) can be invoked to guard against fake news.
  • Information Technology Act 2000: According to the Section 66of the act, if any person, dishonestly or fraudulently, does any act referred to in Section 43 (damage to computer, computer system), shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees or with both.
  • Civil or Criminal Case for Defamation: It is another resort against fake news for individuals and groups hurt by the fake news. IPC Section 499(defamation) and Section 500 (whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both) provide for a defamation suit.

What else is needed?

  • The government must take the initiative to make all sections of the population aware of the realities of this information war and evolve a consensus to fight this war. Strict action against the fake news providers.
  • Government should have independent agency to verify the data being circulated in social and other media. The agency should be tasked with presenting real facts and figures.
  • Social media websites should be made accountable of such activities so that it becomes their responsibility to have better control over the spread of fake news. The artificial intelligence technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, might be leveraged to combat the fake news problem.

7. 12th BRICS Summit

News: The Prime minister of India while addressing the 12th BRICS summit held online touched upon issues like terrorism, Covid-19 pandemic and the need for reforms in global bodies. Russia was the host and chair of BRICS this year.

India’s Stand at the Summit:

Terrorism:

  • Need to confront the countriesthat supported and sponsored terror and ensure that terrorists and those who support and sponsor terrorists should be held guilty and this problem is addressed in a collective manner. India acknowledged the Russian support to the BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy and reiterated its support to the strategy.
  • It is well aligned with the Brasilia Declarationwhich condemned terrorism in all forms and manifestation.
  • Earlier this year India’s annual resolution on the issue of counter-terrorismwas adopted by consensus in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) which also strengthened the war against terrorism.

United Nation Security Council (UNSC) Reforms:

  • India raised the issue of credibility and effectivenessof the institutions that were necessary for global governance, and urged for support from BRICS

Covid-19 pandemic:

  • India addressed the issue of cooperation among the BRICScountries on the production of vaccines for Covid-19. Referring to the post Covid-19 economic hardships of the world, India highlighted the importance of BRICS in that scenario.
  • BRICScountries will play a significant role in the recovery of the post Covid-19 world as 42% of the world’s population resides in the BRICS countries and the economies are the major engines of the world.
  • India also highlighted the scope of increasing tradeamong the BRICS

Aatmanirbhar Bharat:

  • India introduced Aatmanirbhar Bharat(self-reliant India) to the
  • India said that the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaignis based on the subject that a self-reliant and resilient India can become a force multiplier for the post Covid-19 world order.
  • self-reliant Indiawould make solid contributions to the global value chains.

China’s Stand:

  • It has offered to cooperate with India and other BRICS nations in the development of vaccines against the coronavirus China said it will open the BRICS partnership on a new industrial revolution innovation centre in the Chinese city of
  • China supported the BRICS counter-terrorism strategy that called upon on all countries to take steps to prevent the use of their territories for terrorist activities against other countries or their own citizens.
  • Also supported the declaration which talked about respect for territorial integrity of Syria, Libya, Iraq and in the context of the United Nations.

Russia’s Stand:

  • Russia called for a joint effort by the BRICS countries on the development of the coronavirus vaccines.
  • It also highlighted the importance of establishing a Centre for Development and Research of BRICS

Importance of BRICS Summit for India and China:

  • It provides the Chinese and the Indian leadership an opportunity to exchange their thoughts on key priorities in the backdrop of the continued tension along their borders. Both the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS have provided recent opportunities for exchange of ideas between the two sides.

Way Forward

  • BRICS,being one of the pillars of the emerging fairer polycentric world order, plays an important stabilising role in global affairs.
  • In the storming ocean of world politics, BRICScan contribute significantly in maintaining international stability and ensuring global economic growth and becoming a united center of the multipolar world.
  • India faces an uphill task of balancing its climate action with the economic growth. Bridging the energy deficit through renewable energy in cost-effective and increasing urban forestry could help in balancing the both.

8.India’s dilemma between Emission and Economy

Comparing India’s commitment

  • China’s announcement recently to achieve carbon neutrality, that is, effectively generating net-zero emissions, before 2060 has now shifted focus on India’s commitments.
  • In this context, let us compare India’s commitments with other countries, based on an independent scientific analysis carried out by theClimate Action Tracker. Major findings of it are:-
  • India is one of the only six countries (amongst the 33 that were assessed), and the only G-20 country,whose climate commitments at Paris are on a path compatible to limit warming well below 2°C.
  • It seems that India is well on its way to achieving its carbon intensity reductionand non-fossil-fuel electricity growth capacity commitments well before the 2030 target year.
  • Even though China’s commitment is likely to lower warming projections by around 0.2 to 0.3 degrees C by 2100, China continues to remain in the “highly insufficient” category.
  • India, despite being the fourth-largest emitter, has consistently kept its commitments in sync with its fair share and will achieve, if not over-achieve, these targets.

Difference in development and growth levels

  • Development and growth in India are still at an early stage, and our first goal remains increasing the availability of adequate infrastructure for all Indians.
  • A measure of this deficit is that we use only about6 tonnes of oil-equivalent worth of energy per person per yearwhile in China it is 2.36 tonnes per person per year, and is at least 4 tonnes per person per year in the OECD countries. It is, therefore, essential that we rapidly bridge the energy deficit.

Bridging the energy deficit through renewable and cost-effective manner

  • Cost-effectiveness in renewable electricity has occurred rather rapidly, largely as a result of the global reduction in solar PV and battery prices.
  • Solar electricity is already thecheapest electricity available in India when the sun is shining. It now seems that round-the-clock renewable electricity may be cost-competitive with coal electricity in the near future.
  • This cost-effectiveness of zero-carbon optionswill emerge in other applications as well.
  • It will involve dedicated action in some of the vital sectors which can generate and sustain employment while adding to the country’s economic growth.
  • It will enable a shift away from emissions-intensive fossil fuels, reducing our dependence on fuel imports.

Urban forestry to compensate for environmental degradation

  • Increasing urban forestry could help compensate for environmental degradation as a result of rapid urbanisation in several Indian cities. This is vital to restore the flow of crucial ecosystem services,including air quality, and increase the resilience of cities to extreme climatic events.
  • As a result, enhancing biodiversity, minimising human-wildlife conflict and restoring India’s pristine forests by developing dedicated wildlife/biodiversity corridors is an essential next step.

Way ahead

  • At the developmental crossroads that India stands, the next decade is vital for its own economic growth, its climate action, and its social and ecological well-being.
  • With this in mind, India mustfocus on its domestic developmental prerogative and disengage them from the pressures that come along with international negotiations, focussing on actions that reduce the development deficits, which also provide strong climate benefits.
  • India must initiate a narrative, discussion and dialogue which focuses on each country taking on commitments that move their carbon trajectory towards the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

9.RBI’s debt restructuring

News: Rating agency Crisil has said that as many as 99% of companies rated by it were unlikely to opt for the one-time debt restructuring scheme. The finding is based on a preliminary analysis of 3,523 non-micro small and medium enterprise (MSME) companies. This is despite two-thirds of the rated entities being eligible for restructuring, based on the parameters proposed by the KV Kamath committee. Improving business sentiment and the ongoing, gradual recovery has minimised the need to avail of the facility, according to Crisil.

Background:

  • In August this year, RBI set up a committee headed by K.V. Kamath on restructuring of loans impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The Committee was tasked to recommend parameters for one-time restructuring of corporate loans.

Recommendations made by the Committee:

  • Graded approachto restructuring of stressed accounts based on severity of the impact on the borrowers- Banks can classify the accounts into mild, moderate and severe as recommended by the committee.
  • Five financial parameters to gauge the health of sectors facing difficulties- total outside liabilities to adjusted tangible networth, total debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (Ebitda), debt service coverage ratio (DSCR), current ratio and average debt service coverage ratio (ADSCR). 26 sectors have been identified including auto, aviation, construction, hospitality, power, real estate and tourism.

Applicability of these recommendations:

  • The committee was to scrutinise restructuring of loans above ₹1500 crore. The resolution under this framework is applicable only to those borrowers who have been impacted on account of Covid.
  • Only those borrowers which were classified as standard and with arrears less than 30 days as at March 1, 2020 are eligible under the Framework.

Why these measures were necessary? How serious is the debt problem?

  • Corporate sector debt worth Rs 15.52 lakh crore has come under stress after Covid-19 hit India, while another Rs 22.20 lakh crore was already under stress before the pandemic.
  • This effectively means Rs 37.72 lakh (72% of the banking sector debt to industry) remains under stress.
  • This is almost 37% of the total non-food bank credit.
  • Besides, Companies in sectors such as retail trade, wholesale trade, roads and textiles are facing stress. Sectors that have been under stress pre-Covid include NBFCs, power, steel, real estate and construction.

10.India’s first convergence project

News: India’s first convergence project to generate green energy for rural and agriculture consumption is set to come up in Goa. Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), a joint venture of PSUs under the Ministry of Power, and Goa government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the same.

Convergence Project of EESL:

  • It focuses on energy solutions that lie at the confluence of renewable energy, electric mobilityand climate change. It seeks to connect seemingly independent sectors like Solar Energy, Energy Storage and LED lights to provide solutions, which can enable in decarbonisation and affordable energy

Mechanism:

  • EESLis offering convergent interventions, which solve multiple gap areas in the energy ecosystem.
  • Solutions such as solarised agriculture feeders, LED street lightsin local villages and battery energy storage systems. Leveraging the carbon financing mechanism to rapidly strengthen rural infrastructure in a clean and sustainable manner, and to create a resilient and sustainable rural community in India.
  • EESL’s climate financing interventions currently include Gram UJALA, Decentralised Solar and Gram Panchayat Street Lights programmes.

Benefits of the Project:

  • Promote Renewable Energy:It will accelerate the usage of renewable energy sources, especially for agricultural and rural power consumption in the State.
  • Energy Efficient:Contribute to reduction of peak energy demand through deployment of energy efficient pumping and lighting thus contributing to overall sustainability.
  • Improve Health of DISCOMs:Accrue savings of Rs 2,574 crores to the State over the period of 25 years, while improving the health of DISCOMs and providing cleaner power.
  • Check Technical Losses:Provide clean day time electricity to farmers as well as energy efficient pump sets which would reduce the power consumption as well as T&D (Transmission and Distribution Losses) losses associated with transmitting power to agriculture and rural feeder networks.

Energy Efficiency Services Ltd

  • It is a joint venture of National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC)Limited, Power Finance Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation and POWERGRID, It was set up under the Ministry of Power to facilitate implementation of energy efficiency projects.
  • EESLis a Super Energy Service Company (ESCO) that seeks to unlock the energy efficiency market in India, estimated at Rs. 74,000 crore that can potentially result in energy savings of up to 20% of current consumption, by way of innovative business and implementation models.
  • It also acts as the resource centre for capacity building of State DISCOMs,financial institutions, etc.

11.PARAM-Siddhi

News: India’s newest and fastest supercomputer, PARAM-Siddhi AI, has been ranked 63rd in the Top500 list of most powerful supercomputers in the world.

Param Siddhi

  • It is a high-performance computing-artificial intelligence (HPC-AI) supercomputer established under National Supercomputing Mission (NSM) at C-DAC. It was commissioned by the C-DAC earlier and has been developed in association with chipmaker Nvidia and French IT consulting firm Atos.
  • It will help deep learning, visual computing, virtual reality, accelerated computing, as well as graphics virtualization. The computer is expected to be used as a platform for academia, scientific research, startups and more.

Other Indian supercomputers

  • PARAM-Siddhi is the second Indian supercomputer to be entered in the top 100 on the Top500 list.
  • Pratyush, a supercomputer used for weather forecasting at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, ranked 78th on the November edition of the list. It was ranked 66th in the June rankings announced by the project. Another Indian supercomputer, Mihir (146th on the list), clubs with Pratyush to generate enough computing power to match PARAM-Siddhi.

Who topped the rankings?

  • The Top500 project tracks the most powerful supercomputers in the world and is published twice a year.
  • Japanese supercomputer Fugaku (442 petaflops) and IBM’s Summit (148.8 petaflops) are the two most powerful supercomputers in the world, according to the list.
  • Chinese Sunway TaihuLight is number four on the list (93 petaflops), developed by the National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC) in China.

12.Microwave Weapons

The Indian Army has rejected a report in the British daily newspaper which claimed that the Chinese army had used “microwave weapons” to drive Indian soldiers away from their positions in eastern Ladakh.

What are “Microwave Weapons”?

  • Microwave weapons are supposed to be a type of direct energy weapons, which aim highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target. It uses a focussed beam of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation to heat the water in a human target’s skin, causing pain and discomfort.
  • In a microwave oven, an electron tube called a magnetron produces electromagnetic waves (microwaves) that bounce around the metal interior of the appliance, and are absorbed by the food.
  • The microwaves agitate the water molecules in the food, and their vibration produces heat that cooks the food. Food with high water content cooks faster in a microwave often than drier foods.

Which countries have these “microwave weapons”?

  • A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems. Chinahad first put on display its “microwave weapon”, called Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014.
  • The United Stateshas also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon, which it calls the “Active Denial System”.

How dangerous are these weapons?

  • Concerns have been raised on whether they can damage the eyes, or have a carcinogenic impact in the long term. It is not clear yet how China intends to use such a weapon, and whether it can kill or cause lasting damage to human targets.
  • The US apparently deployed such a weapon in Afghanistan, but withdrew it without ever using it against human targets.

13.Deemed Forest in Karnataka

News: Karnataka Forest Minister has announced that the state government would soon declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of the 9.94 lakh hectares of deemed forests in the state (nearly 67%) and hand it over to Revenue authorities.

Why does the government want to release these forests?

  • In 2014, the then government decided to have a relook at the categorisation of forests.
  • The dictionary definition of forests was applied to identify thickly wooded areas as deemed forests, a well-defined scientific, verifiable criterion was not used, resulting in a subjective classification.
  • The subjective classification in turn resulted in conflicts. Ministers have also argued that land was randomly classified as deemed forest by officials, causing hardship to farmers in some areas.
  • There is also a commercial demand for mining in some regions designated as deemed forests.

Definition of Deemed Forests:

  • Deemed forests, comprising about 1% of India’s forest land,are a controversial subject as they refer to land tracts that appear to be a “forest”, but have not been notified so by the government or in historical records.
  • The concept of deemed forestshas not even been clearly defined in any law including the Forest Conservation Act 1980. In the T N Godavarman Thirumalpad case 1996, the Supreme Court (SC) accepted a wide definition of forests under the Act and held that the word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning.
  • This descriptioncovers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2 (1) of the Act and also includes any areas recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of the ownership.
  • Theprovisions for the conservation of forest and the matters connected therewith apply clearly to all forests irrespective of the ownership or classification.
  • Thefreedom to define which tracts of forest qualify as forest has been the prerogative of States since 1996.
  • However, thisonly applies to forest land that has not already been historically classified as “forest” in revenue records, or categorised so by the government as “protected” or “reserve forest”.

Deemed Forests in Karnataka:

  • Areas Included:An expert committee constituted by the state government identified ‘deemed forests’ as:
  • Land having the characteristic of forests irrespective of the ownership.
  • Thickly wooded areas of the Revenue Department, not handed over to the Forest Department.
  • Thickly wooded areas recommended to be handed over to the Forest Department.
  • Thickly wooded land distributed to grantees but not cultivated.
  • Thickly wooded plantations of the Forest Department.
  • The expert committee reports in 1997 and 2002identified 43.18 lakh hectares of forest land for conservation in Karnataka, which included 33.23 lakh hectares notified forest area as per forest records and 9.94 lakh hectares ‘deemed forests’.

Issue of Contention:

  • In 2014,the government relooked at the categorisation of forests and found that some of the ‘statutory forests’ had been wrongly classified as ‘deemed forest’.
  • It also held that a well-defined scientific, verifiable criterion was not usedwhile applying the dictionary definition which resulted in a subjective classification of areas as deemed forests.
  • The subjective classification, in turn, resulted in conflicts between the Forest Department and other departmentslike Revenue, Irrigation, Public Works and Energy.
  • The random classification caused hardship to farmersin some areas and there is also a commercial demand for mining in some regions designated as deemed forests.

Revised Coverage:

  • Later, newly formed committees identified 5.18 lakh hectares of deemed forest land that could be released from the total area. After arecent study of the actual extent of deemed forest areas, the amount of deemed forest land to be released has been revised to 6.64 lakh hectares.
  • In 2019,the state had filed an interim application in the SC for the exclusion of the revised area but the Court did not pass an order on the application.

Forest Classification in India

  • The Forest Survey of India (FSI) classifies forest cover in 4 classes.
  • Very Dense forest: All lands with tree cover (including mangrove cover) of canopy density of 70% and above.
  • Moderately dense forest: All lands with tree cover (including mangrove cover) of canopy density between 40% and 70%.
  • Open forests: All lands with tree cover (including mangrove cover) of canopy density between 10% and 40%.
  • Scrubs: All forest lands with poor tree growth mainly of small or stunted trees having canopy density less than 10%.

14.Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute

News: A Maharashtra leader has sparked a controversy, when he called the incorporation of Belgaum (Belagavi), Karwar and Nipani areas of Karnataka into Maharashtra, as a dream of the ruling party.

Maha-K’taka boundary dispute

  • The erstwhile Bombay Presidency, a multilingual province, included the present-day Karnataka districts of Vijayapura, Belagavi, Dharwad and Uttara-Kannada.
  • In 1948, the Belgaum municipality requested that the district, having a predominantly Marathi-speaking population, be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state.
  • However, the States Reorganization Act of 1956, which divided states into linguistic and administrative lines, made Belgaum and 10 taluka of Bombay State a part of the then Mysore State

The Mahajan Commission report:

  • While demarcating borders, the Reorganisation of States Commission sought to include talukas with a Kannada-speaking population of more than 50 per cent in Mysore.
  • Opponents of the region’s inclusion in Mysore argued, and continue to argue, that Marathi-speakers outnumbered Kannadigas who lived there in 1956.
  • In September 1957, the Bombay government echoed their demand and lodged a protest with the Centre, leading to the formation of the Mahajan Commission under former Chief Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan in October 1966.

Recommendations of the Commission:

  • The Commission in its report in August 1967 recommended that 264 villages be transferred to Maharashtra (which formed in 1960) and that Belgaum and 247 villages remain with Karnataka.

Later developments:

  • Maharashtra rejected the report, calling it biased and illogical, and demanded another review.
  • Karnataka welcomed the report, and has ever since continued to press for implementation, although this has not been formally done by the Centre. Maharashtra continues to claim over 814 villages along the border, as well as Belgaum city, which are currently part of Karnataka. Successive governments in Maharashtra have demanded their inclusion within the state– a claim that Karnataka contests.
  • In 2004, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court for a settlement of the border dispute under Article 131(b) of the Constitution.
  • It demanded 814 villages from Karnataka on the basis of the theory of village being the unit of calculation, contiguity and enumerating linguistic population in each village. The case is pending in the apex court.

15.National Population Register

News: The office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) has said the schedule or the questionnaire of the National Population Register (NPR) is being finalised.

The National Population Register (NPR)

  • The NPR is a database containing a list of all usual residents of the country. Its objective is to have a comprehensive identity database of people residing in the country. It is generated through house-to-house enumeration during the “house-listing” phase of the census, which is held once in 10 years.
  • The last census was in 2011, and the next will be done in 2021 (and will be conducted through a mobile phone application). A usual resident for the purposes of NPR is a person who has resided in a place for six months or more and intends to reside there for another six months or more

What is the legal basis for the NPR?

  • While the census is legally backed by the Census Act, 1948, the NPR is a mechanism outlined in a set of rules framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • Section 14A was inserted in the Citizenship Act, 1955, in 2004, providing for the compulsory registration of every citizen of India and the issue of a “national identity card” to him or her. It also said the Central government may maintain a “National Register of Indian Citizens”.
  • The Registrar General India shall act as the “National Registration Authority” (and will function as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration). Incidentally, the Registrar General is also the country’s Census Commissioner.

NPR vs Census:

  • Objective: The censusinvolves a detailed questionnaire – there were 29 items to be filled up in the 2011 census – aimed at eliciting the particulars of every person, including age, sex, marital status, children, occupation, birthplace, mother tongue, religion, disability and whether they belonged to any Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. On the other hand, the NPR collects basic demographic data and biometric particulars.
  • Legal Basis: The census is legally backed by the Census Act, 1948. The NPR is a mechanism outlined in a set of rulesframed under the Citizenship Act, 1955.

NPR and NRC:

  • According to the Citizenship Rulesframed in 2003, the NPR is the first step towards compilation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) or
  • Section 14Awas inserted in the Citizenship Act, 1955, in 2004, providing for the compulsory registration of every citizen of India and the issue of a “national identity card” to him or her. It also said the Central government may maintain a “National Register of Indian Citizens”.
  • The Registrar General Indiashall act as the “National Registration Authority” (and will function as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration). The Registrar General is also the country’s Census Commissioner.
  • After a list of residents is created (i.e. NPR), a nationwide NRC could go about verifying the citizens from that list. Recently, NRC for Assamwas prepared.

Concerns:

  • Some Statessuch as West Bengal and Rajasthan have objected to additional questions to be asked in the fresh NPR such as “date and place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence and mother tongue”.
  • There are apprehensions and fears that the CAA 2019, followed by a country-wide NRC, will benefit non-Muslimsexcluded from the proposed citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship.
  • The CAA 2019 allows citizenship on basis of religion to six undocumented communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladeshwho entered India on or before 31st December, 2014.
  • Six Communitiesare: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

Government’s Stand:

  • The government has denied that the CAA and the NRC are linked.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed a parliamentary panel earlier this year that there was a need to update the NPRto “incorporate the changes due to birth, death and migration” and “Aadhaar is individual data whereas NPR contains family wise data.”
  • The MHA informed the panel that it proposes to collect details on additional questions such as “date and place of birth of parents” in the NPR to “facilitate back end data processingand making the data items of date and place of birth complete for all household(s)”.

16.India-Luxembourg Relations

News: The first meeting between India and Luxembourg in 20 years was held recently. The meeting resulted in three new bilateral agreements. All three agreements are in the financial space to promote trade ties between India and Luxembourg. Luxembourg is the third largest foreign investor in India.

The three agreements that have been signed are:

  • Luxembourg Stock Exchange with State Bank of India (SBI).
  • Luxembourg Stock Exchange with the India International Stock Exchange (INX).
  • LuxInnovation and Invest India.
  • India also invited Luxembourg to join the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).

India-Luxembourg Relations

Economic Relationship:

  • Both countries have a long-standing cooperation in the steelsector and the leaders called upon businesses, including SMEs and startups, to explore further opportunities for expanding the economic relationship.
  • Both nations look forward to the17th Joint Economic Commission (JEC) between India and the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union to review the economic and trade relations.

Finance:

  • Theproposed agreement between the regulatory authorities Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) would deepen bilateral cooperation in the financial sector.
  • Luxembourg, as a leading international financial centre in Europe,can act as an important bridge to help connect India’s financial services industry with international markets and reach European and global investors.

Space and Digital Cooperation:

  • Both countries have an ongoing space cooperation,including in the domain of satellite broadcasting and communications. Luxembourg based space companies have started utilising the services of India for launching their satellites into space. In November 2020, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the PSLV-C49 mission, which included 4 satellites from Luxembourg.
  • cooperation instrument in the area of exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposesis currently under discussion between the two Governments.
  • In the wake of thepandemic, both India and Luxembourg are promoting digitalisation through the “Digital India” programme and the “Digital Luxembourg” initiative respectively and agree to explore convergences between the two initiatives.

Higher Education and Research:

  • Indian National Brain Research Centreand the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine have an ongoing collaboration in the field of neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases are a heterogeneous group of disorders that are characterised by the progressive degeneration of the structure and function of the central nervous system or peripheral nervous system. Examples: Alzheimer’s diseaseand Parkinson’s disease.
  • IITsin Bombay, Kanpur and Madras and the National Law School of India have links with the University of Luxembourg which will be further expanded for higher education and research in both countries.

Culture and People-to-people Ties:

  • In 2019,Luxembourg issued a commemorative stamp to mark the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Both countries intend to conclude a Migration and Mobility agreement to further strengthen mobility as well as an agreement on an exemption of visas for holders of diplomatic and official/service passports.

17.Community Cord Blood Banking

News: Community Cord Blood Banking, a stem cell banking initiative, has recently helped save the life of a girl child making it India’s first dual cord blood transplant through an unrelated donor.

What is Cord Blood?

  • Cord blood (short for umbilical cord blood) is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta post-delivery.
  • It contains special cells called hematopoietic stem cellsthat can be used to treat some types of diseases.

What is Cord blood banking?

  • Cord blood banking is the process of collecting the cord blood and extracting and cryogenically freezing its stem cells and other cells of the immune system for potential future medical use.
  • Globally, cord blood banking is recommended as a source of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for haematological cancers and disorders where its use is recommended.
  • For all other conditions, the use of cord blood as a source of stem cells is not yet established.

Benefits of cord blood

  • It gives protection to a baby against all conditions treatable using stem cells (own & donor).
  • It gives protection to the baby’s siblings, parents and grandparents (maternal & paternal) by providing unrelated donor stem cells.

Stem Cell Therapy

  • It is a type of treatment option that uses a patient’s own stem cells to repair damaged tissue and repair injuries. It is used to treat more than 80 disorders including neuromuscular and degenerative disorders. Eg. Bone-marrow transplant is used in Leukemia (blood cancer), sickle-cell anemia, immunodeficiency disorders. Stem cells are usually taken from one of the two areas in the patient’s body: bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue in their upper thigh/abdomen.
  • Because it is common to remove stem cells from areas of stored body fat, some refer to stem cell therapy as “Adipose Stem Cell Therapy” in some cases.

Concerns associated with stem cell banking:

  • Over the past decade, stem cell banking has been aggressively marketed even as its use is still in experimental stages. But these companies charge enormous fees from parents to preserve cells.
  • The concern here is that it is merely by emotional marketing that companies convince parents to bank the cells for several years promising future therapeutic use.

18.RBI imposed moratorium on LVB

News: Recently, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to impose a 30-day moratorium on Chennai-based Lakshmi Vilas Bank Ltd (LVB).

Background:

  • LVB was placed under the prompt corrective action (PCA) frameworkin September 2019 considering the breach of PCA thresholds as on 31st March, 2019.
  • The RBI has specified certain regulatory trigger points, as a part of prompt corrective action (PCA) Framework, in terms ofthree parameters, i. capital to risk weighted assets ratio (CRAR), net non-performing assets (NPA) and Return on Assets (RoA), for initiation of certain structured and discretionary actions in respect of banks hitting such trigger points.
  • After taking into consideration various developments, the RBI had come to the conclusion that in the absence of a credible revival plan, with a view to protect depositors’ interest and in the interest of financial and banking stability, there is no alternative but to apply to the Central Government for imposing a moratorium under section 45 of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

Challenges Faced by LVB:

  • The LVB episode started unfolding after the RBI and banks led by State Bank of India bailed out fraud-hit Yes Bankin March 2020. Yes Bank illustrated the widening damage from India’s shadow banking crisis, highlighted by the collapse of IL&FS in 2018. On the same lines, Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank was hit by a loan scam highlighting the riskiness of banks, especially cooperative banks.
  • The financial position of the LVB has undergone asteady decline, with continuous losses over the last three years eroding the bank’s net worth. Almost one-fourth of the bank’s advances have turned bad assets.
  • LVB has not been able to raise adequate capitalto address the issues and was also experiencing the continuous withdrawal of deposits and low levels of liquidity.
  • Serious governance issuesin recent years have led to a deterioration in the performance of the bank.
  • The functioning of LVB, along many such banks, has been under scrutiny as most of them do not have strong promoters,making them targets for mergers.
  • Its gross non-performing assets(NPAs) stood 25.4% of its advances as of June 2020, as against 17.3% in 2019. Due to which, it was unable to raise capital to shore up its balance sheet. NPAs in the banking sector are expected to increase as the pandemic affects cash flows of people and companies.

Impact on Investors:

  • Equity capital will be fully written off,which means existing shareholders face a total loss on their investments unless there are buyers in the secondary market who may ascribe some value to these.
  • Individual investors will face a loss on their investments inAT-1 bonds.
  • As per RBI rules based on the Basel-III framework,AT-1 bonds have principal loss absorption features, which can cause a full write-down or conversion to equity.
  • Shares of LVB closed at 20% lower circuitwhich means that there will be only sellers and no buyers.
  • The lower circuit is the limit below which a stock price cannot trade on a particular trading day.
  • These regulatory mechanisms put in place to temporarily halt trading on an exchange to curb panic-selling.

Measures Taken by RBI:

  • The RBI monitors the performance of private banks and large Non-Banking Financial Companies(NBFCs).
  • On LVB, it has imposed a moratorium whose cash withdrawal limithas been capped at  25,000.
  • It has also put in place a draft scheme for its amalgamation with DBS Bank India.
  • The combined balance sheet of DBS India and LVB would remain healthy after the proposed amalgamation, with Capital to Risk Weighted Assets Ratio(CRAR) at 12.51% and Common Equity Tier-1 (CET-1) capital at 9.61%, without taking into account the infusion of additional capital.
  • CET-1 capitalincludes equity instruments where returns are linked to the banks’ performance and therefore the performance of the share price. They have no maturity.
  • In September 2019, merger of banks, consolidation of 10 public sector banks into four mega state-owned ones, was announced ostensibly to help in better management of capital.
  • One safety net for small depositorsis the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC), an RBI subsidiary, which gives insurance cover on up to Rs. 5 lakh deposits in banks.
  • RBI may ask for capital infusion by other banks and financial institutions, putting in equity capitalin the reconstructed entity.
  • Budget 2019 had announced a 70,000 crore bank recapitalisationprogramme to help Public Sector Banks shore up their capital reserves and enhance credit flow into the economy.