26th NOVEMBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1.Poshan Abhiyaan

News: NITI Aayog has released a review report on Poshan Abhiyaan.

About the Report:

  • The third progress report (October 2019-April 2020)takes stock of the roll-out status on the ground and implementation challenges encountered at various levels through large scale datasets. These datasets are the NFHS-4 and Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS).
  • Theinitial Reports I and II, focused majorly on the mission’s preparedness and implementation by States and UTs, respectively. The review report was drafted in March 2020 and does not factor worsening poverty and hunger levels since then, which are expected to have gone down further due to the Covid-19.
  • On stunting, India’s targets are conservative as compared to the global targetdefined by the World Health Assembly (WHA), which is a prevalence rate of 5% of stunting as opposed to India’s goal of reducing stunting levels to 13.3% by 2022.
  • The target of reducing prevalence levels of anaemia among pregnant womenfrom 50.3% in 2016 to 34.4% in 2022 and among adolescent girls from 52.9% in 2016 to 39.66%, is also considered to be conservative as compared to the WHA’s target of halving prevalence levels. In the wake of the pandemic, experts warn that deepening poverty and hunger may delay achieving the goals defined under the Mission.

Recommendations:

Stunting:

  • To improve complementary feeding using both behaviour change interventions and complimentary food supplements in the Integrated Child Development Services(ICDS).
  • To work towards investments in girls and women (education during childhood, reducing early marriage and early pregnancy, improving care during and after pregnancy) along with other social determinants.
  • To improve water, sanitation, handwashing with soap and hygienic disposal of children’s stools with other effective interventions.

Wasting:

  • To include interventions that go beyond the treatment of severe acute malnutrition(SAM) and also address moderate wasting, have the potential to achieve larger declines in wasting.
  • To scale-up to reach facility-based treatment of SAM to all those needing in-patient care.
  • To urgently release a full strategy for prevention and integrated management of wasting nationally.

Anaemia:

  • To scale-up scenario that focuses only on health sector interventions which will achieve modest improvements in anaemia among women of reproductive age.

Poshan Abhiyaan:

  • The programme seeks to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. It was launched in 2018 with specific targets to be achieved by 2022.
  • Stunting and wasting by 2% a year (total 6% until 2022) among children. Anaemia by 3% a year (total 9%) among children, adolescent girls and pregnant women and lactating mothers.
  • The target of the missionis to bring down stunting among children in the age group 0-6 years from 38.4% to 25% by 2022. 50% of the total budget comes from the World Bank or other multilateral development banks and the rest of the 50% is through Centre’s budgetary support.
  • The Centre’s budgetary support is further divided into 60:40 between the Centre and the States, 90:10 for the north-eastern region and the Himalayan Statesand 100% for the Union Territories (UTs) without legislature.

2.Desalination Plants

News: Maharashtra state govt. has announced the setting up of a desalination plant in Mumbai, becoming the fourth state in the country to experiment with the idea.

Background:

  • According to the projections, the population of Mumbai is anticipated to touch 1.72 crores by 2041 and accordingly, the projected water demand would be 6424 MLD by then. Currently, BMC supplies 3850 MLD as against the requirement of 4200 MLD each day.

What are Desalination Plants?

  • A desalination plant turns salt water into water that is fit to drink.
  • The most commonly used techniques used for the process is reverse osmosis where external pressure is applied to push solvents from an area of high-solute concentration to an area of low-solute concentration through a membrane.
  • The microscopic pores in the membranes allow water molecules through but leave salt and most other impurities behind, releasing clean water from the other side. These plants are mostly set up in areas that have access to seawater.

Advantages:

  • It can extend water supplies beyond what is available from thehydrological cycle, providing an “unlimited”, climate-independent and steady supply of high-quality water. It can provide drinking water in areas where no natural supply of potable water exists.
  • As it generally meets or exceedsstandards for water quality, water desalination plants can also reduce pressure on freshwater supplies that come from areas (over exploited water resources) that need protecting.

Disadvantages:

  • Costly to build and operatedesalination plants as the plants require huge amounts of energy. Energy costs account for one-third to one-half of the total cost of producing desalinated water. Because energy is such a large portion of the total cost, the cost is also greatly affected by changes in the price of energy.
  • The environmental impactis another disadvantage to water desalination plants. Disposal of the salt removed from the water is a major issue.
  • This discharge, known asbrine, can change the salinity and lower the amount of oxygen (Hypoxia) in the water at the disposal site, stressing or killing animals not used to the higher levels of salt.
  • In addition, the desalination process uses or produces numerous chemicals including chlorine, carbon dioxide, hydrochloric acid and anti-scalentsthat can be harmful in high concentrations.

Opportunities:

  • The environmental problem can be changed into an economic opportunity as:
  • The discharge (brine)can also contain precious elements like uranium, strontium as well as sodium and magnesium which have the potential to be mined.
  • Brinehas been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops.

Use in India:

  • Desalination has largely been limited to affluent countries in the Middle East and has recently started making inroads in parts of the United States and Australia.
  • In India, Tamil Nadu has been the pioneer in using this technology, setting up two desalination plants near Chennai in 2010 and then 2013, while there are two more to come.

Osmosis and Reverse Osmosis

  • Osmosis is a phenomenon where pure water flows from a dilute solution through a semi-permeable membrane to a higher concentrated solution.
  • Semi-permeable means that the membrane will allow small molecules and ions to pass through it but acts as a barrier to larger molecules or dissolved substances.
  • As water passes through the membrane to the salt solution, the level of liquid in the saltwater compartment will rise until enough pressure, caused by the difference in levels between the two compartments, is generated to stop the osmosis.
  • This pressure, equivalent to a force that the osmosis seems to exert in trying to equalize concentrations on both sides of the membrane, is called osmotic pressure.
  • If pressure greater than the osmotic pressure is applied to the high concentration the direction of water flow through the membrane can be reversed. This is called reverse osmosis. Note that this reversed flow produces pure water from the salt solution since the membrane is not permeable to salt.

3.Lachit Borphukan

News: The Prime Minister has paid tribute to Lachit Borphukan on Lachit Diwas.

Who was Lachit Borphukan?

  • He was a commander in the Ahom kingdom. Known for his leadership in the 1671 Battle of Saraighat that thwarted a drawn-out attempt by Mughal forces under the command of Ramsingh I to take over Ahom kingdom.
  • The battle of Saraighatwas fought on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. The National Defence Academy (NDA), ever since 1999 has been conferring the best passing out cadet with the Lachit Borphukan gold medal.

4.Northeast Monsoon

News: Rainfall over the Southern peninsular region has been deficient so far due to prevailing La Nina conditions according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

What is the Northeast monsoon?

  • Occurs during October to December, and is a small-scale monsoon compared to South- West Monsoon.
  • It is confined to the Southern peninsula.
  • The rainfall associated with the Northeast monsoon is important for Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karaikal, Yanam, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, north interior Karnataka, Mahe and Lakshadweep. Some South Asian countries such as Maldives, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, too, record rainfall during October to December.

Significance:

  • Tamil Nadu records about 48 per cent (447.4 mm) of its annual rainfall (943.7 mm) during these months, making it the key factor for undertaking agricultural activities and reservoir management in the state.
  • Some South Asian countries such as Maldives, Sri Lanka and Myanmar also record rainfall from October to December.

Reasons behind distortions:

  • The majority of districts in Tamil Nadu remain highly rain-deficient up this time.
  • The period after the Southwest monsoon season, from October to December, is the peak time for cyclonic activity in the North Indian Ocean region — covering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
  • The winds associated with the formation of low-pressure systems, depressions, or cyclones influence this monsoon, and therefore, the rainfall. Officials at IMD have linked it to the prevailing La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

Link with La Nina:

  • While La Niña conditions enhance the rainfall associated with the Southwest monsoon, it has a negative impact on rainfall associated with the Northeast monsoon.
  • During La Niña years, the synoptic systems — low pressure or cyclones — formed in the Bay of Bengal remain significantly to the north of their normal position.
  • Besides, instead of moving westwards, these systems recurve. As they lie to the north of their normal position, not much rainfall occurs over southern regions like Tamil Nadu.

El Nino and La Nina

  • While El Niño (Spanish for ‘little boy’), the more common expression, is the abnormal surface warming observed along the eastern and central regions of the Pacific Ocean (the region between Peru and Papua New Guinea).
  • The La Niña (Spanish for ‘little girl’) is an abnormal cooling of these surface waters.
  • Together, the El Niño and La Niña phenomena are termed as El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
  • These are large-scale ocean phenomena which influence the global weather — winds, temperature and rainfall. They have the ability to trigger extreme weather events like droughts, floods, hot and cold conditions, globally.
  • Each cycle can last anywhere between 9 to 12 months, at times extendable to 18 months — and re-occur after every three to five years. Meteorologists record the sea surface temperatures for four different regions, known as Niño regions, along this equatorial belt.
  • Depending on the temperatures, they forecast either as an El Niño, an ENSO neutral phase, or a La Niña.

5.Issues with entry of corporates into banking system

News: An Internal Working Group of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recommended that corporate houses be given bank licences.

Background:

  • In February 2013, the RBI had issued guidelines that permitted corporate and industrial houses to apply for a banking licence. No corporate was ultimately given a bank licence. None of the applicants had met ‘fit and proper’ criteria.
  • In 2014, the RBI restored the long-standing prohibition on the entry of corporate houses into banking. The RBI’s position on the subject has remained unchanged since 2014.

Risks involved

  • As the report notes, the main concerns areinterconnected lending, concentration of economic power and exposure of the safety net provided to banks Corporate houses can easily turn banks into a source of funds for their own businesses. In addition, they can ensure that funds are directed to their cronies.
  • They can use banks to provide finance to customers and suppliers of their businesses. Adding a bank to a corporate house thus means an increase in concentration of economic power.
  • Not least, banks owned by corporate houses will be exposed to the risks of the non-bank entities of the group. If the non-bank entities get into trouble, sentiment about the bank owned by the corporate house is bound to be impacted.

Issues with the recommendations

  • TheInternal Working Group (IWG) believes that before corporate houses are allowed to enter banking, the RBI must be equipped with a legal framework to deal with interconnected lending and a mechanism to effectively supervise conglomerates that venture into banking.
  • But there are following 4 issues with such suggestion-
  • Tracing interconnected lending will be a challenge.
  • The RBI can only react to interconnected lending ex-post, that is, after substantial exposure to the entities of the corporate house has happened. It is unlikely to be able to prevent such exposure.
  • Any action that the RBI may take in response could cause a flight of deposits from the bankconcerned and precipitate its failure.
  • Pitting the regulator against powerful corporate houses could end up damaging the regulator.

Issues with NBFCs

  • Under the present policy, NBFCs with a successful track record of 10 years are allowed to convert themselves into banks. The Internal Working Group believes that NBFCs owned by corporate houses should be eligible for such conversion.
  • This promises to be an easier route for the entry of corporate houses into banking. The Internal Working Group argues that corporate-owned NBFCs have been regulated for a while. However, there is a world of difference between a corporate house owning an NBFC and one owning a bank.
  • Bank ownership provides access to a public safety net whereas NBFC ownership does not. The reach and clout that bank ownership provides are vastly superior to that of an NBFC.
  • The objections that apply to a corporate house with no presence in bank-like activities are equally applicable to corporate houses that own NBFCs.

Conclusion

  • India’s banking sector needs reform but corporate houses owning banks hardly qualifies as one. If the record of over-leveraging in the corporate world in recent years is anything to go by, the entry of corporate houses into banking is the road to perdition.