3RD MARCH CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Exercise Desert Flag VI

News: The Indian Air Force is participating for the first time in Exercise Desert Flag-VI along with air forces of United Arab Emirates, United States of America, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Bahrain.

About Exercise Desert Flag – VI:

  • Ex Desert Flag is an annual multi-national large force employment warfare exercise hosted by the United Arab Emirates Air Force.
  • The aim of the exercise is to provide operational exposure to the participating forces while training them to undertake simulated air combat operations in a controlled environment.
  • The participating forces will get an opportunity to enhance their operational capabilities along with mutual exchange of best practices.
  • The large-scale exercise involving diverse fighter aircraft from across the globe will provide the participating forces, including IAF, a unique opportunity to exchange knowledge, experience, enhance operational capabilities and interoperability.
  • Exercising and interaction with the participating nations in a dynamic and realistic warfare environment will also contribute to strengthen international relations.
  • The IAF is participating with six Su-30 MKI, two C-17 and one IL-78 tanker aircraft. C-17 Globemaster will provide support for induction/ de-induction of the IAF contingent.
  • Su-30 MKI aircraft will undertake long range ferry, routing direct from India to the exercise area with aerial refueling support from IL-78 tanker aircraft.

2. NITI Aayog reviews NFSA

News: NITI Aayog, through a discussion paper, has recommended reducing the rural and urban coverage under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, to 60% and 40%, respectively. It has also proposed a revision of beneficiaries as per the latest population which is currently being done through Census- 2011.

Details:

  • A revision of CIPs is one of the issues that have been discussed. The other issues are updating of the population covered under the NFSA, and beneficiary identification criteria.
  • Under sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Act, the term “eligible households” comprises two categories — “priority households”, and families covered by the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
  • Priority households are entitled to receive 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month, whereas AAY households are entitled to 35 kg per month at the same prices.

Recommendations:

  • Under Schedule-I of the Act, these subsidised prices were fixed for “a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act”.
  • While different states began implementing the Act at different dates, the deemed date of its coming into effect is July 5, 2013, and the three-year period was therefore completed on July 5, 2016.
  • However, the government has yet not revised subsidised prices.
  • The government can do so under Schedule-I of the Act, after completion of the three-year period.
  • To revise the prices, the government can amend Schedule-I through a notification, a copy of which has to be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as possible after it is issued.
  • The revised prices cannot exceed the minimum support price for wheat and coarse grains, and the derived minimum support price for rice.

Coverage of NFSA and recommendations of NITI Aayog:

  • The Act has prescribed the coverage under “eligible households” — 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population. On the basis of Census 2011 figures and the national rural and urban coverage ratios, 81.35 crore persons are covered under NFSA currently. This overall figure has been divided among the states and UTs, based on the NSSO Household Consumer Expenditure Survey 2011-12.
  • Section 9 of the Act deals with an update of coverage of the population under the Act.
  • However, given the population increase since then, there have been demands from the states and union territories to update the list by ensuring an annual updating system under NFSA.
  • The NITI Aayog has suggested that the national rural and urban coverage ratio be reduced from the existing 75-50 to 60-40. If this reduction happens, the number of beneficiaries under the NFSA will drop to 71.62 crores (on the basis of the projected population in 2020).
  • To make these changes in the law, the government will have to amend sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the NFSA. For this, it will require parliamentary approval.

Implications:

  • If the national coverage ratio is revised downward, the Centre can save up to Rs 47,229 crore (as estimated by the NITI Aayog paper).
  • On the other hand, if the rural-urban coverage ratio remains at 75-50, then the total number of people covered will increase from the existing 81.35 crores to 89.52 crore —an increase of 8.17 crore.
  • This estimate by the NITI Aayog is based on the projected 2020 population, and, according to the paper, will result in an additional subsidy requirement of Rs 14,800 crore.

National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013

  • It was notified on10th September, 2013 to provide for food and nutritional security in the human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantities of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
  • 75% of the rural population and upto 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidized food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). Overall, NFSA caters to 67% of the total population.
  • Eligibility: Priority House holds to be covered under TPDS, according to guidelines by the State government. Households covered under existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana.

What is being provided under NFSA?

  • 5 Kgs of foodgrains per person per month at Rs. 3/2/1 per Kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains.
  • The existing AAY household will continue to receive 35 Kgs of foodgrains per household per month.
  • Meal and maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000 to pregnant women and lactating mothers during pregnancy and six months after the child birth.
  • Meals for children up to 14 years of age.
  • Food security allowance to beneficiaries in case of non-supply of entitled foodgrains or meals.
  • Setting up of grievance redressal mechanisms at the district and state level.

Central Issue Prices

  • Foodgrains under NFSA are made available to beneficiaries at subsidized prices. The centre procures food grains from farmers at a Minimum support price (MSP) and sells it to states at central issue prices.
  • The prices are fixed by the Central Government from time to time, but not exceeding MSP.

 

3. Spectrum Auctions

 

News: The government has received bids worth ₹77,146 crore on the first day of the auction for telecom airwaves, exceeding its own pre-bid estimates of about ₹45,000 crore. Airwaves worth ₹3.92 lakh crore have been put up for sale across 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz frequency bands.

What are spectrum auctions?

  • Devices such as cellphones and wireline telephones require signals to connect from one end to another. These signals are carried on airwaves, which must be sent at designated frequencies to avoid any kind of interference.
  • The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves.
  • To sell these assets to companies willing to set up the required infrastructure to transport these waves from one end to another, the central government through the DoT auctions these airwaves from time to time.
  • These airwaves are called spectrum, which is subdivided into bands which have varying frequencies. All these airwaves are sold for a certain period of time, after which their validity lapses, which is generally set at 20 years.

 

4. Aravalli Hills

 

News: Recently, the Haryana government has appealed to the Supreme Court to permit it to resume mining in the Aravalli Hills on the grounds that the pandemic had grounded the State’s economy to a halt.

About the Aravalli Range:

  • They stretch for a distance of about 720 km from Himmatnagar in Gujarat to Delhi, spanning Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Delhi.
  • The Aravallis date back to millions of years when a pre-Indian subcontinent collided with the mainland Eurasian Plate. Carbon dating has shown that copper and other metals mined in the ranges date back to at least the 5th century BC.
  • The Aravallis of Northwestern India, one of the oldest fold mountains of the world, now form residual mountains with an elevation of 300m to 900m.
  • Guru Shikhar Peakon Mount Abu is the highest peak in the Aravalli Range (1,722 m).
  • It has been formed primarily of folded crust, when two convergent plates move towards each other by the process called orogenic movement.
  • The mountains are divided into two main ranges – the Sambhar Sirohi Range and the Sambhar Khetri Range in Rajasthan, where their extension is about 560 km.
  • The hidden limb of the Aravallis that extends from Delhi to Haridwar creates a divide between the drainage of rivers of the Ganga and the Indus.

Significance:

  • The Aravallis act as a barrier between the fertile plains in the east and the sandy desert in the west.
  • Historically, it is said that the Aravalli range checked the spread of the Thar Desert towards the Indo-Gangetic plains, serving as a catchment of rivers and plains.
  • Provides habitat to 300 native plant species, 120 bird species and many exclusive animals like the jackal and mongoose. Aravallis have an impact upon the climate of northwest India and beyond.
  • During monsoons, it provides a barrier and monsoon clouds move eastwards towards Shimla and Nainital, thus helping nurture the sub-Himalayan rivers and feeding the north Indian plains. In the winter months, it protects the fertile alluvial river valleys from the cold westerly winds from Central Asia.
  • Aravallis also functions as a groundwater recharge zone for the regions around that absorb rainwater and revive the groundwater level.
  • This range is considered the “lungs” for the polluted air of Delhi–National Capital Region (NCR).
  • For Haryana, having the lowest forest cover at around 3.59% of the total forest cover in India, the Aravalli range is the only saving grace, providing the major portion of its forest cover (2017 Report).

Threats and Govt.’s response:

  • The Aravalli hills are anecologically sensitive zone but have for years borne the brunt of quarrying and environmental degradation.
  • A 2018 report by a Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC)found out that 25% of the Aravalli range has been lost due to illegal mining in Rajasthan since 1967-68.
  • The consequences of the mining have been a destruction of aquifers and deforestation. Many rivers originating in the Aravalli like Banas, Luni, Sahibi and Sakhi, are now dead.
  • Mining in the Aravalli region has been banned since 2002under the Supreme Court orders, unless expressly permitted by the Union Environment Ministry. However, mining continues illegally.
  • The green wall is being planned from Porbandar to Panipat which will help in restoring degraded land through afforestation along the Aravali hill range.
  • Residents along with volunteers from iamgurgaon, a citizen action group involved in the conservation of the Aravallis, were assisted by ecologists to create a self-sustaining Aravalli. This society driven model could be more effective to combat the degradation.