Daily Current Affairs

TODAY’S MOST POWERFUL DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS CONCEPTS- 31ST OCT,2020

UPSC PRELIMS+MAINS

A) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

1. Fly High Indian Aviary: World’s largest geodesic dome for aviary (PIB)

  • Context: It is located in Sardar Patel Zoological Park, popularly known as Jungle Safari, in Kevadia town, Narmada district, Gujarat.
  • It is the world’s largest geodesic dome for aviary.
  • “Rashtriya Ekta Diwas” (National Unity Day) is celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of Iron Man – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Analysis

How do we conserve Biodiversity?

  • When we conserve and protect the whole ecosystem, its biodiversity at all levels is protected – we save the entire forest to save the tiger. This approach is called in situ (on site) conservation.
  • Examples of in situ conservation: biosphere reserves, national parks and sanctuaries, sacred groves, biodiversity hotspots etc.
  • However, when there are situations where an animal or plant is endangered or threatened and needs urgent measures to save it from extinction, ex situ (off site) conservation is the desirable approach.
  • Examples of ex situ conservation: zoological parks, botanical gardens, wildlife safari parks, in vitro fertilisation, tissue culture propagation, seed banks and cryopreservation of gametes.

2. Stubble burning, PUSA Decomposer and Biochar (TH)

  • Context: An editorial.

Analysis

  • Stubble burning refers to the practice of farmers setting fire to plant debris that remain in farms after harvest.
  • Before the 1980s, farmers used to till the remaining debris back into the soil after harvesting the crops manually.
  • The origin of stubble burning can be traced to the advent of the Green Revolution and mechanised harvesting, which utilised the combined harvesting technique.
  • The Green Revolution increased greatly rice and wheat production, which simultaneously increased stubble post-harvest.
  • However, the popular combined harvesting technique was not efficacious, as these machines leave behind a significant length of straw and stubble on the field.
  • This prevents other machines from sowing wheat seeds.
  • This prompted stubble burning as a low-cost (If farmers wish to remove stubble manually, they will need at least Rs 6,000-7,000 per acre; To use a ‘happy seeder’ over one acre, farmers have to spend Rs 1,000 for rent plus about Rs 2,000 on diesel) and speedy solution available to farmers due to the limited time period of 20-25 days between the rice-harvesting season and the wheat-sowing time.
  • The burning of wheat residue is not necessary for the farmers because of the availability of technology and its higher economic value as dry fodder.
  • Rice straw, however, is not used as fodder as it is found to be non-palatable to animals due to its high silica content.

Environmental impact

  • Stubble burning is practised predominantly by farmers in north India.
  • It releases harmful gases including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
  • In recent years, this practice has created vast smoke blankets across the Indo-Gangetic Plain and numerous neighbouring States, including Delhi.
  • Stubble burning also has a deleterious impact on soil fertility, destroys organic fertilizers and reduces ground water levels.
  • Stubble burning is an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.
  • Recently, in Aditya Dubey v. Union of India, the Supreme Court appointed retired apex court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur as a one-man committee to monitor and provide steps to prevent stubble burning activities in Punjab, Haryana and U.P.
  • Now the Union government has brought out an ordinance to set up a permanent commission for air quality management, which will replace the Justice Madan B. Lokur Commission.
  • As per the ‘Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020’, the body will be chaired by a government official of the rank of Secretary or Chief Secretary, and will include the Secretary Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
  • The Commission is to have exclusive jurisdiction over the NCR, including areas in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, in matters of air pollution, and will be working along with CPCB and ISRO, apart from the respective state governments.
  • Under the ordinance, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has been dissolved and replaced by this commission comprising over 20 members.
  • The commission may take up matters suo motu or on the basis of complaints, the ordinance said, adding that any appeal against any direction of the panel shall lie only with the National Green Tribunal.

Impact of Stubble Burning

  • Burning of crop residues emits traces of carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, black carbon and particulates which affect human health.
  • These directly contribute to environmental pollution, and are also responsible for the haze in Delhi and melting of Himalayan glaciers. 
  • The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimetre into the soil, elevating the temperature which kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil.
  • Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality.
  • Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease.
  • The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil have also been reduced.
  • According to a report, stubble burning leads to a loss of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur — all soil nutrients, besides organic carbon.

Solutions to the burning problem 

  • Farmers can also manage crop residues effectively by employing agricultural machines like:
  • Happy Seeder (used for sowing of crop in standing stubble)
  • Rotavator (used for land preparation and incorporation of crop stubble in the soil)
  • Zero till seed drill (used for land preparations directly sowing of seeds in the previous crop stubble)
  • Baler (used for collection of straw and making bales of the paddy stubble)
  • Paddy Straw Chopper (cutting of paddy stubble for easily mixing with the soil)
  • Reaper Binder (used for harvesting paddy stubble and making into bundles)
  • As per a study by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, the application of happy seeders and super SMS machines can improve agricultural productivity by 10% to 15% while reducing labour costs and allowing the soil to become more fertile.
  • This year, the Union government is testing an innovative method, the PUSA Decomposer, developed at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa.
  • The PUSA Decomposer is a set of four tablets made by extracting fungi strains that help the paddy straw to decompose at a much faster rate than usual, giving farmers the option to shred the straw, spray a solution containing the fungal strains, and mix it with the soil for decomposition.
  • There is huge potential here — from generating power to using straw to make compressed biogas (CBG). In Sep 2020, the Reserve Bank of India included CBG in its list of priority sector lending.
  • Another option is to convert stubble into biochar, which can be used as a fertiliser, by burning it in a kiln.
  • In the longer term, another way to reduce stubble burning is to replace long-duration paddy varieties with shorter duration varieties like Pusa Basmati-1509 and PR-126, which can be harvested in the third week of September itself.
  • This will widen the window between the end of the rice season and start of the wheat season, allowing enough time for the paddy stubble to decompose, and eliminate the need for stubble-burning.
  • The available paddy straw can be effectively used in biomass-based power generation plants.
  • Presently, a limited quantity of paddy straw is used for cardboard making and in packing industries and paper mills.
  • However, new opportunities for industrial use — such as extraction of yeast protein — can be explored through scientific research.

Biochar and Stubble Burning

  • A good option for straw management is biochar, which farmers can exercise in their fields.
  • Biochar can be produced by burning rice straw in a kiln, in the absence of oxygen.
  • Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that’s made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes (also called biomass) in a controlled process called pyrolysis, a thermal decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment.
  • Biochar’s chemical composition varies depending on the feedstocks used to make it and methods used to heat it.
  • Approximately 70 percent of its composition is carbon.
  • Biochar is by far more efficient at converting carbon into a stable form and is cleaner than other forms of charcoal.
  • The process needs very little space and investment.
  • Application of biochar per acre to wheat or rice reduces urea consumption, produces more green yield and improves soil health significantly after three years.
  • Application of biochar increases the retention of nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen in the soil, aids in decreasing the leaching of nutrients of soil into the groundwater and helps in saving nutrients from erosion due to the surface water flow.
  • Biochar helps to reduce environmental pollution by 60-70 per cent.
  • Some other ways that biochar may help improve soil quality include:
  • enhancing soil structure
  • increasing water retention and aggregation
  • decreasing acidity
  • reducing nitrous oxide emissions
  • improving porosity
  • regulating nitrogen leaching
  • improving electrical conductivity
  • improving microbial properties
  • Biochar is also found to be beneficial for composting, since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and prevents the loss of nutrients in the compost material.
  • It also promotes microbial activity, which in turn accelerates the composting process.
  • Plus, it helps reduce the compost’s ammonia losses, bulk density and odor.

The role of biochar in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change

  • Biochar production is a carbon-negative process, which means that it actually reduces CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • In the process of making biochar, the unstable carbon in decaying plant material is converted into a stable form of carbon that is then stored in the biochar.
  • When biochar is applied to the soil, it stores the carbon in a secure place for potentially hundreds or thousands of years.
  • To put it simply, the feedstocks that were used for making biochar would release higher amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere if they were left to decompose naturally.
  • By heating the feedstocks and transforming their carbon content into a stable structure that doesn’t react to oxygen, biochar technology ultimately reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thus helps to sequester a billion tons of carbon annually.
  • Biochar also contributes to the mitigation of climate change by enriching the soils and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, which in turn lowers greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The improved soil fertility also stimulates the growth of plants, which consume carbon dioxide.
  • The many benefits of biochar for both climate and agricultural systems make it a promising tool for regenerative agriculture.

Biochar in vertical farming

  • Treated coirpith and biochar in equal proportions can be used to make up 95 per cent of the growing medium in vertical farming, the rest five per cent can be the soil available in the area.
  • Bio-char reduces the acidity of the soil, protects the plants from diseases, promotes growth of friendly micro-organisms, and reduces the loss of micro nutrients apart from increasing water retain-ability.

      3. Earthquake in Turkey, Greek islands and its causes (TH)

  • Context: Fourteen people were killed in Turkey and Greece after a powerful magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck under the Aegean Sea.

Analysis

  • But while many earthquake-prone places around the world can trace their seismic activity to the meeting of just two main tectonic plates, the situation is far messier around the Aegean.
  • This is one of the most complex regions in the world as there isn’t one big fault, but instead many faults located over a huge area, most of which could cause a devastating earthquake like this one.
  • Geologically speaking, this region is wedged between the zone where the African, Eurasian, and Arabian plates meet up.
  • To the east of the Aegean, the Arabian plate collides with the Eurasian plate, shoving up a series of mountains including the Zagros, a range that runs through Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.
  • The colliding plates also send the Anatolian plate (the main tectonic segment that lies under Turkey) westward, as if it “is being pushed out like a watermelon seed between two fingers.

    B) Economy

    1. The 15th Finance Commission concludes deliberations (PIB)

  • Context: The Fifteenth Finance Commission (XVFC), headed by Chairman Shri N K Singh, today concluded their deliberations on the Report for the year 2021-2022 to 2025-2026.

Analysis

  • The panel, which had to grapple with an enlarged brief that included determining the viability of a separate defence and national security fund as well as the issue of GST compensation, will submit its report to the President on November 9.
  • The report will be subsequently tabled by the Finance Minister in the Parliament along with an action taken report.
  • The Report contains recommendations pertaining to 5 financial years, 2021-22 to 2025-26.
  • The Report of the XVFC for the year 2020-21, presented to the Honourable President in December 2019, was laid by the Government in the Parliament along with an Action Taken Report.
  • That report had pared the States’ share of the divisible tax pool from 42%, as recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission, to 41%, citing the creation of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
  • This will effectively mean the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendations will be applicable for six years (for the period 2020-2026) and not the conventional five-year period.
  • According to a former chairman of a previous Finance Commission, it is not unprecedented for the term of a Commission to be extended when there is a restructuring of States, or if the terms of reference for the Commission have been significantly expanded.
  • It happened before in the 14th Finance Commission when Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were split.
  • The 9th Finance Commission under the chairmanship of N.K.P. Salve also saw its recommendation period extended to six years from the conventional five.
  • XV-FC was constituted by the Honourable President of India in pursuance of clause (1) of article 280 of the Constitution with Shri N.K. Singh as Chairman, Mr. Shri Shaktikanta Das, Dr. Anoop Singh, Dr. Ashok Lahiri and Dr. Ramesh Chand as Members and Shri Arvind Mehta as Secretary.
  • Subsequent to Shri. Shaktikanta Das demitting his office, Shri. Ajay Narayan Jha was appointed as a Member.

     2.Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) records 65% growth in exports in the first two quarters of FY 2020-21 (PIB)                                                               

  • HIL (India) Ltd a PSU under the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers has recorded significant growth in exports in the first two quarters of the current financial year (FY 2020-21).
  • Company has achieved this significant growth due to large quantity of Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT) and Agrochemicals shipped to Southern African countries, Latin America and Iran during the period.
  • HIL has also recorded highest ever production and sale of Malathion Technical in the first two quarters of the current year.
  • This was also because of the supplies to various institutions like the Ministry of Agriculture’s Locust Control Programme and municipal corporations across the country for the vector control programme.

    3. Gold exchange-traded funds (ETF) Vs Sovereign Gold Bonds (TH)

  • Context: Gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) saw staggering net inflows of more than ₹2,400 crore in the three months ended September 30, as investors continued to hedge their exposure to riskier assets due to higher economic uncertainty resulting from COVID-19.
  • With all major economies staring at a recession due to the spread of the pandemic, gold, with its safe-haven appeal, has emerged as one of the best-performing asset classes and a preferred investment destination among investors

Analysis

  • One way of investing in gold is through exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which allow investment in gold in electronic form.
  • Gold ETF is almost similar to mutual fund schemes where the underlying asset is the gold unlike stocks in equity mutual funds.
  • They are investment products that combine the flexibility of stock investment and the simplicity of gold investments.
  • The best part is that the gold ETF represents paper-gold as the investment is held in your Demat account.
  • Gold ETFs are listed on the exchanges and can be bought and sold directly using a Demat account. When you sell your gold ETFs on the exchange, you receive its cash equivalent.
  • The cost of investment in gold ETFs is generally cheaper than that of investing in gold in physical form.
  • Gold ETFs back their assets by buying actual physical gold of 99.5% purity.
  • This physical gold is stored in vaults with the custodian bank and valued periodically, according to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) guidelines.
  • In fact, mutual funds also allow investors who hold minimum prescribed quantities to redeem their investment in the form of physical gold.
  • Gold ETFs are a good way of investing in gold as investors don’t have to worry about the security and purity of the precious metal.

Gold ETFs Vs Sovereign Gold Bonds

  • Total returns on investment through gold ETFs is lower than actual return on gold (*Actual return (per gram) is assumed as = Price of gold per gram on trading exchange on date of sale – Cost of purchase of that gram of gold) whereas it is higher than actual return on gold in case of Sovereign Gold Bonds (due to the interest paid on the bond during holding period).
  • Unlike Sovereign Gold Bonds, gold ETFs can’t be used as collateral for loan.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

  • Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are mutual funds listed and traded on stock exchanges like shares.
  • Like mutual funds, they pool together investors’ money to buy a diversified portfolio of stocks or bonds.
  • The only difference is that instead of buying an ETF directly from a fund company, you buy a share of it through a brokerage, just like you would a stock.

4. Understand Credit Default Swaps (CDS) (TH)

  • Context: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will soon issue fresh guidelines on credit default swaps (CDS), a financial derivative instrument to hedge risks in bond investments, a senior Finance Ministry official said on Thursday.
  • The development of CDS is considered critical for deepening India’s bond markets and the government believes that the enactment of the Bilateral Netting of Qualified Financial Contracts act, 2020 should pave the way for an active CDS market.

Analysis

  • In CDS, three parties are involved: The bond issuer (Company ABC), Bond buyer (also the CDS buyer) and CDS seller (insurance co. & Banks)
  • Company normally needs fund to expand its operation (Company ABC). Therefore, they issue bonds and agree to pay rate of interest annually (let’s assume 10%) with the principal at the end of the period say, 5 years.
  • The bond buyer (Mr. X) gets this rate of interest annually, but fears that the company wouldn’t be able to pay its principal at the end of the period.
  • So, this bond buyer (Mr. X) gets himself insured by buying CDS and paying some nominal amount of premium regularly to the insurance company (CDS seller).
  • Normally, the premium is 1%-2% of the insured amount because the CDS seller thinks that the bond issuer (Company ABC) in any case wouldn’t be able to default.
  • Incase, the bond issuer (Company ABC) defaults then, the bond buyer i.e. CDS buyer who insured himself by paying a premium will get money from the CDS seller.

Now in Formal Language

  • Credit default swaps (CDS) are a type of insurance against default risk by a particular company.
  • The company is called the reference entity and the default is called credit event.
  • It is a contract between two parties, called protection buyer (Mr. X) and protection seller (Insurance/Bank etc.)
  • Under the contract, the protection buyer is compensated for any loss emanating from a credit event in a reference instrument.
  • In return, the protection buyer makes periodic payments to the protection seller.
  • In the event of a default, the buyer receives the face value of the bond or loan from the protection seller.
  • From the seller’s perspective, CDS provides a source of easy money if there is no credit event.
  • Credit default swap (CDS) although used for hedging credit risks, they have been held culpable for vitiating financial stability of an economy (Responsible for the 2008 Financial Crisis).
  • CDS becomes a worry because of the capital inadequacy of the protection sellers.

 C) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

1. Jal Jeevan Mission (PIB)

  • Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), the flagship programme of Ministry of Jal Shakti, is envisioned to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in rural
  • Under Jal Jeevan Mission, priority is being given on water quality surveillance through active participation of frontline functionaries as well as involving the local community.
  • Five persons especially women (not exclusively women) are being trained in every village to use the Field Test Kits to test the quality of water.
  • Every source needs to be tested once every year for physical and chemical parameters and twice for bacteriological contamination.
  • For complete detail, refer to 10th October file.

D) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

1. Malabar naval exercise to kick off next week (TH)

  • The first phase of the Malabar Naval exercise with Australia, Japan and the U.S. is scheduled to be held next week off the Visakhapatnam coast.
  • This is the first time Australia will be joining the exercise after 2007 and it will bring all four countries of the Quadrilateral grouping together for military games.
  • Malabar began as a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and became trilateral in 2015 with the addition of Japan.
  • This topic was covered comprehensively in 30th Sep file.

    E) International Relations

    1. Anti-France protests in Muslim countries (TH)

  • Thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests, as the French President’s vow to protect the right to caricature Prophet Muhammed continues to roil the Muslim world.

    F) Polity/Bills/Acts/Judgments

    1. New wage code bars bonus for those facing sex abuse charges (TH)

  • Those indulging in sexual harassment of any form could run the risk of losing out on bonus dues from their employers, thanks to a provision in the Code on Wages that the government is currently framing rules for.
  • Among other things, the Code on Wages lays down norms for annual bonus dues that accrue to employees, replacing the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965.
  • The new Code, expected to become operational once the government notifies the rules, includes ‘conviction for sexual harassment’ as a ground for denying bonus payouts to employees.
  • As per the extant law, bonus dues are barred only in case of employees dismissed for fraud, violent conduct and theft or sabotage.

    2. Who is a star campaigner? (TH)

  • Context: Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader Kamal Nath moved the Supreme Court against the decision of the Election Commission (EC) to remove his name from the list of ‘star campaigners’ for his party.
  • On October 30, the top poll body had found Mr. Nath guilty of violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in place for the byelections to 28 Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh scheduled on November 3.

Analysis

  • A recognised political party can have 40 star campaigners and an unrecognised (but registered) political party can have 20.
  • The list of star campaigners has to be communicated to the Chief Electoral Officer and Election Commission within a week from the date of notification of an election.
  • The expenditure incurred on campaigning by such notified star campaigners is exempt from being added to the election expenditure of a candidate.
  • However, this only applies when a star campaigner limits herself to a general campaign for the political party she represents.
  • If a candidate or her election agent shares the stage with a star campaigner at a rally, then the entire expenditure on that rally other than the travel expenses of the star campaigner is added to the candidate’s expenses.
  • Even if the candidate is not present at the star campaigner’s rally, but there are posters with her photographs or her name on display, then too the entire expenditure will be added to candidate’s account.
  • The same applies when the star campaigner even mentions the candidate’s name during the event.
  • When more than one candidate shares the stage, or there are posters with their photographs, then the expenses on such rally/meeting is equally be divided among the expenditure account of all such candidates.
  • Removal from the star campaigners’ list itself does not bar a person from campaigning.
  • That decision can only be taken by the EC.
  • However, the removal from the star campaigner’s list does make campaigning difficult for the person.
  • This is because whichever constituency the person will hold the election meeting or rally, irrespective of whether she limits herself to general party propaganda or not, the entire expenditure of the event will be added to the account of the candidate contesting from that seat.

EC revises downwards number of star campaigners allowed in elections during pandemic

  • The Election Commission has revised downwards the number of star campaigners to 30 instead of the 40 earlier for recognised national and State political parties.
  • Unrecognised, registered political parties can use 15 star campaigners instead of the earlier 20, during the period of the pandemic.
  • The commission has decided to extend the period of submission of the list of star campaigners to 10 days, from the earlier seven days, from the date of notification.

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