Essential Facts (Prelims): 16th Feb, 2019


MFN

Category: International

  • India revoked the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status of Pakistan.
  • Though the term MFN suggests special preference for the country given MFN status, it actually means it would be treated equally as all others.
  • According to the World Trade Organisation rules, countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners.
  • If one country is granted a trade concession such as, for example, lower import duties, then all WTO members must be extended the same concessions. This principle is known as the Most Favoured Nation treatment.
  • Pakistan has never granted MFN status to India. What does revoking.
  • Revoking MFN status means India can levy whatever import tariffs it wants. India can now make it very expensive for Pakistan to export its goods or services to India.
  • So far, India has only revoked the MFN status. It has not altered the import duties on Pakistan. However, if it does hike them, then this will likely have an impact on that country.
  • Revoking Pakistan’s MFN status seems to be more of a symbolic move.

PCSK9

Category: Science & technology

  • PCSK9 is a gene which particularly protects African-Americans against heart disease.
  • The PCSK9 discoveries led to the development of PCSK9 inhibitors, said to be the most effective drugs to lower cholesterol — or low density lipoprotein (LDL) — since statins.
  • While the PCSK9 may be critical for a category of heart disease patients, drugs were of limited utility if people had indulged in a lifetime of fatty food.

Gaganyaan

Category: Science & technology

  • Gaganyaan was announced on August 15, 2018 as a marquee mission for the 75th year of Independence.
  • It is slated to take place at a ‘near-Earth’ distance of 400 km.
  • Before that, two unmanned trial flights with human-friendly capsules are to be flown in 2020, carrying a few micro-gravity experiments.
  • The astronauts will be mainly trained at the IAF’s Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Bengaluru.

Langpih

Category: Geography

  • Langpih is a disputed place on the Assam-Meghalaya border, about 40 km west of Guwahati.
  • While Assam says the village is in the State’s Kamrup district, Meghalaya claims it falls in its West Khasi Hills district.

NDM-1

Category: Science & technology

  • The recent detection of the antibiotic resistant (AR) gene NDM-1, first isolated in India, in the Arctic region is a further indication of the globalisation of antimicrobial resistance.
  • In essence, AR is a natural phenomenon. Most antibiotics are produced by soil microorganisms and over time they have evolved to become resistant to the compounds which they excrete to survive.
  • NDM-1 was first reported in 2007 in a patient admitted to a hospital in New Delhi, but was reported to be present in Germany, the same year.
  • The first finding of NDM-1 in the environment, rather than a clinic setting, was in surface waters of Delhi, in 2010. So finding NDM-1 in the High Arctic three years after the first report of its presence in the environment was very intriguing. The results show how far reaching and fast resistance can move around the globe.
  • NDM-1 gene is present in highest concentrations near fresh water sources where wildlife tend to congregate.
  • Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) is a mechanism by which bacteria ‘trade’ AR, to mirror NDM-1.
  • MGEs are noteworthy here because they are often associated with ‘acquired’ resistance and are found at higher levels in human, or animal waste-impacted environments.
  • The findings point towards the involvement of migratory birds, who could carry the resistance in the gut and transfer it to the Arctic soil through faecal matter.
  • However, it is also possible that it may have migrated with humans and spread via local wildlife, or it may be a combination of factors.

Labour Bureau

Category: Economy

  • The Labour Bureau in India has been compiling and maintaining average daily wage rates in rural areas for select agricultural and non-agricultural occupations on the basis of data collected by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).
  • Data based on a 2017 survey show that the average daily wage rates for general agricultural labourers were ₹264.05 for men and ₹205.32 for women. It means that women workers in the sector get 22.24 per cent less than men.
  • To reduce the gender wage gap, the government has enacted Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, which provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work or work of similar nature without any discrimination.
  • To enforce the Act, Central and State governments conduct regular inspections. However, the rules and regulations do not seem to have bridged the gender gap.

PCR

Category: Economy

  • While public sector banks (PSBs) have substantially ramped up their loan-loss provisions and strengthened balance sheets in the first nine months of the current financial year, only 6 out of 21 PSBs, have crossed the ‘desirable’ level of 70 per cent provision coverage ratio (PCR) as of December-end 2018.
  • PCR is the ratio of provisioning to gross non-performing assets, and indicates the extent of funds a bank has kept aside to cover loan losses.

Tagore Award

Category: Miscellaneous

  • Tagore Award for Cultural Harmony was instituted by the Government of India from 2012 recognizing the contributions made by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to humanity at large with his works and ideas, as part of the Commemoration of his 150th Birth Anniversary in 2012, for promoting values of Cultural Harmony.
  • The Award may be divided between two persons / institutions who are considered by the Jury to be equally deserving of recognition in a given year.
  • This annual award is given to individuals, associations, institutions or organizations for their outstanding contribution towards promoting values of Cultural Harmony.
  • The Award is open to all persons regardless of nationality, race, language, caste, creed or gender.
  • Normally, contributions made during ten years immediately preceding the nomination are considered.
  • Older contributions may also be considered if their significance has become apparent only recently.
  • A written work, in order to be eligible for consideration, should have been published during the last ten years.
  • Work by a person since deceased cannot be the subject of an Award.

LADIS

Category: Infrastructure

  • Moving a step ahead towards ensuring optimum use of National Waterways, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) launched a new portal LADIS – Least Available Depth Information System here today.
  • LADIS will ensure that real-time data on least available depths is disseminatedfor ship/barge and cargo owners so that they can undertake transportation on NWs in a more planned way.
  • An assured depth of waterway is required for seamless movement of vessels. If real time information is made available regarding LADs in stretches of various NWs, it will help transporters by guiding them on the suitability of time of movement.
  • IWAI has designed LADIS to facilitate the day to day operations of inland vessels plying on National Waterways and to avoid any hindrance in service and operation.
  • It will enhance credibility and efficiency of information sharing to achieve seamless operations on National Waterways, besides pre-empting problems that may occur during movement of vessels.

e-Tourist Visa

Category: International

  • The e-Tourist Visa which was introduced in September 2014 with 46 countries has now been made applicable for 166 countries.
  • Recently, government has made series of amendments in e-visa regime, liberalizing it further and making it more tourist friendly.
  • Duration of stay in India of e-Tourist and e-Business Visas is maximum upto 1 Year with multiple entry subject to the stay stipulations.
  • Also, the existing restriction of allowing foreigner for a maximum of three times has also been removed.

Essential Facts (Prelims): 15th Feb, 2019


Minimum wages

Category: Social sector

  • An expert panel has recommended that a need-based national minimum wage for workers across the country be set at ₹375 per day, or ₹9,750 per month.
  • The Committee has also recommended different national minimum wages for different geographical regions of the country to suit the local realities and as per socio-economic and labour market contexts.
  • These regional wage recommendations range from ₹342 per day in some States including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to ₹447/day for States such as Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.
  • While the Minimum Wages Act was enacted in 1948, it stipulates different wages according to occupation and State; there is no national minimum wage.
  • In 2016, govt hiked minimum wages for unskilled non-agricultural workers by 42% to ₹350 per day.

Waste

Category: Environment

  • Nearly half of India’s waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, meant to convert non-biodegradable waste, are defunct.
  • Further, the country’s inability to segregate waste has resulted in even the existing plants working below capacity.
  • Since 1987, 15 WTE plants have been set up across the country. However, seven of these plants have shut down.
  • The key reasons for closure are the plants’ inability to handle mixed solid waste and the high cost of electricity generated by them that renders it unattractive to power companies.
  • The fundamental reason for the inefficiency of these plants is the quality and composition of waste.
  • MSW (municipal solid waste) in India has low calorific value and high moisture content.
  • As most wastes sent to the WTE plants are unsegregated, they also have high inert content.
  • These wastes are just not suitable for burning in these plants. To burn them, additional fuel is required which makes these plants expensive to run.
  • The NITI Aayog, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, envisages 800 megawatt from WTE plants by 2018-19, which is 10 times the capacity of all the existing WTE plants put together.

Defence pacts

Category: Defence & Security

  • India concluded defence cooperation and security protection agreements with Germany and Sweden.
  • The agreement will enable both the countries to share classified information with each other.

Houthi rebels

Category: International

  • The Houthi insurgency in Yemen also known as the Houthi rebellion, was a military rebellion pitting Zaidi Shia Houthis (though the movement also includes Sunnis) against the Yemeni military that began in Northern Yemen and has since escalated into a full-scale civil war.
  • The U.S., while not directly involved in combat in Yemen, has, since 2015, provided the Saudi-led coalition with support and intelligence for its war against Houthi rebels, who have some backing from Iran.

Rainfed farming

Category: Agriculture

  • Rainfed agriculture contributes to 60 per cent of the value of agriculture GDP of India.
  • However, there is a clear-cut bias towards irrigated areas when it comes to public investment in agriculture in the country.
  • This neglect, together with unsuitable programme design, has ensured that potential of rain-fed areas remains unrealised.
  • While farmers in irrigated areas earn 60 per cent of their income from agriculture, their counterparts in rainfed areas earn only 20-30 per cent from farm-related activities.
  • While the average yield in rainfed areas is about 1.1 tonnes per hectare, that in irrigated areas is about 2.8 tonnes per hectare.
  • About 61 per cent of India’s farmers rely on rainfed agriculture and 55 per cent of the gross cropped area is under rainfed farming.
  • While the government spent ₹5,40,000 crore on procuring rice and wheat at MSP (Minimum Support Price) between 2003-04 and 2012-13, its expenditure on procurement of major rainfed crops such as coarse cereals, millets and pulses during the same period was merely ₹3,200 crore.

Leprosy

Category: General Science/Social sector

  • Parliament passed a bill removing leprosy as a ground for divorce under five personal laws including the Hindu Marriage Act.
  • Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae.
  • It primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the skin, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract.
  • Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease

 

Gist of Editorials: A Tragedy that was long in the Making | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III


Issues with illegal coal mining in Meghalaya

  • Mining in Meghalaya is a private activity.
  • Mines are called rat-hole as they are barely ft wide.
  • Meghalaya govt has no concern with these mines.
  • Despite the NGT ban in 2014, mining continues.
  • Meghalaya is exempted from national mining laws.

Was the recent disaster managed well?

  • District administration assumed the miners to be dead on the very day of the tragedy.
  • Hydrologist, divers, high power water pumps,  geologists arrived only 2 weeks later from Hyderabad.
  • There was no one person or agency to coordinate the rescue mission.

Impact on environment

  • Poisoning of rivers
  • Non-productive agricultural land

Arguments given for coal mining

  • rat-hole mining should continue because no other form of mining is viable.
  • coal mining provides livelihoods for many.
  • since Meghalaya is under the Sixth Schedule, national mining laws should be exempted here..

 Conclusion

The  Central government and the Supreme Court should not allow this to carry on in one part of the country when strict laws are applied elsewhere.


 

Gist of Editorials: Limits of class | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II (Education)


Arguments given by pro-detention

  • Learning achievements come down.
  • Certificate of elementary education will certify no learning.

Arguments given by anti-detention

  • Fear of failure causes stress and trauma
  • Failure pushes children out of system
  • Detention will weaken many other provisions of RTE
  • Failing children does not make them learn

The limits  of ‘class’

  • The school is organised class-wise. Hence, the very concept of class contains the idea of detention.
  • The class-wise structure on one hand, and CCE on the other, pull the system in opposite directions.

Way forward

  • Defining elementary education in terms of learning standards;
  • Organising curriculum as a free-paced learning path
  • Organising schools as ungraded heterogeneous learning groups
  • Introduce the ideas of self-learning and peer group learning

Conclusion

All this will require systemic reforms and to prepare teachers for this change.


 

Gist of Editorials: Examining Farm Loan Waivers| GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III


Problems with loan waivers

  • They adversely affect the repayment discipline of farmers.
  • They do not led to increases in investment or productivity in agriculture.
  • A farmer’s access to formal sector lenders declines due to loan waivers.

Critical assessment of above arguments

  • Farmers are most disciplined in their repayment behaviour.
  • There is no evidence that loan waiver led to a rise in default rates among farmers.
  • Investment or productivity have not been the official objectives of loan waivers.
  • If loan waivers shrink access to formal credit, the culprits here are banks.

Arguments for loan waivers

Just like firms, farms also need a reduction of debt burden, followed by fresh infusion of credit, when their economic cycle is on a downturn.

Not a panacea

Access to India’s rural banks is skewed in favour of large farmers. Thus, the benefits of loan waivers accrue disproportionately to large farmers.

The solution

  • Waiver schemes should ensure universal coverage.
  • Waivers should cover both the formal and informal sources of debt.
  • Kerala Farmers’ Debt Relief Commission Act serves as an excellent model.
  • Agrarian distress needs urgent policy attention such as raising productivity, reducing costs of cultivation, enhance public investment, crop insurance, etc.

Gist of Editorials: Remove The Roots Of Farmers’ Distress| GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III


The farm problems

  • low agricultural prices
  • poor farm incomes
  • Low productivity in agriculture
  • supply side factors
  • declining average size of farm holdings

Prices And Incomes

  • The rise in prices for agriculture was much lower than general inflation in recent years.
  • Market prices for several agricultural commodities have been lower than those of MSP.
  • In the absence of an effective price support policy, farmers are faced with a loss in income.
  • Ways to deal with prices and incomes:
    • Schemes such as ‘price deficiency compensation’, ‘open procurement system’ ‘price deficiency’, etc. may compensate farmers when prices decrease.
    • Rythu Bandhu Scheme (Telangana) and the KALIA scheme (Odisha) can serve as models.
    • Market reforms combined with trade policies favourable to export.
    • Unified national market is needed for farmers to get better prices.
    • Agriculture has to go beyond farming and develop a value chain.

Low productivity

Ways to enhance productivity

  • Basics such as seeds, fertilizers, credit, land, etc should be taken care of.
  • Investment in infrastructure and research and development are needed.
  • Efficiency in water management in both canal and groundwater that is important.
  • Technology can help to reduce ‘yield gaps’ and thus improve productivity.
  • Shift from rice and wheat to millets, pulses, fruits, vegetables, livestock and fish.

Land size

  • Shrinking size of farms is also responsible for low incomes.
  • Consolidation of land holdings is important to raise farmer incomes.
  • Farmers can voluntarily come together and pool land to gain the benefits of size.
  • Through consolidation, farmers can benefit both in input procurement and output marketing.

Conclusion

Farmers’ distress is due to low prices and low productivity. We need a long-term policy to tackle the situation.