- According to the scientists, forest fires have been occurring in India from at least 60,000 years ago, ever since modern humans appeared here.
- In fact, several native trees and plants in these landscapes have “co-evolved” with fire: fire helps revive dormant seeds of many species.
- The concept of fires being entirely detrimental to these ecosystems, argue the signatory scientists, has been derived from a colonial concept that looked at forests only for their timber potential. As a result, fire exclusion and suppression is the norm.
- Fires even suppressing invasive species.
- High-intensity fires would have negative effects, but they happen only because dry biomass has been allowed to build up and low-intensity controlled burning has been stopped.
- Controlled fires in areas that have huge fuel loads (dry litter and biomass on the forest floor) can help prevent as well as reduce the impact of large fires later in the season.
- If an area is continuously protected from fire, it could catch fire once in four years or so because of the high accumulation of grass, wood and twigs.
Category: Physical geography
- Palghar district in Maharashtra, which has seen thousands of small earthquakes since November 2018, experienced a quake measuring 4.3 on the moment magnitude (Mw) scale.
- This is the first time the magnitude has crossed 4 here, with tremors felt even in Mumbai.
- Scientists, however, are divided on the primary cause of this phenomenon. Some believe it is related to groundwater levels, and others attribute it to tectonic activity.
- If high groundwater is the cause, the quakes may remain small. This phenomenon, called hydro-seismicity, is common across the Deccan plateau.
- However, another hypothesis is that intra-plate tectonic forces could be generating stresses along faults in Palghar. Such a mechanism is believed to be behind the 1993 Latur earthquake.
- If intra-plate activity is the cause, Palghar could see larger, more destructive quakes.
- Till a while ago, seismologists believed the driver behind the Palghar activity was hydroseismicity. In this phenomenon, rainwater enters the existing faults in the earth’s crust. This increases pressure, which is released through small earthquakes.
- Such earthquakes typically measure less than 4 Mw and subside by December. They are also very shallow, typically emerging from within 4-5 km underground. In contrast, the Palghar quakes have continued into February, indicating that tectonic activity is at play. Also, a few of the temblors originated from 15 km underground, deeper than most hydroseismic quakes.
- Manufacturing activity expanded to a 14-month high of 54.3 in February.
- A reading over 50 denotes an expansion in activity and one below 50 shows a contraction.
- India’s minimum support price (MSP) programme for pulses has come under greater scrutiny at the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the US, Canada and Australia serving it a formal counter-notification, alleging that the subsidy involved was much higher than the permitted cap.
- Defending itself at the agriculture committee meeting this week in Geneva, India said the calculations of MSP made by the US and Canada were incorrect and stressed that its price support programme for pulses was only to ensure nutrition supply for 195 million poor people.
- The five pulses covered under MSP are chickpeas, pigeon peas, black matpe, mung beans and lentils. Contrary to India’s reported number of 1.5 per cent of total value of production, Canada and the US believed India’s MPS (market price support) for pulses was actually between 31-85 per cent, vastly exceeding its de minimis limits (cap) of 10 per cent of the total value of production.
- Although India and a number of developing countries have been demanding that food procurement subsidies should not be capped, WTO members are yet to arrive at a “permanent solution” to the problem.
Sovereign Patent Fund
Category : Economy
- The National Electronics Policy (NEP) 2019 aims to create a Sovereign Patent Fund (SPF) — a State-led investment fund that will acquire Intellectual Property (IP) assets important to national economic objectives.
- The fund can develop a domestic innovation ecosystem, acquire critical IP and reduce the knowledge gap, as well as help generate new businesses based on the IP assets owned by Indian corporates.
- Through the SPF, India can have licensing deals with IP holders and secure IP for Indian manufacturing units, thus connecting technical know-how with business needs.
- Scientists in Dubai are developing crops like quinoa that can thrive in the salty soils intruding into the world’s crop lands.
- Dubai is trying to help farmers in the Middle East and beyond earn a living from unlikely plants known as halophytes. These plants, from trendy quinoa to obscure salicornia, flourish in salty and arid environments where staple crops like wheat or rice would wither.
- Quinoa is a protein-rich, gluten-free grain that tastes like nutty rice that grows especially well in salty soil.
- In a bid to enter the top 50 ranking in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) Index, the Customs Department has announced further reforms under the name of Turant Customs for speedy clearance of goods at air and sea ports.
- A critical component of EoDB index rankings 2019 is the ‘Trading Across Borders’ category in which India is ranked 80, as compared with 146 in 2018. This was possible due to reforms like Single Window Interface for Facilitating Trade, e-Sanchit (e-Storage and computerised handling of indirect tax documents), and Direct Port Delivery.
- Now, under Turant Customs, one of the major changes will be in Indian Customs Electronic Data Interchange System (ICES) 1.5 for clearance of imported goods after assessment and duty payment.
- The officer concerned will now have access to a fully automated queue of Bill of Entry ready for granting clearance in ICES 1.5. This obviates the necessity of importers having to present the BoE number and date to the officer for clearance. So, the officer will be able to immediately provide clearance on the system. Turant Customs will reduce dwell-time.
Relevance : GS Paper II( Social Sector)
[ 1500 words summarized to 200 ]
Recently, Rahul Gandhi promised Minimum Income Guarantee for the poor.
Inferences from Minimum Income proposal
- market-led economic growth cannot by itself end poverty.
- direct state support to families is needed.
- strive to build a redistributive welfare state.
Questions that arise
- How the households will be identified ?
- What the scale of assistance would be?
- How the required resources will be raised?
Problems in executing Minimum Income Program
- greater chance of exclusion of the poor.
- no objective way of evaluating incomes of households in the informal sector.
- Poverty-selections give too much discretion to the field bureaucracy
- Funds required will be re-appropriated from those spent on other program.
- food transfers are far more likely to be effective than cash transfers to end hunger
- Cash transfers also are inflationary in ways that food transfers are not.
- There should be no cutting back on existing subsidies to the poor
- Subsidies to the middle-classes can be curtailed
- taxing the wealth of super-rich
- Ending the tax holidays to private businesses
- maternity benefits for all women in informal work
- transfers to farmers for every acre of land they cultivate
- Expanding the National Employment Guarantee Scheme
- universal public healthcare and public-funded education at all levels.
Relevance : GS Paper II / GS IV (Governance)
[ 1000 words summarized to 100 ]
Recently, more than 100 people died due to toxic alcohol in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Major factors responsible for alcohol poisoning
- Lack of affordable liquor for the poor
- High taxes and excise raise prices
- Collusion between criminals and law enforcement personnel.
- Bottlenecks in consumption of liquor are proving counterproductive.
- An enlightened policy
- zero tolerance
- social campaigns
- reviewing levies on less harmful beverages
- investigate nexus with the authorities.
- capacities of the health system be upgraded
- Timely treatment
Category: Polity & Governance
- Government approved the promulgation of an Ordinance to allow voluntary submission of Aadhaar as identity proof for use by private entities such as banks, telcos and fintech firms.
- The Ordinance also gives a child an option to exit from Aadhaar on attaining 18 years of age.
- It also provides for civil penalties for violations of the Aadhaar Act.
- Further, it provides for an alternate virtual identity to conceal the actual Aadhaar number.
Category: Polity & Governance
- Those not having their Electors Photo Identity Cards can now show any of the 11 alternative documents, including Aadhaar card, for exercising their franchise.
- Henceforth, photo voter slip will not be accepted as a standalone identification paper.
- If an elector produces a card issued by the Electoral Registration Officer of another Assembly constituency, such card will be accepted.
Category: Polity & Governance
- The Union Cabinet approved the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019.
- It will pave the way to extend reservation in jobs, promotions and education to people living 10 km from the International Border (IB) in Jammu.
- Earlier the benefits were only reserved for people living 10 km beyond the Line of Control (LoC) and affected by shelling and firing from across the border.
- The ordinance in no way affected the rights of people of the State nor did it tinker with Article 35-A.
- Article 35-A provides special rights and privileges to permanent residents of J&K.
- The 740 km LoC in J&K is under the operational control of the Army and 192 km IB in Jammu is manned by the BSF.
- Since the State was under President’s rule, the ordinance had to be cleared by the Centre.
National Mineral Policy 2019
Some of the features in the policy include:
- the introduction of the right of first refusal for the reconnaissance permit (RP)
- encouraging the private sector to take up exploration and the auctioning of virgin areas on a revenue- sharing basis.
Software Product Policy
Category: Science & Tech
- The Union Cabinet approved the National Policy on Software Products 2019.
- The policy aims to help the industry grow at CAGR of 40% to reach $70-80 billion by 2025, while creating employment opportunities for 3.5 million people.
- It aims to adopt a shift in strategy so that IT products also contribute equitably and significantly to the industry along with IT services.
- It proposes to create a ₹5,000-crore fund with industry participation to promote emerging technology such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Big Data and robotics. Of this, government contribution will be ₹1,000 crore.
- It aims to nurture 10,000 technology start-ups in software product industry, including 1,000 such start-ups in tier-II and tier-III towns.
- It also proposes up-skilling of 10 lakh IT professionals as well specialise 10,000 professionals to “provide leadership.”
- The Union Cabinet approved the implementation of second phase of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles or FAME with an outlay of ₹10,000 crore for three years.
- The main objective is to encourage faster adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles.
- International boundaries will not come in the way of conservation of rhinos, said representatives of Asian countries where the one-horned herbivore thrives.
- The New Delhi Declaration underscored trans-boundary collaboration among India, Nepal, and Bhutan for the conservation and protection of the greater one-horned rhino.
- There are no rhinos in Bhutan, but some from the Manas National Park in adjoining Assam or Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal are known to cross over occasionally.
- Indonesia and Malaysia are the other Asian countries where the last of the rhinos live.
- The current global population of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros is 3,584. Assam’s Kaziranga National Park has the bulk of 2,938 rhinos in India while Nepal 646.
- Once ranging from China to Bangladesh, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos are nearing extinction.
- The Sumatran rhino, the smallest of all rhino species and the only Asian rhino with two horns, became extinct in the wild in Malaysia.
- Sumatran rhino is critically endangered.
RBI Task Force
- The Reserve Bank of India has constituted an eight-member task force, headed by Usha Thorat to appropriate policy measures to ensure the stability of the external value of the rupee.
The terms of reference of the task force include:
- assessing the causes behind the development of the offshore rupee market;
- study the effects of the offshore markets on the rupee exchange rate and liquidity in the domestic market; and
- recommend measures to address concerns, if any, that may arise out of offshore rupee trading.
- The task force will also propose measures to generate incentives for non-residents to access the domestic market.
- It will also examine the role, if any, that the International Financial Services Centres (IFSCs) can play in addressing these concerns.
Bilateral Swap Arrangement
Category : International
- Agreement for Bilateral Swap Arrangement (BSA) has been signed between India and Japan.
- This BSA provides for India to access 75 billion in US dollars whereas the earlier BSA had provided for US $50 billion.
- India can access the agreed amount of USD 75 billion for its domestic currency, for the purpose of maintaining an appropriate level of balance of payments or short-term liquidity.
- A part of the BSA can be accessed at the discretion of India.
- The BSA provides India flexibility to use foreign exchange reserves if at any point of time there is need to use the resources available under BSA.