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DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS IAS | UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam – 23rd November 2021

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  • November 23, 2021
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(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)


The Global State of Democracy Report, 2021

Part of: Prelims and GS II – Polity 

Context The Global State of Democracy Report, 2021 was released. 

  • Released by: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

Key findings of the report 

  • The number of countries moving towards authoritarianism in 2020 was higher than that of countries going towards democracy.
  • Democratically elected Governments are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics.
  • Brazil and India were highlighted as “some of the most worrying examples of backsliding”. 
    • India remained in the category of a mid-level performing democracy.
  • The pandemic has thus had a particularly damaging effect on non-democratic countries.

U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF)

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – International relations

Context U.S. Trade Representative was recently in India to revive the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) after a four-year break.

India’s Regulatory norms as Key impediments to bilateral trade 

  • Market access restrictions
  • High tariffs
  • Unpredictable regulatory requirements
  • Restrictive trade measures

Areas with huge potential for growth

  • Digital economy
  • Services
  • Health-related trade 
  • Agriculture

Common challenges

  • Climate change and sustainability
  • Vulnerable supply chains 
  • Promoting market-oriented principles and structures

ICMR and booster dose

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – Health 

Context According to ICMR, There is no scientific evidence so far to support the need for a booster vaccine dose against COVID-19

  • According to officials, around 82% of the eligible population in India have received the first dose of the vaccine while around 43% have been fully vaccinated.

What is the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)?

  • ICMR, New Delhi is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination, and promotion of biomedical research. 
  • Ministry: Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. 
  • It is funded by the Government of India 
  • The Governing Body of ICMR is presided over by the Union Health Minister.

‘Har Ghar Dastak ’ campaign


All-India Survey on Domestic Workers

Part of: Prelims and GS-III – Economy 

Context The first All-India Survey on Domestic Workers was launched recently.

  • Ministry: Labour and Employment Ministry
  • First-of-its-kind survey in India

Key takeaways 

  • The survey would be completed in a year.
  • Carried out by: Labour Bureau
  • Aim: 
    • Estimating the number of domestic workers at the national and State levels
    • Those engaged in informal employment
    • Migrant and non-migrant workers
    • Domestic workers staying at their employers’ homes and those who do not; their wages
  • Broad parameters to be covered:
    • Household Characteristics such as HH size, Religion, Social Group.
    • Demographic Characteristics such as Name, Age, 
    • Age of entry, Social Group, Migrant status, Vocational Training/Education
    • Information on Employer Households

Defence alliance, AUKUS

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – International relations and GS-III- Defence and security

Context Australia, USA and UK recently Signed an agreement allowing the exchange of sensitive “naval nuclear propulsion information” between their nations under AUKUS alliance.

Key takeaways 

  • It is the first agreement on the technology to be signed since formation of the alliance.
    • AUKUS was particularly formed to confront strategic tensions in the Pacific where China-US rivalry is growing.
  • The deal will help Australia to complete an 18-month study into submarine procurement.

About AUKUS deal

  • Under the AUKUS deal, Australia would obtain eight state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered but conventionally armed submarines capable of stealthy, long-range missions.

(News from PIB)


India’s first Virtual Science Lab for children

Part of: Prelims 

In News: India’s first Virtual Science Lab for children under CSIR Jigyasa programme, which will also connect students with scientists across the country has been launched.

  • This will not only take science to all segments of students in every corner of the country, but it is also in tune with the National Education Policy (NEP), where students are allowed to choose any subject and the concept of streams has been disbanded
  • CSIR has partnered with IIT Bombay to develop a Virtual Lab platform under CSIR Jigyasa programme, which facilitates classroom learning with laboratory research for school students.
  • The main aim of the Virtual Lab is to provide quality research exposure and innovative pedagogy for school students to drive their scientific curiosity based on an online interactive medium with simulated experiments, pedagogy based content, videos, chat forums, animations, gaming, quiz, facility sharing, webinars etc.
  • Will enable curiosity driven research based concepts, encourage higher order thinking skills, promote entrepreneurship and develop passion about science

News Source: PIB


(Mains Focus)


AGRICULTURE/ GOVERNANCE

  • GS-3: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 

Reforming the Fertilizer Sector

Context: Since 1991, when economic reforms began in India, several attempts have been made to reform the fertilizer sector to 

  • Keep a check on the rising fertilizer subsidy bill
  • Promote the efficient use of fertilizers
  • Achieve balanced use of N, P and K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), 
  • Reduce water and air pollution caused by fertilizers like urea. 

What are the issues with Fertiliser Subsidies in India?

  1. Failed attempt to increase Price of Fertilizer
  • The Economic Survey of 1991-92 noted that fertilizer prices remained almost unchanged from July 1981 to July 1991. 
  • The Union Budget of July 1991 raised the issue prices of fertilizers by 40% on average. But from August that year, this was reduced to 30%, and small and marginal farmers were exempted from the price increase. 
  • The Economic Survey further noted that even with this 30% increase, fertilizer subsidy remained substantial and needed to be reduced further.
  • More recently, Fertilizer subsidy has doubled in a short period of three years. For 2021-22, the Union Budget has estimated fertilizer subsidy at ₹79,530 crore (from ₹66,468 crore in 2017-18)
  1. Disproportionate use of Urea
  • Due to opposition to increase fertilizer prices, the increase in the price of urea was rolled back to 17% in 1992 over the pre-reform price.
  • This change disturbed the relative prices of various fertilizers and resulted in a big shift in the composition of fertilizers used in the country in favour of urea and thus N. 
  • The ratio of use of N:P:K increased from 5.9:2.4:1 in 1991-92 to 9.7:2.9:1 in 1993-94
  • Rather, there has been an uncontrolled increase in subsidies on urea, due to almost freezing the MRP of urea in different time periods and its rising sale due to low cost.
  1. Inter-State disparities in fertilizer subsidy
  • In 2019-20, fertilizer use per hectare of cultivated area varied from 70 kg of NPK in Rajasthan to 250 kg in Telangana.
  • N,P,K ratio was 33.7:8.0:1 in Punjab and 1.3:0.7:1 in Kerala. 
  • All these have implications for inter-State disparities in fertilizer subsidy due to high variations in subsidy content, which is highly biased towards urea and thus nitrogen.
  1. Import Dependence
  • The total demand for urea in the country is about 34-35 million tonnes (mln t) whereas the domestic production is about 25 mln t. 
  • The requirement of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) is about 12 mln t and domestic production is just 5 mln t. 
  • This leaves the gap of nearly 9-10 mln t for urea and 7 mln t for DAP, which is met through imports. 
  • In addition, consumption of complex fertilizers (NPK) is about 12-13 mln t, which is largely produced within the country and so the import requirement is only 1 mln t.
  1. Volatile International Prices creating fiscal challenges
  • Of late, there has been a surge in international prices with urea prices rising to a record level of over $900 per metric tonne (mt) in November 2021 from nearly $270 per mt in September 2020. 
  • Likewise, the international prices of DAP have risen from about $360 per mt in September 2020 to about $825 per mt in November 2021.
  • In order to minimise the impact of rise in prices on farmers, the bulk of the price rise is absorbed by the government through enhanced fertilizer subsidy. This is likely to create serious fiscal challenges.
  1. Subsidy burden borne by Tax payers
  • At current prices, farmers pay about ₹268 per bag of urea and the Government of India pays an average subsidy of about ₹930 per bag. 
  • Thus, taxpayers bear 78% of the cost of urea and farmers pay only 22%. This is expected to increase and is not sustainable. 
  1. Demand of subsidy for organic fertilizer
  • Concerned with the adverse environmental impact of certain chemical fertilizers, some sections of society suggest the use of organic fertilizers and biofertilizers instead. 
  • There is a growing demand to provide subsidies and other incentives for organic fertilizers and biofertilizers to match those provided for chemical fertilizers.

The Way Forward

In order to address the multiple goals of fertilizer policy, we need to simultaneously work on four key policy areas. 

  • One, we need to be self-reliant and not depend on import of fertilizers. In this way, we can escape the vagaries of high volatility in international prices. 
    • In this direction, five urea plants at Gorakhpur, Sindri, Barauni, Talcher and Ramagundam are being revived in the public sector. 
  • Two, we need to extend the Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) model to urea and allow for price rationalisation of urea compared to non-nitrogenous fertilizers and prices of crops.
  • Three, we need to develop alternative sources of nutrition for plants like organic and biofertilizers. This also provides the scope to use a large biomass of crop that goes waste and enhance the value of livestock byproducts. 
  • Finally, India should pay attention to improving fertilizer efficiency through need-based use rather than broadcasting fertilizer in the field. Ex: Nano Urea by IFFCO.

Conclusion

The above changes will go a long way in enhancing the productivity of agriculture, mitigating climate change, providing an alternative to chemical fertilizers and balancing the fiscal impact of fertilizer subsidy on the Union Budgets in the years to come.

Can you answer this question now?

Examine the distorting impact of agricultural subsidies. What reforms are needed to streamline the subsidy regime in India? Discuss


POLITY/ GOVERNANCE

  • GS-3: Indian Economy & its challenges
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

India’s Coal Usage under Scrutiny

Context: On the final day of the UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, India’s Minister for Environment read out a statement promising to “phase down” rather than “phase out” the use of coal. 

  • This caused many to raise questions about India’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Why must dependence on coal be reduced?

  • Since carbon emissions are considered the main culprit in global warming, countries have been committing themselves to turning carbon neutral by various dates. 
  • One key way to achieve carbon neutrality, wherein countries compensate for their carbon emissions by capturing an equal amount of carbon from the atmosphere, is to reduce dependence on coal. 
  • Coal is the most polluting among fossil fuels, and hence, its use in particular has come under scrutiny.

Why is it difficult?

  • Coal is used to meet over 70% of India’s electricity needs. Most of this coal comes from domestic mines. 
  • In FY 2020-21, India produced 716 million tonnes of coal, compared with 431 million tonnes a decade ago. 
  • Since FY 2018-19, domestic production has stagnated and has been unable to meet the rising domestic demand, leading to a rise in imports. 
  • Most of the country’s coal production is limited to Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh with a total production of over 550 million tonnes, contributing to over 75% of the country’s total coal production. 
  • The Prime Minister promised to increase non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, meet 50% energy needs from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes in a decade. 
  • According to an estimate by the Centre for Science and Environment, the promise to reduce emissions by 1 billion tonnes means that India would need to reduce its carbon output by 22% by 2030. 
  • India now meets about 12% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, and increasing it to 50% by 2030 will be difficult. 
  • While some renewable energy sources like solar are cheap, they are unreliable because of the intermittency problem. They thus require the use of storage batteries, which adds to the cost
  • Further, the damage that coal causes to commonly owned resources like the environment is not factored into its cost. So, there is not much economic incentive for countries to limit or to end their massive reliance on coal.

Is it fair to ask India to phase out coal?

  • India has fought attempts by developed countries to impose a cap on its emissions. 
  • It has argued that adopting stringent steps to reduce carbon emissions can drag down growth and affect efforts to reduce poverty
  • It should also be noted that per capita carbon emissions of countries such as India and China are still lower than those of many developed countries. According to World Bank data of 2018, India produces 1.8 metric tonnes of carbon emissions per capita (15.2 for USA).
  • Experts believe India’s commitment to phase down coal and become carbon neutral may actually be a rather generous commitment than what developed countries have committed themselves to. 
  • Critics have also pointed out that the focus on ending the use of coal deflects attention from other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas that are heavily used by developed countries. 
  • They also say developed countries have not made good on their climate finance  promise made at COP15 in Copenhagen to offer $100 billion every year to developing countries to achieve net zero emissions.

What lies ahead?

  • It is highly unlikely that developing countries like India and China will reduce their coal consumption or even stop it from rising further. 
  • Coal, after all, is the cheapest and most reliable way to meet their rising energy needs. Further, the pledges made by countries at COP26 to reach net zero emissions or to phase down coal are not legally binding. 
  • Some leaders have proposed a carbon tax as an alternative to ensure that the price of coal reflects the cost of the damage it causes to the environment. This may turn out to be a more effective approach towards reining in carbon emissions. 
  • Coal on average is priced at $2, while experts believe that it should be priced in the range of $30 to $70 to reflect its true cost. 
  • But such high carbon taxes can cause a drastic fall in coal output and severely affect living standards unless alternative sources of energy step in to fill the gap. India also faces its own set of structural problems in the power sector that will make the transition towards clean energy harder. 
  • The pricing of power, for instance, is influenced by populist politics which may hinder private investment in renewable energy.

Connecting the dots:


(Down to Earth: Health)


Nov 20: Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2021: Why India needs to re-examine its pediatric practices – https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/health/antimicrobial-awareness-week-2021-why-india-needs-to-re-examine-its-pediatric-practices-80242  

TOPIC:

  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Context: India has one of the largest pediatric populations in the world: Those under 18 years comprise over 40 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion.

Pediatric healthcare, therefore, has a critical role in the overall health benefits for the country. It is unfortunate that multi-drug resistant bacterial infections are rampant in this population, which has led to life-threatening serious infections even in a newborn.

The term antimicrobial is used for medicines targeting living microbes

  • Includes antibiotics for bacterial infections, anti-virals for viral infections, antifungals for fungal infections, and anti-parasitics for infections caused by parasites.
  • The term broadly defines how medicines that worked efficiently earlier are unable to destroy microbes causing the disease.

An unprecedented rise in antimicrobial resistance globally threatens to reverse the achievements of modern medicine. 

  • The biggest driver of antimicrobial resistance is the use of antimicrobials themselves, which leads to selective pressure among the microbes to survive the effect of the antimicrobials and become resistant to their effect.
  • The resistant mechanisms are passed from one bacteria to another.

How do we deal with it?

The options to treat antimicrobial-resistant bacteria are limited. The drugs are expensive and have side effects. The only solution in hand is to reduce the resistance rates by avoiding antibiotics when not indicated as well as choosing the right drug, dose, interval, route and duration only when needed.

The pediatric population is vulnerable to respiratory and diarrhea infections owing to a weaker immunity compared to the older population. 

  • A majority of these infections are caused by viruses that cause fever, running nose, cough and watery diarrhea.
  • Viral infections are usually self-limiting and require only medicines to relieve symptoms; paracetamol, for example, brings down the fever. A saline nose drop relieves a blocked nose.
  • Antibiotics that are meant to treat bacterial infections have no effect on viruses. And yet, antibiotics are widely misused.
  • Children often receive multiple courses of antibiotics every year since viral infections are recurrent. This problem is further precipitated in children who have hypersensitive airways that make them cough whenever there is a change in climatic conditions or pollution levels. These conditions are often mistaken as bacterial pneumonia and are treated unnecessarily with antibiotics.

The problems are multifold. 

  • At the prescriber’s end, the antibiotic abuse takes place because of difficulty to differentiate between viral and bacterial infections; the latter having an adverse impact if antibiotics are not started in time.
  • The lack of inexpensive confirmatory tests that can help differentiate between viral and bacterial respiratory infections compounds the challenge. 
  • Antibiotics are misused either due to lack of clinical skill / lack of diagnostic facility or the fear and insecurity of losing a patient to another prescriber.
  • Heavy patient load also causes interference in the time that needs to be devoted for history and physical examination; antibiotics are prescribed more often to safeguard oneself just in case a bacterial infection is missed. Most of these issues can be tackled by training doctors and communicating with parents / guardians on managing symptoms.
  • The antibiotics are many a time misused by users, parents, and patients: They self-medicate by buying antibiotics without a prescription.

Steps being taken 

  • A national guideline released in 2016 included recommended treatment for common illnesses in children. Many antibiotics have been brought under H1 category and with a redline on the label so that these are not sold over the counter without a valid prescription.
  • The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) has been actively involved in increasing awareness about antibiotic misuse and practice rational antibiotics. This is being done through educational tools like conferences, webinars, workshops, textbooks , etc.

But there is no system in place to monitor or regulate antibiotic use in the community. The antimicrobial stewardship practices followed by the developed countries rely on leadership commitment, inputs from infectious disease physicians / clinical pharmacists and require resources of time, personnel and IT support. 

The Way Forward

The ‘One Health’ approach of addressing all stakeholders is the best way forward. 

  • Comprehensive Surveillance Framework: To track the spread of resistance in microbes, surveillance measures to identify these organisms need to expand beyond hospitals and encompass livestock, wastewater and farm run-offs. 
  • Sustained Investments: Finally, since microbes will inevitably continue to evolve and become resistant even to new antimicrobials, we need sustained investments and global coordination to detect and combat new resistant strains on an ongoing basis.
  • Managing Pharmaceutical Waste: Given the critical role of manufacturing and environmental contamination in spreading AMR through pharmaceutical waste, there is a need to look into measures to curb the amount of active antibiotics released in pharmaceutical waste.
  • Controlled Prescription & Consumer Awareness: Efforts to control prescription through provider incentives should be accompanied by efforts to educate consumers to reduce inappropriate demand.
  • Multi-sectoral Coordination: AMR must no longer be the remit solely of the health sector, but needs engagement from a wide range of stakeholders, representing agriculture, trade and the environment. Solutions in clinical medicine must be integrated with improved surveillance of AMR in agriculture, animal health and the environment. 
  • Public awareness about the need for judicious use of antimicrobials needs to be ramped up. This would help physicians to not resort to antimicrobials just for satisfying the health seeker.
  • Better and rapid diagnostic facilities: The availability of rapid diagnostic tests such as rapid malarial antigen test, Dengue NS1 Antigen test, etc., has revolutionised the time taken to confirm a clinical diagnosis and give appropriate treatment.

The country needs stringent regulations to avoid irrational antibiotic combinations as well as over-the-counter availability of antibiotics. Vaccination plays an important role in preventing bacterial diseases such as pneumonia, typhoid, diphtheria, meningitis, whooping cough, etc.  

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. A bigger challenge lies in checking irrational use of antimicrobials for common viral illnesses that a majority of children suffer from. Discuss. 

(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)


Model questions: (You can now post your answers in comment section)

Note:

  • Correct answers of today’s questions will be provided in next day’s DNA section. Kindly refer to it and update your answers.

Q.1 The first All-India Survey on Domestic Workers was launched recently by which of the following Ministry?

  1. Ministry of Statistics
  2. Ministry of Labour and Employment 
  3. Ministry of Finance
  4. None of the above

Q.2 ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ campaign is associated with which of the following?

  1. Polio vaccination
  2. Education campaign for girls
  3. COVID-19 vaccination 
  4. Job campaign for immigrants

Q.3 Consider the following statements regarding Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)?

  1. ICMR is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination, and promotion of biomedical research. 
  2. It comes under the Ministry of Biotechnology . 

Select the correct answer from the following codes:

  1. Only 1
  2. Only 2
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2 

ANSWERS FOR 22nd Nov 2021 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)

1 A
2 D
3 B

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