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DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS IAS | UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam – 18th December 2021

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  • December 18, 2021
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(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)


Biological Diversity Act , 2002

Part of: Prelims and GS-III -Environment

Context The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021, introduced in the Lok Sabha, exempts Ayush practitioners from the ambit of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. 

  • It also facilitates access to biological resources and traditional knowledge by the Indian traditional medicine sector. 
  • Legal experts have expressed concerns that easing the norms for the sector could be detrimental to ecology and go against the principle of sharing commercial benefits with indigenous communities.

What is the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021?

  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was enacted for the conservation of biological diversity and fair, equitable sharing of the monetary benefits from the commercial use of biological resources and traditional knowledge. 
  • Now, according to the Bill, it seeks to reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants by encouraging their cultivation 
  • It exempts Ayush practitioners from intimating biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources or knowledge
  • It facilitates fast-tracking of research, simplify the patent application process, decriminalises certain offences;
  • It brings more foreign investments in biological resources, research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the national interest.

CCI fines Amazon for Rs. 200 crore

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – Polity 

Context The Competition Commission of India (CCI) froze its approval given in November 2019 to Amazon’s investment in a Future Group unit on the grounds that the Amazon had suppressed the scope and full details of its investment while seeking regulatory approval.

About Competition Commission of India (CCI) 

  • It is a statutory body established in 2003 and became fully functional in 2009. 
  • It is responsible for enforcing The Competition Act, 2002 throughout India.
    • The Act prohibits anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position by enterprises. 
    • The Act regulates combinations (acquisition, acquiring of control and Merger and acquisition), which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India. 
  • Composition: A Chairperson and 6 Members appointed by the Central Government. 
  • Eligibility: Person should be qualified to be a judge of a High Court, or, has special knowledge of, and professional experience of not less than fifteen years in international trade, economics, commerce, law, finance. 
  • Duties:
    • eliminate practises having adverse effect on competition
    • promote and sustain competition.
    • protect the interests of consumers.
    • ensure freedom of trade in the markets of India.

Covovax

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – Health

Context The WHO said it had granted emergency approval to the India-manufactured coronavirus vaccine Covovax.

Key takeaways 

  • The vaccine is produced by the Serum Institute of India under licence from the U.S.-based Novavax. 
  • It will now be distributed as part of global vaccine-sharing system COVAX
  • Covovax requires two doses and is stable at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius refrigerated temperatures.

What is COVAX? 

  • The COVAX program is led by the vaccine alliance GAVI, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in partnership with UNICEF, vaccine manufacturers and the World Bank, among others.
  • Aim: To ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally 
  • It is supposed to be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.
  • The program wants to vaccinate roughly 20% of the population in the 92 Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries, which include middle and lower-income nations that cannot afford to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. 

JCP on the Personal Data Protection Bill

Part of: Prelims and GS II – Polity and governance 

Context The Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) on the Personal Data Protection Bill tabled its report in both Houses.

Major recommendations

  • Non-Personal Too:  The nature of the Bill itself is for inclusion of non-personal data within the larger umbrella. All issues under the new legislation will be dealt with by a single Data Protection Authority (DPA) instead of separate ones for personal and non-personal.
  • Transition Period: To ensure that all such data aggregators get ample time to comply with the rules under the new Bill, the JCP suggested that up to 24 months be given from the date of notification of the Act.
  • Social Media Liability: Social media platforms that do not act as intermediaries should be treated as publishers, and therefore be held liable for the content they host.
  • Penalty: A fine of up to Rs 15 crore or 4% of the total global turnover of the firm for data breaches, and a jail term of up to 3 years if de-identified data is re-identified.
  • Timely Alert: In case of any data breach, the data aggregator must notify the DPA within 72 hours of becoming aware of it.

Miscellaneous

Order of the Druk Gyalpo

  • The King of Bhutan conferred its highest civilian award, the Order of the Druk Gyalpo, on India’s Prime Minister on the occasion of Bhutan’s National Day.

Tamil Thai Vaazhthu 

  • The Tamil Nadu government has declared Tamil Thai Vaazhthu, a prayer song sung in praise of Mother Tamil, as the State Song.
  • A Government Order (GO) had been issued directing that everyone who is present during the rendition of the song, barring differently abled persons, should remain standing.
  • Government order has come less than two weeks after the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court said that “There is no statutory or executive order requiring the attendees to stand up when Tamil Thai Vaazhthu is sung.”

(News from PIB)


Granting Industry Status to Agriculture

Part of: Prelims and Mains GS-III: Agriculture

In News: Agriculture plays a vital role in the country’s economy and giving the importance to agriculture sector, the Government has substantially enhanced the budget allocation for the agriculture sector. 

Significance: The Government seeks to bestow on the agriculture sector as many benefits as available to those in the manufacturing sector, such as, easy availability of credit and other inputs and infrastructure facilities for development of agriculture sector including marketing and post-harvest management.

  1. Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN): To provide income support to all farmers’ families across the country, to enable them to take care of expenses related to agriculture and allied activities as well as domestic needs
  2. Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana (PM-KMY): To provide social security net for Small and Marginal Farmers (SMF) as they have minimal or no savings to provide for old age and to support them in the event of consequent loss of livelihood 
  3. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY): To provide better insurance coverage to crops for risk mitigation, a crop insurance scheme namely Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) was launched 
  4. Minimum Support Price (MSPs): Increased in the Minimum Support Price (MSPs) for all Kharif & Rabi crops. 
  5. Soil Health Cards: Distribution of Soil Health Cards to farmers so that the use of fertilizers can be rationalized. Soil health cards have been issued free of cost to nearly 11 crore farmers under a nationwide program.
  6. “Per drop more crop” initiative under which drip/sprinkler irrigation is being encouraged for optimal utilization of water, reducing cost of inputs and increasing productivity. Per Drop More Crop component of Pradhanmantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY_PDMC) aims to increase water use efficiency at the farm level through Micro Irrigation technologies, i.e., drip and sprinkler irrigation systems.
  7. Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) for promoting organic farming. 
  8. National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) scheme: Launch of e-NAM initiative to provide farmers with transparent and competitive online trading platform.
  9. Har Med ParPed: Under the scheme, agro forestry is being promoted for additional income. With the amendment of Indian Forest Act, 1927, Bamboo has been removed from the definition of trees. A restructured National Bamboo Mission has been launched in the year 2018 to promote bamboo plantation on non-forest government as well as private land and emphasis on value addition, product development and markets.
  10. Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (PMAASHA): Aimed at ensuring remunerative prices to the farmers for the produce as announced in the Union Budget for 2018.  This is an unprecedented step taken by Govt. of India to protect the farmers’ income which is expected to go a long way towards the welfare of farmers.
  11. Price Support Scheme (PSS): Increase in procurement under PSS 
  12. Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH): Bee keeping has been promoted under Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) to increase the productivity of crops through pollination and increase the honey production as an additional source of income of farmers.
  13. Institutional Credit for Agriculture: To ensure flow of adequate credit, Government sets annual target for the flow of credit to the agriculture sector, Banks have been consistently surpassing the annual target. 
  14. Interest Subvention Scheme: Extending the reach of institutional credit to more and more farmers is priority area of the Government and to achieve this goal, the Government provides interest subvention of 2% on short-term crop loans up to Rs. 3.00 lakh. Further, under Interest Subvention Scheme 2018-19, in order to provide relief to the farmers on occurrence of natural calamities, the interest subvention of 2% shall continue to be available to banks for the first year on the restructured amount. In order to discourage distress sale by farmers and to encourage them to store their produce in warehouses against negotiable receipts, the benefit of interest subvention will be available to small and marginal farmers having Kisan Credit Card for a further period of upto six months post harvest on the same rate as available to crop loan.
  15. Kisan Credit Card (KCC): The Government has extended the facility of Kisan Credit Card (KCC) to the farmers practicing animal husbandry and fisheries related activities. 
  16. Creating of Corpus Fund
    • Micro Irrigation Fund – Rs. 10,000 crore.
    • Agriculture Infrastructure Fund of Rs. One Lakh Crore.
  17. Farmers’ Producer Companies (FPOs): Formation and Promotion of Farmers’ Producer Companies (FPOs) to form and promote 10,000 FPOs.
  18. Agri Infrastructure Fund (AIF) :Government has approved a new central sector scheme viz., Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF) of Rs. 1,00,000 Crore to provide a medium-long term loan facility for investment in viable projects for post-harvest market infrastructure including warehousing facility and community farming assets through interest subvention and financial support. 
  19. Agricultural Marketing Infrastructure (AMI): A sub-scheme of Integrated Scheme for Agricultural Marketing (ISAM) under which assistance is provided for construction/ renovation of godowns/ warehouses in the rural areas in the States to enhance the storage capacity for agriculture produce

News Source: PIB


Kalanamak rice

Part of: Prelims 

Context: Production of Kalanamak rice has increased significantly during last three years

Presently, Kalanamak rice is being exported to countries like Singapore and Nepal. In addition to export, it is available on e-market place like Amazon, Flipkart and ODOP e-market.  

  • One of the finest quality scented rices of Nepal and India. 
  • Kalanamak rice has been granted the Geographical Indication (GI) Tag
  • It derives its name from black husk (kala = black; the suffix ‘namak’ means salt). 
  • This variety has been in cultivation since the Buddhist period (600 BC). 
  • It is quite popular in Himalayan Tarai of Nepal i.e., Kapilvastu, and eastern Uttar Pradesh of India, and is also known as the scented black pearl of Uttar Pradesh. 
  • It was also featured in the book ‘Speciality rices of the world’ by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • Rich in micro-nutrients such as Iron and Zinc. Therefore, having this rice is said to prevent diseases borne out of Iron and Zinc deficiencies. 
  • is said that regular intake of Kalanamak rice can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • It has 11% protein which is almost double of common rice varieties. Besides it has low Glycemic Index (49% to 52%) making it “Sugar Free” and suitable for even diabetic people.
  • Have critical micro nutrients to fight malnutrition and improve nutrition status of the vulnerable section of society

News Source: PIB 


(Mains Focus)


ECONOMY/ GOVERNANCE

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

India’s data protection Bill comparison with EU regulation

Context: The Joint Committee of Parliament on the Personal Data Protection Bill recommendations on the Personal Data Protection Bill are in some aspects very similar to global standards such as European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, but differs in aspects such as jail terms. 

Similarities

Parameter EU India
Consent Users must have informed consent about the way their data is processed so that they can opt in or out. Processing of data should be done in a fair and transparent manner, while also ensuring privacy
Breach Supervisory authority must be notified of a breach within 72 hours of the leak so that users can take steps to protect information Data Protection Authority must be informed within 72 hours; DPA will decide whether users need to be informed and steps to be taken
Transition period Two-year transition period for provisions of GDPR to be put in place 24 months overall; 9 months for registration of data fiduciaries, 6 months for DPA to start
Data fiduciary Data fiduciary is any natural or legal person, public authority, agency or body that determines purpose and means of data processing Similar suggestions; additionally, NGOs which also process data to be included as fiduciaries

Difference between EU’s regulation and JCP recommendations:

Parameter EU India
Anonymous information Principles of data protection do not apply to anonymous information since it is impossible to tell one from another Non-personal data must come under the ambit of data protection law such as non-personal data
Punishment No jail terms. Fines up to 20 million euros, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 % of their total global turnover of the preceding fiscal year Jail term of up to 3 years, fine of Rs 2 lakh or both if de-identified data is re-identified by any person.

Connecting the dots:

  • Justice Sri Krishna Committee Report on Data legislation
  • K.S. Puttaswamy Judgement

ECONOMY/ GOVERNANCE

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

Challenge of achieving 9.5% growth rate

Context: The National Statistical Office (NSO) released the Q2 GVA and GDP numbers for FY 2021-22, indicating the pace of economic recovery in India after the two COVID-19 waves

Key findings of NSO 

  • The contraction was highest in the first quarter of 2020-21, gradually easing off in the subsequent quarters.
  • Base Effect was strongest in the first quarter of 2021-22 with real GDP and GVA growth rates of 20.1% and 18.8%, respectively.
    • The base effect weakened in the second quarter with GDP and GVA growth rates at 8.4% and 8.5%, respectively.
    • The base effect is expected to weaken further in the third and fourth quarters of 2021-22.
  • Real GVA for the first half of 2021-22 has remained below the level in the first half of 2019-20 by (-)3.7%.
  • Real GDP for the first half of 2021-22– This difference is even larger for GDP which is (-) 4.4% below the corresponding level in 2019-20.
  • So a strong growth momentum would be needed to ensure that at the end of this fiscal year GVA and GDP in real terms exceed their corresponding pre-COVID-19 levels of 2019-20.
  • Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) – GFCF shows a positive growth of 1.5% in the second quarter of 2021-22 over its corresponding level in 2019-20. Even then GFCF in H1 of 2021-22 has remained below its corresponding level in 2019-20 
  • Private Final Consumption Expenditure (PFCE) – H1 2021-22 remains below its corresponding level in 2019-20. This indicates that investment as well as consumption demand have to pick up strongly in the Q3 and Q4 to ensure that the economy emerges on the positive side by the end of 2021-22 as compared to its pre-COVID-19 level.

Which sectors have boosted growth?

  • In H1 of 2021-22, on the output side, only four of the eight GVA sectors have exceeded their corresponding levels in 2019-20. These are 
    • Agriculture
    • Electricity, Gas and others.
    • Mining and Quarrying
    • Public administration, Defence and other services. (Q1 5.8%  & Q2 17.4% )
  • The upsurge in the growth of public administration, defence sector in the second quarter of 2021-22 is due to the Central government’s emphasis on capital expenditure which started gathering momentum in recent months.

What measures are required? 

  • A strong fiscal support in the form of government capital expenditure is required. This is currently being facilitated by the buoyant Centre’s gross tax revenues having a growth rate of 64.2% in H1 of 2021-22.
    • The nominal GDP growth at 23.9% and the implicit price deflator-based inflation at 9.0% in H1FY22 is the key reason for the buoyant tax revenues.
  • The Centre’s incentivisation of state capital expenditure through additional borrowing limits would also help in this regard.
    • According to available information, 11 States in the first quarter and seven States in the second quarter qualified for the release of the additional tranche under this window.

Challenges Ahead

  • Increase in expenditure is due to food and fertilizer subsidies, MGNREGA and extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana
  • With increase in government capital expenditure with some shortfall in non-tax and non-debt capital receipts – fiscal deficit target may come under pressure.
  • In spite of these pressures, it would be advisable for the Centre to continue infrastructure spending.

Connecting the dots:

  • National Monetisation Pipeline
  • National Infrastructure Pipeline

(ORF: Expert Speak)


Dec 10: The Perquisite of Having a Robust Biofuel Industry in India – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-perquisite-of-having-a-robust-biofuel-industry-in-india/ 

TOPIC:

  • GS-2 – Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-3 – Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development

Biofuel Industry in India

Context: PM Modi, in his address at the COP26, released India’s updated NDCs in the form of five key announcements. The most prominent of these included India’s goal to produce 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030 and its ambitious target to achieve net-zero by 2070.

The Global Situation

  • The global energy demand is ever rising, projected to reach a whopping 17 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in the next decade. According to the BP Energy Outlook 2019, India’s share in the global energy demand is expected to reach 11 percent by 2040. 
  • As emission-heavy fuels like coal, oil and gasoline contribute to 69 percent of the national energy supply, this whopping demand will naturally bring adverse climate ramifications as well as skewed import dependence. 
  • Amidst the anthropogenic climate threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-based fuels and the looming fear of depleting fossil reserves, biofuels promise to be an alternative with many advantages.

Biofuels as a Sustainable Energy System 

Biofuels provide a sustainable energy system that is renewable, environmentally friendly and capable of utilising indigenous raw materials. The most commonly employed method for biofuel production involves fermentation, a process in which microbes convert simple sugars such as glucose to value-added chemicals by various biochemical pathways. 

  • Biofuel production can be carried out at mild temperatures between 25-45 in contrast to chemical methods (requiring >500), which makes the entire process energy efficient. 
  • In comparison to fossil fuel-derived energy, biofuels project scope not only in reduction of carbon emissions but also ensure self-sufficiency of the raw materials.

Challenge 1: High Process Cost – Despite the above-mentioned advantages, microbial fermentation for biofuel production faces a lot of challenges – the process cost is very high in comparison to commercial fuels. A major fraction of this cost is owed to expensive substrates such as glucose. 

Based on the feedstocks used, biofuels are categorised into four generations, each emerging to overcome the limitations of the previous one. 

  • The first generation uses food crops such as corn, sugarcane etc., while the second generation is based on utilisation of lignocellulosic agro-residues such as rice bran, wheat bran etc. 
  • While the first one leads to the ethical debate of food vs fuel, second-generation feedstocks are in plenty and generally considered a waste. 
    • Additionally, food waste from restaurants, kitchens, or supply chain slacks is a good source of sugar.
    • Referred to as Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), food waste is a nuisance to the environment and public health. 
    • India has a huge capacity to produce these feedstocks, generating >300 million tonnes of agricultural waste every year and nearly 0.3 billion tonnes of food waste every year. They are potential substrates for biofuel production due to their indigenous abundance, cost-effectiveness and high sugar content. 
    • Additionally, utilisation of such raw materials also enables a circular economy.

Challenge 2: Low efficiency of this fermentative production: 

  • To compete with market demands, high yields from a low substrate is desirable. 
  • However, utilising agricultural and food wastes means additional steps of pre-treatment for breaking layers of cellulose, hemicellulose and chitin respectively before carbohydrates can be recovered. 
  • This often results in multi-step processing, making the process tedious, expensive and inefficient. 
  • To improve the yield and process efficiency biotechnological tools such as genetic engineering and process engineering are being applied.

India & the Biofuels: Recent Policy Initiatives 

The Indian government has recognised this capacity of indigenous feedstocks for biofuel production. 

  • The policies are centred around increasing the production of bioethanol using sugar-containing (sugar beet, sweet sorghum etc.) and starch-containing materials (corn, damaged food grain, etc.) that are unfit for human consumption. 
  • Recognising the lack of capital in this sector, the government has mobilised a viability funding gap scheme worth INR 5000 crore for second-generation ethanol biorefineries. India also targets a 20 percent ethanol-blending in petrol by 2023-24.
  • Through various domestic and international initiatives in the biofuels industry in the last few years, India has reiterated its inclination to explore bio-solutions as yet another form of renewable energy and alternative to fossil-based fuels.
  • Launched the mission “Integrated Biorefineries”, a collaborative initiative between India and the Netherlands to develop clean energy solutions under Mission Innovation Initiative.
  • An integrated biorefinery is a facility that transforms biomass into value-added products while recovering as much energy as possible. 
  • It has the potential to produce bulk and fine chemicals in a robust, self-sufficient, sustainable, and ecologically friendly manner. 
  • Even before the recent COP26 announcements, India has sought to establish itself in the biofuels sector through international mechanisms in recent years. In the backdrop of PM Modi’s visit to the United States in September 2021, India and the US formed a bilateral India-US New Task Force on Biofuels, which will promote technology transfers and develop business models to develop the biofuels sector. 
  • In December 2020, the Asian Development Bank approved a US $2.4 million grant under Asian Clean Energy Fund for supporting biofuels development in India. India also has an MoU with Brazil on Bioenergy Cooperation, which holds an excellent track record of harnessing sugarcane feedstock for biofuels.

Biofuels for ‘Atma Nirbharta’ 

  • Will reduce dependence on fuel imports that save foreign reserves and will plug the capital outflow. According to NITI Aayog’s Expert Committee, fulfilling the 2025 targets for 20 percent ethanol blending (E20) will save US $4 billion in forex reserves annually. 
  • Address the supply chain vulnerabilities of a fossil-fuel-based energy system. As India’s mammoth agricultural waste is generated in the countryside, setting up biofuel manufacturing plants will create localised supply chains. These local supply chains need to be efficient to account for the perishability of feedstock due to pest contamination and weather. It will cut down the logistics and transportation costs of non-renewable energy and insulate the supply chains from geopolitical instability and global economic shocks. 
  • Generate semi-skilled employment in rural areas and create additional incomes for Indian farmers. For example, sugar mills may earn an additional profit of US $2 billion in 2020-21 owing to the ethanol industry. Increasing the purchasing power of rural India would drive consumer demand, which would have a multiplier effect on India’s informal economy.

Conclusion

Biofuel production for self-reliance can become a reality by incentivising and educating the local suppliers and waste segregation about the wealth-creating potential of their waste. India needs to promote greater engagements between science, industry and society to meet this goal.

Can you answer the following question?

  1. Examine the potential and associated challenges of biofuels as a sustainable energy resource.

(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)


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

Q.1 Consider the following statements regarding Competition Commission of India (CCI):

  1. It is a Constitutional body 
  2. It is responsible for enforcing The Competition Act, 2002 throughout India.
  3. It is composed of A Chairperson and 6 Members appointed by the President of India . 

Which of the above is or are correct? 

  1. 1 and 2 only 
  2. 2 only 
  3. 1 and 3 only 
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Q.2 Covovax vaccine was recently granted emergency approval by WHO. It is manufactured by which of the following country? 

  1. USA
  2. UK
  3. India
  4. China

Q.3) Consider the following statements on Kalanamak rice

  1. This variety has been in cultivation since the Buddhist period (600 BC). 
  2. It is quite popular in Himalayan Tarai of Nepal and eastern Uttar Pradesh of India, and is also known as the scented black pearl of Uttar Pradesh. 

Which of the above statement(s) is/are correct?

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

ANSWERS FOR 18th Dec 2021 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)

1 B
2 C
3 C

Must Read

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