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DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS IAS | UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam – 31st March 2022

  • IASbaba
  • March 31, 2022
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(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)


Sariska Tiger Reserve

Part of: Prelims and GS III – Environment 

Context: Massive fire broke out at Sariska Tiger Reserve recently.

About Sariska Tiger Reserve 

  • It is located in Aravali hills and forms a part of the Alwar District of Rajasthan.
  • The Reserve is immensely rich in flora and fauna, and is famous for Royal Bengal Tiger. 
    • The park has populations of leopards, Nilgai, Sambar, chital etc. 
    • It also shelters a large population of Indian peafowl, crested serpent eagles, sand grouse, golden backed woodpeckers, great Indian horned owls, tree pies, vultures,etc.
  • Sariska was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1955 and was declared the tiger reserve later in 1978, making it a part of India’s Project Tiger.
    • Project Tiger is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change providing central assistance to the tiger States for tiger conservation in designated tiger reserves.
  • The Sanctuary houses ruined temples, forts, pavilions and a palace. 
    • Kankarwadi fort is located in the center of the Reserve and it is said that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had imprisoned his brother Dara Shikoh at this fort in struggle for succession to the throne.
    • The Reserve also houses a famous temple of lord Hanuman at Pandupole related to Pandavas.

News Source: TH


‘Tap to Pay’ for UPI payments

Part of: Prelims and GS III – Information Technology; Digital economy

Context: Google Pay in collaboration with Pine Labs announced the launch of Tap to Pay for UPI .

  • So far, Tap to Pay was only available for cards.

Key takeaways 

  • To complete a payment, all a user will need to do is tap their phone on the POS terminal and authenticate the payment from their phone, using their UPI PIN.
  • It will make the process virtually instantaneous, as compared to scanning a QR code, or entering the UPI-linked mobile number.
  • The functionality will be available to any UPI user who wants to use their NFC-enabled Android smartphone to transact using any Pine Labs Android POS terminal across the country. 
  • This was piloted with Reliance Retail and will now be available at other large merchants such as Future Retail and Starbucks.

What is Unified Payments Interface (UPI)?

  • UPI is a payment system launched in April 2016 by National Payments Corporation of India(NPCI), that allows money transfer between any two bank accounts by using a smartphone.
  • It facilitates customers to make round-the-clock payments instantly using a virtual payment address created by the customer.
  • UPI allows a customer to pay directly from a bank account to different merchants, both online and offline, without the hassle of typing card or bank details.
  • It also caters to the “Peer to Peer” collect request which can be scheduled and paid as per requirement and convenience.
  • UPI is built over the IMPS infrastructure
  •  BHIM UPI in 2020-21 has processed 22 billion transactions worth Rs 41 lakh crore.

News Source: TH


Indian Ocean Naval Symposium

Part of: Prelims and GS-II International Relations 

Context: The regional grouping Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) conducted its maiden edition of maritime exercise, IMEX-22, at Goa and in the Arabian Sea from March 26 to 30. 

  • The exercise witnessed participation of 16 of the 25 member nations. 
  • The exercise is seen as a significant stepping stone for regional navies to collaborate and respond collectively to natural disasters in the region and paves way for further strengthening regional cooperation.

About Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS)

  • The IONS is a voluntary and inclusive initiative that brings together navies of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) littoral states to increase maritime co-operation and enhance regional security.
  • It also serves to develop an effective response mechanism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) against natural disasters.
  • IONS includes 24 member nations that touch or lie within the IOR, and 8 observer nations.
  • The members have been geographically grouped into the following four sub-regions:
    • South Asian Littorals: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and United Kingdom (British Indian Ocean Territory)
    • West Asian Littorals: Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates
    • East African Littorals: France (Reunion), Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.
    • South East Asian and Australian Littorals: Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
  • Significance for India: IONS fits into India’s three-fold ambitions in the region:
    • Strengthening and deepening the relations with the Indian Ocean littoral states,
    • Establishing its leadership potential and aspirations of being a net-security provider, and
    • Fulfilling India’s vision of a rules-based and stable maritime order in the IOR.

News Source: TH


(Mains Focus)


INTERNATIONAL/ ECONOMY

  • GS-3: India and its neighbourhood

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis

Context: The Sri Lankan economy has been facing a crisis owing to a serious balance of payments (BoP) problem. 

  • Its foreign exchange reserves are depleting rapidly and is becoming increasingly difficult to import essential consumption goods. 
  • The country is also unable to repay past debts.

What are the causes of the current crisis?

  1. Historical imbalances in the economic structure
  • Even in the 21st century, Sri Lanka’s economic fortunes continued to be tied to the export of primary commodities such as tea and rubber, and garments. 
  • It mobilised foreign exchange reserves through primary commodity exports, tourism and remittances, and used it to import essential consumption items including food.
  1. Slowdown much before the Pandemic
  • Possibly because of pent-up demand, Sri Lanka’s post-war GDP growth was reasonably high at 8-9% per annum between 2009 and 2012. 
  • However, the economy was on a downward spiral after 2013 as global commodity prices fell, exports slowed down and imports rose. 
  • The average GDP growth rate almost halved after 2013. 
  1. Continuing drain of foreign exchange reserves
  • During the period of the war, budget deficits were high. The 2008 global financial crisis of 2008 had led to flight of capital further draining Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves. 
  • It was in this context that the government obtained $2.6 billion loan from IMF loan in 2009 with the conditionality that budget deficits would be reduced to 5% of the GDP by 2011.
  • This commitment tied the hands of the government to go for counter-cyclical fiscal policy when economy slowed down after 2013.
  1. IMF’s loan-related conditionalities
  • With no pick-up in growth or exports, and the continuing drain of foreign exchange reserves, the government approached the IMF in 2016 for another US$1.5 billion loan for a three-year period between 2016 and 2019. 
  • The IMF’s conditionality was that the fiscal deficit must be reduced to 3.5% by 2020. Other conditionalities included 
    • a reform of the tax policy and tax administration; 
    • control of expenditures; 
    • commercialisation of public enterprises; 
    • flexibility in exchange rates; 
    • a free environment for foreign investment. 
  • The IMF package led to a deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economic health. 
    • GDP growth rates shrank from 5% in 2015 to 2.9% in 2019. 
    • Investment rate fell from 31.2% in 2015 to 26.8% in 2019. 
    • Gross government debt rose from 78.5% of the GDP in 2015 to 86.8% of the GDP in 2019.
  1. New Shocks to the Economy
  • First, the Easter bomb blasts of April 2019 in churches in Colombo led to the death of 253 people. Consequently, the number of tourists fell sharply leading to a decline in foreign exchange reserves.
  • The new government which came to power in Nov 2019 went for lower taxes as was promised in their election campaign. VAT rates were reduced from 15% to 8%. The nation building tax, the PAYE tax and the economic service charges were abolished. 
  • As a result of this policy, close to 2% of the GDP was lost in taxes thus foregone. GST/VAT revenues were halved between 2019 and 2020. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 made the bad situation worse. Exports of tea, rubber, spices and garments suffered. Tourism arrivals and revenues fell further. 
  • The pandemic also necessitated a rise in government expenditures: the fiscal deficit exceeded 10% in 2020 and 2021, and the ratio of public debt to GDP rose from 94% in 2019 to 119% in 2021.
  1. Misguided policies: Chemical Fertilizer ban
  • Sri Lanka annually spent about $260 million (or about 0.3% of its GDP) on fertiliser subsidies. Most of the fertilisers are imported. 
  • To prevent the drain of foreign exchange reserves, the government came up with a bizarre solution in 2021 to ban all fertiliser imports from May 2021, and declared that Sri Lanka would overnight become a 100% organic farming nation. 
  • This policy, which was withdrawn in November 2021 after protests by farmers, literally pushed Sri Lanka to the brink of a disaster. 
  • However, this policy adversely impacted the agricultural yields leading to fall in agricultural production necessitating the import of foods.
  • But increasing imports was difficult in the face of foreign exchange shortages. Thus, inflation rose to 17.5% in February 2022. 
  • Also, a fall in the productivity of tea and rubber led to lower export incomes. And thus, the organic farming policy, which aimed to soften the pressure on reserves, ended up straining them even further.

Conclusion

  • The government might approach the IMF once again for a new loan with fresh conditionalities. With the global outlook appearing dim, a renewed push to such a deflationary policy would not just limit the prospects of economic revival, but also exacerbate the sufferings of the Sri Lankan people.

Connecting the dots:

  • India’s 1991 BOP Crisis
  • 2008 Global Financial Crisis

GOVERNANCE

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

CA, CWA and CS (Amendment Bill), 2021

Context: The Chartered Accountants, the Cost and Works Accountants and the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was passed by the Lok Sabha that amends the 

  • Chartered Accountants Act, 1949, 
  • Cost and Works Accountants Act, 1959
  • Company Secretaries Act, 1980

Context:

  • The above three Acts provide for setting up of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, the Institute of Cost Accountants of India, and the Institute of Company Secretaries of India.  
  • The affairs of the Institutes are managed by their respective Councils. The Councils are comprised of elected and nominated members.  
  • These bodies approve academic courses, conduct examinations of candidates, prescribe qualifications for entry of names in the register of members, and regulate the standards of professional qualifications of their members.
  • The Acts also provide the mechanism for taking disciplinary actions against the members of the Institutes who are engaged in professional or other misconduct.   
  • This mechanism is broadly self-regulatory in nature wherein the members of the Institutes take part in the disciplinary proceedings along with certain external members nominated by the central government.
  • In recent years, India has seen several frauds and scandals, which have brought into focus the role and effectiveness of the statutory audit by independent auditors.
  • In the backdrop of a major fraud at Punjab National Bank in 2018, the central government setup the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) under the Companies Act, 2013.
  • NFRA is empowered to investigate matters of professional or other misconduct by chartered accountants. This was a move away from self-regulation of the profession of chartered accountancy as was followed so far. 

What is the objective of the new bill proposed?

  • The CA, CWA and CS (Amendment Bill), 2021 seeks to strengthen the accountability of practitioners and firms by making the disciplinary mechanisms more independent, registering firms, and increasing penalties.

Key Changes Proposed in the Bill are: 

  • Discipline
    • ICAI’s disciplinary committee and board of discipline will be chaired by non-chartered accountants (CA), and its elected council members will no longer be in a majority in them. 
    • It also provides for time-bound disposal of cases against members of the
  • Governance and administration
    • The term of the ICAI’s Council will be raised from three to four years
    • The maximum number of consecutive terms for its elected members will be reduced to two from the current three;
    • ICAI’s Secretary will replace the ICAI’s president as its chief executive and perform the functions to be specified; 
    • ICAI will appoint its auditor from the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India’s panel of CA firms; 
  • Coordination Committee
    • The Bill provides for setting up a Coordination Committee headed by the Secretary of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. 
    • Its functions will include: (i) quality improvement of academics, (ii) coordinating and collaborating among the professions, and (iii) making recommendations on regulatory policies for the professions.  
  • Registration of Firms: Firms must now register with the Institutes.  The Councils must maintain a register of firms containing details including pendency of any actionable complaint or imposition of penalty.
  • Penalties: The Bill increases certain fines under the three Acts.  If a partner or owner of a firm is repeatedly found guilty of misconduct during last five years, disciplinary action can be taken against the firm.

Significance of the changes brought in by the bill

  • It will strengthen the ICAI’s accountability, governance, and administration. 
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has endorsed these changes and has further recommended an end to the ICAI’s monopoly in certification. 
  • There have been persistent complaints that the ICAI is lax in acting against errant members. The proposed changes will enhance speedy disposal of complaints given the increased government’s role in disciplinary committee of ICAI

Criticisms of the bill

  • The proposed changes in the composition of the ICAI’s disciplinary arms will further limit its role. As a result, the ICAI will be effectively reduced to an examination board. 
  • The Bill aims at bringing discipline to these professions but the disciplinary authority will be headed by a non-Chartered Accountant who may lack domain knowledge.
    • For Bar Council, the chairman is a lawyer. For Medical Council, chairman is a doctor, but for ICAI committee, chairman will be a non-CA. 
  • The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that it seeks to address the conflict of interest between the administrative and disciplinary arms of the Institutes.  To achieve this, the Bill proposes to change the composition of the two disciplinary entities to allow for more external representation.  However, these external members will be selected from a panel of persons prepared by the three Councils. 
  • As the three Institutes also have committees for coordinating among themselves, it is unclear as to why there is a need to setup another Coordination Council as proposed under the Bill. 

Way Ahead

  • The Parliamentary Committee’s suggestion to set up a string of Indian Institutes of Accounting (IIAs) on the lines of IIT & IIM is innovative. 
  • The IIAs will offer a five-year full-time and broad-based degree in accounting, auditing and related areas and their graduates.
  • At one level, they will end the ICAI’s statutory monopoly over certification. More competition will result in better quality and higher standards of conduct. 

Connecting the dots:

  • National Financial Regulatory Authority (NFRA)
  • IL & FS Crisis

(Down to Earth: Health)


March 28: Microplastics detected in human blood for the very first time – https://www.downtoearth.org.in/video/pollution/microplastics-detected-in-human-blood-for-the-very-first-time-82111 

TOPIC:

  • GS-3: Pollution

Microplastics detected in human blood for the very first time

Context: Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time. Plastic litter is a common sight in urban areas but it has also found its way into the wild. It is in every natural habitat imaginable: forests, deserts, rivers, soil.

Even our highest mountains and deepest oceans haven’t been spared. Trekkers have left behind plastic waste on Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest peak. In 2019, a submersible dove into the Mariana trench, the world’s deepest point in the ocean, and found a plastic grocery bag and sweets wrappers on the seafloor. We are launching thousands of satellites into space; debris from these spacecraft – including plastic – are drifting around there.

Name any ecosystem you can think of. If humans have been there (or nearby), so has plastic.

Microplastic Pollution

Microplastic pollution has been detected in human blood for the first time. The study, published in the journal Environment International, tested 22 anonymous blood samples.

Scientists found tiny particles of microplastics in almost 80 per cent of the people tested. The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs.

  • Half the samples contained Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, commonly used in drinks bottles. 
  • While a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. 
  • Some of the blood samples contained two or three types of plastic.

Microplastics were also observed to cause damage to human cells in the laboratory. People were already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water. Researchers have earlier found microplastics in the faeces of babies and adults.

What is Microplastic?

  • Microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastic. Usually, they are fragments smaller than 5 mm wide.
  • Microplastics arise from both primary and secondary sources. 
  • Primary sources are those where plastic has been crafted in tiny pieces – like plastic pellets or tiny beads that are 2-5 mm wide. They are made from polyester (which in turn is made from petroleum and coal). Pellets are a common raw material in the plastic industry because they can be melted down to manufacture many other larger plastic products, like plastic bags and containers. Other primary sources of microplastic include microbeads, which are found in several personal care products including face scrubs, and paint.
  • Secondary sources of microplastics include plastic bags, bottles and almost every other plastic object that breaks down into smaller pieces over time.
  • Such pieces are often invisible to the human eye. In the new study, the sizes of microplastics were around 700 nm in diameter. That is around 140 times smaller than the width of a single human hair.

Because microplastics are so small, it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which they have invaded our planet and the bodies of its living things.

The Way Forward

Environmentalists, policymakers and governments appear to be taking note of the dangers of microplastics in the environment. At the UN Environment Assembly, more than 170 countries pledged to develop an international, legally-binding treaty to tackle plastic pollution by 2024. This draft resolution includes microplastics as a type of pollutant.

  • While we have found microplastics everywhere, we don’t exactly know how they can harm humans, although some of its components are likely to be bad news. For example, styrene – one of the microplastics that scientists recently discovered in human blood – could be a human carcinogen.
  • But as we wait for more studies, one thing is certain: we need to act fast. This is why the international treaty on plastic pollution could be crucial. Some curbs on plastic pollution could go a long way to stem the invasion of microplastics.

The authors write that more research is needed to determine the human health risks involved with plastic in the bloodstream. 

  • “Where is it going in your body? Can it be eliminated? Excreted? Or is it retained in certain organs, accumulating maybe, or is it even able to pass the blood-brain barrier?”
  • An international treaty on plastic pollution is on the cards – it could be crucial to microplastic, and plastic, menace.

MUST READ: Resolution paving way for global action to Beat Plastic Pollution

Can you answer the following question?

  1. There is no Plan B because we do not have a Planet B. Discuss.
  2. Do you think a complete ban on single-use plastic can address the problem of pollution in a sustainable manner? Isn’t sustainable management of plastic use through the ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ approach a better way to handle pollution? Critically examine.

(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)


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

Q.1 Consider the following statements regarding Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS):

  1. The IONS is a voluntary and inclusive initiative that brings together navies of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) littoral states to increase maritime co-operation and enhance regional security.
  2. IONS includes 24 member nations that touch or lie within the IOR, and 8 observer nations.

 Which of the above is or are correct? 

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

Q.2 Unified Payments Interface (UPI) was launched by which of the following?

  1. NITI Aayog 
  2. National Payments Corporation of India(NPCI)
  3. Ministry of Finance
  4. None of the above 

Q.3 Where is Sariska Tiger Reserve located?

  1. Rajasthan
  2. Assam
  3. Madhya Pradesh 
  4. Delhi

ANSWERS FOR 31st March 2022 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)

1 C
2 B
3 A

Must Read

On Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill:

The Hindu

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The Hindu

On farm laws:

Indian Express

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