Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

Current Affairs of 29th October -2020

 

General Studies-2:

Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interest

  1. Challenges in Indo-Pacific Talks

Issues related to Health, Education and Human Resources

  1. ASER Survey during Pandemic

International Relations

  1. India, Central Asian republics call for destruction of terror ‘safe havens

General Studies-3

Science and Technology

  1. ISRO to launch satellite EOS­01

Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, growth, Development

  1. Effect of Covid -19 on the state finances

Environment and Biodiversity

  1. Gollum Fish
  2. Wetlands of International Importance

 

1)Challenges in Indo-Pacific Talks:

Why in news?

  • The recently concluded third annual United States-India 2+2 ministerial dialogue has amplified the ongoing conversation in India on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), the Indo-Pacific, the threat from China, and, the United States as a potential ‘alliance’ partner.
  • No strategic vision has captivated India’s foreign policy in recent times as have the Indo-Pacific and the Quad.
  • The international community has once again decided to court New Delhi to play a decisive role in shaping the region’s strategic future.
  • While during the mid-2000s the world expected India to be an economic powerhouse, a decade later, those expectations remain modest, at best.
  • The expectation this time is more strategic and military, to lead the charge against China from within the region.

Will India, and can India, fulfil these expectations?

The similarities between Indo-Pacific and Quad

  • The Indo-Pacific is a grand politico-economic vision while the Quad is a forum for strategic and military consultations among India, the U.S., Australia and Japan.
  • Their similarity comes from the fact that the Quad members are also major States in the Indo-Pacific region, and both the Quad and the Indo-Pacific constructs are focused on China.
  • They are also in some ways centered on India’s geographic location and its policies.
  • Put differently, if you take China out of the equation, they would have little rationale for existence.
  • And if you take India out of the picture, their ability to sustain as geopolitical constructs would drastically diminish.

Differences between Indo-Pacific and Quad

  • The first is a politico-economic vision and the last is a military-strategic vision — the last does not form the military or strategic nucleus of the first.
  • While the Indo-Pacific provides a complex political and economic picture with a hesitant, but growing, articulation of China as a strategic challenge, the Quad is inherently more anti-China in character and intent.
  • The Indo-Pacific, despite the subtle anti-China undertones, will find it impossible to avoid engaging China.
  • Even the Quad, still in its institutional infancy, is mostly focused on diplomatic signaling and with little common intent let alone joint action.
  • At the moment it so seems, paradoxically however, that the Quad’s ability to succeed would entirely depend on China.
  • It is too early to say whether the Indo-Pacific as an economic construct will be able to pose an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • The BRI is far more advanced, much more thought-out, and has the economic might of the Chinese state behind it.
  • Several Indo-Pacific countries are already members of the BRI.
  • On the flip side, the BRI is a ‘Chinese’ project and is already under immense stress from its inherent weaknesses, such as China’s unilateral pursuit of the BRI and the associated economic burdens on the States that sign up to it.

What are the Hurdles in India’s strategy?

  • For a politico-economic construct such as the Indo-Pacific to survive, there must be strong economic partnerships and linkages among its members.
  • Merely focusing on strategic talk and possible military cooperation will not work because at some point, the unavoidable economic logic will kick in.

India’s economic engagement of the Indo-Pacific

  • For one, New Delhi’s recent decision not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the region’s flagship free trade arrangement, could potentially complicate the country’s future engagements in the region.
  • The RCEP decision, a direct result of domestic political compulsions in India, comes in the backdrop of the already huge gap between India and China on trade with almost every Indo-Pacific country.
  • This growing trade gap that India and China have with these countries will be a major determining factor in shaping the region’s strategic realities.
  • New Delhi’s decision not to sign on to the RCEP also needs to be viewed in the broader context of the Chinese institutional engagement of the region

 

2) ASER Survey during Pandemic:

Why in news?

  • About 20% of rural children have no textbooks at home, according to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey.
    Survey Findings:

Interstate Variation:

  • In Andhra Pradesh, less than 35% of children had textbooks, and only 60% had textbooks in Rajasthan.
  • More than 98% had textbooks in West Bengal, Nagaland and Assam.

Learning Activity among children

  • In the week of the survey, about one in three rural children had done no learning activity at all.
  • About two in three had no learning material or activity given by their school that week, and only one in 10 had access to live online classes.
  • However, it’s not always about technology; in fact, levels of smartphone ownership have almost doubled from 2018, but a third of children with smartphone access still did not receive any learning materials.

Permission to States

  • Although the Centre has now permitted States to start reopening schools if they can follow COVID­19 safety protocols, a majority of the country’s 25 crore students are still at home after seven straight months.

Rural India

  • The ASER survey provides a glimpse into the levels of learning loss that students in rural India are suffering, with varying levels of access to technology, school and family resources, resulting in a digital divide in education.
  • It found that 5.3% of rural children aged 6­10 years had not yet enrolled in school this year, in comparison to just 1.8% in 2018.

Enrolment

  • This seems to indicate that due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, families are waiting for the physical opening of schools to enrol their youngest children, with about 10% of six­year­olds not in school.
  • Among 15­16­ year olds, however, enrolment levels are actually slightly higher than in 2018.
  • Enrolment patterns also show a slight shift toward government schools, with Private schools seeing a drop in enrolment in all age groups.

Availability of Smartphones

  • In 2018, ASER surveyors found that about 36% of rural households with school going children had smartphones.
  • By 2020, that figure had spiked to 62%. About 11% of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80% were smartphones.
  • This may indicate why Whatsapp was by far the most popular mode of transmitting learning materials to students, with 75% of students who got some input receiving it via the app.

ASER Survey:

  • ASER is a nationwide survey of rural education and learning outcomes in terms of reading and arithmetic skills that has been conducted by the NGO Pratham for the last 15 years.

 

3) India, Central Asian republics call for destruction of terror ‘safe havens:

Why in news?

  • The Central Asian republics joined India on Wednesday in demanding destruction of “safe havens” of terrorism.
  • The second meeting of the India Central Asia Dialogue jointly expressed support for the peace negotiations in Afghanistan, which is expected to usher in a new age for the war torn country.
  • The Ministers strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reaffirmed the determination of their countries to combat this menace by destroying terrorist safe havens, networks, infrastructure and funding channels.
  • They also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against other countries.
  • External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar described the Central Asian region as India’s “extended neighborhood”.

Key takeaways from the meeting

  • Announcement of an additional $1 billion Line of Credit by India for the Central Asian countries.
  • It is expected that the money will be spent for major infrastructural and connectivity projects.
  • India’s efforts to modernize the infrastructure of the Chabahar port in Iran, which could become an important link in trade and transport communications between the markets of Central and South Asia.
  • Announcement of grant financing by India for high impact community development projects in the countries.
  • It also led to the establishment of working groups by India Central Asia Business Council comprising the key Chambers of all participating countries.

 

4) ISRO to launch satellite EOS­01:

Why in news?

  • India would launch its latest earth observation satellite EOS­01 and nine international customer spacecraft onboard its Polar rocket PSLV­C49 from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on November 7
  • The customer satellites are being launched under commercial agreement with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), Department of Space
    Earth Observation Satellites
  • Starting with IRS-1A in 1988, ISRO has launched many operational remote sensing satellites.
  • Today, India has one of the largest constellations of remote sensing satellites in operation.
  • Currently, thirteen operational satellites are in Sun-synchronous orbit – RESOURCESAT-1, 2, 2A CARTOSAT-1, 2, 2A, 2B, RISAT-1 and 2, OCEANSAT-2, Megha-Tropiques, SARAL and SCATSAT-1, and *four* in Geostationary orbit- INSAT-3D, Kalpana & INSAT 3A, INSAT -3DR.

Applications

  • Agriculture, water resources, urban planning, rural development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, ocean resources and disaster management.

 

5) Effect of Covid -19 on the state finances:

Why in news?

  • The Reserve Bank of India’s study on state governments’ finances, released on Tuesday, indicates that gross fiscal deficits (GFDs) of state governments are set to double in 2020-21. With the Covid-19 pandemic having hit the financial position of states hard, the next few years are going to be challenging.

Where are GFDs of states headed?

  • In 2020-21, about half the states have budgeted the GFD-to-GSDP (gross state domestic product) ratio at or above the 3% threshold, prior to the onset of Covid-19
  • The direction of possible revision is evident from the fact that the average for states presenting their budget before the outbreak of the pandemic is 2.4% of GSDP, while it is 4.6% for the remaining states that made their budget presentations after the outbreak.
  • Thus, states are grappling with the pandemic with constrained fiscal space.
  • In terms of primary balances, most states are incurring primary deficits in 2019-20, as against primary surpluses at the onset of the global financial crisis.
  • ‘Scissor effects’
  • The crisis literature focuses on the operation of ‘scissor effects’ — loss of revenues due to demand slowdown, coupled with higher expenditure associated with the pandemic.
  • Factors such as the lockdown tenure and the risk of new waves of infection, all of which make traditional backward-looking tax buoyancy forecasting models unreliable

What will be the impact on states?

  • Given the clear inter-linkages between growth and tax revenues and considering the fact that tax revenues fall faster than GDP when growth is negative, tax revenues are likely to be reduced for the next few years.
  • Pandemic-related spending, particularly on health and other support measures, are likely to keep these expenditures high, prolonging the ‘scissor effects’.
  • In addition, states’ fiscal position is likely to be affected by a surge in contingent liabilities (guarantees).
  • State governments may have to face the tough choice of putting investment projects on hold, but, given the multiplier associated with capital spending, this will inevitably entail growth losses in a vicious cycle.
  • “States’ indebtedness is set to rise, and if it is not accompanied by an acceleration in growth,

What happened during earlier pandemics?

An event study analysis using four pandemics in India

  • The 1896 plague
  • The 1918 Spanish flu
  • The 1957 Asian flu
  • And the 1974 smallpox

The study shows that all of these were associated with

  • A contraction/deceleration in GDP, with the 1918 flu registering the sharpest downturn of about 13%.
  • The recovery pattern is similar — a sharp rebound in the immediate subsequent year because of favorable base effects, followed by contraction again, and the GDP growth rate finally returning to pre-pandemic levels in 3-4 years.
  • These outbreaks have also depressed per capita economic output.
  • The recovery, however, has been observed to be swift and complete within two years of the outbreak, except in the case of the 1918 flu when GDP per capita was restored to pre-outbreak levels only in 1922.

What does the RBI say about the pandemic response in specific states?

KERALA MODEL:

  • The presence of empowered local governance institutions/Governance (LSGs) and community participation helped the Kerala state in effectively reaching out to affected people.
  • LSGs have been entrusted with collection of information, spreading awareness, identifying vulnerable sections, ensuring quarantine and lockdown guidelines being followed, disinfecting public places and ensuring the supply of essential services to those under quarantine.
  • The state managed to contain the spread of the pandemic in the first wave of infections. However, the state witnessed a second wave of infections with the arrival of non-resident Keralites from outside the state and with the easing of restrictions.

DHARAVI MODEL:

  • Public-Private partnership and community participation played a crucial role in combating Covid-19 in Dharavi.
  • The government tied up with local private doctors, hospitals, NGOs, volunteers and elected representatives and civil society organisations, while following a rapid action plan of accessible testing, proactive screening, early detection, contact tracing, timely isolation and putting suspected and high-risk contacts in institutional quarantine facilities in large numbers.
  • Community participation, community kitchens and collective solidarity were the key features that helped contain the spread.
  • Enforcing a strict lockdown and blocking the movement of residents except for essential services controlled the contagion.
  • Dharavi has flattened the curve and is worthy of emulation worldwide (WHO)

 

6) Gollum Fish:

Why in news?

  • A hundred million year old fish has been discovered in Kerala which is named after the dark and conflicted character of JRR Tolkien’s Epic Saga movie Lord of the Ring

About Aenigmachanna Gollum

  • Belongs to an old family of fish called Dragon snakeheads, which retains its primitive characteristics after all these millennia
  • It looks like a dragon, swims like an eel, and has remained hidden for a hundred million years.
  • Aenigmachanna is a Gondwanan lineage, which has survived break-up of supercontinent, with India separating from Africa around 120 million year ago.
  • The researchers say that the area where Aenigmachanna was collected is the part of Western Ghats i.e. Sri Lanka hotspot, which is among the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world.
  • Aenigmachanna Mahabali is a sister species of the Aenigmachanna Gollum.
  • It is endemic to the Indian state of Kerala

 

7) Wetlands of International Importance:

Why in news?

  • Recently, Kabartal wetland (Bihar) and Asan conservation reserve (Uttrakhand) have been designated as Ramsar sites, making them “wetlands of international importance”.

About

  • Earlier in 2020, Indian designated 10 more wetlands as a Ramsar site, taking the total number from 27 to 37.
  • With 2 more inclusions, the total number of Ramsar sites in India is 49, the highest in South Asia

Kabartal Wetland

  • It is known as Kanwar Jheel, It powers 2620 hackers of the Indo-Genetic plains in the Begusarai district of Bihar.
  • It acts as a vital flood buffer for the region besides providing livelihood opportunities to local communities
  • It is also a valuable site for fish biodiversity with over 50 species documented
  • It is an important stopover along the central Asian flyway with 58 migratory water Birds using it to rest and refuel
  • Critically endangered species inhabit the site, including three vultures- the red headed vulture(sarcogyps calvus),White rumped vulture( gyps bengalensis) and Indian vulture(gyps indicus) – and two water Birds, the sociable lapwing(Vanellus Gregarious) and Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri).

Asan conservation reserve

  • ACR is a stretch of the Asan river running down to it Confluence with the Yamuna river in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand
  • It is Uttrakhand’s first Ramsar site
  • The damping of the river by the Asan Barrage in 1967 resulted in situation above the dam wall, which helped to create some of the site’s bird friendly habitats.
  • These habitats support 330 Species of birds including the critically endangered red headed vulture (sarcogyps calvus), rumped vulture (gyps bengalensis) and Baer’s pochard (aythya baeri).

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