UPSC Civil Services Daily Current Affairs 18th March 2022
Topics for the day:
- Covid cases peak in many Asian countries
- India extends $1 bn credit to Sri Lanka
- Indian firms buy more oil from Russia, energy ties may deepen
- Role of the ICJ
- Ujjwala Yojana: Over 1.5 lakh lives saved in a year, 13% reduction in air pollution deaths
- India unveils its Arctic policy, focuses on combating climate change
- India’s first hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric car project
Covid cases peak in many Asian countries
- The number of COVID-19 cases reached a peak across many Asian countries in the previous week.
- South Korea (3.9 lakh average daily cases), Vietnam (2.5 lakh), Malaysia (30,000) and Thailand (23,000) recorded their highest-single day rise in infections during the past week
- Singapore and Japan recorded their pandemic peak in February, but their case curves are declining
- Cases in China are fast accelerating. At around 1,00 average cases a day. it has reached 35% of its pandemic peak
Some of the important terms related to covid :
- R0 : R-Naught is the basic reproduction number.
- This is the number of new infections caused by one infected individual in a susceptible population.
- It helps determine whether an epidemic can occur, the rate of growth of the epidemic, the size of the epidemic and the level of effort needed to control the infection.
- If R0 is 2, then one individual will infect two others.
- Positivity rate : The percentage of people who test positive among all those who are tested.
- If positivity rate is high, it is possible that only high risk groups are being tested.
- A low positivity rate can also indicate that not enough testing is being done.
- Cytokine storm : An immune reaction triggered by the body to fight an infection is known as a cytokine storm when it turns severe.
- The body releases too many cytokines, proteins that are involved in immunomodulation, into the blood too quickly.
- While normally they regulate immune responses, in this case they cause harm and can even cause death.
- These cytokines dilate blood vessels, increase the temperature and heartbeat, besides throwing bloodclots in the system, and suppressing oxygen utilisation.
- If the cytokine flow is high and continues without cessation, the body’s own immune response will lead to hypoxia, insufficient oxygen to the body, multi-organ failure and death. Experts say it is not the virus that kills; rather, the cytokine storm.
- RT- PCR (Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction) :
- It is the primary test to detect COVID-19 infection across the globe. It is a sensitive test that uses swab samples drawn from the nasal/oral cavity to test for the presence of viral RNA (ribonucleic acid).
- Antibody tests : These tests check your blood by looking for antibodies, and that just means you have had a past infection of SARS-CoV-2.
- Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections, and are specific to every disease, granting immunity against getting that particular disease again.
- An antibody test, with poor specificity, is not believed to be effective in detecting new infections.
- Convalescent plasma therapy : It is using antibodies from the blood of people who have recovered from the COVID-19 infection to treat patients with COVID-19.
- Flattening the curve : Reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases, day on day. The idea of flattening the curve is to ensure that the health infrastructure is not overwhelmed by a large number of cases.
- Herd immunity : This is also known as community immunity, and constitutes the reduction in risk of infection within a population, often because of previous exposure to the virus or vaccination.
- When a person gets vaccinated against a disease, their risk of infection is also reduced so they’re also less likely to transmit the virus or bacteria to others.
- As more people in a community get vaccinated, fewer people remain vulnerable, and there is less possibility for an infected person to pass the pathogen on to another person.
- Herd immunity does not mean unvaccinated or individuals who have not previously been infected are themselves immune.
- Herd immunity rather exists when individuals who are not immune but live in a community with a high proportion of immunity,and have a reduced risk of disease
India extends $1 bn credit to Sri Lanka
Context and news :
- India extended a $1 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka to assist the island nation through its worst foreign exchange crisis and enable it to procure food, medicines and essential items.
- An agreement to this effect was signed between the State Bank of India and the government of Sri Lanka during a visit of the country’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa to New Delhi.
- Rajapaksa met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss Indian assistance amid Sri Lanka’s extraordinary economic crisis.
- In 2022, so far India has extended $1.4 billion support to Sri Lanka, through a $400- million RBI currency swap, deferral of a $0.5 billion loan and another half a billion as a line of credit for the country to sustain its essential fuel imports.
Background of the crisis :
- Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis, and had declared an emergency in August last in the face of a crippling foreign exchange crunch.
- The nation is still facing significant fuel and gas shortages, and high inflation in essential goods as well as food items.
- The situation has triggered a series of protests by the political Opposition and citizens groups
- Sri Lanka is due to repay foreign debt totalling nearly $7 billion this year, amid a persisting shortage of dollars to import food, medicines and other essentials.
- It has already sought China’s help to restructure its loans that amount to 10% of its total foreign debt.
Major collaborations between the countries :
- Recently :
- Export Import Bank (EXIM) of India and the Government of Sri Lanka signed a $500 million Line of Credit agreement which would help Sri Lanka cope with its current fuel shortages.
- Earlier India announced it would defer Sri Lankan debt repayment of $500 million by two months, and extended a $400 million currency swap arrangement
- India – sri lanka trade is $6.2bn in 2018-19 with india’s exports were 4.7bn and 1.5bn were imports this has grown 9 times between 2000-01
- India is largest trading partner of sri lanka while sri lanka is india’s second largest trading partner in SAARC
- Both signed MOU’s for India to develop Trincomalee port and LNG terminals in Kerawalapitiya
- Joint indo-japan agreement to develop east container terminal at colombo harbour
- India has been offered to operate the mattala airport
- India has taken up building infrastructure in northern and eastern provinces devastated by war(upgrading jaffna-colombo rail track)
- India is also rebuilding the kankesanthurai port and providing electricity transmission line for power importers
Indian firms buy more oil from Russia, energy ties may deepen
Context and news :
- India is expected to deepen energy cooperation with Russia as several major Western economies have continued to source Russian energy despite tough U.S. sanctions.
- After Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) which bought 3 million barrles, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) has bought two million barrels of Russian crude oil as Indian energy majors forge ahead with attempts to secure a part of Russian energy supply.
- The policy decision, it appears, is part of India’s plans to ensure energy security as the oil and gas market continues to witness volatility in the backdrop of European developments of the past few weeks.
- However the energy cooperation with Russia will require some necessary adjustments in the financial front because of the challenges posed by the American sanctions.
- The move shows that the government has adopted a pragmatic approach in this matter and is likely to forge ahead.
- Another similar energy consignment is expected as Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) has floated a tender, seeking one million barrels of same kind of crude.
- The Indian orders for Russian crude oil are prompted by the fact that the Western sanctions have forced many countries to avoid Russian oil and gas. This has created an opportunity for some of the major energy importers like India who can source Russian crude from the market at special discounts.
- To capture the opportunity, Indian refiners are floating tenders to buy such discounted oil.
- The IOC, the nation’s top oil firm, last week bought three million barrels of Urals at a discount of $20-25 a barrel to Brent crude.
- However, companies that are deeply engaged with the U.S. economy may not be able to purchase Russian crude. This is evident in the case of Reliance Industries Ltd, operator of the world’s biggest refining complex, which may avoid purchase of Russian energy as it has a huge exposure in the U.S. and the sanctions against Russia may hurt its business.
- Russia was not among the top energy suppliers to India in the past, though there were signs in recent years of broadening collaboration. Last year, the ONGC and the IOC signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Role of the ICJ
- As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to escalate, the United Nations’ top court ordered Moscow to immediately halt its “military operations” in Ukraine.
- The decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) comes as Russia has intensified shelling and airstrikes on Ukrainian cities with its forces in place around major cities including the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
- Among other judges who voted against Russia, India’s judge at the ICJ, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, also voted.
- However Justice Bhandari’s vote against Russia does not represent India’s stance on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. It is an independent move.
- Ukraine has accused Russia of falsely claiming that “acts of genocide have occurred in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts of Ukraine”, and of using that as a pretext to recognise the independence of these regions and of going to war against Ukraine
What is the international court of justice ?
- The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN).
- The ICJ is based at the Peace Palace in The Hague.
- It is the only one of the six principal organs of the UN that is not located in New York City.
- Its official languages are English and French.
- The ICJ has 15 judges who are elected to nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, which vote simultaneously but separately.
- The judges are distributed as per the regions:
- 3 from Africa
- 2 from Latin America and the Caribbean
- 3 from Asia
- 5 from Western Europe and other states
- 2 from Eastern Europe
- The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
- It has no jurisdiction to try individuals accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
- As it is not a criminal court, it does not have a prosecutor able to initiate proceedings.
- The ICJ is not an apex court to which national courts can turn to.
- It also does not act like an appeal court for international tribunals, however, it can make a ruling on the validity of the arbitration awards.
- The ICJ cannot suo moto take up a case. It can only hear cases or disputes when requested to do so by States
Ujjwala Yojana: Over 1.5 lakh lives saved in a year, 13% reduction in air pollution deaths
- The first independent impact assessment of the Ujjwala programme has highlighted its benefits in terms of saving of lives and reduction in air pollution
- Reduction in Death: Greater penetration and usage of LPG as a cooking fuel is estimated to have prevented at least 1.5 lakh pollution-related premature deaths in the year 2019 alone.
- Reduction in pollution: It also avoided at least 8 million tonnes of PM2.5 emissions in 2019 (13% reduction in air pollution deaths)
Other Study by researchers from IIT Kanpur:
- It had shown a vast improvement not just in prevalence of respiratory diseases but also in general health conditions in villages with high coverage of Ujjwala connections.
- The survey had found 50 per cent improvement in general health conditions in villages of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with high coverage of Ujjwala connections.
About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:
- To provide LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) connections to poor households and reduce health risk associated with burning biomass.
- Empowering women and protecting their health.
- Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel.
- Preventing young children from a significant number of acute respiratory illnesses caused due to indoor air pollution by burning fossil fuel.
- Key features:
- PMUY was launched in 2016 and is implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas through its Oil Marketing Companies. Through PMUY, initially, 5 crores below poverty line (BPL) households were targeted for providing deposit free LPG connections to BPL households
- BPL is a person/ household who suffers from at least one deprivation under the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)
- Eligible beneficiaries :
- PMUY beneficiaries are identified through Socio-Economic Caste Census List-2011 and in such cases where names are not covered under SECC list, beneficiaries are identified from these categories:
- All SC/STs households beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana(PMAY) (Gramin)
- Antyoday Anna Yojana (AAY)
- Forest dwellers Most Backward Classes (MBC)
- Tea & Ex-Tea Garden Tribes
- People residing in Islands and People residing in river islands.
- Benefits given :
- Cash assistance for PMUY connections is provided by Government of India – Rs. 1600
- The cash assistance covers:
- Security Deposit of Cylinder Rs. 1250 for 14.2 kg cylinder/ Rs. 800 for 5 kg cylinder
- Pressure Regulator(Rs. 150)
- LPG Hose(Rs. 100)
- Domestic Gas Consumer Card(Rs. 25)
- Inspection/ Installation/ Demonstration charges(Rs. 75)
- Additionally, All PMUY beneficiaries will be provided with first LPG refill and Stove (hotplate) both free of cost along with their deposit free connection by the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs).
- Achievements of the scheme :
- Government data shows that by January 2022, 9 crore new LPG connections had been rolled out under this scheme, and that 99.8 per cent of the over 28 crore households in India now have access to LPG, up from 61.9 per cent in 2015.
India unveils its Arctic policy, focuses on combating climate change
- The Centre released India’s Arctic Policy, with the aim of enhancing the country’s cooperation with the resource-rich and rapidly transforming region.
The relevance of Arctic for India can be broadly explained under three categories:
Scientific Research, Climate Change and Environment
- The changes occurring in the Arctic are yet to be understood fully, but it is clear that they have been impacting global weather, climate and ecosystems including the monsoons in India.
- During the monsoons, India receives over 70 per cent of its annual precipitation. India’s agriculture,is directly dependent on monsoons
Rising Sea Level
- The ice loss in the Arctic is a major contributor to global sea-level rise and it can have a significant impact on India, especially over its 1,300 island territories and maritime features
- The Arctic and the Himalayas, though geographically distant, are interconnected and share similar concerns. The Arctic meltdown is helping the scientific community to better understand the glacial melt in the Himalayas.
Economic and Human Resources
- Mineral Resources and Hydrocarbons
- Arctic region has rich deposits of coal, gypsum and diamonds and also substantial reserves of zinc, lead, placer gold and quartz. Greenland alone possesses about a quarter of world’s rare earth reserves.
- India is the third-largest energy-consuming country in the world, the third-largest oil importer (83 per cent) and the fourth-largest importer of gas which caters to almost half of the total gas consumption.
- Mineral Resources and Hydrocarbons
- Arctic can therefore potentially address India’s energy security needs and deficiency of strategic and rare earth minerals.
Geopolitical and Strategic
- The melting Arctic ice is also raising the geopolitical temperatures to levels not seen since the Cold War.
- In 2018, China’s White Paper on Arctic policy called itself a ‘Near-Arctic State’.
- It also referred to trans-Arctic shipping routes as the Polar Silk Road, identifying it as a third transportation corridor for the Belt and Road Initiative
- Russia accounts for almost half of the Arctic in terms of area, coastline, population, mineral wealth and hydrocarbons.
- Even though the Russian Arctic houses just 1.5 per cent of Russia’s population, its contribution to the country’s GDP is 15 per cent.
- The opening of the shipping routes and possibilities of increased resource extraction is leading to the big three – US, China and Russia and NATO, jockeying for position and influence in the region.
Six pillars of the policy :
- Science and Research
- Economic and Human Development Cooperation
- Climate and Environmental Protection
- Transportation and Connectivity
- Governance and International Cooperation
- National Capacity Building
The Objectives of the Policy :
- Strengthening national capabilities and competencies in science and exploration, climate and environmental protection, maritime and economic cooperation with the Arctic region. Institutional and human resource capacities will be strengthened within Government and academic, research and business institutions.
- Inter-ministerial coordination in pursuit of India’s interests in the Arctic.
- Enhancing understanding of the impact of climate change in the Arctic on India’s climate, economic, and energy security.
- Contributing better analysis, prediction, and coordinated policymaking on the implications of ice melting in the Arctic on India’s economic, military and strategic interests related to global shipping routes, energy security, and exploitation of mineral wealth.
- Studying linkages between polar regions and the Himalayas.
- Deepen cooperation between India and countries of the Arctic region under various Arctic forums, drawing expertise from scientific and traditional knowledge.
- Increase India’s participation in the Arctic Council and improve understanding of the complex governance structures in the Arctic, relevant international laws, and geopolitics of the region
India’s first hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric car project
- Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways, inaugurated a pilot project for Hydrogen-based advanced Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)
About the project :
- Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd. along with International Center for Automotive Technology (ICAT) initiated this Pilot project to study and evaluate the world’s most advanced FCEV Toyota Mirai which runs on hydrogen, on Indian roads and climatic conditions.
- The aim is to spread awareness regarding Hydrogen, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) technology, and disseminate the benefits to support a hydrogen-based ecosystem.
How does the hydrogen fuel cell work in electric vehicles?
- A fuel-cell electric vehicle is essentially a hybrid electric vehicle wherein, the internal combustion engine is replaced with a fuel-cell stack.
- The onboard sources of power include hydrogen as well as an advanced battery
- The fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate an electric current, water being the only byproduct.
- Fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical process.
- And, there are no moving parts in the fuel cell, so they are more efficient and reliable by comparison.
How is it different from an electric vehicle (EV)?
- Unlike a battery-electricity vehicle, it does not store energy and, instead, relies on a constant supply of fuel and oxygen in the same way that an internal combustion engine relies on a constant supply of petrol or diesel, and oxygen.
Advantages of fuel cells:
- They produce much smaller quantities of greenhouse gases and none of the air pollutants that cause health problems.
- If pure hydrogen is used, fuel cells emit only heat and water as a byproduct.
- They are also energy efficient than traditional combustion technologies.
- Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles most models exceed 300 km of range on a full tank.
- The process of making hydrogen needs energy often from fossil fuel sources. That has raised questions over hydrogen’s green credentials.
- There are questions of safety as hydrogen is more explosive than petrol.
UPSC Civil Services Daily Current Affairs 18th March 2022
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