16th August, 2018-IAS Current Affairs
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‘Kerala floods’ (GS3: Disaster and disaster management)
Issue: A resurgent monsoon brought Kerala to its knees on Wednesday, with the State tottering under the worst floods in its history.
Towns and settlements were cut off by flash floods and landslips; train, air and road traffic were disrupted; and 35 dams and barrages had to be opened to let out water from fast-filling reservoirs.
Reason for intensifying of rain spell
The current spell of rains is attributed to a depression over coastal Odisha which developed on Wednesday morning. A weather inference issued by the India Met Department said the system remained practically stationary over the same region
‘Independence day speech highlights’ (GS2: Government policies for development in various sectors)
Issue: In his last Independence Day address before the next general election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced not just the launch date for his ambitious health insurance scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Abhiyan (PMJAA), but also permanent commission for women officers on short service commission in the uniformed services and plans for a manned space mission.
The PMJAA, touted as the world’s largest healthcare scheme, aims to provide a cover of Rs. 5 lakh per family annually, benefiting more than 10 crore poor families. It will be launched on September 25.
‘Australia and Droughts’ (GS1: World Geography)
Issue: The drought sweeping through large tracts of Australia is set to intensify over the next three months and is fuelling unseasonal winter bushfires
Observations made by the meteorology agencies
An unusually warm winter followed by what is expected to be a warmer-than-average spring would mean intensification of the existing drought conditions across parts of eastern Australia
Current situation of drought in Australia
- Record-low rainfall in some regions and successive seasons of above-average temperatures has blighted vast tracts of Australia’s grazing and crop land.
- All of New South Wales, the country’s most populous state that accounts for a quarter of Australia’s agricultural output by value, is officially in drought.
- Australia recorded its fifth-driest July on record last month. It was the driest January-to-July period in New South Wales since 1965 and marked seven consecutive months of below-average rainfall for the state.
‘Forest revival’ (GS2: Civil society)
Issue: Every year in the months of June, July and August, writers, progressive farmers and environmentalists — all members of Pragnavanta Parisara Vedike — gather in Devarayanadurga reserve forest of Tumakuru district to sow seeds.
It’s a tradition that was started nearly two decades ago, with one goal — to revive around 25 acres of forest that was stripped bare of thick vegetation due to constant fires.
Benefits of such an effort
- They hope to not only increase the green cover but also provide a variety of vegetation to wild animals so that they won’t be tempted to forage for food in cultivated cropland.
- Peacocks, deer, bears, leopards and other animals are coming to the villages in search of food and destroy the crops grown by the farmers. For the past two decades members come to the forest and sow the seeds of honge, guava, papaya, vegetables, mango, jackfruit and Jambu to not only provide source of food to the animals but also to minimize ‘Man-Animal conflict’
Note: An aspirant can use such examples in Mains to highlight the role of civil society in conservation of flora and fauna
‘T K Vishwanathan committee’ (GS2: Regulatory agencies)
Issue: A panel headed by T.K. Viswanathan, a former Lok Sabha Secretary General, has now submitted recommendations to curb illegal practices in the markets and ensure fair conduct among investors.
Major recommendations of the committee
- A key recommendation is that the stock market watchdog be granted the power to act directly against “perpetrators of financial statements fraud”.
- This means SEBI can act not only against listed entities under its extant powers but also against those who aid or abet financial fraud — including accountants and auditors.
- The panel has suggested that SEBI, rather than the Central government, be given the power to grant immunity to whistle-blowers who help uncover illegal activities.
- It has mooted new ideas to address market manipulation, from better scrutiny of price-sensitive information to the creation of processes to expedite investigation into cases. It goes to the extent of recommending that SEBI be given powers to tap phone calls.
Reason for providing such broad-spectrum powers to SEBI
Greater executive powers, it is being suggested, can help the regulator take swifter action against offenders instead of relying on government bodies such as the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
A strong regulator serves as a good deterrent to truants in the market
Some concerns against the committee recommendations
- Banking on fear too much could also scare away genuine investors.
- Given that SEBI is now considering a cap on trading by retail investors based on their assessed ‘net worth’, the committee’s suggestion that it may consider any trading by players beyond their known ‘financial resources’ as fraud could lead to undue harassment of investors.
‘Human Space flight’ (GS3: Science)
Issue: Gaganyaan, the human space flight Programme green-flagged and set for 2022 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is highly doable, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation K. Sivan said
About the proposed mission
The mission is estimated at ₹9000 crore. Most of the critical technologies and hardware required for the project are ready or have been demonstrated by its centres. ISRO would now stitch them up into a complete project and present a comprehensive project report to get a formal approval of the government
When it achieves the mission, India would be the fourth nation to circle Earth after the Soviets, the Americans and the Chinese. In 1984, India’s first astronaut Wing Commander (retd.) Rakesh Sharma orbited Earth as part of a Soviet mission.
The most critical elements of the human mission are the Environment Control and Life Support Systems that make the crew capsule liveable and the flight safe for the astronauts. Food and hygiene are other aspects. These technologies are getting ready while space suits are being developed at ISRO
The launch-pad at the Sriharikota spaceport, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, would be enhanced for the human mission.
‘Buddha image’ (GS1: Indian art. Architecture and craft)
Issue: A ‘priceless’ 12th century bronze Buddha statue that was stolen from Bihar 57 years ago has been returned by British police to the Indian High Commission in London.
In recent years, many artefacts have been returned to India from abroad: in 2016 over 200 stolen artefacts were returned by the U.S. during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. Australia returned three sculptures including a 3rd century rock carving. This year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York said it would return a stone sculpture of Durga Mahishasuramardini, from Baijnath temple in Himachal Pradesh and the head of a deity from Nagarjunakonda museum in Andhra Pradesh.
‘Stressed Accounts’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: As part of its efforts to contain rising non-performing assets (NPAs), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has started scrutiny of 200 large accounts to assess the level of stress and provisioning done against them by respective banks.
The RBI is examining whether banks have followed prudential norms in respect of these stressed assets
Situation of NPA in India
This exercise comes at a time when gross NPAs in the banking system have risen to about ₹10.3 lakh crore, or 11.2 % of advances, compared with ₹8 lakh crore, or 9.5 % of total loans, as on March 31, 2017.
What is an NPA?
A nonperforming asset (NPA) refers to a classification for loans or advances that are in default or are in arrears on scheduled payments of principal or interest. In most cases, debt is classified as nonperforming when loan payments have not been made for a period of 90 days
Although the most common nonperforming assets are term loans, there are six other ways loans and advances are NPAs:
- Overdraft and cash credit (OD/CC) accounts left out-of-order for more than 90 days
- Agricultural advances whose interest or principal installment payments remain overdue for two crop/harvest seasons for short duration crops or overdue one crop season for long duration crops
- Bill overdue for more than 90 days for bills purchased and discounted
- Expected payment is overdue for more than 90 days in respect of other accounts
- Non-submission of stock statements for 3 consecutive quarters in case of cash-credit facility
- No activity in the cash credit, overdraft, EPC, or PCFC account for more than 91 days
Banks are required to classify nonperforming assets in one of three categories according to how long the asset has been non-performing: sub-standard assets, doubtful assets, and loss assets. A sub-standard asset is an asset classified as an NPA for less than 12 months. A doubtful asset is an asset that has been non-performing for more than 12 months.
‘Tea Exports’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: India shipped larger quantities of tea to two neighbouring countries — China and Pakistan — in the first half of 2018, when overall tea exports increased to 112.1 million kg, from 107.1 million kg in the year earlier period.
About Tea cultivation in India
India is the world’s largest consumer of tea in the world – and the second largest producer of tea – including the world’s most popular tea varieties – like Assam and Darjeeling tea. However, the growth of tea as an industry in India has been relatively recent.
When did Tea originate in India?
Historical records indicate the prevalence of tea drinking in India since 750 BC. In the 16th century, a vegetable dish was also being prepared using tea leaves with garlic and oil. However, the credit for rediscovering tea and cultivating it at a commercial level goes to the British.
Tea Cultivation was commercialized by the British in India
Commercial tea cultivation in India was driven by British who consumed tea in enormous quantities, which they bought from China. By 1750, they were purchasing millions of pounds of tea every year from China. Even though the British managed to counterbalance it with opium trade to some extent, they found that their tea consumption was exorbitantly expensive and unsustainable.
Current level of tea production in India
Tea production in India has continued to prosper after 1947. The Marwari community played a key role in this regard, as many Marwaris took over tea plantations from British owners.
As per December 2013 figures, India has approximately 563,980 hectares of land under tea cultivation, and its largest tea cultivating states are:
- Assam 304,400 hectares
- West Bengal 140,440 hectares
- Tamil Nadu 69,620 hectares
- Kerala 35,010 hectares
Conditions for growing Tea
Tea requires a moderately hot and humid climate. Climate influences yield, crop distribution and quality. Tea grows best on well-drained fertile acid soil on high lands.
‘Aditya satellite’ (GS3: Science)
Issue: ISRO is launching the Aditya-L1, a satellite designed to study the solar corona, just like the Parker Solar Probe
About the mission
Aditya-L1 is a spacecraft whose mission is to study the Sun. It was conceptualized by the Advisory Committee for Space Research in January 2008. It has been designed and will be built in collaboration between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and various Indian research organizations and will be launched by ISRO around 2019 or 2020
It was initially envisaged as a small 400 kg, Low-Earth Orbiting Satellite with a coronagraph to study the solar corona and was initially approved by Government of India in 2008-09. The scope of the mission has since been expanded and it is now planned to be a comprehensive solar and space environment observatory to be placed at the Lagrangian point L1.
The Aditya-L1 mission will be inserted in a halo orbit around the L1, which is about 1.5 million km from the Earth. The 1,500 kg class satellite carries a total of seven payloads with diverse objectives, including but not limited to, the coronal heating problem, solar wind acceleration, coronal magnetometry, origin and monitoring of near-UV solar radiation (which drives Earth’s upper atmospheric dynamics and global climate), coupling of the solar photosphere to chromosphere and corona, in-situ characterizations of the space environment around Earth by measuring energetic particle fluxes and magnetic fields of the solar wind and solar magnetic storms that have adverse effects on space and ground-based technologies.
What is a Lagrangian point?
In celestial mechanics, the Lagrangian points are positions in an orbital configuration of two large bodies, wherein a small object, affected only by the gravitational forces from the two larger objects, will maintain its position relative to them. The Lagrange points mark positions where the combined gravitational pull of the two large masses provides precisely the centripetal force required to orbit at the same angular velocity (essentially, the speed of the orbit) and thus remain in the same relative position. There are five such points, labeled L1 to L5
Several planets have satellites near their L4 and L5 points (trojans) with respect to the Sun, with Jupiter in particular having more than a million of these. Artificial satellites have been placed at L1 and L2 with respect to the Sun and Earth, and Earth and the Moon, for various purposes
‘Ajit Wadekar’ (GS3: Achievements of Indians in the field of Sports)
Issue: Indian cricket suffered a major loss on Wednesday as Ajit Wadekar, the first man to lead India to a series win in England, passed away at 77 due to a prolonged illness in Mumbai.
Other achievements of Ajit Wadekar
- It was under Wadekar’s captaincy that the legend of Sunil Gavaskar, who made his debut on that 1971 tour of the Caribbean, was born and it was when Wadekar was coach that Sachin Tendulkar took his first steps towards becoming a legend in the early-to-mid 90s.
- Series win West indies under his captaincy
- Wadekar was also responsible for the ‘trial by spin’ that Indian teams would enforce upon all comers to devastating effect.