Current Affairs Dec 17

MoU between India and USA

Why in News?

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister has given its approval for Central Electricity Regulatory Commission’s proposal
  • For entering into a Memorandum of Understanding between Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), India and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), United States of America (USA)
  • For exchange of information and experiences in areas of mutual interest to both in the electricity sectors.
  • The MoU will help in improving regulatory and policy framework for developing efficient wholesale power market and enhancing grid reliability.

The activities to be carried out under the MoU include the following:        

  • Identify energy-related issues and develop topics and possible agendas for the exchange of information and regulatory practices in areas of mutual interest;
  • Organize visits by Commissioners and/or staff to participate in activities at each other’s facilities;
  • Participate in seminars, visit, and exchanges;
  • Develop programs of mutual interests and where appropriate hold these programs locally to enhance participation;
  • When practical and of mutual interest, provide speakers on energy issues and other personnel (management or technical).


North Eastern Region Power System Improvement Project

Why in News?

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister has approved the Revised Cost Estimate (RCE) of North Eastern Region Power System Improvement Project (NERPSIP) at an estimated cost of Rs. 6,700 crore.


  • This is a major step towards economic development of North Eastern Region through strengthening of Intra – State Transmission and Distribution systems.
  • The scheme is being implemented through POWERGRID, a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under Ministry of Power
  • In association with six beneficiary North Eastern States namely, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura and is targeted to be commissioned by December 2021.
  • After commissioning, the project will be owned and maintained by the respective North Eastern State Utilities.


  • The main objective of the project is Government commitment for the total economic development of North Eastern Region and to strengthen the Intra-State Transmission & Distribution Infrastructure in the North East Region.


  • The Scheme was initially approved in December 2014 as a Central Sector Plan Scheme of Ministry of Power and
  • Is being funded with the assistance of World Bank fund and by the Government of India through the Budget support of Ministry of Power on 50:50 basis (World Bank: Gol)
  • Except for the capacity building component for Rs 89 crore, which will be entirely funded by the Government of India (Gol).




Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS)

Why in News?

  • Extending support to J&K and Ladakh students, AICTE has decided to release the instalment of Rs. 20,000/- as maintenance allowance under Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS).
  • The decision has been taken to support & empower students for completing their online studies.
  • Under the PMSSS Scheme, the youths of J&K and Ladakh are supported by way of scholarship in two parts namely the academic fee & maintenance allowance.


  • An Expert Group was constituted by the Prime Minister for enhancing employment opportunity among youths of J&K and Ladakh and formulate job opportunities in public and private sectors.
  • Subsequently, Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) is being implemented by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), New Delhi.
  • The Scheme aims to build the capacities of the youths of J&K and Ladakh by Educating, Enabling and Empowering them to compete in the normal course.
  • Under the Scheme, the youths of J&K and Ladakh are supported by way of scholarship in two parts namely the academic fee & maintenance allowance.
  • The academic fee is paid to the institution where the student is provided admission after on-line counselling process conducted by the AICTE.
  • The academic fee covers tuition fee and other components as per the ceiling fixed for various professional, medical and other under-graduate courses.
  • In order to meet expenditure towards hostel accommodation, mess expenses, books & stationery etc., a fixed amount of Rs.1.00 Lakh is provided to the beneficiary and is paid in instalments @ Rs. 10,000/- per month directly into students account.




Aircraft Leasing Regulations

What is it?

  • India is poised to become the 3rd largest aviation market in the world by 2022.
  • In January 2019, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation published a report, ‘Project Rupee Raftar’, that provided roadmap to developing an aircraft financing and leasing industry in India.
  • The report identified International Financial Services Centre (GIFT city) for developing aircraft leasing and financing eco-system in the country.
  • On 16th October, 2020, Government of India , on the recommendation of International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA), had notified ‘Aircraft lease which shall include operating and financial lease and any hybrid of operating and financial lease of aircraft or helicopter and engines of aircraft or helicopter or any part thereof’ as a financial product under International Financial Services Centres Authority Act, 2019.
  • Considering, Aircraft leasing is a relatively new industry in India and Aircraft Leasing related regulations are different across various financial centres, IFSCA has prepared draft regulations for Aircraft Leasing and in order to get inputs from stakeholders as well as public comments.
  • Based on the comments from public, authority would finalize the regulations and provide framework for Aircraft leasing entities to set up operations in IFSC.




GoI, World Bank sign 400 million dollar project

Why in News?

  • The Government of India and the World Bank signed a $400 million project to support India’s efforts at providing social assistance to the poor and vulnerable households, severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This is the second operation in a programmatic series of two. The first operation of $750 million was approved in May 2020.
  • The $400 million credit is from the International Development Association (IDA) – the World Bank’s concessionary lending arm.




Citizen Centric Reforms

Why in News?

  • The Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, has extended the deadline for the States to complete citizen centric reforms in various sectors.
  • Now, if the recommendation from the nodal Ministry concerned regarding implementation of the reform is received by 15th February, 2021, the State will be eligible for reform linked benefits.

The Government of India has identified four critical areas for reforms by the States:

  • Implementation of One Nation One Ration Card System,
  • Ease of doing business reform,
  • Urban Local body/ utility reforms and
  • Power Sector reforms.
  • States successfully completing the reforms are eligible to get two benefits.
  • Such States get the facility of additional borrowing equivalent to 0.25 percent of their Gross States Domestic Product (GSDP) for completing each reform.
  • Under this facility, additional borrowings of up to Rs.2.14 lakh crore is available to the States on completion of all the four reforms.
  • The second benefit available to the States completing three out of the four reforms is additional funds assistance under the “Scheme for Financial Assistance to States for Capital Expenditure”.
  • Under the scheme, an amount of Rs.2,000 crore is earmarked for the States that will complete at least three out of the four stipulated reforms.




National Hydrology Project

Why in News?

  • Review of the National Hydrology Project (World Bank supported initiative of Ministry of Jal Shakti) was carried out by Minister.

About Project

  • National Hydrology Project (NHP) was started in the year 2016 as a Central Sector Scheme with 100% grant to Implementing agencies on pan India basis with a budget outlay of Rs 3680 Crore to be spent over a period of 8 years.
  • The project aims at improving the extent, reliability and accessibility of water resources information and to strengthen the capacity of targeted water resource management institutions in India.
  • Thus NHP is facilitating acquisition of reliable information efficiently which would pave the way for an effective water resource development and management.




Golden Peacock Environment Management Award 2020

Why in News?

  • Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) has been awarded with the prestigious Golden Peacock Environment Management Award for the year 2020 in the Steel Sector by the Institute of Directors.
  • SAIL has been the winner of this award for successive two years and this bears testimony to the efforts made by the Company for sustainable and environmentally responsible steel making.
  • This award is one of the most coveted awards in the category.
  • Considering various environmental issues leading to global warming and climate change, the award encourages corporates to enhance their environmental performance and to compete with peers to set benchmarks.




Chang’e 5 probe

Why in News?

  • A Chinese lunar capsule has returned to Earth with the first fresh samples of rock and debris from the moon in more than 40 years.

Where it Landed?

  • The capsule of the Chang’e 5 probe landed in the Siziwang district of the Inner Mongolia region.
  • The capsule earlier separated from its orbiter module and performed a bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through and floating to the ground on parachutes.

What it does?

  • Two of the Chang’e 5’s four modules set down on the moon on December 1 and collected about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples by scooping them from the surface and by drilling 2 metres (about 6 feet) into the moon’s crust.
  • The samples were deposited in a sealed container that was carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle.
  • The successful mission was the latest breakthrough for China’s increasingly ambitious space programme that includes a robotic mission to Mars and plans for a permanent orbiting space station.
  • Those rocks and debris are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained by the U.S. and former Soviet Union, offering new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system.
  • They come from a part of the moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was believed to have been volcanic in ancient times.




Cyclone Yasa

Why in News?

  • The Fiji government ordered a nationwide curfew including a ban on public transportation, with a potentially devastating cyclone expected to unleash powerful winds and flooding on the island nation within a day.
  • Cyclone Yasa, a top category five storm, is expected to bring winds of up to 250 kmh (155 mph) and torrential rain across the South Pacific archipelago nation when it makes landfall.
  • Yasa would “easily surpass” the strength of 2016’s Cyclone Winston, southern hemisphere’s most intense tropical storm on record.




Human Development Index

Why in News?

  • India dropped two ranks in the United Nations’ Human Development Index this year, standing at 131 out of 189 countries.
  • However, if the Index were adjusted to assess the planetary pressures caused by each nation’s development, India would move up eight places in the ranking.

Planetary Pressures-adjusted HDI or PHDI

  • For the first time, the United Nations Development Programme introduced a new metric to reflect the impact caused by each country’s per-capita carbon emissions and its material footprint, which measures the amount of fossil fuels, metals and other resources used to make the goods and services it consumes.
  • Norway, which tops the HDI, falls 15 places if this metric is used, leaving Ireland at the top of the table. In fact, 50 countries would drop entirely out of the “very high human development group” category, using this new metric, called the Planetary Pressures-adjusted HDI, or PHDI.
  • Australia falls 72 places in the ranking, while the United States and Canada would fall 45 and 40 places respectively, reflecting their disproportionate impact on natural resources.
  • The oil and gas-rich Gulf States also fell steeply. China would drop 16 places from its current ranking of 85.
  • China’s net emissions (8 gigatonnes) are 34% below its territorial emissions (12.5 gigatonnes) compared with 19% in India and 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The HDI itself is an assessment of a nation’s health, education and standards of living.
  • Although this year’s report covers 2019 only, and does not account for the impact of COVID, it projected that in 2020, global HDI would fall below for the first time in the three decades since the Index was introduced.

Gross national income per capita

  • According to the report published by the United Nations Development Programme, India’s gross national income per capita fell to $6,681 in 2019 from $6,829 in 2018 on purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.
  • Purchasing power parity or PPP is a measurement of prices in different countries that uses the prices of specific goods to compare the absolute purchasing power of the countries’ currencies.
  • Evidence from Colombia to India indicates that financial security and ownership of land improve women’s security and reduce the risk of gender-based violence, clearly indicating that owning land can empower women.
  • Indigenous children in Cambodia, India and Thailand show more malnutrition-related issues such as stunting and wasting.
  • In India different responses in parent behaviour as well as some disinvestment in girls’ health and education have led to higher malnutrition among girls than among boys as a consequence of shocks likely linked to climate change.
  • Under the Paris Agreement, India pledged to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP from the 2005 level by 33-35% by 2030 and to obtain 40% of electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.
  • As part of the plan, the National Solar Mission aims to promote solar energy for power generation and other uses to make solar energy competitive with fossil fuel—based options.
  • Solar capacity in India increased from 2.6 gigawatts in March 2014 to 30 gigawatts in July 2019, achieving its target of 20 gigawatts four years ahead of schedule.
  • In 2019, India ranked fifth for installed solar capacity.




Amur Falcon

Why in News?

  • An Amur falcon was sighted earlier recently on the campus of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) at Kodiakkarai, abutting the Point Calimere Sanctuary, in Nagapattinam district.
  • The bird, sighted for the first time in the area.
  • It is unusual to find the bird in south India. Usually, it takes the path of central India on its lengthy migration from the breeding grounds in Russia and China to South Africa.


  • The small, resilient birds make the daring voyage to winter in southern Africa.
  • The falcons are supposed to cross the Arabian Sea during their migration, but much is still unknown about the patterns of their estimated 22,000 km journey.
  • Migratory birds have gathered in and around Point Calimere this northeast monsoon season.


  • For long-distance migratory shorebirds, staging as well as stopover sites are of critical importance. Shorebirds are sensitive indicators of global climate change, and the populations of many long-distance migrants are in decline.

Rising sea level

  • The rising sea level is certainly affecting migratory and wintering shorebirds, perhaps favouring some and not others.
  • The birds seen here include flamingoes, painted storks, pelicans, gulls, ducks, terns, and a variety of shorebirds.




Bolivian Andes

Why in News?

  • A scientific expedition high in the Bolivian Andes revealed 20 species new to science, including “lilliputian frog” plus four rediscovered species including the “devil-eyed frog” previously thought to be extinct.
  • The expedition was led by the environmental group and the government of capital city La Paz.
  • The remarkable rediscovery of species once thought extinct, especially so close to the city of La Paz, illustrates how sustainable development that embraces conservation of nature can ensure long-term protection of biodiversity.

About Discoveries

  • The lilliputian frog measures only about 10 millimeters in length, making it one of the smallest amphibians in the world.
  • Due to their tiny size and habit of living in tunnels beneath the thick layers of moss in the cloud forest, they were difficult to find even by tracking their frequent calls.
  • Four new butterfly species were also discovered, including two species of “metalmark butterflies”, which feed on flower nectar in open areas and forest clearings.
  • The devil-eyed frog, which was previously known only from a single individual observed more than 20 years ago, was found to be relatively abundant in the cloud forest.
  • “Alzatea verticillata,” a small flowering tree that was previously known only from a single record in Bolivia and was found on this expedition after 127 years.




SC to Study Plea for Uniform Divorce, Alimony Rules for All

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court agreed to examine a plea to frame uniform guidelines on divorce, maintenance and alimony for all religions.

Petitioner Argument

  • The petitioner argued that divorce, maintenance and alimony laws in certain religions discriminated and marginalised women.
  • These anomalies, varying from one religion to another, were violative of the right to equality (Article 14 of the Constitution) and right against discrimination (Article 15) on the basis of religion and gender and right to dignity, wants the laws on divorce, maintenance and alimony to be “gender-neutral and religion-neutral.
  • Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and the Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act 1956.
  • Muslims are dealt as per status of valid marriage and prenuptial agreement and governed under the Muslim Women Act 1986.
  • Christians are governed under the Indian Divorce Act 1869 and Parsis under the Parsi Marriage & Divorce Act 1936, but none of these laws are gender neutral.





Why in News?

  • The iceberg — named A-68s — is travelling at varying speeds depending on local conditions, but at its fastest was travelling about 20 kilometers a day.
  • A team of scientists will set off next month on a research mission to find out the impact of a giant floating iceberg on the wildlife and marine life on a sub-Antarctic island.
  • The huge iceberg — the size of the U.S. state of Delaware — has been floating north since it broke away from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf in 2017.
  • It is now about 75 kilometers from the island of South Georgia, and scientists are concerned over the risks it poses to the wildlife in the area if it grounds near the island.

About South Georgia

  • South Georgia is home to colonies of tens of thousands of penguins and 6 million fur seals, which could be threatened by the iceberg during their breeding season.
  • The waters near the island are also one of the world’s largest marine protected areas and house more marine species than the Galapagos.

About Mission

  • The research ship RRS James Cook is expected to depart from the Falkland Islands for the iceberg in late January.
  • Two underwater robotic gliders will be deployed from the ship and spend several months collecting data to help investigate the impact of freshwater from the melting ice on the region.




Asian Games

Why in News?

  • The 2030 Asian Games were awarded to Doha, Qatar and the 2034 event went to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after a deal was struck between the rival nations.
  • Doha beat Riyadh for the 2030 Games in the vote at the Olympic Council of Asia’s (OCA) general assembly.
  • Saudi Arabia is one of four countries which has imposed a trade and travel boycott on Qatar since 2017.
  • Qatar will also host the 2022 World Cup.




‘Currency Manipulators’ Monitoring List

Why in News?

  • The U.S. Treasury labelled Switzerland and Vietnam as currency manipulators and added three new names, including India, to a watch list of countries it suspects of taking measures to devalue their currencies against the dollar.

Treasury’s criteria

  • To be labelled a manipulator by the U.S. Treasury, countries must at least have a $20 billion-plus bilateral trade surplus with the U.S., foreign currency intervention exceeding 2% of gross domestic product and a global current account surplus exceeding 2% of GDP.

India’s intervention

  • India and Singapore had also intervened in the foreign exchange market in a “sustained, asymmetric manner” but did not meet other requirements to warrant designation as manipulators.




Ubirajara Jubatus

What is it & Why in News?

  • About 110 million years ago along the shores of an ancient lagoon in what is now northeastern Brazil, a two-legged chicken-sized Cretaceous Period dinosaur made a living hunting insects and perhaps small vertebrates like frogs and lizards.
  • This dinosaur, called Ubirajara jubatus, possessed a mane of hair-like structures while also boasting two utterly unique, stiff, ribbon-like features probably made of keratin — the same substance that makes up hair and fingernails — protruding from its shoulders.
  • Ubirajara’s hair-like structures appear to be a rudimentary form of feathers called protofeathers.
  • This was not actual hair, an exclusively mammalian feature.
  • Many dinosaurs had feathers.
  • In fact, birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs about 150 million years ago.




Great Pyramid artefact found in Scotland

Why in News?

  • One of only three artefacts ever recovered from inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid has been found in a misplaced cigar tin in a Scottish university collection.
  • The fragment of cedar wood, which has been found to date back 5,000 years to the building of the pyramid at Giza, was first discovered in the late 19th century but had been missing for more than 70 years.
  • A record discovered in 2001 appeared to show the fragment — found alongside a ball and a bronze hook thought to be used for construction — had been donated to the University of Aberdeen.
  • The fragment — initially measuring five inches or around 13 centimetres but now in several pieces — was first discovered in the Great Pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber in 1872 by engineer Waynman Dixon.
  • It made its way to the Scottish city because of a link between Dixon and a medical doctor named James Grant who studied in Aberdeen and went to Egypt to treat cholera in the mid-1860s.
  • Carbon dating results, placed the wood at somewhere between 3341 and 3094 BC, long before the construction of the pyramid. This supports the theory the items were left behind by builders rather than by later explorers.




Young Champions of the Earth Prize

Why in News?

  • A 29-year-old Indian entrepreneur is among the seven winners of the prestigious “Young Champions of the Earth” 2020 prize given by the UN environment agency to global change-makers using innovative ideas and ambitious action to help solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.
  • Vidyut Mohan, an engineer, is the co-founder of “Takachar”, a social enterprise enabling farmers to prevent open burning of their waste farm residues and earn extra income by converting them into value-added chemicals like activated carbon on-site.
  • Takachar buys rice husks, straw and coconut shells from farmers and turns them into charcoal, saving the debris from the fires, which are also a driver of climate change.
  • Since Takachar was launched in 2018, Mohan and its co-founder Kevin Kung have worked with about 4,500 farmers and processed 3,000 tonnes of crops.
  • By deploying small-scale, low-cost portable biomass upgrading equipment, Takachar enables rural farmers to earn 40 per cent more by converting their crop residues into fuels, fertilisers and value-added chemicals like activated carbon (AC) on-site.
  • By choosing activated carbon (AC) as the starting market, Takachar brings this value chain to the doorstep of farmers and hence reduces air pollution associated with crop residue burning, while ensuring a stable, renewable, pollution free and financially lucrative raw material supply for the AC industry vs. Traditional fossil based sources.
  • This year’s Young Champions were selected by a global jury of experts following a competitive public nomination.
  • Each will receive $10,000 in seed funding and tailored training to help scale up their ideas. The Young Champions of the Earth prize is awarded every year to seven entrepreneurs under the age of 30 with bold ideas for sustainable environmental change.


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