Minimum Support Price of Copra for 2021
Why in News?
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister has given its approval for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of copra for 2021 season.
- The MSP for Fair Average Quality (FAQ) of milling copra has been increased,by Rs.375/-, to Rs. 10335/- per quintal for 2021 season from Rs. 9960/- per quintal in 2020.
- The MSP for ball copra has been increased, by Rs.300/-, to Rs. 10,600/- per quintal for 2021 season from Rs. 10300/- per quintal in 2020.
- The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
- The increase in MSP for copra for 2021 season is in line with the principle of fixing the MSP at a level of at least 1.5 times the all India weighted average cost of production which was announced by the Government in the Budget 2018-19.
- It assures a minimum of 50 percent as margin of profit as one of the important and progressive steps towards making possible doubling of farmers’ incomes by 2022.
- The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) and National Cooperative Consumer Federation of India Limited (NCCF) will continue to act as Central Nodal Agencies to undertake price support operations at the MSP in the coconut growing States.
NICSI to celebrate its Silver Jubilee
Why in News?
- National Informatics Centre services Incorporated (NICSI), a Public Sector Enterprise under National Informatics Centre (NIC), Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) will celebrate 25 years of its establishment here on 28 January 2021.
- Tejas – a Virtual Intelligence tool (NIC&NICSI-CEDA) that extracts critical information from data to make its meaningful information for policy decisions and improving efficiency in government services and citizen delivery;
- e-Auction India – to cater to electronic forward and reverse auction requirements of the Govt. organisations serving online 24×7;
- NICSI started its journey in the ICT service industry on 29th August 1995.
- Providing end-to-end IT solutions for e-governance projects for Central and State Governments and other PSUs across India, NICSI extends its services to the International level too in certain projects.
- With a footprint in majority of eGov projects, NICSI is successfully sustaining and progressing forward in its vision and mission in suffice to the socio-economic development.
International Customs Day, 2021
- January 26 is celebrated as the International Customs Day (ICD). It is the day designated to honour the custom officials and agencies for their function in taking care of the flow of goods across the world borders.
- It is the day to commemorate the vital role of customs officials in handling the entire flow of goods across international borders.
- They ensure that world trade management is safe and secured.
What is customs?
- The flow of goods (ranging from personal items, animals, precarious objects) in and out of the country is monitored by the customs.
- The aim of this agency is to safely bridge gaps while borders continue to demarcate.
- The agencies believe that by lending support and guidance to the customs administration process, they connect countries.
- Customs management works towards creating a sustainable future by facilitating economic, social, environmental needs in the process.
International Customs Day 2021: Theme
- In 2020, the theme for the custom day celebration was “Customs fostering sustainability for people, prosperity, and the plant”. And “Smart borders for seamless trade, travel and transport” was 2019 theme.
- 2021 will witness the theme of “Customs bolstering recovery, renewal and resilience for a sustainable supply chain”” which will focus on the endeavours of customs to emerge from the pandemic crisis and help people.
Some facts about International Customs Day:
- It was on January 26, 1953 that the Customs Cooperation Council (CCC) had held its inaugural session in Brussels which was attended by representatives from 17 European countries.
- International Customs Day was created by CCC in 1983.
- In 1994, CCC was renamed as World Customs Organization (WCO).
- WCO is the only international body looking after international customs and matters concerning border control.
- WCO has head-quarter in Brussels, Belgium.
- WCO currently has custom organizations from 182 countries as its members.
- More than 98% of world trade is administered by WCO.
Strategic Partnership Agreement
Why in News?
- The Framework for Strategic Partnership between the International Energy Agency (IEA) members and the Government of India was signed to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation & enhance global energy security, stability and sustainability.
- This partnership will lead to an extensive exchange of knowledge and would be a stepping stone towards India becoming a full member of the IEA.
The contents of the Strategic partnership
- A phased increase in benefits and responsibilities for India as an IEA Strategic partner, and building on existing areas of work within Association and the Clean Energy Transitions Programme (CETP), such as Energy Security, Clean & Sustainable Energy, Energy Efficiency, Enhancing petroleum storage capacity in India, Expansion of gas-based economy in India etc.
- The IEA Secretariat will be responsible for implementation of the cooperative activities in India and for facilitating discussion between the IEA Members and India to further develop the Strategic Partnership.
International Energy Agency (IEA)
- The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an international intergovernmental organization that was established in 1974.
- Its stated mandate is to maintain the stability of the international oil supply, although its mission has expanded in recent years to emphasize the promotion of renewable energy sources.
- It was founded in response to the 1973 oil crisis, in which the supply chain for oil temporarily broke down.
- In recent years, the IEA has also focused on renewable energy and initiatives focused on environmental protection and stopping climate change.
- The IEA has made three interventions in recent years: in 1991, 2005, and 2011.
- In each instance, IEA member countries released oil from their national reserves to help address a temporary disruption in supply.
New Farm Laws Potential to Raise Income
Why in News?
- India’s new farm laws have the potential to increase farmers’ income, but there is a need to provide a social safety net for vulnerable cultivators, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said.
- There are multiple areas where reforms are needed, including infrastructure.
Which Farm Laws?
- The three farm laws, enacted in September last year, have been projected by the Indian government as major reforms in the agriculture sector, which will remove middlemen and allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM)
- An umbrella body of 41 farmer unions, is leading the protest against the three Central farm laws at several border points of Delhi.
- In the last round of talks, the government offered to suspend the laws for one-and-a-half years and form a joint committee to find solutions, in return for the protesting farmers to go back to their respective homes from the Delhi borders.
- Farmer leaders, however, said they would settle for nothing less than a complete repeal of the laws, which they find pro-corporate, and a legal guarantee for the procurement of crops at government-fixed MSP.
Why in News?
- The Supreme Court questioned the government about the delay in clearing Collegium recommendations for judicial appointments to various High Courts.
A Bench asked the Centre
- Whether there was a timeline for government clearance of such recommendations.
- The Bench noted how recommendations from the High Courts of Bombay and Allahabad date back to May or June last year. It said 189 proposals for judicial appointments were still pending.
- In February last year, the Supreme Court had conveyed its alarm at the rising number of judicial vacancies in various High Courts. Some of them were functioning only with half their sanctioned strength.
- On an average, the High Courts suffer at least 40% judicial vacancies.
- The government’s delay was largely because it thoroughly combed through the antecedents of the candidate to leave no room for error. The process, on an average, takes at least 127 days.
- On the other hand, the judiciary takes 119 days on an average merely to forward the file to the government.
‘Skin-to-Skin’ Contact for Sexual Assault under POCSO Act
Why in News?
- The Supreme Court has stayed a controversial Bombay High Court verdict, which acquitted a man found guilty of assault under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) on the grounds that he groped his victim over her clothes and there was no ‘skin-to-skin’ contact between them.
- On January 19, a Single Judge of the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench created a furore after it acquitted a man under POCSO Act and held that an act against a minor would amount to groping or sexual assault only if there was “skin-to-skin” contact.
- The High Court had concluded that mere touching or pressing of a clothed body of a child did not amount to sexual assault.
- Abuse and outraging the modesty of a child has been a matter of great concern. POCSO Act was enacted to deal with evil and to impart speedy justice, Special courts were formed.
- It is well known that snakes use their venom to hunt or to kill prey.
- However, researchers at the U.K have found that, in one group of spitting cobras, the venom evolves as a means of protection, from their ability to spit venom to escape from their predators.
- The study conducted on three different lineages of cobras showed that these snakes have the ability to spit venom to a distance of up to 2.5 metres during adverse situations.
Nanofibers Stronger Than Steel
- Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have constructed small molecules which when added with water form nanofibers.
- These hard and rigid molecules become so tough that they it can hold about 200 times their own weight.
- Small-molecule self-assembly is an established route for producing high-surface-area nanostructures with readily customizable chemistries and precise molecular organization.
- However, these structures are fragile, exhibiting molecular exchange, migration and rearrangement—among other dynamic instabilities—and are prone to dissociation upon drying.
- A small-molecule platform, the aramid amphiphile that overcomes these dynamic instabilities by incorporating a Kevlar-inspired domain into the molecular structure.
- Strong, anisotropic interactions between aramid amphiphiles suppress molecular exchange and elicit spontaneous self-assembly in water to form nanoribbons with lengths of up to 20 micrometres.
- Exploiting this stability to extend small-molecule self-assembly to hierarchically ordered macroscopic materials outside of solvated environments.
- Through an aqueous shear alignment process, organize aramid amphiphile nanoribbons into arbitrarily long, flexible threads that support 200 times their weight when dried.
- This bottom-up approach to macroscopic materials could benefit solid-state applications historically inaccessible by self-assembled nanomaterials.
Sourdough’s Microbe Influence
- Researchers have decoded the microbial diversity in sourdough (a type of bread) and studied how microbes influence the aroma and fluffiness of the bread.
- “By studying interactions between microbes in the sourdough microbiome that lead to cooperation and competition, we can better understand the interactions that occur between microbes more generally — and in more complex ecosystems.
- The obliquity of a planet is referred to as the angle between its equatorial plane and the orbital plane, i.e the tilt of a planet.
- During Saturn’s formation, its obliquity was 26.7°. But recent observations have shown that it has increased to 27°.
- Scientists say this tilt may have been caused due to its satellites, which are moving away much faster than what researchers had estimated before.
- The scientists predict that in the next few billion years, the inclination of Saturn’s axis could more than double.
New Imaging Technique
- Scientists from Australia have come up with a better imaging technique that what exists now, which will now benefit researchers in a better understanding of molecular particles.
- This technique allows scientists to examine cells in their natural state without previously being stained or labeled.
- As a result, their structure and function—and perhaps even their dynamics—can be better understood.
India’s Ability to Provide Stimulus
Why in News?
- India’s high government debt could limit its ability to give a fiscal stimulus to the economy, Moody’s Investors Service noted in a report on credit conditions in Asia.
- Job losses, income shocks and the gaps in health infrastructure pose ‘highly negative risks’ for the country’s growth prospects.
- In India, a high government debt burden will limit the extent of fiscal support, although the government has undertaken a number of measures to improve policy transmission and broader structural reforms.
- It warned that the sheer magnitude of the recession would lead to a degree of economic scarring in the more vulnerable Asian economies, which was likely to have persistent effects on potential output.
- The rating agency expects income and social inequality to widen in 2021, while the number of people falling into poverty will rise significantly, erasing three to four years’ gains on poverty reduction.
- The rating agency said the traditional emphasis on infrastructure spending to support growth may now have to expand to include social spending on healthcare and pensions.
Archaeologist B B Lal, the Padma Vibhushan awardee
Why in News?
- Archaeologist Braj Basi Lal who led an excavation at the Ramjanmabhoomi site in the mid-1970s in among those honoured with the Padma Vibhushan this Republic Day.
- Lal was the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India between 1968 and 1972, and has worked extensively on archaeological sites associated with the Harappan civilisation and the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
- He has also served on several UNESCO committees and was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the president of India in 2000.
- He is best known for his theory of a temple-like structure underneath the now demolished Babri mosque.
‘Top 25’ drive initiated by Mumbai police
Why in News?
- The Mumbai police have started a drive titled ‘Top 25’ aimed at keeping under check history-sheeters and those they believe could foment trouble.
What is the ‘Top 25’ drive of the Mumbai police?
- The Mumbai police commissioner has asked all 95 police stations in the city to make a list of the “top 25” criminal elements in their jurisdictions, and ask them to sign a bond of good behaviour failing which they would have to pay a fine.
- The aim is to rein in criminal elements and those the police believe could create a law and order problem in the city,
- While this practise that is termed “chapter proceedings” has been followed in the past, the amount a person would usually forfeit was around Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000. Now, the amount has been raised up to Rs 50 lakh.
What are chapter proceedings though?
- Chapter proceedings are preventive actions taken by the police if they fear that a particular person is likely to cause law and order trouble.
- These proceedings are unlike punitive action taken in case of an FIR with an intention to punish.
- Here, the police can issue notices under sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure that the person is aware that creating nuisance could result in action against him, which includes paying a fine, in the absence of which, he could be put behind bars.
Does a person served with the notice can take legal recourse against the notice?
- Yes, on receiving the notice under section 111, a person can appeal before the courts. In fact, in the past, courts have come down strongly against chapter proceedings in some cases.
UAE’s New Residency Laws For Foreign University Students
Why in News?
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has approved an amendment to its residency laws allowing foreign university students to bring their families with them to the UAE, as long as they can afford suitable accommodation and have the financial means to support them.
- The amendment is the latest addition to a recent spate of changes to residency laws introduced by the UAE Cabinet in a bid to attract new foreign residents, particularly to the emirate of Dubai, following the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
What is the latest amendment to the UAE’s residency laws?
- Over the last few years, the UAE has approved a number of new residency options — including a long-term Golden visa and five-year renewable retirement visa — to draw in more foreign residents to the country.
- As per the recent amendment, foreign students studying at one of UAE’s many universities now have the option of bringing their families to the country to live with them.
- Expatriate students over the age of 18, who are sponsored either by a parent or accredited university in the UAE, are usually granted a one-year student visa.
- Generally, students are required to renew their visa every one year. But on November 24, 2018, the UAE government introduced a new long-term residency scheme, also called the ‘gold’ visa, for “outstanding” students.
The Age of Ram Setu
Why in News?
- Indian scientists will undertake a scientific expedition to date the chain of corals and sediments forming the Ram Setu.
- Also known as Adam’s bridge, this 48-km long bridge-like structure between India and Sri Lanka finds mention in the Ramayana but little about its formation is known or proven, scientifically.
- Recently, a central advisory board on archaeology, functioning under the Archaeological Survey of India, approved the project proposal submitted by CSIR – National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa to study the sediments and determine its origin.
What is the underwater archaeological project at Ram Setu?
- CSIR-NIO will undertake a three-year scientific project.
- The idea is to see whether Ram Setu is a man-made structure or not. The most important aspect of the project is to establish its age, scientifically. Once it is known, the information can be verified and co-related with its mention in the Ramayana and similar scriptures.
- Carbon dating techniques, which are now available in India, will be primarily used to determine the age of the sediments.
What scientific tests will be performed?
- NIO operates two oceanographic vessels – RV Sindhu Sankalp (ability to go up to and remain 56 metres underwater) and RV Sindhu Sadhana (ability to go up to and remain 80 metres underwater).
- For collecting core samples at greater depths and for bathymetry purposes, Sindhu Sadhana will be deployed for the Ram Setu project.
Two of the planned tests:
- Side scan SONAR — Will provide bathymetry which is similar to studying topography of a structure on land. Soundwaves signals will be sent to the structure which will provide an outline of the physical structure of the Ram Setu.
- Silo seismic survey – Mild earthquake-like tremor shocks will be sent at shallow depths close to the structure. These energised shockwaves are capable of penetrating into the structure. The reflected or refracted signals will be captured by instruments that will provide sub-surface structure.
CSR Expenditure Rules Have Changed
Why in News?
- The Corporate Affairs Ministry has amended the rules for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure by India Inc to allow companies to undertake multi-year projects, and also require that all CSR implementing agencies be registered with the government.
How do the new rules enable corporations to undertake multi-year CSR projects?
- All companies with a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more, or net profit of Rs 5 crore or more, are required to spend 2 per cent of their average profits of the previous three years on CSR activities every year.
- The amended CSR rules allow companies to set off CSR expenditure above the required 2 per cent expenditure in any fiscal year against required expenditure for up to three financial years.
What are the changes required for implementing agencies?
- A large number of companies conduct CSR expenditure through implementing agencies, but the new amendment restricts companies from authorising either a Section 8 company or a registered public charitable trust to conduct CSR projects on their behalf.
- A Section 8 company is a company registered with the purpose of promoting charitable causes, applies profits to promoting its objectives and is prohibited from distributing dividends to shareholders.
- Further, all such entities will have to be registered with the government by April 1.
What are other key changes?
- The amended rules require that any corporation with a CSR obligation of Rs 10 crore or more for the three preceding financial years would be required to hire an independent agency to conduct impact assessment of all of their project with outlays of Rs 1 crore or more.
- Companies will be allowed to count 5 per cent of the CSR expenditure for the year up to Rs 50 lakh on impact assessment towards CSR expenditure.
Why govt borrows off-budget, and how
Why in News?
- One of the most sought after details in any Union Budget is the level of fiscal deficit.
- It is essentially the gap between what the central government spends and what it earns. In other words, it is the level of borrowings by the Union government.
- This number is the most important metric to understand the financial health of any government’s finances.
- As such, it is keenly watched by rating agencies — both inside and outside the country.
- That is why most governments want to restrict their fiscal deficit to a respectable number.
- One of the ways to do this is by resorting to “off-budget borrowings”. Such borrowings are a way for the Centre to finance its expenditures while keeping the debt off the books — so that it is not counted in the calculation of fiscal deficit.
What are off-budget borrowings?
- According to the last Budget documents, in the current financial year the Centre was set to borrow Rs 5.36 lakh crore.
- However, this figure did not include the loans that public sector undertakings were supposed to take on their behalf or the deferred payments of bills and loans by the Centre. These items constitute the “off-budget borrowings” because these loans and deferred payments are not part of the fiscal deficit calculation.
- Off-budget borrowings are loans that are taken not by the Centre directly, but by another public institution which borrows on the directions of the central government. Such borrowings are used to fulfil the government’s expenditure needs.
- But since the liability of the loan is not formally on the Centre, the loan is not included in the national fiscal deficit. This helps keep the country’s fiscal deficit within acceptable limits.
- As a result, as a Comptroller and Auditor General Report of 2019 points out, this route of financing puts major sources of funds outside the control of Parliament.
How are off-budget borrowings raised?
- The government can ask an implementing agency to raise the required funds from the market through loans or by issuing bonds.
- Other public sector undertakings have also borrowed for the government. For instance, public sector oil marketing companies were asked to pay for subsidised gas cylinders for Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana beneficiaries in the past.
- Public sector banks are also used to fund off-budget expenses. For example, loans from PSU banks were used to make up for the shortfall in the release of fertiliser subsidy.
Asset Sale Targets and Revenue Generation
Why in News?
- Presenting the Union Budget last year, Finance Minister had surprised everyone when she announced a disinvestment target of Rs 2.1 lakh crore.
- As annual targets go, this was easily three to four times the usual targeted amount.
What is disinvestment?
- The Union government invests in several public sector undertakings (PSUs) such as Air India, Bharat Petroleum, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation etc.
- Since it is the majority shareholder (meaning that it owns more than 51% of the shares), the Centre can raise money through the liquidation of its shareholding in these PSUs.
- Such asset sales can either reduce the government’s share — like when it attempted to do with the public listing of Life Insurance Corporation in 2020 — or it can also transfer the ownership of the firm altogether to the highest bidder — as it did with Bharat Aluminium Company, which was sold to the Vedanta group in 2001.
Why are PSUs up for sale?
- There are two main motivations behind disinvesting in PSUs.
- One is to improve the overall efficiency of their functioning.
- The second factor is the government’s need to plug its deficit.
PM 2.5 Raises Anaemia Risk
Why in News?
- A study conducted by IIT-Delhi has found that extended periods of exposure to PM 2.5 can lead to anaemia among children under the age of 5 years.
- The study, titled ‘The Association Between Ambient PM 2.5 Exposure and Anaemia Outcomes Among Children Under Five Years of Age in India’.
- The study is important because so far anaemia has been looked at through the prism of nutrition deficiency, specifically that of iron.
- But even if government programmes like Poshan Abhiyan were strengthened, till air pollution is curtailed or exposure of children to PM 2.5 is brought down, anaemia is likely to continue to persist.
- According to the India National Family and Health Survey 2015–2016 (NFHS-4), 53.1 per cent of women in India with 15–49 years of age and 58.5 per cent of children under five were anaemic.
- The introduction of the National Iron Plus Initiative in 2011 sought to expand the beneficiaries of the National Nutritional Anaemia Prophylaxis Program to children with 6–59 months of age and although anaemia decreased by about 11 per cent between 2006 and 2016, it remains a major issue.