04 APRIL 2021
Daily Current Affairs based on ‘The Hindu’ newspaper as per the syllabus of UPSC Civil Services Examination (Prelims and Mains) compiled by Mrs. Bilquees Khatri.
|1.||GS III: INTERNATIONAL SECURITY||5 security men killed in Sukma encounter|
|2.||GS II: INTERNATIONAL – USA||Biden lifts Trump’s sanctions on international court officials|
|3.||GS I : GEOGRAPHY||How Asian desert dust enhances Indian summer monsoon|
|4.||GS II: SOCIAL – HEALTH||Researchers foresee trends in diphtheria incidence|
|5.||GS III: ECONOMY – POLICY||Maintaining the inflation target at 4%|
|6.||GS II: INTERNATIONAL – ASIA||The big push for digital currency in China|
GS III: INTERNATIONAL SECURITY
5 security men killed in Sukma encounter
- Five security personnel were killed and more than 12 injured in an encounter with Maoists in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.
- Two of the dead were from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). At least three Chhattisgarh police personnel are missing.
- A 400-strong team of security forces came under attack by a People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) platoon in the Tarrem area near the Sukma-Bijapur border. The exchange of fire lasted more than three hours.
- The nearest camp of security forces is located 12 km from the encounter site, the DGP said.
- The area is a stronghold of the South Bastar divisional committee of the banned CPI(Maoist), headed by Raghu, and falls under the Jagargunda area committee, led by Papa Rao.
- The attack comes close on the heels of the March 23 incident when five DRG personnel were killed as Maoists blew up a bus carrying security personnel with an IED in Narayanpur district.
GS II: INTERNATIONAL – USA
Biden lifts Trump’s sanctions on international court officials
- President Joe Biden lifted sanctions that Donald Trump had imposed on two top officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC), undoing one of the past administration’s more aggressive moves targeting international institutions and officials.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement stressed that the U.S. still strongly disagreed with some actions by the court.
- The U.S. sanctions had targeted ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko, for pressing ahead with investigations into the U.S. and its allies, notably Israel, for alleged war crimes.
- Two sets of sanctions were imposed, the first being a travel ban on Ms. Bensouda in March 2019, and then 18 months later a freeze on any assets she and Mr. Mochochoko may have in the U.S. or U.S. jurisdictions. The second round also made giving the pair “material support” a potentially sanctionable offence.
- The Trump administration was openly hostile to the tribunal for pursuing prosecutions of Americans for actions in Afghanistan and Israelis for actions against the Palestinians.
- Both sets of sanctions had been roundly denounced by the ICC. The removal of the sanctions was the latest signal that the Biden administration is intent on returning to the multilateral fold.
GS I : GEOGRAPHY
How Asian desert dust enhances Indian summer monsoon
- Carl Sagan once described Earth as a ‘small speck of dust’, a seemingly insignificant tiny particle. But dust has incredible power: it is known to influence monsoons, hurricanes and even fertilize rainforests.
- A new study now details how dust coming from the deserts in the West, Central and East Asia plays an important role in the Indian Summer Monsoon.
- The researchers also explain how the Indian Summer Monsoon has a reverse effect and can increase the winds in West Asia to produce yet more dust.
- Dust swarms from the desert when lifted by strong winds can absorb solar radiation and become hot. This can cause heating of the atmosphere, change the air pressure, wind circulation patterns, influence moisture transport and increase precipitation and rainfall.
- A strong monsoon can also transport air to West Asia and again pick up a lot of dust. The researchers say this is a positive feedback loop.
- Not just the dust from the Middle East [West Asia], we think the Iranian Plateau also influences the Indian Summer Monsoon. The hot air over the Iranian Plateau can heat the atmosphere over the plateau, strengthen the circulation over the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula and increase dust emission from the Middle East [West Asia].
- Deserts across the globe play important roles in monsoons.
- The dust aerosols from deserts in West China such as the Taklamakan desert and the Gobi Desert can be transported eastward to eastern China and can influence the East Asia summer monsoon. And in the southwest United States, we have some small deserts that influence the North African monsoon..
- Some studies have found that the anthropogenic aerosols emitted from the Indian subcontinent can decrease summer monsoon precipitation, while others found that absorbing aerosols such as dust can strengthen the monsoon circulation.
- However, in our study, we use the carbon model to simulate the impact of anthropogenic aerosols on India and our results showed that they can strengthen Indian summer monsoon rainfall.
Why study dust?
- But why is it important to study dust? Many studies have shown that the dust emission scheme is extremely sensitive to climate change and the team writes that understanding these mechanisms and effects of dust will help understand our monsoon systems in the face of global climate change.
- The team has now planned to study the minor components of desert dust aerosols.
- “We used to think that dust from deserts across the globe will have the same components, but we now know that different deserts have different chemical compositions and this can influence the dust’s properties. For example, we think that dust from the Middle East [West Asia] has more absorbing ability of solar radiation than dust from North Africa and this difference in absorbing ability might influence monsoon systems,” adds Dr. Jin.
- “We have also planned to use high spatial resolution remote sensing to identify source regions and create a better dust emission map. I would also like to study new drying lakes and how dust from them can also play a role in the monsoons.”
GS II: SOCIAL – HEALTH
Researchers foresee trends in diphtheria incidence
- Researchers from India, the U.K. and Russia have analysed a large collection of 502 genomes sourced from over 16 countries and collected from over a period of 122 years of the bacterium that causes diphtheria – Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
- The results of this massive and collaborative study hint that we need to anticipate increase in incidence of diphtheria which may be fomented by the diversity of the species, emergence of variant toxin genes and progression of antimicrobial resistance.
- They recommend that more in vivo and in vitro studies be undertaken to verify these hypotheses. The work was published recently in Nature Communications.
- Diphtheria usually begins with angina (a type of chest pain) and tonsilitis symptoms, sore throat and mild fever.
- The diphtheria toxin causes inflammation of heart muscle (myocarditis) and this can lead to death if not treated with diptheria antitoxin and proper antibiotics. Formation of white-grey pseudomembrane over parts of the throat (pharynx) , voice box (larynx) and tonsils and swollen bull neck are considered stereotypical, although they may not show up in some cases.
- Diphtheria is a vaccine preventable disease – the toxoid vaccine elicits an immune response against the toxin which is encoded by a tox gene of the pathogen.
- Sometimes, spurts of diphtheria outbreaks occur in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated communities.
- There is an increasing trend in the number of cases of diphtheria globally, as the number of cases in 2018 (16,651) was double the 1996–2017 average (8,105). Relevant to India is the statistic that 50% of the cases that came up in 2018 were in India.
- To understand the epidemiology of the disease from a genetic perspective, it is needed to know how the microorganism has evolved in time and over the geographical spread.
- It is needed to know whether the gene for antimicrobial resistance has evolved and to understand variants of the tox gene which may be prevalent thereby influencing the vaccine targeted towards toxin produced by an old strain of C. diphtheriae.
- In order to map out the genetic spread of the organism, the group has done a phylogenetic analysis that basically gives a picture of the family tree of the species.
- Unlike certain other bacteria, C. diphtheriae has shown a diversity in evolution, which makes it, as a species, more stable and powerful. This is also true of clades (or groups) that are prevailing in India.
- They then analyse the genes for their capacity towards antimicrobial resistance. Compared to the 1990s, isolates from the decade spanning the years from 2010 to 2019 show the highest average number of antimicrobial resistance genes encoding resistance for sulphonamide, aminoglycoside, chloramphenicol and trimethoprim.
GS III: ECONOMY – POLICY
Maintaining the inflation target at 4%
- The story so far:
- On the last day of the financial year 2020-21, the Finance Ministry announced that the inflation target for the five years between April 2021 and March 2026 will remain unchanged at 4%, with an upper tolerance level of 6% and a lower tolerance level of 2%.
- This is the retail inflation target that will drive the country’s monetary policy framework and influence its decision to raise, hold or lower interest rates.
Why is this important?
- India had switched to an inflation target-based monetary policy framework in 2015, with the 4% target kicking in from 2016-17.
- Many developed countries had adopted an inflation-rate focus as an anchor for policy formulation for interest rates rather than past fixations with metrics like the currency exchange rate or controlling money supply growth.
- Emerging economies have also been gradually adopting this approach. In adopting a target for a period of five years, the central bank has the visibility and the time to smoothly alter and adjust its policies in order to attain the targeted inflation levels over the medium term, rather than seek to achieve it every month.
What is the rate of consumer price inflation?
- Terming India’s inflation trends “worrisome”, Moody’s Analytics recently pointed out that volatile food prices and rising oil prices had already driven India’s consumer price index (CPI)-based inflation past the 6% tolerance threshold several times in 2020 and that core inflation trends were rising again.
- Retail inflation has remained below 6% since December 2020. However, it accelerated from 4.1% in January 2021 to 5% in February. D.K. Srivastava, chief policy adviser at Ernst and Young India, reckoned that core CPI inflation also increased to a 78-month high of 6.1% in February 2021.
- While inflation headwinds remain, especially with oil prices staying high, there was some speculation that the Central government, whose topmost priority now is to revive growth in the COVID-19 pandemic-battered economy, may ease up on the inflation target by a percentage point or two.
- This would have given the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) more room to cut interest rates even if inflation was a tad higher.
- That the government has desisted from doing this and left the inflation target untouched has been welcomed by economists who believe that the new framework has worked reasonably well in keeping inflation in check over the last five years. They attribute the few recent instances when the upper target was breached to the exceptional nature of the COVID-19 shock.
What is the RBI’s position on this?
- The RBI had, in recent months, sought a continuance of the 4% target with the flexible tolerance limits of 2%. The 6% upper limit, it argued, is consistent with global experience in countries that have a large share of food items in their consumer price inflation indices.
- Accepting inflation levels beyond 6% would hurt the country’s growth prospects, the central bank had asserted.
Why should this concern consumers?
- Suppose the inflation target were to be raised to 5% with a 2% tolerance band above and below it, for consumers, that would have meant that the central bank’s monetary policy and the government’s fiscal stance may not have necessarily reacted to arrest inflation pressures even if retail price rise trends would shoot past 6%.
- For instance, the central bank has been perhaps the only major national institution to have made a pitch for both the Centre and the States to cut the high taxes they levy on fuels that have led to pump prices for petrol crossing ₹100 a litre in some districts.
- As high oil prices spur retail inflation higher, the central bank is unhappy as its own credibility comes under a cloud if the target is breached. If the upper threshold for the inflation target were raised to 7%, the central bank may not have felt the need to seek tax cuts (yet).
- Thus, the inflation target makes the central bank a perennial champion for consumers vis-à-vis fiscal policies that, directly or indirectly, drive retail prices up.
GS II: INTERNATIONAL – ASIA
The big push for digital currency in China
- The story so far:
- China in February launched the latest round of pilot trials of its new digital currency, with reported plans of a major roll-out by the end of the year and ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022.
- While several countries have been experimenting with digital currencies, China’s recent trials in several cities have placed it ahead of the curve and offered a look into how a central bank-issued digital tender may impact the world of digital payments.
How does China’s digital currency work?
- Officially titled the Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), the digital RMB (or Renminbi, China’s currency) is, as its name suggests, a digital version of China’s currency.
- It can be downloaded and exchanged via an application authorised by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank. China is among a small group of countries that have begun pilot trials; others include Sweden, South Korea and Thailand.
How is it different from an e-wallet?
- Unlike an e-wallet such as Paytm in India, or Alipay or WeChat Pay, which are the two dominant apps in China, the Digital RMB does not involve a third party. For users, the experience may broadly feel the same.
- But from a “legal perspective”, points out Santosh Pai, an Honorary Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS) in New Delhi and a corporate lawyer who researches Chinese regulations, the digital currency is “very, very different”.
- This is legal tender guaranteed by the central bank, not a payment guaranteed by a third-party operator. There is no third-party transaction, and hence, no transaction fee.
- Unlike e-wallets, the digital currency does not require Internet connectivity. The payment is made through Near-field Communication (NFC) technology.
- Also, unlike non-bank payment platforms that require users to link bank accounts, this can be opened with a personal identification number, Dong Ximiao, a think-tank researcher with the Asian Financial Cooperation Association, told Chinese media, which means “China’s unbanked population could potentially benefit”.
How widely is it being used in China?
- Following trials launched last year shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, 4 million transactions worth $300 million had used the Digital RMB, the PBOC said in November.
- In the latest round of trials in February to coincide with the Chinese New Year holiday, Beijing distributed around $1.5 million of the currency to residents via a lottery, with “virtual red envelopes” worth 200 RMB each (around $30) sent to each resident.
- Shenzhen and Suzhou were other cities that distributed currency as part of pilot trials, which the Ministry of Commerce said will be expanded in coming months, with a wider roll-out expected before the Winter Olympics.
What are the reasons behind the push?
- The trials coincided with moves by Chinese regulators to tame some of its Internet giants, including Alibaba, which is behind Alipay, and Tencent, which owns WeChat Pay.
- “While digital payment platforms have helped to facilitate commerce in China, they have placed much of the country’s money into the hands of a few technology companies,” said a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
- “In the fourth quarter of 2019, Alibaba controlled 55.1% of the market for mobile payments in China. Tencent controlled another 38.9%.”
- A “key objective of China’s sovereign digital currency” was “to maintain financial stability should ‘something happen’ to Alipay and WeChat Pay. Chinese regulators have also warily viewed the rise of cryptocurrencies.
- The central bank-issued digital RMB will turn the logic of decentralised cryptocurrencies on its head, without the privacy and anonymity they offer, by giving regulators complete control over transactions. There are global motivations as well. “Beyond China’s borders, DCEP could help facilitate the internationalisation of the renminbi,” the CSIS report said.