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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 15 April 2020

Contents

  1. U.S. approves 2 missile deals with India
  2. ICMR suggests testing of pooled samples
  3. Amid lockdown, hunters eye rhino horns
  4. Virus infections have ‘certainly’ not peaked yet, warns WHO
  5. World Economy to contract by 3% IMF
  6. HDFC Chairman Suggestion: Easing 90-day NPA deadline norm

U.S. APPROVES 2 MISSILE DEALS WITH INDIA

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

  • The U.S. State Department has approved two potential missile deals with India, for an estimated $92 million and $63 million, the State Department has said in a statement.
  • The first deal, for which Boeing is the contractor, is for ten AGM-84L Harpoon Block II air launched missiles and related equipment.
  • The second deal, for $63 million, for torpedoes which are expected to enhance India’s anti-submarine warfare capability and can be used with the P-8I.

Overview of Indo-American relations

  • India-US relations have become increasingly multi-faceted, covering cooperation in areas such as trade, defence and security, education, science and technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, environment and health.
  • Grassroot level interactions between the people of the two nations provide further vitality and strength to this bilateral relationship.
  • There have been regular contacts at political and official levels with a wide-ranging dialogue on bilateral, regional and global issues having taken place.

Outcomes of recent visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump

  • The agreement signed for defence purchases worth $3-billion, including American helicopters (MH-60 Romeo helicopters), has led to both sides signalling more cooperation in defence, military exercises and technology sharing.
  • MoU signed for Petronet to invest in American gas company Tellurian.
  • A commercial agreement for Westinghouse to build six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh.

Divergent issues in Indo-U.S. relationship

  • In June 2019, the Trump administration decided to terminate India’s benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, which provides preferential, duty-free access for over $6 billion worth of products exported from this country to the US.
  • Removal from the GSP list amidst rising trade tensions prompted India to finally impose retaliatory tariffs on several American imports. This made the US approach the WTO against India.
  • The office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) has underlined India’s measures to restrict companies from sending personal data of its citizens outside the country as a “key” barrier to digital trade.
  • US has softened its position on Pakistan in the recent months, due to the role Pakistan can play in the Afghan deal (between the US and the Taliban).

ICMR SUGGESTS TESTING OF POOLED SAMPLES

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, Prelims

Why in news?

  • Stating that the number of COVID-19 cases in India is registering a rise, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is now advising the feasibility of using pooled samples for molecular testing of COVID-19.
  • ICMR has said that, for India, it is critical to increase the numbers of tests conducted by laboratories.

About ICMR

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research and it is one of the oldest and largest medical research bodies in the world.
  • The ICMR is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • The governing body of the council is presided over by the Union Health Minister.

How does ICMR Function?

  • It is assisted in scientific and technical matters by a scientific advisory board comprising eminent experts in different biomedical disciplines.
  • The board, in its turn, is assisted by a series of scientific advisory groups, scientific advisory committees, expert groups, task forces, steering committees etc. which evaluate and monitor different research activities of the council.
  • The council promotes biomedical research in the country through intramural as well as extramural research. Over the decades, the base of extramural research and also its strategies have been expanded by the council.

History of ICMR formation

  • In 1911, the Government of India set up the Indian Research Fund Association (IRFA) with the specific objective of sponsoring and coordinating medical research in the country.
  • After independence, several important changes were made in the organisation and the activities of the IRFA.
  • It was redesignated as the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in 1949, considerably expanded scope of functions.

What research does ICMR conduct?

The council’s research priorities coincide with National health priorities such as: Control and management of communicable diseases, fertility control, maternal and child health, control of nutritional disorders, developing alternative strategies for health care delivery, containment within safety limits of environmental and occupational health problems; research on major non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, blindness, diabetes and other metabolic and haematological disorders; mental health research and drug research (including traditional remedies).


AMID LOCKDOWN, HUNTERS EYE RHINO HORNS

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology, Prelims

Why in news?

  • The COVID-19 lockdown has activated poachers who had been forced into lying low for more than a year.
  • At least six thwarted attempts have been made within a week in and around Assam’s national parks.
  • The lockdown has inadvertently made it easier for the poachers by thinning the ranks of the network of local people who had hitherto been a critical part of the anti-poaching campaign by tipping off forest officials on any suspicious movements near the parks.
  • Lockdown appears to have given rhino poachers free time to regroup and plan strikes in Kaziranga after more than a year, they know there will be demand for rhino horns in China and other consumer countries in Asia after the pandemic-induced slump is over.
  • The International Rhino Foundation has insisted that China, Vietnam and other countries must do more than merely banning wildlife trade temporarily.

Why such a demand for Rhino Horns?

  • The rhino horn trade is driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam.
  • Rhino horn is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but increasingly common is its use as a status symbol to display success and wealth.
  • Besides rumours that it can cure people of COVID-19 also exist.
  • However, a rhino horn is nothing but dead keratin cells, similar to human hair and nails.

Rhinos in Asia and India

  • There are three species of rhino in Asia — Greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran. Javan and Sumatran Rhino are critically endangered and the Greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino is vulnerable In IUCN Red List.
  • They are spread across India, Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia and Malaysia. These countries are also known as Asian Rhino Range Countries.
  • Only the Great one-horned rhino is found in India.
  • At present, there are about 2,600 Indian rhinos in India, with more than 90% of the population concentrated in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park.
ENdangered Rhinoceros of the world White Rhinoceros Black Rhinoceros Sumatran Indian Javan Rhinoceros

Projects in India for conservation of Rhinos

Indian (One Horn) Rhino Vision 2020

  • Indian rhino vision 2020 implemented by the department of environment and forests, Assam.
  • The programme will be supported by WWF — India, the international rhino foundation (IRF), and a number of local NGOs.
  • Translocations are the backbone of the IRV 2020 program.
  • The goal set was to populate the potential rhino habitat areas identified viz. Manas NP, Dibru Saikhowa WLS, Laokhowa-Bura Chapori WLS with a viable population of rhino through translocations from Kaziranga NP and Pobitora WLS.
  • Manas National Park was selected as the first site for translocation of rhinos.
  • Ten rhinos have been released into Manas since 2008. Ten more rhinos will be moved from Kaziranga National Park before the end of the year.
  • The vision of this program is to increase the total rhino foundation in Assam from about 2000 to 3000 by the year 2020 and to ensure that these rhinos are distributed over at least 7 protected areas (PA) to provide long term viability of the one-horned rhino population.
  • Concentrating so many rhinos in a single protected area like Kaziranga exposes the species to risks of calamities (epidemics, floods, massive poaching attempts).

National Rhino Conservation Strategy

  • It calls for active engagement between India and Nepal to conserve the Greater one-horned rhinoceros.
  • The plan said the single population of rhinos in Sukla-Phanta (Nepal), Valmiki Tiger Reserve (India) and Chitwan National Park (Nepal) and Dudhwa (India) is separated by the political boundary between the two countries.
  • It asks for the management of the two population under the same protocol, instead of managing the two population separately.
  • The plan calls for expanding distribution range as the occurrence of 90% of the rhino in one protected area is a cause of concern and conservation of existing and potential rhino habitats need to be made a national priority.

Facts about Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park in Assam Guwahati Map Location
  • Kaziranga National Park is one of India’s oldest reserve areas, located in Golaghat and Nagaon, in Karbi Anglong districts of Assam in northeast India.
  • Mary Curzon took the initiative to declare the area ‘protected’ with her husband Lord Curzon after she failed to spot a single rhinoceros.
  • In 1905, the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was established. In 1950, the area was renamed Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • In 1974, the Indian government gave the park official status.
  • In 1985, the national park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Kaziranga is home to 2/3rd of the world’s population of rhinoceroses. In 2006, the park was declared a Tiger Reserve. It has one of the highest density of tigers in the world.

VIRUS INFECTIONS HAVE ‘CERTAINLY’ NOT PEAKED YET, WARNS WHO

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, International Relations, Prelims

Why in news?

WHO told, 90% of cases of the overall outbreak, are from Europe and the U.S.A. So, we are certainly not seeing the peak yet.

World Health Organization (WHO)

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.
  • It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Its main objective is ensuring “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”
  • The WHO’s broad mandate includes advocating for universal healthcare, monitoring public health risks, coordinating responses to health emergencies, and promoting human health and well-being.
  • The World Health Assembly (WHA), composed of representatives from all 194 member states, serves as the agency’s supreme decision-making body.

Roles and Functions of WHO

  • The directing and coordinating authority on international health work.
  • Maintain and establish collaboration with the United Nations, health administrations or groups and any other organisation as may be deemed appropriate.
  • Assist Governments, upon request, in strengthening health services
  • Provide appropriate technical assistance and in the event of emergencies, necessary aid upon the request or acceptance of Governments.
  • Provide or assist in providing, upon the request of the United Nations, health services and facilities to special groups, such as the peoples of trust territories.

WORLD ECONOMY TO CONTRACT BY 3% IMF

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy, International relations, Prelims

Why in news?

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is having a “severe” effect on the world economy and is expected to cause a -3% change (i.e., a contraction) in global output in 2020, “much worse” than the 2008-09 financial crises, as per the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) World Economic Outlook (WEO).
  • India’s growth is expected to dip to 1.9% in 2020 and rebound to 7.4% in 2021, as per the WEO, which was released by the Fund on 14th April 2020.
  • Assumptions made were that the pandemic fades in the second half of this year, with containment efforts gradually easing up.

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • It consists of 189 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.
  • It periodically depends on the World Bank for its resources.
  • Through the fund and other activities such as the gathering of statistics and analysis, surveillance of its members’ economies, and the demand for particular policies, the IMF works to improve the economies of its member countries.

Functions of the IMF

  • To provide financial assistance to member countries with balance of payments problems, the IMF lends money to replenish international reserves, stabilize currencies and strengthen conditions for economic growth. Countries must embark on structural adjustment policies monitored by the IMF.
  • It oversees the international monetary system and monitors the economic and financial policies of its 189 member countries. As part of this process, which takes place both at the global level and in individual countries, the IMF highlights possible risks to stability and advises on needed policy adjustments.
  • It provides technical assistance and training to central banks, finance ministries, tax authorities, and other economic institutions. This helps countries raise public revenues, modernize banking systems, develop strong legal frameworks, improve governance, and enhance the reporting of macroeconomic and financial data. It also helps countries to make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

HDFC CHAIRMAN SUGGESTION: EASING 90-DAY NPA DEADLINE NORM

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy, Prelims

Why in news?

  • HDFC Ltd. chairman has suggested a relaxation in non-performing assets (NPA) classification to a period of six months. He said, instead of 90 days, a loan should be classified as NPA if repayment is due for 180 days.
  • He also suggested that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) approve one-time restructuring of loans.

Why was this Recommended?

  • It is a better solution to renegotiate payment timelines rather than getting into a legal tangle of force majeure. Unwinding from this legal mess will be very painful.
  • Since banks were averse to risks, recommendations had been made to the RBI to directly purchase corporate bonds/commercial papers, as primary markets had died down.

What is a Non-Performing Asset (NPA)?

  • A nonperforming asset (NPA) refers to a classification for loans or advances that are in default or in arrears.
  • A loan is in arrears when principal or interest payments are late or missed.
  • A loan is in default when the lender considers the loan agreement to be broken and the debtor is unable to meet his obligations.

How do Non-Performing Assets (NPA) Work?

  • Nonperforming assets are listed on the balance sheet of a bank or other financial institution.
  • After a prolonged period of non-payment, the lender will force the borrower to liquidate any assets that were pledged as part of the debt agreement.
  • If no assets were pledged, the lender might write-off the asset as a bad debt and then sell it at a discount to a collection agency.

SARFAESI Act

  • The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest Act, 2002 (also known as the SARFAESI Act) is an Indian law that allows banks and other financial institution to auction residential or commercial properties (of Defaulter) to recover loans.
  • Under this act secured creditors (banks or financial institutions) have many rights for enforcement of security interest under section 13 of SARFAESI Act, 2002.
  • If borrower of financial assistance makes any default in repayment of loan or any instalment and his account is classified as Non performing Asset by secured creditor, then secured creditor may require before expiry of period of limitation by written notice.
  • The law does not apply to unsecured loans, loans below ₹100,000 or where remaining debt is below 20% of the original principal.
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