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18th & 19th October Current Affairs

Contents

  1. 76% of rural Indians can’t afford a nutritious diet
  2. How global warming might affect food security?
  3. GST Compensation cess to stay
  4. Celebrating skinks, ZSI lists 62 species
  5. UNHRC: A work-in-progress campaign for rights
  6. What did the 2020 Economics Nobel winners discover?
  7. Forests, trees can be trump card post COVID-19
  8. Rights of domestic workers in focus post-lockdown

76% OF RURAL INDIANS CAN’T AFFORD A NUTRITIOUS DIET

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

  • Three out of four rural Indians cannot afford a nutritious diet, and almost two out of three Indians would not have the money to pay for the cheapest possible diet that meets the requirements set by the government’s premier nutrition body even if they spent their entire income on food, according to paper recently published.
  • The paper uses the latest available food price and wage information from the National Sample Survey’s 2011 dataset.

Details

  • Unlike the Economic Survey’s Thalinomics, which provided a rosier picture of meal costs, this study uses the wages of unskilled workers who make up a larger proportion of the population than industrial workers, and includes items such as dairy, fruit and dark green leafy vegetables that are essential as per India’s official dietary guidelines.
  • The findings are significant in the light of the fact that India performs abysmally on many nutrition indicators, and the Global Hunger Index showed that India has the world’s highest prevalence of child wasting, reflecting acute undernutrition.
  • On indicators that simply measure calorie intake, India performs relatively better, but they do not account for the nutrition value of those calories.

Cost of an Adequate Diet

  • The National Institute for Nutrition’s guidelines for a nutritionally adequate diet call for adult women to eat 330 gm of cereals and 75 gm of pulses a day, along with 300 gm of dairy, 100 gm of fruit, and 300 gm of vegetables, which should include at least 100 gm of dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Selecting the cheapest options from actual Indian diets — wheat, rice, bajra, milk, curd, onions, radish, spinach, bananas — the study calculated that a day’s meals would cost ₹45 (or ₹51 for an adult man).

Inability to achieve the requirements

  • Even if they spent all their income on food, 63.3% of the rural population or more than 52 crore Indians would not be able to afford that nutritious meal.
  • If they set aside just a third of their income for non-food expenses, 76% of rural Indians would not be able to afford the recommended diet.
  • This does not even account for the meals of non-earning members of a household, such as children or older adults.
  • Although their data ended in 2011, since when both food prices and wages have risen, the study’s authors recommended that the government develop a similar tool to monitor dietary costs and affordability of nutritious meals.
  • Currently, food costs are measured through consumer price indices (CPIs) which weight foods by expenditure shares.

Click Here to read more about the Global Hunger Index 2020

-Source: The Hindu


HOW GLOBAL WARMING MIGHT AFFECT FOOD SECURITY?

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Introduction

  • Between the year 1870 (the first industrial revolution) and today, the global temperature has risen by almost 2 degrees Celsius.
  • This has come about due to more fossil burning (oil, natural gas, coal), which has also increased the carbon dioxide (abbreviated as CO2) levels from 280 ppm to 400 ppm.
  • This heating has caused glaciers (and snow capping mountains) to melt and the sea level to rise.

Ocean acidification and other adverse effects

  • The rise in CO2 levels has also acidified the ocean, leading to weakening the shells and skeletons of animals living in the sea.
  • On land, the rise in CO2 levels has both positive and negative effects.
  • This being a ‘Green House Gas’, it traps the Sun’s heat from the atmosphere and warms the temperature, aids in the photosynthesis of plants, making them grow more, but at the same time restricts the plant’s ability to absorb nitrogen, thus restricting crop growth.
  • Higher temperatures during the ‘growing season’ in the tropics and sub-tropic regions (India and our neighbours, Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South America) will greatly affect crop productivity according to papers published in 2000s itself.

Experiments and Plant meat

  • A group from the Hyderabad Centre of the international agency ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) decided to look at how two kinds of chickpea (the desi chana dal or the Bengal gram and the Kabuli chana (originally from Afghanistan) behave under different CO2 levels (current level of 380 ppm, and two higher levels (550 and 700 ppms).
  • They found a noted increase in the root and shoot (plant height) lengths.
  • Also, the number of nodules in the roots (where nitrogen-fixing bacteria live) changed at high CO2 levels.
  • Note that decrease in chlorophyll synthesis hastens leaves turning yellow and plant ageing (senescence).
  • Interestingly, the group found that desi chana and kabuli chana responded differently at high CO2 levels which needs further exploring.

Understanding Food Security

  • Food security is the outcome of food system processes all along the food chain.
  • Climate change will affect food security through its impacts on all components of global, national and local food systems.
  • Climate change is real, and its first impacts are already being felt, and although it first affects the people and food systems that are already vulnerable, over time the geographic distribution of risk and vulnerability is likely to shift.

Climate change and food security

  • Observed climate change is already affecting food security through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events.
  • Studies that separate out climate change from other factors affecting crop yields have shown that yields of some crops (e.g., maize and wheat) in many lower-latitude regions have been affected negatively by observed climate changes, while in many higher-latitude regions, yields of some crops (e.g., maize, wheat, and sugar beets) have been affected positively over recent decades.
  • Warming compounded by drying has caused large negative effects on yields in parts of the Mediterranean.
  • Pastoralism is practiced in more than 75% of countries by between 200 and 500 million people, including nomadic communities, transhumant herders, and agropastoralists.
  • Heat stress reduces fruit set and speeds up development of annual vegetables, resulting in yield losses, impaired product quality, and increasing food loss and waste.

-Source: The Hindu


GST COMPENSATION CESS TO STAY

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

The levy of compensation cess on Goods and Services Tax (GST) may have to be extended for quite a few years, perhaps till as late as 2025-26, to pay off States’ GST dues, Chairperson of the Fifteenth Finance Commission said.

Details

  • Asserting that the Centre has at no point backtracked from the fact that States will get compensation for the first five years of the GST regime.
  • Both the States and the Centre are recalibrating the contours of a consensus within the GST Council.
  • The Commission, whose report on the devolution of funds between the Centre and States for the five-year period of 2021-22 till 2025-2026 will be submitted to the government soon, will factor in unpaid compensation dues while working out States’ revenue flow calculations for the years beyond 2022.
  • Stressing that the pandemic has laid bare the inadequacy of India’s health infrastructure with a “very insignificant part of public outlay going to the health sector historically”, the Finance Commission chairperson said a separate chapter has been devoted in its report to consider more resources for the health sector.

GST Compensation Cess

  • Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Act, 2017 was enacted to levy Compensation cess for providing compensation to the States for the loss of revenue arising on account of implementation of the goods and services tax with effect from the date from which the provisions of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act is brought into force (2017), for a period of five years or for such period as may be prescribed on the recommendations of the GST Council.
  • The compensation cess is a cess that will be collected on the supply of select goods and or services or both till 1st July 2022.
  • The cess will compensate the states for any revenue loss on account of implementation of GST.
  • This cess will nnot be payable by exporters and those persons who have opted for compensation levy.
  • Compensation Cess will not be charged on goods exported by an exporter under bond and the exporter will be eligible for refund of input tax credit of Compensation Cess relating to goods exported.
  • The GST Compensation Cess Act, 2017 provides for levy of cess for the purpose of providing compensation to the states for loss of revenue arising due to implementation of GST for a period specified in the Act.
  • The input tax credit of this cess can be only used to pay compensation cess and not the other taxes like CGST, SGCT or IGST.

Click Here to read more about the GST Act and GST Council


-Source: The Hindu

CELEBRATING SKINKS, ZSI LISTS 62 SPECIES

Focus: Prelims, GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

  • A recent publication by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) reveals that India is home to 62 species of skinks and says about 57% of all the skinks found in India (33 species) are endemic.
  • It is the first monograph on this group of lizards, which are found in all kinds of habitats in the country, from the Himalayas to the coasts and from dense forests to the deserts.

What are Skinks?

  • With long bodies, relatively small or no legs, no pronounced neck and glossy scales, skinks are common reptiles around homes, garages, and open spaces such as sparks and school playgrounds, and around lakes.
  • Although they are common reptiles and have a prominent role in maintaining ecosystems, not much is known about their breeding habits, and ecology because identification of the species can be confusing.
  • Skinks are highly alert, agile and fast moving and actively forage for a variety of insects and small invertebrates.
  • The reduced limbs of certain skink species or the complete lack of them make their slithering movements resemble those of snakes, leading people to have incorrect notion that they are venomous. This results in several of these harmless creatures being killed.
  • The Western Ghats are home to 24 species of which 18 are endemic to the region.
  • The Deccan Peninsular region is home to 19 species of which 13 are endemic.
  • There are records of 14 skink species from the northeast of which two species are endemic.
  • With over 1600 species of skinks across the world, making it the largest family of lizards, their occurrence in India is less than 4 % of the global diversity.

Noteworthy Species in India

  • Sepsophis (with one species) and Barkudia (with two species) are limbless skinks found in the hills and coastal plains of the eastern coast.
  • Barkudia insularisis believed to be found only in the Barkud Island in Chilka lake in Odisha. Barkudia melanosticta is endemic to Visakhapatnam.
  • Sepsophis punctatus is endemic to the northern part of Eastern Ghats.
  • Five species of Kaestlea (blue-tailed ground skinks) are endemic to the Western Ghats and four species of Ristella (Cat skinks) also endemic to the southern part of Western Ghats.

-Source: The Hindu


UNHRC: A WORK-IN-PROGRESS CAMPAIGN FOR RIGHTS

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

  • Recently elections were held for the cohort of member nations who will serve for the next three years (2021-23) in the UN Human Rights Council.
  • Countries are disallowed from occupying a seat for more than two consecutive terms.
  • Among the five countries that were vying for membership from the Asia-Pacific region, four — Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Nepal and China — made it, while Saudi Arabia lost out.
  • At one level, the UNHRC’s structure — drawing a group of nations from the General Assembly through rotation and election via a “one state, one vote” principle — has allowed the organisation to be fairly representative of the General Assembly without special privileges for the more developed Western countries, as is the case with other multilateral institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank.

More about the UNHRC

  • The UNHRC has 47 members serving at any time with elections held to fill up seats every year, based on allocations to regions across the world to ensure geographical representation.
  • The UNHRC, which was reconstituted from its predecessor organisation, the UN Commission on Human Rights, is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights across the world.
  • The council is seen as a central structure in the global human rights architecture, a political body with representatives drawn from the General Assembly.
  • The UNHRC, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, has two key functions — the council passes non-binding resolutions on human rights issues through a periodic review of all 193 UN member states called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), besides overseeing expert investigation of violations in specific countries (Special Procedures).
  • Human rights breaches that are investigated by the UNHRC across UN member states relate to themes such as freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGBT rights and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities.
  • The mechanism of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was incorporated into the functioning to give teeth to the organisation.
  • While the U.S. has stayed away from the council, keeping in line with the isolationist impulse of the Trump administration, other Western countries have actively participated in the UNHRC despite their misgivings about countries with a blemished rights record.

Condemnations by UNHRC

  • Countries such as Israel, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, Cambodia, Belarus, Burundi and Eritrea have been investigated and strongly condemned by the UNHRC for violating various human rights.
  • In an unanimously passed resolution that was sponsored by African states, the UNHRC in June 2020, ordered a report on “systematic racism” against people of African descent following the murder of the African-American George Floyd in the U.S.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2020, had expressed concern over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the clampdown in Kashmir, besides the “inter-communal attacks” in Delhi.

Criticism:

What makes the Council’s composition problematic is that several of its members run afoul of its proclaimed aims (for example, the one-party systems of China and Cuba that have a controversial record on freedom of expression or the anti-gay policies of Russia).

-Source: The Hindu


WHAT DID THE 2020 ECONOMICS NOBEL WINNERS DISCOVER?

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

American economists Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson, both of whom teach at Stanford University, were awarded the 2020 economics Nobel Prize “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats”.

What is auction theory?

  • Auction theory is a branch of economics that deals with, as the name suggests, auctions.
  • Auctions are important to economists because they are the most widely used and also the most efficient mechanism to allocate scarce resources.
  • The allocation of scarce resources, in turn, matters to economists because there is a limited supply of resources on earth when compared to unlimited human needs, and hence they need to be allocated only to the most urgent needs of society.
  • In particular, auction theory deals with the various ways in which auctions can be designed to improve seller revenues, increase benefits to consumers, or even achieve both these goals at the same time.

How can both the buyer and seller benefit?

  • Auctions, for a good reason, have been the most common tool for thousands of years used by societies to allocate scarce resources.
  • When potential buyers compete to purchase goods in an auction, it helps sellers discover those buyers who value the goods the most.
  • Further, selling goods to the highest bidder also helps the seller maximise his or her revenues. So, both buyers and sellers benefit from auctions.

What are the economists’ contributions?

  • To understand Dr. Milgrom and Dr. Wilson’s contributions, it is important to take note of the criticisms levelled against auctions.
  • The most common one is that auctions can lead buyers to overpay for resources whose value is uncertain to them.
  • This criticism, popularly known as the ‘winner’s curse’, is based on a study that showed how buyers who overpaid for U.S. oil leases in the 1970s earned low returns.
  • Dr. Wilson found that rational bidders may decide to underpay for resources in order to avoid the ‘winner’s curse’, and argued that sellers can get better bids for their goods if they share more information about it with potential buyers.
  • Dr. Milgrom added further nuance to this analysis by arguing that individual bidders may still submit vastly different bids due to their unique circumstances.
  • Secondly, economists traditionally working on auction theory believed that all auctions are the same when it comes to the revenues that they managed to bring in for sellers. The auction format, in other words, did not matter.
  • Dr. Milgrom and Dr. Wilson are most popular for their contribution towards devising new, real-world auction formats.
  • The combinatorial auctions designed by the duo, for instance, have been used to sell complex goods such as spectrum as bundles, instead of as individual units

How do these contributions matter?

  • The contributions of Dr. Milgrom and Dr. Wilson have helped governments and private companies design their auctions better.
  • This has, in turn, helped in the better allocation of scarce resources and offered more incentives for sellers to produce complex goods.

-Source: The Hindu


FORESTS, TREES CAN BE TRUMP CARD POST COVID-19

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

  • A recent report has found that Forests and tree-based systems may contribute to achieving sustainable development goal of eradicating poverty (Sustainable Development Goals No.1) by 2030.
  • The World Bank has projected extreme poverty to increase for the first time in 20 years due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, conflicts and climate change.

Agroforestry benefits

  • Direct and indirect benefits from forests include forest-related employment and income, use of timber and non-timber forest products, among a wide range of other ecosystem services.
  • The assessment was based on scientific evidences from countries such as India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Ghana, which showed how agroforestry, community forest management, ecotourism and forest producer organisations have been successful in reducing poverty.
  • The report, however, also cautioned that monetary gains from the ecosystem services may not always reach the poorest households. The benefits and costs from forests and trees to human well-being were unevenly distributed.

Other forests ecosystems must be explored

  • The report also noted that most of the studies on “forests and linkage with poverty” have focused on tropical forests. But Woodlands, dryland and boreal forests too must be explored.
  • It suggested bringing to the forefront ‘hidden dimensions’ of forest contributions to poverty alleviation that included quantifiable data on non-timber forest produce and economy.
  • Forests and trees are not only important in rural contexts, but also in urban landscapes that are rapidly expanding, according to the global assessment.
  • It, therefore, called for attention to forest poverty dynamics in urban settings as well, given the demographic trends towards urbanisation in many low- and middle-income countries.
  • At least 1.6 billion people are dependent on forests for livelihood; most who living below the international poverty line derive direct and indirect benefits from forests. In such a scenario, the global assessment provides a new direction.

What is Agroforestry?

  • Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land-management units as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence.
  • Agroforestry can also be defined as a dynamic, ecologically based, natural resource management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all levels.

There are three main types of agroforestry systems:

  1. Agrisilvicultural systems are a combination of crops and trees, such as alley cropping or homegardens.
  2. Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing of domesticated animals on pastures, rangelands or on-farm.
  3. The three elements, namely trees, animals and crops, can be integrated in what are called agrosylvopastoral systems and are illustrated by homegardens involving animals as well as scattered trees on croplands used for grazing after harvests.

India’s developments in Agroforestry

  • India became the first country in the world to formulate a National Agroforestry Policy in 2014.
  • As a follow up, the Sub Mission for Agroforestry was launched in 2015 to assist the States in encouraging farmers to adopt tree planting along with crops.
  • Agro climatic zone wise agroforestry models have been developed by research institutions, including ICAR and ICFRE.
  • Major policy initiatives, include the National Forest Policy 1988, the National Agriculture Policy 2000, Planning Commission Task Force on Greening India 2001, National Bamboo Mission 2002, National Policy on Farmers, 2007 and Green India Mission 2010.

National Agroforestry Policy

  • National Agroforestry Policy talks of coordination, convergence and synergy between various elements of agroforestry, scattered across various existing missions, programme and schemes under different ministries—agriculture, rural development and environment.
  • Emphasize the role of agroforestry for efficient nutrient cycling, organic matter addition for sustainable agriculture and for improving vegetation cover.

Strategy of National Agroforestry Policy

  1. Establishment of Institutional Setup at National level to promote Agroforestry
  2. Simple mechanisms / procedures to regulate the harvesting and transit of agroforestry produce
  3. Development of a sound database & information system
  4. Investing in research, extension and capacity building and related services
  5. Improving famers’ access to quality planting material
  6. Providing institutional credit and insurance cover for agroforestry

-Source: Down To Earth


RIGHTS OF DOMESTIC WORKERS IN FOCUS POST-LOCKDOWN

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

  • The denial of salaries and loss of employment faced by domestic workers as well as harassment by employers and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) meted out to them following the nationwide lockdown has brought into focus the need for safeguarding their rights.
  • They have now brought out a manifesto demanding universal registration of employers and domestic workers and national comprehensive legislation.

Current Situation

  • A survey conducted in Bangalore showed that 87% of the workers were told not to come to work after the lockdown and were not sure when they would be called to work. A staggering 91% of workers lost their salaries for April. It also found that nearly 50% of those above the age of 50 also lost their jobs during the lockdown.
  • Another survey in Delhi showed that nearly 83% of women reported severe to moderate economic crises as well as anxiety over job security.
  • Reports also show that women employed as domestic workers often bear a disproportionate burden of not just unpaid work at their own homes, but also financial responsibilities.

Recent Demands: Possible way forwards

  1. A minimum cash transfer to domestic workers under the National Disaster Management Act,
  2. Universal registration of employers and domestic workers,
  3. National legislation / An urban employment guarantee scheme
  4. Strengthening of Local Committees at the district level where workers can complain about sexual harassment at workplace.

-Source: The Hindu

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