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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 21 & 22 February 2021 | Legacy IAS Academy

Contents

  1. India backs the Maldives on UN role, signs pacts
  2. PMs of India and Australia on Media Platform Bill
  3. An estimate of WASH across healthcare facilities in India
  4. Wettest place on Earth sees decreasing trend in rainfall

INDIA BACKS THE MALDIVES ON UN ROLE, SIGNS PACTS

Context:

India and the Maldives signed a defence Line of Credit agreement worth $50 million.

India reiterated its support for a greater role for the Maldives in multilateral affairs as the Indian External Affairs Minister said that the Maldives’ Foreign Minister is “best equipped” to be the President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s neighbors and Foreign policies/developments affecting India’s interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. India–Maldives relations
  2. Significance of Maldives from India’s Perspective
  3. India-Maldives defence Line of Credit agreement
  4. India supports Maldives for the Presidency of the UNGA session
  5. United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
  6. Functions of UNGA

India–Maldives relations

  • India and Maldives are neighbors sharing a maritime border and relations between the two countries have been friendly and close in strategic, economic and military cooperation.
  • Maldives is located south of India’s Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean.
  • Both nations established diplomatic relations after the independence of Maldives from British rule in 1966.
  • India has supported Maldives’ policy of keeping regional issues and struggles away from itself, and the latter has seen friendship with India as a source of aid as well as a counterbalance to Sri Lanka, which is in proximity to the island nation and its largest trading partner.

Significance of Maldives from India’s Perspective

  • Maldives – the Indian Ocean archipelago assumes geopolitical significance due to its strategic location.
  • Located at the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
  • These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.
  • The SLOCs are of vital importance for India since nearly 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of her energy imports transit these westward SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
  • Maldives plays an integral role in realising the potential of Indian Ocean blue economy as a contributor to the security and sustainable development of sea resources.
  • The growing Chinese presence in the archipelago could have serious security implications.
  • The crucial oil supply coming from Gulf nations to India pass through this area.
  • There are about 25,000 Indian expatriates in Maldives who are engaged in a number of professional pursuits and their security is also of prime concern for India.

India-Maldives defence Line of Credit agreement

  • The defence Line of Credit will “facilitate capability building in the maritime domain” as the two sides agreed to strengthen coordination in enhancing regional maritime security.
  • The defence and security collaboration will also focus on combating terrorism in “all its forms and manifestations”.
  • The two sides agreed to convene the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism, countering Violent Extremism and De-radicalisation at the earliest.
  • Indicating deepening security cooperation, an agreement to develop, support and maintain a Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour at Sifvaru was also signed.
  • Both sides also sealed agreements on a number of areas, including fish processing, public broadcasting, sustainable urban development, road infrastructure and housing.
  • India also announced a standalone line of credit of $40 million for the building of sports infrastructure that will cater to the fast-emerging Maldivian sporting talents.

India supports Maldives for the Presidency of the UNGA session

  • India expressed strong support to the candidature of Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid for the President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.
  • Indian External Affairs Minister said multilateral engagement was “very important” in the contemporary globalised system and maintained that India had always been “supportive” of the “larger participation of the Maldives”.
  • By joining the Indian Ocean Regional Association, rejoining the Commonwealth three years after it had quit the Commonwealth over criticism of its human rights records and by playing a greater role in the United Nations, Maldives has demonstrated its value in the comity of nations.

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)

  • The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN), the only one in which all member nations have equal representation, and the main deliberative, policy-making, and representative organ of the UN.
  • Popularly known as the parliament of the world, where all the 193 UN member states are represented, the UNGA is the deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN.
  • Its powers are to oversee the budget of the UN, appoint the non-permanent members to the Security Council, appoint the Secretary-General of the United Nations, receive reports from other parts of the UN, and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions.
  • It is headquartered in New York City, U.S.A.

Functions of UNGA

  • Takes a decision on important matters such as peace and security, discusses various global issues and budgetary matters.
  • Decides on matters such as the admission of new members.
  • Decisions are taken through a vote. Admission of new members and budgetary matters require a two-thirds majority, while the decisions on other issues are taken by a simple majority.
  • Each sovereign state gets one vote and the votes are not binding on the membership, except in budgetary matters.
  • The Assembly has no binding votes or veto powers like the UN Security Council.
  • The UNGA can express world opinion, promote international cooperation in various fields and make recommendations to the UNSC and elect the Security Council’s non-permanent members.

-Source: The Hindu


PMS OF INDIA AND AUSTRALIA ON MEDIA PLATFORM BILL

Context:

Australian Prime Minister has discussed the Australian media policy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the backdrop of the Australian government’s negotiation with tech giants Facebook and Google, which led to temporary suspension of many Australian accounts on social media platforms.

Australia has reached out to India among several countries, including Canada, France and the UK, in a move to stitch a global coalition against tech giants Google and Facebook amid a faceoff over compensation for sharing news content from media companies on their platforms.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign policies and developments affecting India’s interests), Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Australia’s Proposed Media law
  2. Why was such a law required in Australia?
  3. India’s perspective on dominance of Internet Giants
  4. Status of Internet users in India
  5. Way-forward for India

Australia’s Proposed Media law

  • Australia’s proposed law, News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill 2020, mandates a bargaining code that aims to force Google and Facebook to compensate media companies for using their content.
  • The Bill is expected to set a precedent in regulating social media across geographies.
  • Big tech and social media giants like Facebook and Google will have to pay local news outlets for using their content.
  • An arbiter is mandated to adjudicate if no agreement is reached and there are also provisions of heavy fines if agreements are not done.

Why was such a law required in Australia?

  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in its 2019 report, Digital Platforms Inquiry, noted that there was a fundamental imbalance in the power between news media and internet platforms.
  • Specifically mentioning Google and Facebook, the report said these platforms had “substantial bargaining power in relation to many news media businesses.”
  • It highlighted that media regulation hardly applied to platforms, though they have been increasingly playing much the same role as the media. The last two decades have also seen the tremendous rise of the platforms and sharp decline of the traditional news media.
  • The Australian government, reportedly sensing how important it was to have a strong and independent media environment in a democracy, asked the ACCC to come up with a draft code.

India’s perspective on dominance of Internet Giants

  • Indian Policymakers have so far focused on the dominance of intermediaries such as Google and Facebook, which are positioned in a way that service providers cannot reach customers except through these platforms.
  • A substantial discussion on the impact of intermediary platforms on the health of news media outlets is yet to begin in any meaningful way.
  • In India, the news aggregators are not mandated to make payments to publishers.
  • News aggregator is an online platform or a software device that collects news stories and other information as that information is published and organizes the information in a specific manner.

Status of Internet users in India

  • According to a FICCI-EY report for 2020, there are 300 million users of online news sites, portals and aggregators in the country, making up approximately 46% of Internet users and 77% of smartphone users in India at the end of 2019.
  • With 282 million unique visitors, India is the second largest online news consuming nation after China.
  • In India, digital advertising spends in 2019 grew 24% year-on-year according to EY estimates and is expected to grow at an even faster rate.

Way-forward for India

  • India presents a unique media market which reflects the country’s diversity. For example, media platforms span multiple languages.
  • Digital platforms have brought about huge social gains by democratizing access. However, their growing size and revenue models have also had adverse effects, such as spread of fake news. It is this fallout that governments should try to mitigate, to safeguard democracy.

-Source: The Hindu


AN ESTIMATE OF WASH ACROSS HEALTHCARE FACILITIES IN INDIA

Context:

The status of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) in healthcare facilities is an important issue in development and a recently published article has estimated the cost of ensuring WASH and taking related steps for infection prevention and control for one year in healthcare facilities in all of India.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Management of Social Sector, Issues regarding health)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is WASH?
  2. Important facts regarding WASH
  3. Findings of the Recent study on Cost estimation of Providing WASH
  4. Way-forward

What is WASH?

  • WASH is an acronym that stands for the interrelated areas of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) WASH Strategy has been developed in response to Member State Resolution (WHA 64.4) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being, SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation).
  • It is a component of WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work 2019–2023 which aims to contribute to the health of three billion through multisectoral actions like better emergency preparedness and response; and one billion with Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
  • It also takes on board the need for progressive realization of the human rights to safe drinking-water and sanitation, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2010.

Important facts regarding WASH

  • A 2019 joint global baseline report by WHO and UNICEF had pointed out that globally, one in four healthcare facilities lacked basic water servicing and one in five had no sanitation service and 42% had no hygiene facilities at point of care.
  • A 2012 WHO report had calculated that for every dollar invested in sanitation, there was USD 5.50 to be gained in lower health costs, more productivity and fewer premature deaths.
  • A WHO document on WASH in healthcare facilities points out that more than 8 lakh people in low- and middle-income countries die as a result of inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene each year.
  • The WHO document also points out that the death of almost 3 lakh children under five years can be prevented each year if better WASH could be provided.

Findings of the Recent study on Cost estimation of Providing WASH

  • Improving WASH across the public healthcare facilities in India and maintaining this for a year would cost more than Rs. 2500 crores approximately in capital costs and more than Rs. 2000 crores in recurrent expenses.
  • Providing clean water, linen reprocessing and sanitation would be the most expensive actions.

Healthcare Associated Infections

  • Inadequacies in proving WASH and also lack of infection prevention and control can lead to healthcare associated infections.
  • Pathogens like Acinetobacter baumannii, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Streptococcus pneumoniae have been found to be causative agents of healthcare associated infections because of their ability to develop resistance to antibiotics.
  • Central-line-associated bloodstream infections, Catheter-associated urinary tract infections, Surgical site infections and Ventilator-associated pneumonia are the common healthcare associated infections.

Way-forward

  • Findings show that addressing gaps in WASH across the Indian healthcare system is not only within the realm of possibility in terms of affordability – when compared to other national health campaigns – but can also be combined with other national efforts to address health priorities such as antimicrobial resistance.
  • There is an undeniable need for a concerted effort from local bodies, State and Central governments to sustainably address quality and inequality issues in WASH provision.
  • The intersection between WASH, infection prevention and control and antimicrobial resistance is unique in that it offers policy makers an opportunity to address multiple overlapping problems through interventions on WASH in healthcare facilities.

-Source: The Hindu


WETTEST PLACE ON EARTH SEES DECREASING TREND IN RAINFALL

Context:

A recent study that looked at the rainfall pattern in the past 119 years found a decreasing trend at Cherrapunji and nearby areas which are one of wettest places on Earth.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign policies and developments affecting India’s interests), Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights regarding the decrease in rainfall pattern
  2. Which is the wettest place (Cherrapunji/Mawsynram) and why?
  3. What is Jhum / Shifting Cultivation?

Highlights regarding the decrease in rainfall pattern

  • The annual mean rainfall for the period 1973–2019 showed decreasing trends and it was statistically significant along seven stations (Agartala, Cherrapunji, Guwahati, Kailashahar, Pasighat, Shillong and Silchar).
  • The changes in the Indian Ocean temperature have a huge effect on the rainfall in the region. This is significant as Increasing sea surface temperatures in the tropical Indian Ocean region was pointed out by the first climate change assessment report published by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences in 2020.
  • The satellite data showed that there was a reduction in the vegetation area in northeast India in the past two decades, implying that human influence also plays an important role in the changing rainfall patterns.
  • The traditional way of cultivation known as Jhum cultivation or shifting cultivation is now decreased and being replaced by other methods.
  • There is sizable deforestation in the region. The study saw the decrease in vegetation cover with more than 100 sqkm lost per year and increase in the areas of cropland mainly from the year 2006 onwards.

Which is the wettest place (Cherrapunji/Mawsynram) and why?

  • The village of Mawsynram in East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya has beaten Cherrapunji to become the wettest place in the world. Mawsynram receives over 10,000 millimetres of rain in a year.
  • Cherrapunji (elevation 1313 m) and Mawsynram (elevation 1401.5 m) are located on the southern slopes of the east Khasi Hills in Meghalaya.
  • The rainfall in Cherrapunji-Mawsynram is caused by the orography favouring a monsoon wind regime.
  • The northward moving moist winds from the Bay of Bengal passing over the plains of Bangladesh are forced to converge in the narrow valleys of the Khasi Hills with orography providing forced ascent that causes condensation, formation of clouds resulting in rain on the windward side of the slope.

What is Jhum / Shifting Cultivation?

  • Shifting cultivation, locally called ‘Jhum’, is a widely practiced system of crop cultivation among the indigenous communities of North-east India.
  • The practice, also known as slash-and-burn agriculture, is when farmers clear land by slashing vegetation and burning forests and woodlands to create clear land for agricultural purposes.
  • This provides a very easy and very fast method of the preparation of the land for agriculture.
  • The bush and the weeds can be removed easily. The burning of waste materials provides needed nutrients for the cultivation.
  • It gives a family its food, fodder, fuel, livelihood and is closely linked to their identity.
  • Because of cutting of forests and trees, this practice leads to soil erosion and may also affect the course of rivers.

-Source: The Hindu

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