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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 26 April 2020

Contents

  1. Centre should act now on Franklin Templeton issue
  2. Most of RS time spent on issues of public importance
  3. No new COVID cases after May 16 in India, says study
  4. Quick nod likely for China investments
  5. Sewage surveillance can estimate community spread
  6. Stop villainizing bats: Scientists, Conservationists
  7. First merger of two black holes with unequal masses detected
  8. For BRICS, challenges and opportunities

CENTRE SHOULD ACT NOW ON FRANKLIN TEMPLETON ISSUE

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

The government was urged to act swiftly, before the markets reopen on 27th April, to resolve the situation created by Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund’s decision to wind up six debt schemes.

Background about the Franklin Templeton crisis

  • Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund’s decision to wind up six debt schemes is a matter of grave concern to investors, the mutual fund industry and the financial markets.
  • The fund has cited a liquidity crisis in the bond markets and an unprecedented level of redemptions following the COVID-19 outbreak as reasons for its decision.
  • This decision may ripple through India’s corporate debt markets, with fixed income managers fearing lower liquidity and higher yields for all but top-rated bonds.
  • The impact of Franklin Templeton’s decision may be first felt on bonds rated AA and below. Yields on AA-rated bonds had spiked even before the announcement.
  • The Association of Mutual Funds in India has started the process of collecting data on outstanding borrowings to ascertain their financial health following the sudden closure of six debt funds by Franklin Templeton on 23rd April.
  • The move has raised questions on mutual funds’ ability to handle large-scale redemptions despite SEBI allowing them to borrow up to 20 per cent of their assets to meet redemption pressure.

What can be done?

  • Government can immediately consult the RBI, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Indian Banks’ Association, and the Association of Mutual Funds in India.
  • An urgent meeting of the (Financial Stability and Development Council) FSDC can be convened to find a solution.
  • In the past, when such a situation arose in 2008, RBI announced a 14-day special repo facility and allowed an additional 0.5% of NDTL (Net Demand and Time Liability) to resolve the issue.

Roles of SEBI

SEBI has three functions rolled into one body: quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial and quasi-executive.

  1. It drafts regulations in its legislative capacity.
  2. It conducts investigation and enforcement action in its executive function.
  3. It passes rulings and orders in its judicial capacity.

Though this makes it very powerful, there is an appeal process to create accountability.

There is a Securities Appellate Tribunal which is a three-member tribunal.

A second appeal lies directly to the Supreme Court.


MOST OF RS TIME SPENT ON ISSUES OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

The Upper House spends only 24% of its time in deliberating and passing laws, an analysis by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat has revealed.

Most of its functional time is spent on deliberating issues of public importance.

Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu had directed the Secretariat to carry out this analysis to blunt the Opposition criticism that the Council of the States spends far too much time in government business (legislating) instead of debating the issues raised by them.

What does the Analysis show?

  • 40.20% of time is spent in deliberating issues of national importance followed by 32.22% in asking questions and holding the government accountable.
  • Only 24.05% of its functional time is spent on making laws.
  • And an additional 3.52% is spent on Private members Bills, which are stand-alone legislation drafted by individual members. These have rarely translated into laws though.
  • The time spent on the Government Bills ranged from 10.87% of the time in 2015 to 40.09% in 2002.
  • It has touched a record high of 45.90% during the historic 250th session last year – 2019.
  • A record 15 Bills were passed in 2019 with the House spending 49.08 hours of the session time of 107.05 hours.

How has things changed?

  • Another interesting outcome of the analysis is how the functioning of the Rajya Sabha has severely deteriorated post 2010.
  • During 1978-2018, the actual functional time excluding disruptions ranged from 139 to 580 hours per year.
  • All instances of working for above 500 hours per year were during 1978-1988 with an evident slide afterwards.
  • Since 1995, there had been only six instances of the House functioning for more than 300 hours per year during the 23 years.
  • Since 2010, it has been below 300 hours per year.

Calling Attention in Rajya Sabha

  • The concept of ‘Calling Attention’ is of Indian origin. It is an innovation in the modern parliamentary procedure and combines the asking of a question for answer with supplementaries and short comments in which different points of view are expressed concisely and precisely, and the Government has adequate opportunity to state its case.
  • It gives members an opportunity to bring to the surface the failure or inadequate action of Government on a matter of urgent public importance. 
  • This procedural device is analogous to an adjournment motion without its censure aspect.
  • A member who intends to call the attention of a Minister to a matter of urgent public importance has to give notice thereof in writing in the prescribed form available in the Notice Office.
  • All notices received from members up to 10.30 a.m. are placed before the Chairman every day for his consideration by the Secretary-General.  The Chairman decides the admissibility of the Calling Attention notice.

You can Read More about the Summoning and Termination of Parliament Sessions at:

https://www.legacyias.com/rajya-sabha-passes-six-bills-on-last-day-of-session/


NO NEW COVID CASES AFTER MAY 16 IN INDIA, SAYS STUDY

Focus: GS-II Science and Technology

Why in news?

A study showed that the lockdown had slowed the rate of transmission and increased the doubling time, the period it took for cases to double, to about 10 days.

Though India continues to show a rising trend in cases, this projection also showed a forecast that says new cases would cease by May 16.

Details about the projection

From May 3, India would hit its peak in adding daily new cases at a little above 1,500 and this would drop to 1,000 cases by May 12, and down to zero by May 16.

In all, this would mean that no more than 35,000 cases would be added between May 2nd and the first fortnight of May.

Criticism of the Projection

Experts said this was “highly unlikely”. For a decline in the national average, there would have to be declines that lasted over two weeks in key States such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal that were fueling the rise in numbers. So far there is no such evidence of a decline.

On the contrary The Indian Council of Medical Research also published a research strategy detailing how it was planning to ramp up testing far beyond April. To bend the curve or reduce down from the peak, the R0 (a number that shows how many a single person can infect) must stabilize around one for flattening and then go below one to bend it. West Bengal and Gujarat are peaking just now but case detection rates are rising.


QUICK NOD LIKELY FOR CHINA INVESTMENTS

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

The Centre plans to fast track the review of some investment proposals from neigbouring countries such as China following concerns new screening rules could hit plans of companies and investors.

Background

To avoid opportunistic takeovers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, India said this past week that all foreign direct investment from countries sharing a land border would require prior government clearance, meaning they can’t go through a so-called automatic route.

Read More about the Centre’s move regaring Control of Foreign Investments here:

https://www.legacyias.com/19th-april-current-affairs/

(First Article in 19th April Current Affairs)

Why would they fast track reviews?

  • Advisers to Chinese firms have said they are concerned the process could take several weeks and hit deals and investment timelines.
  • Auto firms such as SAIC’s MG Motor and Great Wall, and investors Alibaba and Tencent have placed major bets on India.
  • The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi has called the new screening policy discriminatory.
  • The new screening rules are designed to prevent fire sales of corporate assets during the COVID-19 outbreak but government sources have said they will also apply to greenfield investments, as well as investments from Hong Kong.
  • While the fast track mechanism would be open to all India’s neighbours with a land border, China would be the main beneficiary.
  • It has major existing and planned investments in India, which the Brookings research group estimated at $26 billion.

Read More about China’s Response to the move here:

https://www.legacyias.com/21st-april-current-affairs/

(Fourth Article in 21st April Current Affairs)


SEWAGE SURVEILLANCE CAN ESTIMATE COMMUNITY SPREAD

Focus: GS-II Science and Technology

Why in news?

Sampling sewage for viral particles is a time-tested method of environment surveillance and is routinely resorted to for understanding circulation of several viruses — wild and vaccine-derived polio, rota virus, Hepatitis E and typhoid — in the community.

Now, researchers in France have found that sewage surveillance can help in understanding the circulation of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in the human population.

Why would this work?

  • People infected with the virus have been found to shed the virus in their stools. And by studying sewage samples, it is possible to know the viral load in the community through modelling once data on how many viral particles are shed by individuals and how the viral particles get diluted in sewage are available.
  • In the case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), sewage surveillance becomes particularly useful as a large percentage of infected population is either asymptomatic or show only mild symptoms.
  • Hence, there is a greatly likelihood that circulation of the virus in the community will be detected quite late, if at all.
  • The other benefit is that sewage surveillance can be carried out independent of testing in humans and will be able to pick up early signs even when people in the community do not show symptoms.
  • The ability of sewage surveillance to decipher community spread even when people are asymptomatic is akin to antibody testing.

STOP VILLAINIZING BATS: SCIENTISTS, CONSERVATIONISTS

Focus: GS-II Science and Technology

Why in news?

There have been increasing incidents of the public destroying bat roosts and smoking them out.

This is due to unverified news and social media posts linking bats to the COVID-19 outbreak.

To raise awareness, 64 CHIROPTEROLOGISTS (THOSE WHO STUDY BATS) from six South Asian countries have released a document clarifying myths about bats and strongly affirming that bats do not spread COVID-19.

Details of what they said

  • Human activities and encroaching upon wildlife habitats put us at risk of encountering new viruses. We need to modify human practices to prevent the emergence of new pathogens.
  • The exact origin of SARS-CoV-2 is still unknown and it is premature to blame bats or any other animal for the pandemic.
  • Killing bats and destroying their habitats can be more harmful as this can lead to bats spreading out their habitat.
  • We should remember that all wild animals harbour viruses and it is very biased and unfair to point fingers only at bats.
  • If we keep destroying habitats, there are chances of the spread of other viruses from other animals to humans.
  • The researchers and conservationists highlight that bats perform vital ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control and provide intangible economic benefits.
  • They also clarify that the bat coronaviruses (BtCoV) found in two species of Indian bats (in a recent Indian Council of Medical Research study) are not the same as SARS-CoV-2 and cannot cause COVID-19.

More about Zoonotic Diseases

  • These diseases, which “spillover” from animals to humans are referred to as zoonotic diseases, and represent more than 60% of emerging infectious diseases worldwide.
  • The destruction of the natural environment, globalised trade and travel and industrialised food production systems have created numerous pathways for new pathogens to jump between animals and humans.

FIRST MERGER OF TWO BLACK HOLES WITH UNEQUAL MASSES DETECTED

Focus: GS-II Science and Technology

Why in news?

In another first, scientists at the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors announced a signal from Blackhole Mergers unlike anything they’ve ever seen before – While many black hole mergers have been but this particular signal was the first where the two black holes had distinctly different masses.

Details

  • The event, dubbed GW190412, was detected nearly a year ago, and this is almost five years after the first ever detection of gravitational wave signals by these powerful detectors.
  • Subsequent analysis of the signal coming from the violent merger showed that it involved two black holes of unequal masses coalescing, one of which was some 30 times the mass of the Sun and the other which had a mass nearly 8 times the solar mass.
  • The actual merger took place at a distance of 2.5 billion light years away, so this event took place 2.5 billion years ago.

Significance of the Observation

  • The detected signal’s waveform has special extra features in it when it corresponds to the merger of two unequal-sized black holes as compared with a merger of equal-sized black holes.
  • These features make it possible to infer many more things about the characters in this celestial drama, namely, a more accurate determination of the distance from the event, the spin or angular momentum of the more massive black hole and the orientation of the whole event with respect to viewers on Earth.
  • This sharp difference in mass allowed the LIGO/Virgo scientists to verify something predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which has so far remained untested.
  • Dominant emission of gravitational waves happens at twice the orbital frequency of the binary.
  • In this case, we find, for the first time, emission at a frequency that is three times the orbital frequency.

Black Hole

  • A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing—no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from it.
  • The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole.
  • The boundary of the region from which no escape is possible is called the event horizon.
  • A black hole can be formed by the death of a massive star.
  • When such a star has exhausted the internal thermonuclear fuels in its core at the end of its life, the core becomes unstable and gravitationally collapses inward upon itself, and the star’s outer layers are blown away.
  • The crushing weight of constituent matter falling in from all sides compresses the dying star to a point of zero volume and infinite density called the singularity.

FOR BRICS, CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Focus: GS-II International Realtions

Why in news?

The COVID-19 crisis seems to have put Russia’s Presidency of BRICS (a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to the test.

While each BRICS country is busy fighting the pandemic in its own way, Moscow is trying to make sure that it gains from the crisis.

A study notes that the question of considering BRICS as a global governance institution has now come to the fore. It argues that COVID-19 is another stage for political rivalry that has reinforced some international disputes and conflicts with the U.S.

How well is BRICS doing?

  • BRICS looks better than other global governance institutions amidst the ongoing COVID crises.
  • There is no blame-game or pointing fingers within BRICS, rather there is only a common vision for intensifying cooperation, including in sectors like healthcare, social welfare.
  • BRICS adheres to the goals and objectives of the UN Charter and the idea of equality.
  • The BRICS grouping is often criticised for being ineffective. Many, especially in the West, predicted that it would not live long.
  • But BRICS is very much alive, has progressed on developing a common position on the most important matters of the global economy and security and also got institutionalised with the setting up of the BRICS New Development Bank in 2015.
  • However, disagreements between its members and slow progress shown on the ground when it comes to implementation of initiatives make it quite vulnerable to criticism.

How has COVID 19 Impacted BRICS?

  • The pandemic has highlighted that the five countries need to pay more attention to speeding up the practical implementation of the projects and decisions that are being agreed on.
  • BRICS countries are planning to work on an early warning mechanism for outbreaks of infection, the development of diagnostic and preventive measures for the disease, as well as joint epidemiological exercises while the New Development Bank would provide financial anti-crisis assistance to members to fight the pandemic.

What is BRICS?

  • BRICS is the international grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  • This was set up as a move towards greater multi­polarity; hence the spread across three continents and both hemispheres.

Contribution to global growth 

  • In terms of GDP, China occupies the second position; India the fifth; Brazil the ninth; Russia the 11th; and South Africa the 35th.
  • In terms of growth rates, China grew at 6%; India at 4.5%, Russia 1.7%, Brazil 1.2% and South Africa 0.1%.

Achievements of BRICS

  • The main achievement of BRICS is the New Development Bank, with each country contributing equally to its equity
  • The bank has so far financed over 40 projects at a cost of $12 billion
  • The BRICS countries are also developing a joint payments mechanism to reduce foreign trade settlements in U.S. dollars
  • An offshoot of the group, dealing with climate change, is BASIC (BRICS without Russia), which met at the Spain conference in December 2019 and reiterated its support to the Paris Agreement  
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