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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 30 October 2020

Contents

  1. 20% of rural school children without textbooks: ASER
  2. Dashboard to monitor air quality of Indian cities
  3. Centre brings new law to tackle NCR air crisis
  4. Fiscal deficit widens to ₹9.1 lakh crore

20% OF RURAL SCHOOL CHILDREN WITHOUT TEXTBOOKS: ASER

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

  • About 20% of rural children have no textbooks at home, according to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey conducted during the sixth month of school closures due to COVID-19 across the country.
  • The ASER survey provides a glimpse into the levels of learning loss that students in rural India are suffering, with varying levels of access to technology, school and family resources resulting in a digital divide in education.

Details

  • In Andhra Pradesh, less than 35% of children had textbooks, and only 60% had textbooks in Rajasthan. More than 98% had textbooks in West Bengal, Nagaland and Assam.
  • In the week of the survey, about one in three rural children had done no learning activity at all.
  • About two in three had no learning materials or activity given by their school that week, and only one in ten had access to live online classes.
  • It’s not always about technology; in fact, levels of smartphone ownership have almost doubled from 2018, but a third of children with smartphone access still did not receive any learning materials.
  • In 2018, ASER surveyors found that about 36% of rural households with school-going children had smartphones.
  • By 2020, that figure had spiked to 62%. About 11% of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80% were smartphones.
  • Many children did learning activities on their own, with or without regular input.
  • Parental levels of education and resources played a key role in whether children studied at home. About 20% of children whose parents had less than five years of education got learning materials, compared to 46% among parents who had studied beyond Class IX themselves.
  • Almost 40% in low education households got no materials and did no learning, compared to 17% of high education families.
  • However, almost 40% of low education families persevered and did some learning activities even without receiving any learning materials at all, the survey found.

Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)

  • It is a nationwide survey of rural education and learning outcomes in terms of reading and arithmetic skills that has been conducted by the NGO Pratham for the last 15 years.
  • It uses Census 2011 as the sampling frame and continues to be an important national source of information about children’s foundational skills across the country.
  • ASER 2018 surveyed children in the age group of 3 to 16 years and included almost all rural districts in India and generated estimates of foundational reading and arithmetic abilities of children in the age group 5 to 16 years.
  • ASER 2019 reported on the pre-schooling or schooling status of children in the age group 4 to 8 years in 26 rural districts, focused on the “early years” and laid emphasis on “developing problem-solving faculties and building a memory of children, and not content knowledge”.
  • ASER 2020 is the first ever phone-based ASER survey and it was conducted in September 2020, the sixth month of national school closures.

Suggestions

  • Fluid Situation: When schools reopen, it will be important to continue to monitor who goes back to school as well as to understand whether there is learning loss as compared to previous years.
  • Building on and Strengthening Family Support: Parents’ increasing levels of education can be integrated into planning for learning improvement, as advocated by National Education Policy, 2020. Reaching parents at the right level is essential to understand how they can help their children and older siblings also play an important role.
  • Hybrid Learning: As children do a variety of different activities at home, effective ways of hybrid learning need to be developed which combine traditional teaching-learning with newer ways of “reaching-learning”.
  • Assessment of Digital Modes and Content: In order to improve digital content and delivery for the future, an in-depth assessment of what works, how well it works, who it reaches, and who it excludes is needed.
  • Mediating the Digital Divide: Children from families who had low education and also did not have resources like smartphones had less access to learning opportunities. However, even among such households, there is evidence of effort with family members trying to help and schools trying to reach them. These children will need even more help than others when schools reopen.

-Source: The Hindu


DASHBOARD TO MONITOR AIR QUALITY OF INDIAN CITIES

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

A new dashboard launched  provides a comprehensive picture of India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which come under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP).

Highlights presented by the Dashboard

  • A total of 59 of 122 cities had PM2.5 data available. Noida ranked the worst with 119, followed by Agra, Delhi, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Muzzaffarpur, Kanpur, Chandigarh, Howrah and Kolkata.
  • Delhi ranked as the most polluted state on an average of 3 years’ PM10 monitoring data, followed by Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Of the 23 states listed in the NCAP with non-attainment cities, only three states or Union Territories—Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab—accounted for above average readings for all three years of PM10 monitoring
  • West Bengal and Assam were on the margin

National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP)

  • Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) with the help of concerned State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) is monitoring the ambient air quality in the country at 346 stations covering 130 cities and towns. This is done under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP).
  • Under this programme, Central Government provides funds through CPCB for National Air Monitoring   Programme to various SPCBs and PCCs.
  • The objectives of the NAMP are to determine the status and trends of ambient air quality; to ascertain whether the prescribed ambient air quality standards are violated; to assess health hazards and damage to materials; to continue the ongoing process of producing periodic evaluation of air pollution situation in urban and industrial areas of the country; to obtain the knowledge and understanding necessary for developing preventive and corrective measures and to understand the natural cleansing processes undergoing in the environment through pollution dilution, dispersion, wind based movement, dry deposition, precipitation and chemical transformation of pollutants generated.
  • Under the NAMP, four air-pollutants viz., SOx , NOx , Suspended Particulate Material (SPM) and Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) have been identified for regular monitoring at all the locations.

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

  • National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) was launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2019.
  • It is the first-ever effort in the country to frame a national framework for air quality management with a time-bound reduction target.
  • It seeks to cut the concentration of coarse (particulate matter of diameter 10 micrometer or less, or PM10) and fine particles (particulate matter of diameter 2.5 micrometer or less, or PM2.5) by at least 20% in the next five years, with 2017 as the base year for comparison.
  • The plan includes 102 non-attainment cities, across 23 states and Union territories, which were identified by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the basis of their ambient air quality data between 2011 and 2015.
  • Non-attainment cities: These are those that have fallen short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for over five years.

-Source: The Hindu


CENTRE BRINGS NEW LAW TO TACKLE NCR AIR CRISIS

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

The Union government issued an ordinance and put in place a new anti-pollution agency with sweeping powers spanning five north Indian states where it will monitor and act against sources of dirty air, armed with the ability to lay down rules, set emission standards, and hand out fines of up to Rs 1 crore or send violators to prison for up to five years.

Details of the ordinance

  • The ordinance, issued by the ministry of law and justice as per its commitment to Supreme Court, sets up what will be an 18-member Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) for the National Capital Region (NCR).
  • Its members will be drawn from Union ministries, NGOs and administrations from each of the five NCR or NCR-adjacent states: Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • The new commission replaces all ad-hoc committees and bodies created under court orders, including the SC-appointed environment pollution control authority (Epca), which was tasked with overseeing air pollution control in NCR since 1998.
  • The commission will be a statutory authority and its 18 fulltime members will be appointed by the central government.
  • The committee will have the powers to issue directions, entertain complaints; regulate and prohibit activities that are likely to cause or increase air pollution, lay down parameters and standards; restrict industry, activities, processes; direct the closure, or prohibit any polluting activity in Delhi-NCR and adjoining areas.
  • Since 2015, the air in the national capital and in much of the Indo-Gangetic plains plunges into hazardous levels as a consequence of farm fires, pre-winter meteorological conditions, and festivals, when more people crowd markets, and use firecrackers.
  • The new mechanism also brings in a completely new, centralised regime of pollution control with appeals against any order or direction of the Commission can be made only at the National Green Tribunal.
  • No civil court will have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings against the decisions of the Commission.

Current Situation

  • Pollution levels in the air were at its worst yet this season, with the air quality index (AQI) in the Capital settling at 395 – merely six notches below what’s considered severe. This directly appeared to correlate with the number of farm fires in Punjab and Haryana.
  • Data from US’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) showed 2,633 fires in the two states.
  • Farm fires are likely to be one of the focus areas of the new commission, which will be headed by a retired bureaucrat, include eight technical members, and three from non-governmental organisations.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and state pollution control boards will continue to function but in case of a conflict, the commission’s orders will prevail.

-Source: Hindustan Times


FISCAL DEFICIT WIDENS TO ₹9.1 LAKH CRORE

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

The fiscal deficit continued to soar in September 2020 to reach Rs. 9.1 lakh crore, or almost 115% of the budget target of Rs. 7.96 lakh crore for 2020-21, as per data from the Comptroller General of Accounts.

Details

  • The revenue deficit hit 125.2% in the first half of the year, with revenue receipts continuing to suffer in view of lower economic activity due to COVID-19.
  • The monthly expenditure trends revealed a discordant sharp contraction in both revenue and capital expenditure in September 2020, suggesting that the expenditure management restrictions are outweighing the fiscal support measures announced so far.

Fiscal Deficit

  • Fiscal Deficit is the gap between the government’s expenditure requirements and its receipts.
  • This equals the money the government needs to borrow during the year. A surplus arises if receipts are more than expenditure.
  • Fiscal Deficit = Total expenditure – (Revenue receipts + Non-debt creating capital receipts).
  • It indicates the total borrowing requirements of the government from all sources.
  • From the financing side: Gross fiscal deficit = Net borrowing at home + Borrowing from RBI + Borrowing from abroad
  • The gross fiscal deficit is a key variable in judging the financial health of the public sector and the stability of the economy.

-Source: The Hindu

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