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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 31 May 2021

Contents

  1. 43rd GST Council Meeting
  2. More Collectors can grant citizenship under CAA
  3. Declining forest bird species in Western Himalaya
  4. Our inheritance from the Neanderthals
  5. Ripples from Cyclones and tides in Sunderbans
  6. World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day

43rd GST Council Meeting

Context:

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council led by Finance Minister, in its first meeting of the financial year 2021-22, decided to exempt IGST on import of free COVID-related supplies till August 31.

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy (Growth and Development of Indian Economy, Fiscal Policy, Taxation)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. GST Council
  2. Highlights of the 43rd Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meeting
  3. Inverted Duty Structure under GST

GST Council: Click Here to read about GST, GST Council, and Issues with GST Council through the Pandemic.

Highlights of the 43rd Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meeting

  • The GST Council decided to exempt IGST on import of free COVID-related supplies till August 31 and also put Amphotericin B, a key medicine for the treatment of black fungus, in the list of items exempted from IGST.
  • Exemptions will be granted to the import of relief items even if they have been purchased as long as they are meant for donations to state governments. Earlier, Integrated Goods & Services Tax (IGST) exemption was granted only free of cost imports.
  • A Group of Ministers (GoM) will be formed quickly, who will submit a report to examine the need for further reductions and decide on any new rates in exemptions.
  • Same as 2020, the GST Council felt that this is not the appropriate time for a correction in Inversion duty, so this remains where it is.
  • The Annual Return Filing will continue to be optional for 2020-21, for the small taxpayers with turnover less than Rs 2 crore. The Law Committee will look into issues involving Quarterly Return Filing and Quarterly Payment, the modalities need to be worked out.
  • The GST compensation cess has the same formula as the one in 2020 to be adopted in 2021 as well. The rough estimate is that the centre will have to borrow Rs 1.58 lakh crore and pass it on to states.
  • Separately, reducing GST rates on two-wheelers and bringing natural gas into the ambit of GST were also reportedly on the agenda.

GST Amnesty Scheme

The GST Amnesty Scheme was announced, which will provide relief to small taxpayers and the amnesty scheme has been recommended for reducing late fees. It is likely to benefit around 89 per cent of GST taxpayers. They can file pending returns, avail benefits of the scheme, with reduced late fees.

Inverted Duty Structure under GST

  • The term ‘Inverted Tax Structure’ refers to a situation where the rate of tax on inputs purchased (i.e., GST rate paid on inputs received) is more than the rate of tax on outward supplies (i.e., GST rate payable on sales).
  • A registered person may claim a refund of unutilised Input Tax Credit (ITC).
  • The ITC on account of inverted tax structure can be claimed at the end of any tax period where the credit has accumulated on account of the rate of tax on inputs being higher than the rate of tax on output supplies. A tax period is a period for which a return is required to be furnished.

-Source: The Hindu


More Collectors can grant citizenship under CAA

Context:

The Home Ministry empowered 13 more District Collectors in five States to grant citizenship certificates to applicants belonging to six minority communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Citizenship, Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of these policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the latest notification regarding the granting of Citizenship
  2. Latest notification and the CAA
  3. Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA)
  4. Criticisms of the CAA

About the latest notification regarding the granting of Citizenship

  • The Home Ministry empowered 13 more District Collectors in the States of: Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab – to grant citizenship certificates to applicants belonging to six minority communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
  • This notification intends to benefit legal migrants (who entered on passport/visa) from the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have already applied for Citizenship under Section 5 (by registration) and Section 6 (naturalisation) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • The fresh notification grants the power to Collectors of Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat; Durg and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh; Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan; Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab. These are the areas where the population of such migrants are concentrated.
  • Though there have been no exact numbers of such migrants who came to India on LTV or any other type of visa but officials estimate the number to be around two lakhs. There are around 400 Pakistani Hindu refugee settlements in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jaipur.
  • In 2015, the ministry amended the citizenship rules and legalised the stay of such foreign migrants belonging to the six communities who entered India on or before December 2014 due to persecution on grounds of religion by exempting them from provisions of the Passport Act and Foreigners Act. It also allowed them to take up employment opportunities in non-government sectors and empowered District Magistrates in select States to allow purchase of property and issue of driving licence.
  • The Home Secretaries of Punjab (except Jalandhar) and Haryana (except Faridabad) have also been given such powers.

Latest notification and the CAA

  • Under the existing system, minority communities from the three countries who entered India before December 31, 2009, may or may not choose to provide a copy of their passports but they have to provide the date of the visa and may upload the visa document in place of the passport while applying for citizenship.
  • The latest notification is a reiteration of similar orders issued in 2016 and 2018 and is not related to the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that is yet to come into effect.
  • Since the rules for CAA are yet to be framed and a minority applicant from the three countries, even if he or she came in 2014 becomes eligible for citizenship in the year 2025, but many have been residing in India for more than 20 years on long-term visas (LTV). An LTV is a precursor to Citizenship.

Citizenship as a Central Subject discussion

  • Citizenship is a Central subject and the Home Ministry periodically delegates powers to States through gazette notification under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • Indian citizenship can be acquired on eight grounds – based on registration made by a person of Indian origin, by a person married to an Indian, minor child, whose parents are registered as citizens of India, by a person whose either parent was a citizen of Independent India, overseas citizens of India, by naturalisation and registration of a child at an Indian consulate.

Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA)

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) was notified in December 2019 and came into force from January 2020, amending the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • The Citizenship Act,1955 provides various ways in which citizenship may be acquired: providing for citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalisation and by incorporation of the territory into India.
  • The objective of the CAA is to grant Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities — Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
  • Those from these communities who had come to India till December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution in their respective countries, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
  • The Act provides that the central government may cancel the registration of OCIs on certain grounds.
  • The Act does not apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya because of being included in the 6th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Also, areas that fall under the Inner Limit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, will also be outside the Act’s purview.

Criticisms of the CAA

  • It violates the basic tenets of the Constitution. Illegal immigrants are distinguished on the basis of religion.
  • It is perceived to be a demographic threat to indigenous communities.
  • It makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality.
  • It attempts to naturalise the citizenship of illegal immigrants in the region.
  • It allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences.

-Source: The Hindu


Declining forest bird species in Western Himalaya

Context:

With extremely cold winters and pleasant summers, the State of Uttarakhand is home to the Western Himalayan temperate forests which harbour a large number of endemic bird species.

A new study that analysed these natural oak-dominated forests and modified forests has noted that there was a drastic loss of bird species in all modified landscapes.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Ecology and Biodiversity)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Himalayan Biodiversity
  2. Highlights of the study on Declining Forest bird species in Himalayas
  3. Threats faced by Himalayan Biodiversity

About Himalayan Biodiversity

  • Himalayas form about 12% of the country’s landmass and is home to about 30.16% of its fauna and 31.6% of its flora.
  • In, India, Himalayas is spread over six states – Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The Himalayas are divided into two bio-geographic zones namely – Trans-Himalayas and Himalayas based on the physiographic, climatic and eco-biological attributes.
  • Himalayas is endowed with a varied biodiversity from alluvial grasslands to subtropical broadleaf forest, mixed conifers and conifer forests in higher hills and alpine meadows above the tree line.
  • Himalayas has high species diversity and endemism and is one of the hotspots located in India.
  • Himalayas has over 131 protected areas which include 20 national parks, 71 wildlife sanctuaries, five tiger reserves, four biosphere reserves and 7 Ramsar Sites.

Highlights of the study on Declining Forest bird species in Himalayas

  • Six major land-use types which included natural oak forest, degraded oak forest (lightly used), lopped oak forest (intensively used), pine forest, agricultural cultivation area and sites with buildings were studied.
  • The results showed that there was a low diversity of species in monoculture areas and urban sites.
  • They also noted a drastic loss of pollinator birds and insectivores in the degraded forests, monocultures and urbanised sites.
  • The study also noticed strong decline in some of the habitat guilds in the areas that experienced land-use change. – Habitat guilds are groups of bird species that have common habitat preferences.
  • The researchers noticed that many of the species that dropped out of the modified land areas were recognised oak forest specialists such as rufous-bellied woodpecker, greater yellownape, rufous sibia, white-throated laughingthrush and black-faced warbler.

Woodpeckers and Positive observations

  • The study found that the higher the number of woodpeckers at a site, the higher was the richness of all other birds. The cavities that woodpeckers make on trees are used by a number of other birds to nest in.
  • They also noted that two species (rufous-bellied woodpecker and greater yellownape) showed great potential as indicators of forest quality as they were most likely to be found in dense canopied forests with larger and taller trees on which they preferred to forage.

Threats faced by Himalayan Biodiversity

  1. Climate Change and Global Warming – It is one of the biggest threat faced by many threatened species of vertebrates and mammals and is evident from the shifting distribution of certain species such as Asiatic Black Bear, Snow Leopard etc.
  2. Poaching – Illegal trade in some of the flagship species such as snow leopard, tigers etc. Has led to uncontrollable poaching and killing of wild animals for trade.
  3. Human – Animal Conflict – The retaliatory killing by the farmers and villagers is also a major threat.
  4. Habitat loss and Receding glaciers due to climate change – Climate change has many associated impact on an ecosystem which leads to changed precipitation pattern and change in mean temperature. This results in loss of endemic plants species and loss of glaciers in the Himalayas.
  5. Unregulated harvesting of Himalayan Herbs – Some of the Himalayan herbs have medicinal qualities such as Himalayan trillium, due to which they are extensively harvested combined with grazing of cattle leads to their vulnerability and possible extinction.
  6. Alien Species – Alien species are a threat to endemic species because they grow unchecked and do not have natural predators such as lantana camara.
  7. Natural threats – Threats such as landslides and shifting river course also impact the natural vegetation and faunal diversity.
  8. Encroachment – There is increasing population pressure seen in terms of extension of agricultural land, exploitation of forests for timber, fodder and fuel wood, intensive grazing. These are the major factors contributing to the habitat loss of various flora and fauna.
  9. Infrastructure Development – The competition to develop economy, increasing urbanisation, attaining energy security, connecting remote areas intrudes massively in the natural ecosystem of the Himalayan region.
  10. Waste Disposal – Human populations, their habitat, discharge from the industries in Himalayan regions give rise to unimaginable non-biodegradable wastes and toxics. These foreign substances enter in the local food chain and through bioaccumulation and biomagnifications completely alter the natural ecosystems.
  11. Political reasons – Insurgencies, wars, military operations and presence of war zone along India’s Pakistan and China Border cause destruction of forests and the biodiversity.
  12. Ceasing the conservation effort – Down listing the species from ‘endangered’ to only ‘vulnerable’ signals that the species does not require the same amount of attention and resources as before

-Source: The Hindu


Our inheritance from the Neanderthals

Context:

Studies show that we, Human Beings (Homo Sapiens) have inherited regions of host genomes from Neanderthals, which are an extinct species of hominids that were the closest relatives to modern human beings, that increase the risk of getting severely ill and protect against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Relevance:

GS-III: Science and Technology (Genetics and Biotechnology), Anthropology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Modern humans
  2. Did Neanderthals compete with us Homo sapiens, or was there cooperation?
  3. What are Neanderthals? More about Human Evolution
  4. Findings of recent studies regarding Covid-19

Modern humans

  • ‘Modern’ humans have populated the earth from long before the Iron Age, for some 300,000 years, cohabiting Mother Earth along with other pre-human hominins.
  • Because bones of one of these ‘others’ were first discovered in the Neander valley, just east of Dusseldorf in Germany, they were called ‘Neanderthals’.
  • This hominin arose about 430,000 years ago and did not evolve in Africa, as Homo sapiens did. Early humans first encountered them when they migrated out of Africa.

Did Neanderthals compete with us Homo sapiens, or was there cooperation?

  • Answers to such questions have come, one fragment at a time, from studies on the genetics of populations from Asia and Europe in places where migration brought the two species face to face.
  • ‘Modern’ humans interbred with the locals in these regions. Recently a thigh bone of such a cross-bred individual became available.

Example of Interaction:

  • A more recent genetic analysis of one set of samples from the region showed that Neanderthals came to the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria first, more than 50,000 years ago and left their stone tools.
  • Next came modern humans in two or more waves, and littered the cave with beads and stones about 45,000, and then 36,000 years ago.
  • Genome-wide data of three human males who lived in this cave 45,000 years ago show that all three had Neanderthals in their family lineage, from just a few generations ago.
  • This clearly showed that the modern human population in that region had interbred with the ‘locals’ and produced a cross-bred group of people – modern with Neanderthals.
  • This cross-bred group had 3.4%–3.8% Neanderthal ancestry (in modern non-Africans it is about 2%).

Genetic connections

  • Tracing the genetic lineages of the findings in the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria, it is somewhat surprising that no traces are to be found among today’s Europeans.
  • However, the three human males who lived in the Bacho Kiro cave 45,000 years ago are connected to present-day East Asians and Native Americans.
  • The descendants of these Eurasian cave dwellers appear to have packed up and moved eastward, finally enduring the hardship of crossing an ice-age Bering Strait into the Americas.

What are Neanderthals? More about Human Evolution and Findings of recent studies regarding Covid-19

Click Here to read more about Neanderthals, Human Evolution and connection with Covid-19

Conferring immunity

  • Further studies on the genomes of the Neanderthals themselves allow a comparison with those of modern humans and give us a glimpse of the genetic changes in the DNA sequences of the two.
  • The chunks of genomes inherited from Neanderthals were whittled down to 2%.
  • Having adapted to colder regions for 400,000 years, the Neanderthals gave us out-of-Africa humans variations in skin and hair colour better suited to the cold, as well as adaptive variants for metabolism and immunity – to help better adjust to strange new food sources and to unfamiliar disease-causing viruses in the new environment.

-Source: The Hindu


Ripples from Cyclones and tides in Sunderbans

Context:

Over just the past three years from 2018-2021, the Sunderbans, which is home to close to five million people, has been battered by four tropical cyclones — Fani (May 2019), Bulbul (November 2019), Amphan (May 2020) and Yaas (May 2021).

On each occasion, the region has suffered damage because of gale winds and breached embankments, leading to ingress of sea water.

Relevance:

GS-I: Geography (Important Geophysical Phenomenon), GS-III: Disaster Management

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is a Storm Surge?
  2. Situation of Unprecedented Surge in Sunderbans
  3. Cyclone Yaas and High tide devastation
  4. Storm Surges and Coastal Communities

What is a Storm Surge?

  • A storm surge is a rise in sea level that occurs during tropical cyclones, intense storms also known as typhoons or hurricanes.
  • The storms produce strong winds that push the water into shore, which can lead to flooding. This makes storm surges very dangerous for coastal regions.
  • A storm surge is primarily caused by the relationship between the winds and the ocean’s surface. The water level rises where the winds are strongest. In addition, water is pushed in the direction the winds are blowing.
  • Due to Coriolis effect: if a cyclone develops in the Northern Hemisphere, the surge will be largest in the right-forward part of the storm. In the Southern Hemisphere, the surge will be largest in the left-forward part of the cyclone.
  • Another factor contributing to storm surge is atmospheric pressure. The pressure is higher at the edges of a cyclone than it is at the center. This pushes down the water in the outer parts of the storm, causing the water to bulge at the eye and eye wall—where the winds have helped add to the rise in sea level.
  • More factors contribute to the strength of a storm surge as the dome of water comes ashore. The water level can reach as high as 10 meters if the storm surge happens at the same time as high tide.

Situation of Unprecedented Surge in Sunderbans

  • For people in the ecologically fragile Sunderbans, life revolves around battling high tides daily and cyclones regularly. But every cyclone throws up new challenges to the Sunderbans and its inhabitants — something the people had not imagined, and policy makers are not prepared for.
  • The intensity of the gale winds has ranged from 100 kmph to 150 kmph during each of the cyclones – Fani, Bulbul, Amphan and Yaas.

Cyclone Yaas and High tide devastation

  • Though Cyclone Yaas made landfall about 200 km south of the Sunderbans in Odisha, it inundated (flooded) large areas of the estuary. The cumulative effect of the full moon tide and the cyclone led to the overflowing and breach of embankments in large areas of the Sunderbans.
  • While the India Meteorological Department had predicted a storm surge of 2 m above the astronomical tide level, water in the river and bay swelled due to full moon tide. As a result, as Cyclone Yaas made landfall, large areas were inundated.
  • Three days after the cyclone, several areas of Sunderbans remain inundated, forcing people to huddle in cyclone shelters or spend days on embankments.
  • Ghoramara is one of the islands that has been sinking due to rising sea levels, where a few dozen houses and acres of land go under water every year. Even so, the residents were not prepared to see the entire island under water.
  • Another island in the western part of Sunderbans, the boat-shaped Mousuni, is also under water. Not only islands, but even coastal areas like Kakdwip, Namkhana and Frasergunj have been submerged.
  • Sagar Island, the biggest island of the Sundarbans chain and site of the famous Gangasagar Mela during Makar Sankranti, has also suffered damage.
  • Not only the western part of Sunderbans that faces Bay of Bengal but large parts in Gosaba and Sandeshkhali block, in the eastern part of the delta remain under water three days after the cyclone Yaas and the high tide.
  • Once the sea water enters the islands, not only are dwelling units destroyed but the crops are inundated and land cannot be cultivated because of the salinity, even the fish in the ponds die.

Click Here to read more about the Increasing numbers of cyclones in changing times

Storm Surges and Coastal Communities

  • Tropical cyclones, and the storm surges they generate, are a serious hazard for coastal areas in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. When a cyclone hits land, the accompanying storm surge will most often flood the surrounding coastal area.
  • Flooding is responsible for most deaths and economic damage associated with tropical cyclone landfalls.
  • Improvements in forecasting cyclones and issuing early warnings to the public have become indispensable as both coastal populations and the occurrence of extreme storms continue to rise. However, even sophisticated meteorology and storm warnings do not always protect against devastating storm surges.
  • Advance warning of a strong storm surge also allows homes and businesses to prepare for damage.

Wetlands as a “crush zone”

  • Coastal residents can reduce the damage done by a storm surge by protecting local wetlands. Wetlands, such as swamps, estuaries, and mud flats, act as sponges for tropical cyclones.
  • As the cyclone makes landfall, the marshy land and plants absorb the water and the energy of the storm surge. Silt and swamp vegetation prevent the most intense part of the storm surge from hitting homes and businesses.
  • The development of coastal wetlands for housing, industry, or agriculture reduces the natural barrier that wetlands provide. Communities can protect themselves against storm surges by maintaining healthy coastal wetland ecosystems.

-Source: The Hindu


World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day

Context:

‘World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day’ is to be observed on 30th January as declared by the World Health Assembly.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD)?
  2. Government’s efforts regarding NTD
  3. About the World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day declaration
  4. World Health Assembly (WHA)

What are Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD)?

  • Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)– a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries – affect more than one billion people and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.
  • Populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals and livestock are those worst affected.
  • Seven of the most common NTDs can be found in a number of countries—primarily in low- and middle-income countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Controlling the vectors (e.g., mosquitoes, black flies) that transmit these diseases and improving basic water, sanitation, and hygiene are highly effective strategies against these NTDs.

The NTD Crisis

  • NTDs such as dengue, lymphatic filariasis and visceral leishmaniasis (Kala-Azar) afflict 1 billion people worldwide, and yet, are not prioritised in the public health narrative in many parts of the world.
  • India bears the largest burden of NTDs in the world, accounting for 40 per cent of the global lymphatic filariasis disease burden and almost a quarter of the world’s visceral leishmaniasis cases.

Government’s efforts regarding NTD

  • In recent years, the government has made concerted efforts to address the nation’s NTD burden, especially visceral leishmaniasis and lymphatic filariasis which were slated to be eliminated by 2020 and 2021 respectively.
  • India has already eliminated several other NTDs, including guinea worm, trachoma, and yaws.
  • Measures taken include Mass Drug Administration (MDA) for lymphatic filariasis prevention in endemic districts and Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) to control the breeding of sandflies that transmit visceral leishmaniasis.
  • The Accelerated Plan for Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis (APELF) was launched in 2018, as part of intensifying efforts towards the elimination of NTDs.
  • A WHO-supported regional alliance established by the governments of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal in 2005 to expedite early diagnosis and treatment of the most vulnerable populations and improve disease surveillance and control of sandfly populations (Kala-azar).

About the World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day declaration

  • London Declaration on NTDs on 30th January, 2012 recognised the global burden of NTDs.
  • Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, representatives from leading global pharmaceutical companies as well as representatives of several national governments met at London’s Royal College of physicians to pledge to end the diseases.
  • The ongoing 74th World Health Assembly declared 30th January as ‘World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day. The first World NTD Day was celebrated informally in 2020.

World Health Assembly (WHA)

  • The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO.
  • It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.
  • The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland (sometimes in special sessions).
  • The main functions of the World Health Assembly are:
    1. To determine the policies of the Organization
    2. Appoint the Director-General
    3. Supervise financial policies
    4. Review and approve the proposed programme budget.
    5. Reporting to the Economic and Social Council in accordance with any agreement between the Organization and the United Nations.
  • The Health Assembly is composed of delegates representing Member States.
    • Each Member State is represented by not more than three delegates, one of whom is designated by the Member as chief delegate.
    • These delegates are chosen from among persons most qualified by their technical competence in the field of health, preferably representing the national health administration of the Member.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

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