29 Jun 2018: UPSC Exam Comprehensive News Analysis

A. GS1 Related
B. GS2 Related
GOVERNANCE
1. Old versus new
C. GS3 Related
ECONOMY
1. RBI steps in as rupee hits record low
ECOLOGY
1. Gabon’s orange crocodiles: a species intriguing scientists
ENVIRONMENT
1. Is biodiversity treaty a hurdle to conservation research?
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
1. Mars may have hosted life form before earth
2. Saturn’s moon could support life, says study
D. GS4 Related
E. Editorials
AGRICULTURE
1. Assessment of Farm Policy in India
F. Tidbits
1. Dist. health ranking system
2. Sabarimala chosen as ‘Swachh Iconic Place’
3. Rising temperature to cut living standards
5. Kharif sowing on, but no word on MSPs
6. Indians’ Swiss bank stash tops Rs.7,000 cr.
G. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions
H. UPSC Mains Practice Questions


A. GS1 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

B. GS2 Related

1. Old versus new

C. GS3 Related

1. RBI steps in as rupee hits record low

• The rupee extended its losing streak for a fourth straight session, breaching the 69-a-dollar mark for the first time ever before the central bank intervened by selling dollars through state-run banks, curbing volatility in the foreign exchange market and helping the local currency trim its losses.
• The RBI has said that it does not target any specific level for the currency and only intervenes to curb volatility.

Background

• The Indian currency has depreciated more than 7% this year, making it the worst performing Asian currency in the period.
• Climbing crude oil prices, which would fan inflation and widen the current account deficit, fears of a looming global trade war and the rising U.S. interest rates have combined to exacerbate outflows from emerging markets and impacted the rupee.

Speculations

• The rupee will remain under pressure in the near term as oil prices continue to stay high and capital outflows from the emerging markets continue.
• The collapse of the rupee to a lifetime low against the U.S. dollar will not give an extra edge to domestic exporters but provide a level-playing field in the global market as currencies of other emerging economies, including China, too are depreciating.

Moody’s

• India’s low dependence on foreign currency borrowing limits risks to the sovereign even if the Indian currency weakens by more than 7% against the dollar in 2018, ratings agency Moody’s said in a note.
• Furthermore, while the current account deficit (CAD) had widened due to rising oil prices, it remained modest relative to the GDP and is largely financed by equity inflows, including foreign direct investment, the ratings agency said.
• India’s significant build-up of foreign exchange reserves in recent years to all-time highs provides a support buffer to help mitigate external vulnerability risk.

1. Gabon’s orange crocodiles: a species intriguing scientists

• The West African state of Gabon is famous for its biodiversity but in a galaxy of spectacular finds, one stands out: orange crocodiles.

Dwarf crocodiles

• The dwarf crocodile is an African crocodile that is the smallest crocodile alive.
• It is found on the western coast of Africa and live in different freshwater sources such as small rivers, swamps, and mangroves.
• They rarely bask in the sun, which is pretty different from most crocodile species.

Orange Crocodiles

• These cave-dwelling dwarf crocodiles live in complete darkness all year long and have probably never seen any real light in their entire life span.
• Since they have no need for seeing things because of the darkness, these crocodiles have turned blind, and rather uses their other senses to find food in the caves.

Theories for colour

• The lack of light in the Abanda caves may have caused depigmentation and urea in bat droppings may then have induced an orange hue.
• The bat guano began to attack their skin and transformed their colour.
• One possibility is that the orange crocodiles entered their present habitat through narrow openings which they then outgrew and could not return, and their skin eventually changed colour in response to the bat guano.

Habitat

• These crocodiles have been in the Abanda caves for around 3,000 years, which correlates fairly well with a time when the sea level fell and this coastal zone became terrestrial once again.
• Mapping the cave complex, the scientists found four orange specimens in a community of 40.
• The crocodiles of normal colour live in grottos which are connected to the surface. But the orange-coloured ones live in caverns that are accessible today only from vertical shafts.
• However, the cave system also has smaller horizontal connections, which are filled with water or dry according to the level the ground water.

Comparison

• In the total darkness, the animals survive on a diet of bats and crickets, unlike above-ground crocodiles of the same species which feed on fish and crustaceans.
• A comparison of cave-dwelling and above-ground crocodiles confirms that they have not become separate species.
• However, the subterranean creatures — whether orange or normal colour — have developed a specific genetic signature.

1. Is biodiversity treaty a hurdle to conservation research?

• It’s a case of a “cure that kills”: an international conservation treaty is hampering conservation research, claim scientists.

Concern

• The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), of which India is signatory too, is hindering biodiversity research and preventing international collaborations due to regulations that have risen due to its implementation.

CBD

• The CBD is aimed at conserving biological diversity, sustainably using biological components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits (with local or indigenous communities) that may arise out of the utilisation of genetic resources.
• India is one of the 196 countries that has committed to the CBD and ratified it in February 1994.
• But this has generated unintended consequences for research; due to national-level legislations instituted by countries under the CBD, obtaining field permits for access to specimens for non-commercial research has become increasingly difficult.

Recommendations

• They suggest that the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture or the Seed Treaty, which ensures worldwide public accessibility of genetic resources of essential food and fodder, could be used as a model for exchange of biological materials for non-commercial research.
• Another solution may be to add an explicit treaty or annex in the CBD to promote and facilitate biodiversity research, conservation, and international collaboration.

International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

• It is popularly known as the International Seed Treaty.
• It was adopted by the Thirty-First Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on 3 November 2001.
• It is a comprehensive international agreement in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), as well as the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from its use.
• The Treaty aims at recognizing the enormous contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops that feed the world; establishing a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materials; Ensuring that recipients share benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials with the countries where they have been originated.

1. Mars may have hosted life form before earth

• After analysing grains of the mineral zircon extracted from a Martian meteorite known as Black Beauty, scientists have found that Mars’ crust formation — which is the end product of planet formation — took place at least 100 million years earlier than on the earth.

The new study

• Up to now, mathematical models have suggested that the solidification of the Red Planet took up to 100 million years.
• The new study tackles the question by examining a chunk of Mars that streaked into the Saharan Desert and was discovered in 2011.
• The Black Beauty meteorite weighed 320 grams when found.
• The researchers secured 44 gm of the precious space rock Black Beauty and extracted seven bits of zircon that could be used in experiments.
• The data supports newer models indicating the very rapid formation of terrestrial planets.
• Scientists have found that the Red Planet’s outer layer hardened 4.547 billion years ago, only 20 million years after the birth of the Sun.
• The results indicate that Mars could have had an environment with oceans, and potentially life, much earlier than Earth.
• Water is considered to be an essential precursor for life, at least as we know it.
• Mars was once much more Earth-like, with a thick atmosphere, abundant water and global oceans.

2. Saturn’s moon could support life, says study

• Complex organic molecules have been discovered originating from one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, adding to its potential to support life.

• It is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn.
• It is about a tenth of that of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
• Enceladus is mostly covered by fresh, clean ice, making it one of the most reflective bodies of the Solar System.

Background

• The Cassini spacecraft first flew close to the ice-covered moon in 2005 as part of a mission to gather data on Saturn that will be analysed for years to come.
• The Enceladus findings come after data showed organic compounds on the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane, marking some of the strongest evidence ever that the earth’s neighbour may have harboured life.
• Cassini has previously detected lightweight organic molecules at Enceladus but the newly found fragments are much larger.

Findings

• The research team had identified fragments of large organic molecules in ice grains that were ejected from geysers through cracks in the moon’s icy exterior.
• Such large molecules can only be created by complex chemical processes including those related to life.
• It is the first-ever detection of complex organics coming from an extra-terrestrial water world.

D. GS4 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

E. Editorials

1. Assessment of Farm Policy in India

Challenges in this year

• Good rains, excessive sowing and the bumper harvest last year produced gluts in the market that sent the prices of many crops, and therefore farm incomes, crashing.
• None of the economic tools available for protecting farm incomes — the price support scheme, the price stabilisation fund and the market intervention scheme — was employed to the best advantage.
• Quick and precise adjustments to the export and import rules could have arrested the price fall by diverting the excess supplies to overseas markets.
• But the changes required were not carried out in time. Instead, inflows of imports were allowed to go on, which worsened the price situation.

The MSP issue

• This year’s Budget promised that the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) would be at least 150% of production costs.
• The intention of assuring 50% profit margin over the cost of production is to make farming remunerative.
• On the formula for calculating production costs for plugging into the MSP formula, farmer groups and the government are not as yet on the same page.
• But howsoever production costs are calculated, simply announcing higher MSPs will not raise farmer incomes. The system is not geared for scaling up procurement.
• For several crops last year, the quantities procured were small portions of the total produce.
• Although MSPs are announced for more than 20 crops, noteworthy procurement is conducted for three: paddy, wheat and sugarcane (procurement by sugar mills, not the government, given cane must be crushed within a few hours of being cut, or it dries, impacting sugar recovery drastically).
• Further, procurement frequently takes places at prices below the MSP, as is happening this year, according to reports. Finally, small and vulnerable farmers usually do not get paid MSPs at all, as they sell their produce to aggregators, not directly in mandis.
• In these circumstances, and given an imminent general election, the government is likely to take recourse to payments compensating for the difference between market prices and the MSP to appear farmer-friendly.
• In principle, it is only right and fair that the government pay reparations to farmers. The gluts, depressed market prices and mounting farmer losses are a direct consequence of the malfunction in agri-pricing policies.
• But price differential payments, no matter what mechanism is used for calculating and distributing them, would be yet another example of economic policies that get drafted purely on political appeal, without full grasp of the underlying economic principle, and backfire badly.

Demand-supply mismatch

• A set of estimates of the price differential payments likely this year, premised on realistic assumptions, from agriculture economists led by Ashok Gulati projects that the MSP of paddy for the 2018-19 kharif season will have to be raised 11-14%, cotton 19-28%, and jowar 42-44%, if the MSP pricing formula of 1.5 times the cost is employed.
• The trouble is, pricing policies distort market prices and send the wrong signal to farmers on what to produce and how much. Our inept policy system fails to correct such situations, which then spiral out of control.
• But if the problem is volatile incomes, the solution must target incomes, not prices. Income support payments, paid on a per hectare basis through direct transfers, offer an administratively neater, economically far less distortionary and politically more attractive solution.

The Telangana example

Telangana has announced such payments for farmers at the rate of Rupees 10,000/ha per season.

The cost projections for scaling up this model to the national level, excluding the procurement of sugarcane, wheat and paddy, and non-MSP crops, are roughly as much as the estimated bill for the price differential payments.

• Agriculture sector engages more than 50% of the total workforce, and that agri-prices, and therefore farm incomes, are not free-market driven.
• They are kept artificially low, through use of pricing policy instruments, so that inflation does not erode the rest of the population’s purchasing power.
• The current farm crisis is purely because of policy failure. Fiscal space must be found for providing income support this year to the most vulnerable farmers at least. Over the longer term, there is no alternative to deep reforms.

F. Tidbits

1. Dist. health ranking system

• A new district health ranking system has been evolved in Rajasthan for monitoring the delivery of healthcare services, vaccination in infants, family welfare programmes and institutional deliveries as well as the implementation of the Bhamashah health insurance scheme.

2. Sabarimala chosen as ‘Swachh Iconic Place’

• The Union government has selected Sabarimala as a ‘Swachh Iconic Place’ as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission.
• 30 centres in the country have been selected for converting them into ‘Swachh Iconic Places’ and the project has already been executed in 20 places.

Swachh Iconic Places

• The Swachh Iconic Places is an initiative under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
• It is a special clean-up initiative focused on select iconic heritage, spiritual and cultural places in the country.
• The initiative is being coordinated by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in association with the Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and the concerned State governments.

3. Rising temperature to cut living standards

• Six hundred million Indians could see a dip in living standards by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise at their current pace, according to an analysis by the World Bank.

The Report

• In the absence of a major climate mitigation, nearly 148 million Indians will be living in these severe hotspots in 2050, according to the report.
• States in the central, northern and northwestern parts of India emerge as the most vulnerable.
• Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which are predicted to experience a decline in living standards of more than 9%, are the top two ‘hot spot’ States in India, followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
• India’s average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1°C to 2°C by 2050, even if preventive measures are taken along the lines of those recommended by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015.
• If no measures are taken, average temperatures in India are predicted to increase by 1.5°C to 3°C.
• Economists at the World Bank correlated these climate projections with household consumption data (a proxy for living standards) in Nepal, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and extrapolated it to 2050.
• Using publicly available climate models that project how rising temperatures will affect rainfall and seasons, the researchers concluded that if emissions continued at the current pace, India could see a 1.5% decline in its GDP by 2030.
• However, were some corrective actions to be taken — like India concertedly implementing its National Action Plan on Climate Change and States implementing their domestic climate change mitigation plans — this could be halted to 1.3%.

• The Election Commission has asked Facebook to examine blocking of political advertisements 48 hours before elections, a request the social media giant is examining.
• A committee was constituted by the EC to study provisions of the Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
• Facebook agreed to examine providing a window or button on the FB page for flagging complaints about violation of election laws.

Background

• The Election Commission (EC) had set up a 14-member committee to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, which prohibits poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading to voting, in the wake of media expansion.
• Apart from suggesting modifications to the election law, the committee will also study the impact of new media and social media during the silence period and its implication in view of Section 126 and suggest changes to the model code of conduct (MCC) accordingly.
• It has also been tasked to examine the difficulties faced in regulating media platforms during the prohibitory 48 hours in a multi-phase election.

5. Kharif sowing on, but no word on MSPs

• MSPs for 23 major crops are announced at the beginning of sowing season, which for the kharif (summer) season is signalled by the onset of the monsoon.
• The monsoon has arrived in northern India and is expected to cover the whole country in the next few days, but farmers are still waiting for the announcement of the minimum support prices (MSP) for major crops.
• The Government had promised that this year the MSPs would be set at least 50% higher than production costs, but without a clear announcement on actual prices ahead of the monsoon farmers have been left in the lurch.

Reason for delay

• The government is also considering three NITI Aayog proposals which could shift some of the burden of enforcing MSPs to the States and even private agencies.
• A Group of Ministers constituted under Home Minister Rajnath Singh, has been considering the proposals, and is likely to make an announcement in the next few days.
• Several States have expressed reservations about the viability of the proposals.
• The NITI Aayog is still holding consultations with a group of farmers on the possibility of procurement by traders.

Concerns

• The delay could prove costly for farmers.
• As the sowing is under way, the farmers should have been made aware of the MSPs to avoid unviable crop choices.
• Farmers tend to shift to crops that come with higher MSPs to ensure their sustenance.
• While farmers have been producing bumper crops (a crop that has yielded an unusually productive harvest), they have been unable to get MSP rates.
• The government is facing political difficulties as it has promised an MSP hike without any substantial increase in budgeted outflow.

6. Indians’ Swiss bank stash tops Rs.7,000 cr.

• Money parked by Indians in Swiss banks rose more than 50% to 1.01 billion Swiss francs (Rs.7,000 crore) in 2017, reversing a three-year downward trend amid India’s clampdown on suspected black money stashed there.
• In comparison, the total funds held by all foreign clients of Swiss banks rose about 3% to 1.46 trillion francs or about Rs.100 lakh crore in 2017, according to the official annual data released by the Swiss National Bank (SNB), the central banking authority of the Alpine nation.
• The surge in Indian money held with Swiss banks comes as a surprise given India’s continuing clampdown on suspected black money stashed abroad, including in the banks of Switzerland that used to be known for their secrecy for years.

• U.S. wildlife officials have agreed to consider Endangered Species Act protection for a rare toad in Nevada’s high desert, where a power plant is likely to come up soon.
• Conservationists produced scientific evidence suggesting that the Dixie Valley toad could be at risk of extinction.
• The species is also threatened by invasive species, disease, climate change, groundwater extraction and livestock grazing.

• The 2-inch-long (5-centimeters) toad with flecks of gold on its olive-colored body was discovered in 2007 in thick underbrush of a spring-fed marsh in the Dixie Valley.
• It is only found in an area covering less than 3 square miles (7 square kilometers) in the marshy remnants of the lakebed east of Reno, Nevada.
• It has large, prominent eyes, an olive-colored body dotted with black freckles and rust-colored warts bordered by black halos.
• This tiny toad is physically and genetically distinct from other toads found in the Great Basin.

G. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam

Question 1. Which of the following statement/s is/are incorrect with respect to The Financial
Action Task Force (FATF)?
1. It is an inter-governmental body established in 1989.
2. It is a policy-making body which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms.
3. It works in the areas of money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

Options:

1. i) and ii) only
2. i) and iii) only
3. ii) and iii) only
4. All of the above

See

Question 2. What is Asian Premium?
1. It is the extra charge being collected by OPEC countries from Asian countries when
selling oil.
2. The system penalizes Asian countries while subsidizing the rich Western countries.
3. India opposes Asian Premium as oil is the only source of energy for India.

1. Only i) and ii) are correct
2. Only ii) and iii) are correct
3. All the statements are incorrect
4. All the statements are correct

See

Question 3. Which of the following statements is incorrect with respect to the Liberalised
Remittance Scheme?
1. Under this scheme, remittances can be made for overseas education, travel, medical treatment.
2. Maintenance of relatives is covered under the scheme.
3. Regulations for the scheme are provided under the FEMA Act 1999.
4. The money cannot be remitted for the purchase of property.

See

Question 4. Scientists have rediscovered a rare species of spider, which was believed to have
become extinct, from the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) located in the Western Ghats
region of Kerala. Which of the following statement/s about the spider is/are correct?
1. It is a species of spider of the genus Chrysilla.
2. It is found in Sri Lanka, India and Bhutan.
3. The spider belongs to the family of jumping spiders.
4. All of the above

See

H. UPSC Mains Practice Questions

1. Discuss the challenges to India’s renewable energy targets.

1. A comprehensive framework needs to be evolved and put in place to promote the North-east region as a preferred investment destination. Discuss the barriers in development of the North-eastern states.
Also, check previous Daily News Analysis

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