12 Nov 2018: UPSC Exam Comprehensive News Analysis

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. GS1 Related
B. GS2 Related
GOVERNANCE
1. CBI crisis: CVC to submit report on Verma probe
2. Criminalization of Politics: EC warns parties on criminal cases
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. SIMBEX: India, Singapore begin sea drills
C. GS3 Related
INTERNAL SECURITY
1. Chhattisgarh red zone on poll eve
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
1. Cyclone ‘Gaja’ to bring rain to T.N., Puducherry
2. SpiNNaker: Largest brain-mimicking supercomputer
3. ISRO’s GSAT-29 launch plan
ECONOMY
1. The Central Board of the RBI
2. Cotton prices harden on higher minimum support prices
ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY
1. Converting plastic bottle waste into flexible and durable aerogels
D. GS4 Related
E. Editorials
ECONOMY
1. RBI’s reserves belong to the Centre
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. The Sri Lankan democratic crisis deepens
2. India’s leap in ease of doing business
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
1. Detection of gravitational waves
AGRICULTURE
1. Pollinators may be in dangerous decline
F. Tidbits
G. Prelims Fact
H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions
I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions 

A. GS1 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

B. GS2 Related

Category: GOVERNANCE

1. CBI crisis: CVC to submit report on Verma probe

  • The Central Vigilance Commission is expected to inform the Supreme Court about the outcome of its inquiry into allegations against CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma.

Verma’s Case

  • The court admitted Mr. Verma’s petition. He has alleged governmental interference in the functioning of the CBI.
  • He said his removal had hampered investigation into several extremely sensitive investigations into high functionaries.
  • He contended that the CVC had no authority to remove him, and this was done before consulting a panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India, as required by law.
  • Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has personally moved the Supreme Court against Mr. Verma’s removal, terming it a “mala fide” move.
  • Verma was divested of his responsibilities as CBI Director late on October 23 pending an inquiry conducted by the CVC.
  • The inquiry is based on a letter dated August 24, 2018, received by the CVC from the Cabinet Secretary.
  • The CVC said the allegations against Mr. Verma are serious in nature having prima facie vigilance angle.
  • On October 26, the court ordered the CVC to complete its ongoing inquiry into allegations of graft and misconduct against Mr. Verma in a fortnight.

More about CBI and the present crisis

  • The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

How it started?

  • The Central government sent the CBI Director Alok Verma and the Special Director Rakesh Asthana on forced leave, pending inquiry, after each accused the other of corruption.
  • The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) passed orders on October 23 divesting them of their powers and functions.
  • Joint Director M. Nageswara Rao was made the interim chief of the CBI.
  • While Opposition parties have slammed the government for interfering in the CBI’s internal matters, Verma has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of the CVC order divesting the CBI chief of his powers.
  • The Supreme Court directed the CVC to conduct a quick probe into the allegations against Verma.

Who exercises supervision over the CBI? What are its powers?

  • The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI ) is the premier investigating police agency in India. It functions under the Ministry of Personnel Pension & Public Grievances, Government of India.
  • It is also the nodal police agency in the country which coordinates investigation on behalf of Interpol, the international organisation that facilitates police cooperation against transnational crimes.

When was the CBI formed?

  • In 1941, during World War II, the Department of War of British India constituted a Special Police Establishment (SPE) to enquire into allegations of bribery and corruption in the war-related procurements.
  • Later on it was formalised as an agency to investigate into allegations of corruption in the various wings of the Government of India through the enactment of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946.
  • In 1963, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was established by the Government of India with a view to investigating serious crimes related to defence of the country, corruption in high places, serious fraud, and illegal trade. The CBI derives its legal powers to investigate crime from the DSPE Act, 1946.

What kind of cases does the CBI handle?

  • The CBI has the following three divisions:
    • Anti-corruption division – for investigation of cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, against public officials and the employees of central government, public sector undertakings, corporations or bodies owned or controlled by the Government of India.
    • Economic offences division – for investigation of major financial scams and serious economic frauds, including bank frauds and cyber crime.
    • Special crimes division – for investigation of organised crime under the Indian Penal Code and other laws.
  • It can investigate only those offences that are notified by the Central Government under the DSPE Act.

Who oversees or governs the CBI?

  • The superintendence of the CBI with regard to investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, lies with the Central Vigilance Commission.
  • For all other matters, it lies with the Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT) in the Ministry of Personnel, Pension & Grievances of the Government of India.

When does the CBI take up a case for investigation?

  • As per the DSPE Act, the CBI can suo motu (on its own motion) take up investigation of offences only in the Union Territories.
  • The Central Government can authorise the CBI to investigate a crime in a State only with the consent or request of that state government.
  • However, the Supreme Court and High Courts can order the CBI to investigate a crime anywhere in the country

How is the CBI director appointed?

  • The CBI is headed by a director, usually an IPS officer in the rank of Director General of Police. His term of office is two years.
  • The CBI director is appointed by the Centre on the basis of the recommendation of a committee comprising the Prime Minister as the chairperson, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition.

Transfers under scrutiny

  • However, the November 12 hearing has been specifically scheduled for M. Nageshwar Rao, the officer in charge of the CBI now, to present a list of decisions he took from October 23, when he took charge.
  • The court made it implicitly clear that Mr. Rao would take care of only routine tasks essential to keep the agency functioning and was barred from taking any major or policy decisions.
  • Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, leading the Bench, asked Mr. Rao to hand over in a sealed cover all the decisions, including official transfer of investigations, charge of investigating officers, etc, in a sealed cover on November 12.
  • Many of the transfers, including that of officers probing a corruption case against CBI Special Director R.K. Asthana, have been legally challenged.
  • The court, on October 26, said it would pass “appropriate orders” on these decisions taken by Mr. Rao after perusing the details.
  • The fact that Ajay Kumar Bassi, the CBI officer who probed Mr. Asthana, has himself moved the Supreme Court against his transfer adds to the urgency.
  • Mr. Bassi alleged that his transfer was a ploy to derail the investigation against Mr. Asthana.

2. Criminalization of Politics: EC warns parties on criminal cases

  • Candidates with criminal antecedents and their political parties can be charged with contempt of the Supreme Court if they fail to widely publicise the cases against them as prescribed.
  • They may also be penalised for false statements, the Election Commission has said.
  • Separate formats have been specified for the candidates and the parties to submit reports about publication of the declaration.
  • The failure of the candidates and the parties to publicise the details in the manner prescribed may be a ground for post-election action like election petition or contempt of court.
  • The court has made it mandatory for the candidates and their parties to publish or broadcast details of the cases against them at least three times ahead of elections.
  • The ruling applies to all candidates in the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana Assembly elections. The parties are also required to upload the details on their websites.
  • If anyone furnishes a false statement, the Election Commission can act under various provisions, including Section 171 (G) of the Indian Penal Code that prescribes a fine.
  • The Election Commission has received a representation about expenses on television and newspaper advertisements of criminal antecedents, and it may take a decision on Monday.
  • It is up to them to get advertisements published in television channels and newspapers with wider circulation in the constituencies or districts concerned, or publicise information about the cases through the media.

Category: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

1. SIMBEX: India, Singapore begin sea drills

  • The 25th edition of the India-Singapore bilateral naval exercise, SIMBEX, has begun at the tri-services command in Port Blair.
  • The exercise, which kicked off on Saturday off the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, will conclude on November 21.

Launched in 1994

  • Started as basic Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) exercises in 1994, today these exercises have graduated to complex maritime combat drills, including missile and torpedo firings, and shore-based intensive professional exchanges.
  • Seven ships from the Indian Navy and five ships from the Singapore Navy along with an Archer class submarine and a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle will take part in the exercise.
  • Maritime patrol aircraft of both countries, P8I of Indian Navy and Fokker F50 from Singapore, will also take part.
  • The number of missiles and torpedo firings being undertaken are in fact unprecedented and perhaps the largest the Indian Navy has undertaken with any foreign Navy till date, the Navy added.
  • The two countries have vastly expanded their military cooperation in recent years under India’s Act East policy.
  • Late last year, the two countries signed a naval agreement which has a provision for mutual logistical support and gives India access to the Changi naval base.
  • India and Singapore are working on a trilateral exercise with an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) country, likely Thailand, and eventually plan to scale it up to a multilateral format.

C. GS3 Related

Category: INTERNAL SECURITY

1. Chhattisgarh red zone on poll eve

Context:

  • A day before the first phase of polling for 18 out of 90 constituencies in the partly Maoist-dominated areas of Chhattisgarh, insurgents triggered a series of improvised explosive devices (IED) in the Koylibeda block of Kanker district, killing one BSF Sub-Inspector and injuring another.

What are the measures taken by the Government?

  • Around one lakh security personnel, including those of Central paramilitary forces, have been deployed to ensure peaceful polling.
  • Drones are being used in sensitive areas to track the movement of Maoists as they might target polling personnel on way to the booths.
  • A total of 650 companies (roughly around 65,000 security personnel), including paramilitary and other State forces are on duty.
  • These units are in addition to paramilitary personnel and 200 companies of State forces already engaged in the anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh.
  • The challenge is to escort all polling parties safely to their destination and later to conduct polls and bring them back safely.
  • In the run-up to the first phase of polling, half-a-dozen incidents of violence have killed at least 13 persons, including security and media persons.
  • All the incidents took place in the Bastar division of south Chhattisgarh, partly dominated by the left-wing insurgents.
  • Many civilians and even a local leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Kalmu Dhurwa, were among those killed.
  • Locals told that the situation in the interior area had deteriorated following a boycott call by the Maoists.

Category: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

1. Cyclone ‘Gaja’ to bring rain to T.N., Puducherry

Context

  • The deep depression over the Bay of Bengal intensified into Cyclone ‘Gaja’.
  • North Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are likely to get good rain on November 14 and 15, India Meteorological Department officials said.
  • Named ‘Gaja’ by Sri Lanka, the cyclone lay 840 km east of Chennai and 880 km east of Nagapattinam.
  • It is likely to intensify into a severe cyclonic storm in the 24 hours starting on Sunday evening. It is expected to move west-northwestwards during the next 36 hours.
  • It may then weaken and cross the north Tamil Nadu-south Andhra coasts between Cuddalore and Sriharikota during the forenoon of November 15.
  • The India Meteorological Department has issued a red alert for areas in coastal Tamil Nadu as Cyclone Gaja, a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal, is set to make landfall on Thursday, November 15.
  • This includes Chennai, which may experience very heavy rainfall on Thursday and Friday as the cyclone makes landfall between Chennai and Nagapattinam.
  • Heavy to very heavy rain at a few places with extremely heavy rain at isolated places likely over north Tamilnadu & Puducherry, heavy to very heavy rain at isolated places over south Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema and south Tamil Nadu and heavy rain at isolated places over Kerala.
  • The weather agency also said that the cyclonic storm Gaja, over west central and adjoining east central and southeast Bay of Bengal moved further westwards.
  • It is very likely to move west­ southwestwards and intensify further into a severe cyclonic storm during next 24 hours and maintain the intensity during subsequent 24 hours.
  • Thereafter, while moving west­ southwestwards, it is also likely to weaken gradually and cross north Tamil Nadu coast between Nagapattinam and Chennai as a cyclonic storm during 15th November forenoon.
  • Cyclone Gaja which was stationed over west-central and adjoining east-central and southeast Bay of Bengal has now moved further westwards at 6 kmph in the last few hours and is now over west-central and adjoining east-central Bay of Bengal near Lat. 13.4°N and Long. 87.1°E, about 740 km ENE of Chennai and 840 km ENE of Nagappattinam.
  • The system will move west south-westwards becoming a Severe Cyclonic Storm during next 24 hours and maintain the intensity during the subsequent 24 hours.
  • Thereafter, while moving west­southwestwards, Gaja will gradually weaken and cross North Tamil Nadu coast between Nagappattinam and Chennai as a Cyclonic Storm during the forenoon hours of November 15.
  • Moving in west-northwestwards, the system is centered around Latitude 13.4°N and Longitude 89.3°E, around 390 km west-northwest of Port Blair, 990 km northeast of Chennai and 1050 km east-southeast of Nellore.
  • According to weathermen, the system is moving in extremely favourable conditions for its further intensification.
  • Gaja is most likely to get more marked into a severe cyclonic storm during the next 24 hours.
Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO)

  • The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is the largest element of the intraseasonal (30- to 90-day) variability in the tropical atmosphere.
  • It was discovered in 1971 by Roland Madden and Paul Julian of the American National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
  • It is a large-scale coupling between atmospheric circulation and tropical deep convection.
  • Unlike a standing pattern like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden–Julian oscillation is a traveling pattern that propagates eastward at approximately 4 to 8 m/s (14 to 29 km/h, 9 to 18 mph), through the atmosphere above the warm parts of the Indian and Pacific oceans.
  • This overall circulation pattern manifests itself most clearly as anomalous rainfall. The Madden–Julian oscillation is characterized by an eastward progression of large regions of both enhanced and suppressed tropical rainfall, observed mainly over the Indian and Pacific Ocean.
  • The anomalous rainfall is usually first evident over the western Indian Ocean, and remains evident as it propagates over the very warm ocean waters of the western and central tropical Pacific.
  • This pattern of tropical rainfall then generally becomes nondescript as it moves over the cooler ocean waters of the eastern Pacific (except over the region of warmer water off the west coast of Central America) but occasionally reappears at low amplitude over the tropical Atlantic and higher amplitude over the Indian Ocean.
  • The wet phase of enhanced convection and precipitation is followed by a dry phase where thunderstorm activity is suppressed. Each cycle lasts approximately 30–60 days. Because of this pattern, the Madden–Julian oscillation is also known as the 30- to 60-day oscillation, 30- to 60-day wave, or intraseasonal oscillation.
  • As per Skymet Weather, there is long sea travel ahead for Gaja, along with that sea surface temperatures are also warm and low vertical wind shear.
  • Besides this, Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) is also in the favourable zone. All these factors would be responsible in providing more strength to the system.
  • Weather models are indicating that the cyclonic storm would continue to track west-northwestwards during the next 36 hours.
  • Thereafter, it would change the direction and move west-southwestwards towards the coasts of North Tamil Nadu and South Andhra Pradesh during the subsequent 48 hours.
  • Usually, majority of the weather systems forming in Bay of Bengal during November head towards Tamil Nadu.
  • However, as the system nears the coast, it would start weakening gradually.
  • However, the system would make landfall as a cyclone. Gaja is likely to cross the North Tamil Nadu and south Andhra Pradesh coasts by the forenoon of November 15.
  • As of now the system is quite far away from the Indian mainland to give any weather over the region. However, Andaman and Nicobar Islands are likely to record fairly widespread rainfall with some heavy spells as well.
  • Sea conditions would remain rough to very rough during this time and fishermen are not advised to venture out in the sea.
  • Scattered rains will commence over Chennai and coastal Tamil Nadu around November 14. As the system nears, intensity would also rise, and we expect heavy to very heavy rains over the area on November 15.
  • Intensity of rains would start decreasing by November 16, but many districts of Tamil Nadu and South Interior Karnataka would continue with good rains.
  • Sea conditions will become rough to very rough from November 13-16 over southwest Bay of Bengal off Tamil Nadu and south Andhra coast. Fishermen are advised not to venture into the sea during this time.

2. SpiNNaker: Largest brain-mimicking supercomputer

 
  • The world’s largest supercomputer designed to work in the same way as the human brain has been switched on for the first time.
  • The Spiking Neural Network Architecture machine is capable of completing more than 200 million million actions per second, with each of its chips having 100 million transistors.
  • SpiNNaker, built at the University of Manchester in U.K., can model more biological neurons in real time than any other machine on the planet.
  • Biological neurons are basic brain cells present in the nervous system that communicate by emitting ‘spikes’ of pure electro-chemical energy.
  • It is unique as it mimics the massively parallel communication architecture of the brain, sending billions of small amounts of information simultaneously to thousands of different destinations.

3. ISRO’s GSAT-29 launch plan

 
  • ISRO is readying itself to put communication satellite GSAT-29 on its heavy-lift vehicle, the GSLV-MkIII. The spacecraft as well as the vehicle are important to the space agency and its road map.
  • Weather watch is a routine pre-launch activity for space agencies and especially so for ISRO around this time of the year.
  • Mission managers were keeping an eye on the cyclonic buildup on the east coast in Andhra Pradesh, where the launch centre is located.
  • ISRO is also preparing for a PSLV mission on November 26 to launch HySIS, a new variant of Earth observation satellites, along with 20-30 small commercial satellites.
  • One significance of the GSAT-29 mission is that an Indian spacecraft will be flown after about seven months: the last one was the IRNSS-1I launched on April 12.
  • For the other, it would be ISRO’s second communication satellite mission of 2018. It had launched another communication satellite, GSAT-6A, on March 29 but lost it in space a day later.
  • A third factor weighing on Wednesday’s mission: this would be only the second trial or developmental flight, D2, of the GSLV-MkIII or MkIII.

Major missions

  • On its success hinge many major future missions, including lunar lander-rover Chandrayaan-2 that is slated for January next year.
  • Although there was a PSLV mission on September 16, the two small satellites on it were commercial Earth observation spacecraft belonging to a U.K. agency.
  • The GSAT-29 satellite itself is one of the planned Indian HTS quartet. The HTSs or high throughput satellites are being sent out to provide a vastly improved and faster Internet connectivity. GSAT-19, the first of the series, was sent up in June 2017 from Sriharikota.
HTSs or high throughput satellites

  • India is on the cusp of a satellite-driven digital or broadband revolution, similar to DTH or direct-to-home broadcasting of the 2000s, with a plan to deploy five high-throughput communication spacecraft starting this year, according to a space scientist heading the project at Indian Space Research Organisation.
  • These HTSs have been game-changers in the West, providing Internet connectivity many times faster, smoother, easier and probably cheaper than now. Two of the Gen-5 spacecraft are approved and getting ready; the others are said to be at various stages of consideration.
  • The first of them, GSAT-19, is slated for launch from India in December. It will showcase the country’s technology capability in the new area of spectrum efficiency that is trending across the globe
  • ISRO will also test new technologies with its HTSs, such as the new flexible ‘bus’ or satellite assembly platform, electric propulsion, Ka band, lithium ion batteries, among others.
  • HTS reuses satellite ‘beams’ several times over smaller areas. It will drive a next-generation technology revolution. Individuals, planners in government, businesses like banks, ATMs, reservation systems, cellular and private networks and users in remote areas are expected to benefit from improved connectivity.
  • The West adopted the technology a few years ago. With a large number of users and multiple service providers, the cost of connectivity can become affordable as in the West.

GSAT-11

  • The third and ISRO’s heaviest to date, GSAT-11, awaits a scheduled launch on December 4 on a European space vehicle, Ariane-5, from French Guiana.
  • GSAT-11 was brought back from French Guiana to Bengaluru in April this year for additional tests and was re-transported last month for a confirmed launch.
  • ISRO had later said it did not want to take risks with such an advanced and costly satellite as GSAT-11 — put at 1,200 crore, including the launch fee of Arianespace.
  • Thus the November mission should also put many of ISRO’s satellite-related apprehensions to rest.

Category: ECONOMY

1. The Central Board of the RBI

  • The Central Board of Directors of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently been a topic of much discussion, in the light of both the recent public tussle between the RBI and the Finance Ministry and the second anniversary of demonetisation.

What is the RBI Board?

  • The RBI Board is a body comprising officials from the central bank and the Government of India, including officials nominated by the government.
  • According to the RBI, the “general superintendence and direction of the affairs and business of the RBI is entrusted to the Central Board” and the Board exercises all powers and does all acts and things that are exercised by the RBI.
  • The Board is also to recommend to the government the design, form and material of bank notes and also when and where they can serve as legal tender.

Who sits on the Board?

  • The Board consists of official directors, who include the Governor and up to four Deputy Governors, non-official directors, who include up to ten directors from various fields and two government officials, and one director from each of four local boards of the RBI.
  • The Governor and Deputy Governors hold office for not more than five years, the ten directors nominated by the government hold office for four years, and the government officials are to hold a term on the RBI Board as long as the government sees fit.
  • According to the RBI Act, the director of the RBI Board cannot be a salaried government official (except for the ones specifically nominated by the government), be adjudicated as insolvent or have suspended payments to creditors, an officer or employee of any bank (again, this does not include the government nominee), or, interestingly, “is found lunatic or becomes of unsound mind”.

When does the Board meet?

  • The Governor has to call a Board meeting at least six times in a year, and at least once each quarter.
  • A meeting can be called if a minimum of four Directors ask the Governor to call a meeting.
  • The Governor or, if for any reason unable to attend, the Deputy Governor authorised by him to vote for him, presides the Board meetings. In the event of split votes, the Governor has a second, or deciding vote.

Why has the RBI Board been in the news?

  • The RBI Board recently entered the news during the public spat between the central bank and the Finance Ministry. One of the reasons for the disagreement was the government’s alleged threat of invoking Section 7 of the RBI Act.
  • Section 7 basically empowers the government to supersede the RBI Board and issue directions to the central bank if they are considered to be “necessary in public interest”.

2. Cotton prices harden on higher minimum support prices

  • The cotton season has commenced this year with an unusual trend — prices are up despite new arrivals.
  • The price of the widely-used Shankar 6 variety is Rs 130.42 a kg against Rs 105.34 a kg last November.
  • Since October 1, when the season started, more than 20 lakh bales are said to have arrived in the market.
  • Trade and industry associations have given varying estimates for cotton production this year (October 2018 to November 2019), with expectations ranging from 343 lakh bales to 380 lakh bales.
  • The daily arrivals of cotton have crossed one lakh bales now and are expected to go up.
  • The prices usually drop when the new season starts. However, this year, prices are remaining firm for several reasons, say the trade and industry representatives.
  • The main cause is the hike in minimum support price (MSP. The MSP is higher by 26% to 28 % this season, depending on the cotton variety.

Situation may change

  • The market prices are above the MSP by just 1% to 1.5%. When the daily arrivals pick up, the situation might change.
  • Though the corporation has made minimum purchases now, it is present in more than 348 centres, ready for MSP operations if the prices fall. The presence of CCI in the market is also keeping prices above MSP.
  • Sentiments are playing a bigger role in determining prices at present more than demand and supply.
  • The Cotton Advisory Board normally meets in October to estimate cotton production. This year, it had not met so far.
  • The movement of international prices will also have an impact on the domestic cotton prices.
  • If China levies duty on import of cotton from the US, which is a major cotton producer, it will have an impact on the international and Indian cotton prices.
  • Domestic prices are high as the international cotton prices are up. Further, this year, there is a fear of a smaller domestic cotton crop. Prices might not reduce much for quality cotton as the season progresses.
  • Industry sources say the mills are buying cotton for their short-term needs, expecting arrivals to pick up and prices to stabilise.
  • The yarn offtake is slow and is likely to revive from next week. Cotton yarn exports were good from April to August -553 million kg between April and August this year compared with 364 million kg during the same period last year.
  • The textile industry, which is the largest consumer of cotton in the country, is doing well and cotton consumption this year might be same as last year.
  • At present international prices are higher than domestic prices. Volume of purchase  of Indian cotton by the mills will depend on the price movement.

Category: ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY

1. Converting plastic bottle waste into flexible and durable aerogels

  • The PET aerogels developed are soft, flexible, durable, extremely light and easy to handle. They also demonstrate superior thermal insulation and strong absorption capacity.
  • Scientists have developed a way to convert plastic bottle waste into flexible and durable aerogels that could be used for heat and sound insulation in buildings, oil spill cleaning, and as a lightweight lining for firefighter coats and masks.
  • Plastic waste is toxic and non-biodegradable. Such waste often ends up in oceans and landfills, affecting marine life and causing problems such as groundwater contamination and land scarcity.
  • Plastic bottle waste is one of the most common type of plastic waste and has detrimental effects on the environment.
  • Plastic bottles are commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is the most recycled plastic in the world.
  • The team has developed a simple, cost-effective and green method to convert plastic bottle waste into PET aerogels for many exciting uses.
  • One plastic bottle can be recycled to produce an A4-sized PET aerogel sheet. The fabrication technology is also easily scalable for mass production. In this way, we can help cut down the harmful environmental damage caused by plastic waste.
  • The PET aerogels developed are soft, flexible, durable, extremely light and easy to handle. They also demonstrate superior thermal insulation and strong absorption capacity.
  • These properties make them attractive for a wide range of applications, such as for heat and sound insulation in buildings, oil spill cleaning, and also as a lightweight lining for firefighter coats and carbon dioxide absorption masks that could be used during fire rescue operations and fire escape.
  • In their earlier work, the research team had successfully converted paper and fashion waste into cellulose and cotton aerogels respectively.
  • The research team has filed a patent for its novel PET aerogel technology, and will continue to enhance the performance of the PET aerogels and explore new applications.
  • The NUS researchers are also keen to work with companies to bring the technology to market.

D. GS4 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

E. Editorials

Category: ECONOMY

1. RBI’s reserves belong to the Centre

What is the crux of the issue?

  • At stake principally, is the disposition of sums parked by the RBI to the tune of roughly Rs 9,22,000 crore of its surplus under two heads: Foreign Currency and Gold Revaluation Account and the Contingency Fund Account.
  • The former comes to Rs 6,90,000 crore and the latter, another Rs 2,32,000 crore.

What does the government want?

  • The government wants to lay claim to all of it or at least the amount that is accounted for under the head, ‘Contingency Fund’.

What does the RBI  want?

  • The RBI thinks otherwise and hints darkly of the ‘wrath of the financial markets’ if the government has its way.
  • The policy experts too, have jumped into the fray with prognostications of rampant inflation and other dire consequences for the economy if the government has its way.
  • The RBI hasn’t helped its cause by resorting to accounting sleight of hand while presenting the financial statements.
  • It masked these appropriations under the head ‘Current Liabilities and Provisions’ instead of showing it under a more appropriate grouping of ‘Reserves and Surpluses’ within the capital funds belonging to the RBI.

What is the larger question here?

  • Do they represent surpluses that the government can legitimately lay claim to?
  • The RBI says the contingency fund is meant for as yet unknown contingencies for which it needs a war chest.
  • Then there is another dimension. RBI says it needs a ‘Contingency Fund’ of 12% of its total value of its assets. Now, why 12% and why not 8 or 16%?
  • The RBI response is that expert committees have said so. Now, who are these experts?
  • They’re RBI’s own people such as its officer, V. Subrahmanyam and Usha Thorat, who retired as Deputy Governor. In other words, the RBI is saying, it should be 12% because our ‘own people have said so.’
  • To be fair, the position was reiterated in later years by another RBI-appointed expert committee headed by the noted finance professional and a former member of the RBI Central Board of Governors, Y.H. Malegam.
  • Even this committee was tasked to come up with an answer to the accounting question of how to present the future balance sheets of RBI.
  • An important question of deciding the disposition of future surpluses of the RBI was dismissed as an arcane aspect of debits and credits of financial transactions of RBI.

The question of Foreign Currency and Gold Revaluation surpluses.

  • The foreign exchange reserves have a valuation surplus of ₹6,90,000 crore as on date, which was the direct result of accumulation of gold and foreign currency by the RBI in the last 25 years or so.
  • This in turn was the result of intervention by RBI in the forex market.
  • Common citizens and private corporations alike, had suffered a loss on their imports as the RBI intervention had the effect of jacking up the rupee cost of their imports.
  • The litre of petrol bought at the petrol bunk cost a little bit extra because RBI’s intervention in the forex market led to the rupee suffering a higher depreciation in its value relative to the dollar.
  • This is nothing but a form of indirect taxation (call it additional customs duty) on the import transactions of the public over the years. So the government wanting to lay a claim on amounts to taxes paid by the public cannot be faulted.

What happens when the rupee strengthens against the dollar in the future and the government has blown away all the valuation surplus?

  • The government can simply impose an additional customs duty to ensure that the rupee cost of import is still sustained at the same level as before when more rupees were required to buy a dollar.
  • The odds on the rupee trading at 1993 levels or even at rates that prevailed in 2000 are very low.
  • So, the RBI has armed itself for a contingency that can only be described as remote.

Final word

  • So, should the government account be now credited with an additional sum of Rs 9,22,000 crore?
  • That is a public finance question. The answer is yes from the perspective of accounting theory.

Category: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

1. The Sri Lankan democratic crisis deepens

The story so far

  • Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has dissolved Parliament after it became evident that Mahinda Rajapaksa, who he had appointed Prime Minister two weeks ago, did not enjoy a legislative majority.
  • It is an act of desperation to prevent a likely loss of face for both leaders after Mr. Sirisena’s controversial dismissal of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister on October 26.
  • Sri Lanka has been roiled by political uncertainty ever since lawmakers of Mr. Sirisena’s party withdrew support from the ‘national unity government’ to facilitate Mr. Wickremesinghe’s removal and the swearing-in of Mr. Rajapaksa in his place.
  • With many parties questioning the legality of the dismissal, the President suspended Parliament. This was a move to buy Mr. Rajapaksa time to garner support through defections.
  • With around 100 MPs each in the 225-member House, both rival camps claimed they had the majority.
  • But a 15-member alliance of Tamil MPs and six Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna lawmakers refused to support the newly installed regime, and Mr. Rajapaksa’s continuance became untenable.
  • The President had to ask him to face possible defeat in a floor test or call elections as a way out. He has chosen the latter.
  • However, a provision in the Constitution, introduced through the 19th Amendment by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration in 2015, stipulates that the House cannot be dissolved for four and a half years after a parliamentary election, unless two-thirds of its total membership seeks dissolution through a resolution. Mr. Sirisena’s action has come in the face of this restriction.
  • A fig leaf of constitutionality has been made up, citing Article 33(2)(c), which says the President has the power to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament.
  • However, it is difficult to see how a general provision enumerating some powers can override a specific provision elsewhere in the Constitution that expressly limits those powers.
  • It is only a little over three years since the last election, and there is no request from MPs seeking the dissolution of Parliament.
  • The promise held out by the 2015 reforms seems to have vanished with Mr. Sirisena’s actions.
  • Given the manner in which recent constitutional reforms have been undermined, the process of writing a new, inclusive Constitution for the country may no longer inspire much confidence.
  • The Sirisena-Rajapaksa camp has, expectedly, welcomed fresh elections, claiming it would reflect the true will of the people.
  • Free and fair elections are, no doubt, central to a democracy; but when conducted in the wake of the questionable sacking of Parliament, they may be anything but.
  • The Opposition parties are now set to challenge the President’s action.
  • Sri Lanka is at a crossroads where it has to make a crucial choice between democratic consolidation or a retreat to authoritarianism. The judiciary has a crucial task at hand.

2. India’s leap in ease of doing business

 

Context

  • India’s leap in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings this year has slipped under the radar.
  • The country has been one of the biggest ‘improvers’ in the 2019 study, with its rank shooting up from 100 to 77, among 190 countries.
  • This is quite a big jump given that its rank crept up from 142 to 100 in the four years from 2015 to 2018.
  • The World Bank now deems India an easier place to do business in than BRICs peers such as Brazil (109) and South Africa (82) and West Asian economies such as Qatar (83) and Saudi Arabia (92).
  • But it has a long way to go before it can catch up with China (46, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is at 4), the U.S. (8) or Singapore (a lofty 2). New Zealand is the top dog here.

What drove India’s rise? In which aspects of doing business did India see big improvements and where did it lag?

  • India’s climb in the 2019 rankings seems to have come mainly from sharply higher scores on two ‘doing business’ indicators — securing construction permits and trading across the borders.
  • It also made smaller improvements in starting a business and getting credit.
  • The World Bank found that India’s top cities managed to drastically shrink the number of days they took to give out construction permits, from 144 days last year to 95 days, while slashing their costs from 23% of the building value to just 5%.
  • Single-window clearance for securing building permits in Delhi and a new online system in Mumbai, brought about this quantum change.
  • From 146 on cross-border trade, its rank climbed to 80. In 2017-18, importers spent 264 hours at the border complying with formalities, but only spent 97 hours this year. For exporters, the timeline shrank from 106 to 66 hours, delivering big savings.
  • Upgrades in port infrastructure, a move to online documentation and facilities for exporters to seal their containers on their own, helped.
  • India also managed incremental reforms in a few other indicators.
  • On starting up a business, its rank improved from 156 to 137, as the time taken to start a new company was crunched from 30 days to 17 days, thanks to quicker GST registration and the abolition of site inspections in Mumbai.

What are the areas that need improvements?

  • While India managed dramatic changes in some indicators, there were others where its scores barely budged.
  • Its score remains dismal on registering property, where it ranks 166.
  • While it takes 69 days to register a piece of property and costs about 8% of its value in India, the norm for OECD countries is just 20 days at half that cost. New Zealand gets this done in a single day.
  • The other vexatious aspect that most business folk will readily identify with, is paying taxes.
  • Despite the advent of GST, India has remained a back-bencher on this at a rank of 121.
  • A typical Mumbai-based firm makes 13 tax payments a year, spends 278 hours on this and coughs up 52% of its profits. But businessmen in Hong Kong make just three payments a year, those in Singapore spend just 49 hours paying taxes.
  • The average tax rate across global economies is less than half of the Indian rate.
  • India also fares poorly, at rank 163, on enforcing contracts. While enforcing a claim through the courts in Mumbai takes 1,445 days and costs 31% of claim value, OECD nations manage this feat in 582 days at a cost of 21%.

But how exactly does World Bank measure ‘ease of doing business’?

  • The EODB study tries to capture the experience of small and mid-sized companies in a country with their regulators, by measuring the time, costs and red tape they deal with.
  • To collect data, it empanels experts from the largest business cities in each country, with Mumbai and Delhi surveyed in India.
  • It has many rounds of interactions with them — typically lawyers, business consultants, accountants, freight forwarders, government officials — who can capture the experience of multiple businesses.
  • Over 13,800 experts participated in the 2019 study, from June 2, 2017 to May 1, 2018. Each country is assigned a rank out of 190 based on the total score it earns on 10 key aspects of doing business.
  • The indicators considered now are: starting a business, getting construction permits, securing electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, cross-border trade, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

What are the shortcomings of EoDB ranking?

  • World Bank’s intent is to measure a country’s progress on a few ‘doing business’ indicators in great depth, without trying to be comprehensive about the indicators, or striving for a statistically large sample.
  • In India, it may not reflect the experience of partnership or proprietorship firms that dominate the small business space, or those located in tier 2 or tier 3 towns.
  • With the ten indicators measured by the study well-known, it is also easy for governments to specially target these areas for reforms.
  • But the EODB rankings do serve as the most trusted ready-reckoner for foreign investors looking to set up shop in a country. For that reason, this is an achievement for India to celebrate.

Category: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

1. Detection of gravitational waves

On September 14, 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made the Nobel prize winning detection of gravitational waves.

Gravitational Waves

  • These waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time, arising from the merger of a pair of black holes in distant space, and their detection had been a long-time pursuit of physics.
  • Gravitational waves are ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe.
  • Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity.
  • Einstein’s mathematics showed that massive accelerating objects (such as neutron stars or black holes orbiting each other) would disrupt space-time in such a way that ‘waves’ of distorted space would radiate from the source (like the movement of waves away from a stone thrown into a pond).
  • Furthermore, these ripples would travel at the speed of light through the Universe, carrying with them information about their cataclysmic origins, as well as invaluable clues to the nature of gravity itself.
  • The strongest gravitational waves are produced by catastrophic events such as colliding black holes, the collapse of stellar cores (supernovae), coalescing neutron stars or white dwarf stars, the slightly wobbly rotation of neutron stars that are not perfect spheres, and possibly even the remnants of gravitational radiation created by the birth of the Universe.

LIGO

  • LIGO is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory and a marvel of engineering. Comprising two enormous laser interferometers located thousands of kilometers apart, LIGO exploits the physical properties of light and of space itself to detect and understand the origins of gravitational waves.
  • More than an observatory, LIGO is a remarkable physics experiment on the scale and complexity of some of the world’s giant particle accelerators and nuclear physics laboratories. Though its mission is to detect gravitational waves from some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe, the data collects may have far-reaching effects on many areas of physics including gravitation, relativity, astrophysics, cosmology, particle physics, and nuclear physics.

 

  • LIGO’s feat was among the most electrifying announcements in recent years. Since detecting this binary black hole (BBH) merger, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) has made six such observations.
  • Five of these were mergers of black holes in very different locations in space and with very different characteristics such as mass, and one was the merger of a pair of so-called neutron stars (binary neutron stars).
  • Such mergers had been modelled theoretically even before the detection. The measurement was made easier because the team had templates for the type of signals to expect.
  • The last few detections have been done in conjunction with another detector, Virgo. After the first discovery, the LSC made public its data.
  • Analysing this, in 2017 a group of scientists questioned the validity of the first detection. They argued that the two detectors belonging to LIGO were correlated and that this led to a correlation in the noise factor.
  • Weeding out noise from the signal is crucial in any such experiment, and James Creswell et al claimed that this had not been done properly by the LSC.
  • Since then, a version of their preprint has been published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. After a long silence, on November 1, the LSC has put up a clarification on its website.
  • The clarification is cryptic, referring to “misunderstandings of public data products and the ways that the LIGO data need to be treated” by those raising objections.
  • This encompasses a range of things, starting with lacunae in the analysis of data by Mr. Creswell and his collaborators.
  • It transpires that in their analysis Creswell et al had used the data supplied by LIGO for a figure in their paper rather than the raw time series data that were made publicly available.
  • While responding with a defence regarding processing of data is fine, it is unfortunate that the LSC team supplied data for the figure in the published paper that differed from the raw data.
  • That said, a simpler and more direct corroboration of LIGO’s discovery stems from the wide variety of its sources. Now, the LSC plans to come out with a paper that carries detailed explanations.
  • Put together, this is how science makes progress — in leaps and bounds, with thoughtful critiques and interventions in between. And in this case, the attendant controversy has captured the interest of even those beyond the world of science.

Category: AGRICULTURE

1. Pollinators may be in dangerous decline

Context

  • Across India’s agrarian plains, plantations and orchards, millions of birds, bats and insects toil to pollinate crops.
  • However, many of these thousands of species may be in dangerous decline.
  • In 2015, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that pollinators lead to huge agricultural economic gains.
  • The report estimated pollinator contribution in India to be $0.831-1.5 billion annually for just six vegetable crops. This is an underestimation considering that nearly 70% of tropical crop species are dependent on pollinators for optimal yields.

What are the reasons for decline in India?

  • The decline of moths, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators is undeniably linked to human activity: large tracts of natural habitats have been cleared for monoculture cultivation, while the use of pesticides and fertilisers is pushing out nature’s little helpers.
  • In a series of studies at the University of Calcutta, researchers have showed that native Indian bees, when exposed to multiple pesticides, suffer from memory and olfactory impairment, lower response rates, and oxidative stress which damages cells.
  • Parthiba Basu and his team estimated that between 1964 and 2008, there was a 40-60% growth in relative yields of pollinator-dependent crops, while pollinator-independent crops such as cereals and potatoes saw a corresponding 140% rise in yields.
  • In Kashmir, researchers have pinned lowering yields of apple trees on the declining frequency of bee visits. In north India, lowering yields of mustard cultivation may be caused by disappearing pollinators.

What are the measures that can be taken?

  • At the turn of the millennium, many countries, particularly the U.S., observed with some anxiety the phenomenon of bees deserting their hives.
  • By 2014-15, the U.S. had established a Pollinator Health Task Force and a national strategy that focussed on increasing the monarch butterfly population and planting native species and flowers in more than 28,000 sq km to attract pollinators.
  • Around the same time, the U.K. developed 23 key policy actions under its National Pollinator Strategy.
  • Meanwhile, after the IPBES report, almost 20 countries have joined the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators.
  • Apart from promoting organic farming and lowering pesticide usage, landscape management is key.
  • The EU Pollinators’ Initiative adopted in June can provide pointers to India, particularly a policy of direct payment support to farmers to provide buffer strips for pollinators for nectar- and pollen-rich plants.
  • India has millions of hectares of reserve forests, some of which have been converted to pulpwood plantations.
  • Much of this can be restored to become thriving homes for pollinators.
  • The same can be done in gram panchayat levels. Fallow areas and government land can be used to plant flowering species for pollinators.

F. Tidbits

Nothing here for today!!!

G. Prelims Fact

Nothing here for today!!!

H. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam

Question 1. Consider the following statements about CBI:
  1. The investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, lies with the CBI.
  2. For matters other than corruption, the superintendence over CBI lies with the Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT) in the Ministry of Personnel, Pension & Grievances of the Government of India.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 2. Consider the following statements:
  1. India-Singapore bilateral naval exercise is known as SIMBEX.
  2. The 25th edition of SIMBEX is held in Sentosa Islands, Singapore.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 3. Consider the following statements about Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO):
  1. The Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) is the element of the intraseasonal variability in the tropical atmosphere.
  2. Madden–Julian Oscillation is a standing pattern with no movement.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 4. Consider the following statements about Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO):
  1. It is a large-scale coupling between atmospheric circulation and tropical deep convection.
  2. The Madden–Julian oscillation is characterized by an eastward progression of large regions of tropical rainfall, observed mainly over the Indian and Pacific Ocean.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer

Question 5. Consider the following statements about High throughput satellites (HTS):
  1. HTS reuses satellite ‘beams’ several times over smaller areas.
  2. HTSs provide Internet connectivity many times faster, smoother, easier and cheaper than now.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer

I. Practice Questions for UPSC Mains Exam

  1. Should the government take control over the reserves in RBI? Discuss this issue from public finance perspective and from the perspective of accounting theory. Discuss.
  2. Although EODB rankings have some drawbacks, these rankings serve as the most trusted ready-reckoner for foreign investors looking to invest in a country. For that reason, this is an achievement for India to celebrate. Critically analyse.

Also, check previous Daily News Analysis

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