THE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. INDIA SIGNS AIRBUBBLE AGREEMENT WITH AUSTRALIA
THE CONTEXT: The Indian government has finalized an air bubble agreement with Australia, which will allow all eligible passengers to travel between the two countries.
What is Air Bubble Agreement?
- A bilateral air bubble is a mechanism to resume flights between two nations with preconditions during the pandemic.
- As things stand, scheduled international flight operations remain suspended at least till 31 January 2022, according to a recent notification by civil aviation regulator the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). As things stand, scheduled international flight operations remain suspended at least till 31 January 2022, according to a recent notification by civil aviation regulator the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
- India suspended international flight operations, effective 23 March 2020. This was periodically extended every month till 30 November, before the government on 26 November announced plans to resume scheduled international flight services.
With other countries:
India currently has bilateral air bubble agreements with 33 countries, which include Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, Seychelles, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, the UAE, the UK, and the USA, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
2. FIVE CENTRAL ASIAN LEADERS INVITED AS R-DAY CHIEF GUESTS
THE CONTEXT: India is awaiting responses from leaders of ﬁve Central Asian nations to an invitation to attend as chief guests of Republic Day, with the details expected to be ﬁnalised during a ministerial-level meeting of the India-Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ dialogue (third India-Central Asia Dialogue).
- According to the officials, uncertainty over the COVID-19 situation, as well as the extra coordination required for multiple invitations, has led to the delay in the process of the invitations, which is normally wrapped up by December each year.
- If they accept, this will be the ﬁrst time all ﬁve countries will attend the Republic Day parade together.
India- Central Asia relations:
- The invitation was part of India’s reach-out to the former Soviet States, that intensiﬁed since 2015, when Prime Minister visited all ﬁve capitals.
- India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017, which all Central Asian States other than Turkmenistan are members of.
- The India-Central Asia dialogue was launched in 2019, and in July 2021, External affairs Minister attended the Central Asia-South Asia connectivity conference.
- The invitation is also a signal that India wants to increase its links to the region, where land connectivity has been diﬃcult due to Pakistan’s [obstructive] position.
- Maritime connectivity remains important, and the Republic Day meeting will help strengthen India’s initiatives through Chabahar and through the al North South Transport Corridor.
- It is also part of the present government’s attempts to bring together immediate neighbours and “far neigh- bours” in a group format on multiple occasions. Govt. invited SAARC and BIMSTEC group leaders to his swearing in ceremonies in 2014 and 2019 respectively and invited 10 leaders of the ASEAN as Republic Day guests in 2018.
THE ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY
3. THE MARINE PLASTIC POLLUTION
THE CONTEXT: According National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, the US produces a large share of the global supply of plastic resin – the precursor material to all plastic industrial and consumer products. It also imports and exports billions of dollars’ worth of plastic products every year.
- Plastic waste of all shapes and sizes permeates the world’s oceans. It shows up on beaches, in fish and even in Arctic Sea ice.
- On a per-capita basis, the US produces an order of magnitude more plastic waste than China – a nation often vilified over pollution-related issues. These findings build off a study published in 2020 that concluded that the US is the largest global source of plastic waste, including plastics shipped to other countries that later are mismanaged.
- Humans also consume plastic that fragments into beverages and food from packaging and inhale microplastic particles in household dust. Scientists are only beginning to assess what this means for public health.
- Research to date suggests that exposure to plastic-associated chemicals may interfere with hormones that regulate many processes in our bodies, cause developmental problems in children or alter human metabolic processes in ways that promote obesity.
Impacts on marine ecosystems
According to IUCN, the most visible impacts of plastic debris are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fish and turtles mistake plastic waste for prey; most then die of starvation as their stomachs become filled with plastic.
How India can face the tidal wave of marine plastic
- The Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Annual Report on Implementing the Plastic Garbage Rules, 2016, is the only regular estimate of the quantum of plastic waste generated in India. According to it, the waste generated in 2018-19 was 3,360,043 tonnes per year (roughly 9,200 tonnes per day).
- Given that total municipal solid waste generation is between 55 and 65 million tonnes per day, plastic waste contributes about 5-6 per cent of total solid waste generated in India.
- Approximately 12 per cent has been burnt, while the remaining 79 per cent has accumulated in landfills. Plastic waste is blocking our sewers, threatening marine life and generating health risks for residents in landfills or the natural environment.
The Way forward:
- Designing a product: Identifying plastic items that can be replaced with non-plastic, recyclable, or biodegradable materials is the first step. Find alternatives to single-use plastics and reusable design goods by working with product designers. Countries must embrace circular and sustainable economic practices throughout the plastics value chain to accomplish this.
- Pricing: Plastics are inexpensive because they are made with substantially subsidised oil and may be produced at a lower cost, with fewer economic incentives to employ recycled plastics. Price structures that reflect the adverse impacts of plastic consumption and promote alternative materials or reused and recycled plastics are necessary.
- Technologies and Innovation: Developing tools and technology to assist governments and organisations in measuring and monitoring plastic garbage in cities. ‘Closing the loop’ project of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific assists cities in developing more inventive policy solutions to tackle the problem. A similar approach can be adopted in India.
- Promoting a plastic-free workplace: All catering operations should be prohibited from using single-use plastics. To encourage workers and clients to improve their habits, all single-use goods can be replaced with reusable items or more sustainable single-use alternatives. By reconsidering how we operate, this initiative can save tonnes of plastic waste each year.
- Producer responsibility: Extended responsibility can be applied in the retail (packaging) sector, where producers are responsible for collecting and recycling products that they launch into the market.
Initiatives to Curb Plastic Waste
- GoLitter Partnerships Project
- Swachh Bharat Mission
- Project REPLAN
- Un-Plastic Collective
- India Plastics Pact
4. THE GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD HABITAT UNDER THREAT
THE CONTEXT: The Centre has approached the Supreme Court seeking modification of its order directing that all transmission cables in the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) be laid underground, saying that the area falling in Rajasthan and Gujarat contains a large proportion of the country’s total solar and wind energy potential and the process will escalate the cost of renewable energy production and hurt India’s renewable energy cause.
- In a bid to check the dwindling numbers of the endangered Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican, a Supreme Court bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India S A Bobde had, on April 9, directed that overhead power lines be laid underground, wherever feasible, passing along the habitat of the birds in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
- Seeking modification of this order, the application filed jointly by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Ministry of Power and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) said the SC direction “has vast adverse implications for the power sector in India and energy transition away from fossil fuels” and that the MNRE was not heard before the order was passed.
- The government said that energy transition is essential for reducing emission and controlling climate change and India has made international commitments including under the agreement signed in Paris in 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for transition to non-fossil fuels and for emission reduction. India, it added, has set a target to achieve installed renewable energy capacity (excluding large Hydro) of 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030.
- The government said that to ensure conservation of the GIB and its habitat, MoEF&CC has developed the National Bustard Recovery Plans which are currently being implemented by conservation agencies. MoEF&CC, Rajasthan government and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have also established a conservation breeding facility in Desert National Park at Jaisalmer in June 2019.
- It said that the threat to GIBs is due to multiple reasons requiring measures at Central, State and local levels spanning across different sectors. The plea also pointed to several technical difficulties in undertaking the project as “there is no manufacturer of underground/ insulated cables for 765 kV in the world”.
ABOUT GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD:
- GIBs are the largest among the four bustard species found in India – the other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican. GIBs prefer grasslands as their habitats. It is important to note that Great Indian Bustards are State bird of Rajasthan.
- Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other.
- They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc.
- GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence barometers of the health of grassland ecosystems.
- In February 2020, the Central government told at the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) that the GIB population in India had fallen to just 150.
- Maximum numbers of GIBs are found in Jaisalmer and the Indian Army controlled field firing range near Pokhran, Rajasthan.
- Other areas where they are found in less than 10 in number are Kutch district in Gujarat, Nagpur and Solapur districts in Maharashtra, Bellary and Koppal districts in Karnataka and Kurnool district and Amravati in Andhra Pradesh.
- Pakistan is also believed to host a few GIBs.
- The GIB lays one egg every 1-2 years, and the success rate of these eggs is 40-50 % due to predators like foxes and dogs.
- Rajasthan: Desert National Park – Jaisalmer and Balmer
- Gujarat: Naliya Sanctuary in Kutch
- Madhya Pradesh: Karera Wildlife Sanctuary (The species disappeared from Madhya Pradesh in early 90s’)
- Maharashtra: Nannaj Grasslands, Solapur
- Andhra Pradesh: Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary
India’s proposal to include Great Indian Bustard, Asian Elephant and Bengal Florican in Appendix I of UN Convention on migratory species was unanimously accepted during the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). This conference was held at Gandhinagar in Feb 2020. The mascot for CMS COP13 was “Gibi – The Great Indian Bustard”.
THE INDIAN ECONOMY
5. BANK-NBFC CO-LENDING MODEL
THE CONTEXT: Recently, several banks have entered into co-lending ‘master agreements’ with NBFCs, and more are in the pipeline. This, however, has come in for criticism from several quarters.
What is Co-Lending Model?
- Co-lending or co-origination is a set-up where banks and non-banks enter into an arrangement for the joint contribution of credit for priority sector lending. To put it simply, under this arrangement, both banks and NBFCs share the risk in a ratio of 80:20 (80 percent of the loan with the bank and a minimum of 20 percent with the non-banks).
How does a co-lending model work?
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had come out with the co-origination framework in 2018 to push lending in priority sectors including rural areas, renewable energy and MSMEs and allowing banks and NBFCs to co-originate loans. These guidelines were later amended in 2020 and rechristened as co-lending models (CML) by including Housing Finance Companies and some changes in the framework.
- The primary aim of CLM is to improve the flow of credit to the unserved and underserved segment of the economy at an affordable cost. This happens as banks have lower cost of funds and NBFCs have greater reach beyond tier-2 centres.
- As per RBI norms, a minimum 20 percent of the credit risk by way of direct exposure shall be on NBFC’s books till maturity and the balance will be on the bank’s books. Upon maturity, the repayment or recovery of interest is shared by the bank and NBFC in proportion to their share of credit and interest.
- This joint origination allows banks to claim priority sector status in respect of their share of credit. NBFCs act as the single point of interface for the customers and a tripartite agreement is done between the customers, banks and NBFCs.
SBI AND ADANI TIE-UP:
- On December 2,2021 SBI, the country’s largest lender, signed a deal with Adani Capital, a small NBFC of a big corporate house, for co-lending to farmers to help them buy tractors and farm implements.
- SBI’s giant network includes 22,230 branches, 64,122 automated teller machines (ATMs) and cash deposit machines (CDMs), and 70,786 business correspondent (BC) outlets across the country. Adani Capital has a network of just 60 branches and has disbursed around Rs 1,000 crore, according to its website.
- On November 2021, Union Bank of India entered into a co-lending agreement with Capri Global Capital Ltd (CGCL), with the aim “to enhance last-mile finance and drive financial inclusion to MSMEs by offering secured loans between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 100 lakh” initially through “100+ touch points pan-India”.
Risk in co-lending
- The move by big banks to tie up with small NBFCs for co-lending has come in for criticism from several quarters.
- Under the CLM, NBFCs are required to retain at least a 20 per cent share of individual loans on their books. This means 80 per cent of the risk will be with the banks — who will take the big hit in case of a default.
- The terms of the master agreement may provide for the banks to either mandatorily take their share of the individual loans originated by the NBFCs on their books, or to retain the discretion to reject certain loans after due diligence prior to taking them on their books.
- Interestingly, the RBI guidelines provide for the NBFCs to be the single point of interface for customers, and to enter into loan agreements with borrowers, which should lay down the features of the arrangement and the roles and responsibilities of the NBFCs and banks. In effect, while the banks fund the major chunk of the loan, the NBFC decides the borrower.
Corporates in banking
- While the RBI hasn’t officially allowed the entry of big corporate houses into the banking space, NBFCs — mostly floated by corporate houses — were already accepting public deposits. They now have more opportunities on the lending side through direct co-lending arrangements.
- This has come at a time when four big finance firms — IL&FS, DHFL, SREI and Reliance Capital — which collected public funds through fixed deposits and non-convertible debentures, have collapsed in the last three years despite tight monitoring by the RBI. Collectively, these firms owe around Rs 1 lakh crore to investors.
- While the RBI has referred to “the greater reach of the NBFCs”, many bankers point out that the reach of banks is far wider than small NBFCs with 100-branch networks in serving underserved and unserved segments.
Non-Banking Financial Corporation (NBFC)
- An NBFC is a company incorporated under the Companies Act 2013 or 1956.
- According to section 45-I (c) of the RBI Act, a Non–Banking Company carrying on the business of a financial institution will be an NBFC.
- It further states that the NBFC must be engaged in the business of Loans and Advances, Acquisition of stocks, equities, debt etc issued by the government or any local authority or other marketable securities.
- The NBFC business does not include business whose principal business is the following:
- Agricultural Activity
- Industrial Activity
- Purchase or sale of any goods excluding securities
- Sale/purchase/construction of any immovable property – Providing of any services
Difference between Banks and NBFCs:
- NBFCs lend and make investments and hence their activities are akin to that of banks; however there are a few differences as given below:
- NBFC cannot accept demand deposits;
- NBFCs do not form part of the payment and settlement system and cannot issue cheques drawn on itself;
- Deposit insurance facility of Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation is not available to depositors of NBFCs, unlike in the case of banks.
THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
6. THE SUPERSONIC MISSILE- SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED
THE CONTEXT: A supersonic missile-assisted torpedo system (SMART) developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was successfully launched from Wheeler Island in Odisha.
- It’s designed to enhance anti-submarine warfare capability far beyond the conventional range of the torpedo.
- According to DRDO, the system is a next-generation missile-based standoff torpedo delivery system. During the mission, full-range capability of the missile was successfully demonstrated. The system has been designed to enhance anti-submarine warfare capability far beyond the conventional range of the torpedo”.
- Also, DRDO, stated It was a textbook launch, where the entire trajectory was monitored by the electro-optic telemetry system, various range radars, including the down range instrumentation and down range ships. The missile carried a torpedo, parachute delivery system and release mechanisms.
- This canister-based missile system consists of advanced technologies – two-stage solid propulsion, electro-mechanical actuators and precision inertial navigation. The missile is launched from ground mobile launcher, and it can cover a range of distances.
What is SMART?
- SMART is a missile-assisted release of lightweight Anti-Submarine Torpedo System for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) operations far beyond torpedo range.
- It takes off like a regular supersonic missile when launched from a warship or a truck-based coastal battery.
- Most of its flight in the air is covered at lower altitudes with two-way data link from the warship or an airborne submarine target detection system.
- It is also provided the exact location of the hostile submarine to correct its flight path midway.
- When it approaches close to a submerged submarine, the missile would eject the torpedo system into the water and the torpedo will start moving towards its target to hit the submarine
What is Supersonic Missile?
- Speed of an object such as missile moving through any media like air, or water compared to speed of sound at certain physical conditions is measured in Mach. 1Mach is equal to speed of sound.
- 2 Mach is double than the speed of sound. Speed more than a Mach but less than 5 Mach is called supersonic. Speed less than 1 Mach is called Subsonic. The speed between 0.8 to 1.2 Mach is also referred to sometimes as A speed more than 5 Mach but less than 10 Mach is called Hypersonic. An object moving at speed of more than 10 Mach is called High-hypersonic. India’s BrahMos is a Supersonic Cruise Missile.
THE COVID CORNER
7. EFFECT ON COVID-19: WHO
THE CONTEXT: According to WHO, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted global health services and dealt a debilitating blow to people’s “ability to obtain healthcare and pay for it”.
Around half a billion people were pushed into extreme poverty because they had to pay healthcare costs. A wide gap in affordable healthcare access, combined with reduced income can exacerbate crisis.
- The pandemic halted work being done to achieve Universal Health Coverage, while also plunging a significant population into economic crisis, the United Nations health agency noted.
- A wide gap in affordable healthcare access, combined with reduced income can exacerbate the crisis for the poorest population.
- Also, WHO noted, In the first year of the pandemic, the health systems were spread thin, making it difficult to run other services such as the general immunisation programmes and treatment of other communicable diseases. “As a result, for example, immunization coverage dropped for the first time in ten years, and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.“
- Healthcare costs were driving around half a billion people into extreme poverty and the number is estimated to have gone up, the organization noted. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, almost 1 billion people were spending more than 10 per cent of their household budget on health”.
- Also, the UN agency noted, To make matters worse, around 90 per cent of households “incurring impoverishing out-of-pocket health spending are already at or below the poverty line”.
THE PRELIM PRACTICE QUESTION
Q1. Which of the following index is not compiled by Labour Bureau in the Ministry of Labour and Employment?
a) CPI for Industrial Workers (IW)
b) CPI for Agricultural Labourer (AL)
c) CPI for Rural Labourer (RL)
d) CPI (Rural/Urban/Combined)
ANSWER FOR 13TH DECEMBER 2021 PRELIMS PRACTICE QUESTIONS
- Reunion island, Mayotte, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Indian Ocean)
- French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (Pacific Ocean)
- The Islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Atlantic Ocean).
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