9 PM Current Affairs Brief – November 5th, 2019

India decides to opt out of RCEP, says key concerns not addressed

News:India has decided to pull out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) Agreement as India’s core issues remained unresolved during the negotiations.

Facts:

About RCEP:

  • RCEP is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) comprising of ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their 6 FTA partners (India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand).
  • The aim of RCEP is to create an integrated market spanning all 16 countries making it easier for products and services of each of these countries to be available across this region.

Reasons for India Pulling out of the agreement:

Domestic industry:

  • India is worried that RCEP could force it to cut duties on about 90% of the goods that are currently imported to India over the next 15 years. 
  • This has raised concerns that India will be flooded with cheaper imported goods, particularly from China and dairy products from Australia and New Zealand.This may have an impact on India’s domestic industry.

Base year for reducing tariffs:

  • India is opposed to the proposal that 2013 be treated as the base year for reducing tariffs effectively implying that member countries should slash import duties on products to the level that existed in 2013. 
  • India is pushing for 2019 as the base year given that import duties on many products such as textiles and electronic products have gone up in the last six years.

Trade Deficit:

  • India has massive trade deficits with almost all of the RCEP countries. Out of 15 RCEP countries,India has trade deficits with at least 11. Further,India’s trade deficit with these countries has also almost doubled in the last five-six years  from $54 billion in 2013-14 to $105 billion in 2018-19. 
  • Hence,given the export-import equation with the bloc,a free trade agreement with the grouping would have increased the trade deficit further.

Auto-trigger mechanism:

  • India wants an auto-trigger mechanism to be institutionalised in the pact.This would serve as a kind of protective mechanism that a member country can invoke to safeguard in case of an unexpected flow of imports after RCEP comes into effect.

Ratchet Obligations:

  • India wants exemptions built into the ratchet obligations as part of the pact. 
  • A ratchet obligations implies that a member country cannot raising tariffs once the pact comes into effect.An exemption would imply that a country will be able to erect restrictive measures later on grounds of protecting national interest.

Services sector:

  • India has demanded that the RCEP participating countries should open up their services sector so that Indian professionals and workers can have easier entry into their market.
  • However, the countries are very sensitive about protecting this sector and have not offered much liberalisation.

Finance Minister launches IT initiatives ICEDASH and ATITHI

News:Finance minister has unveiled two new IT initiatives ICEDASH and ATITHI.

Facts:

Why were these initiatives launched?

  • These initiatives aims at improving monitoring and pace of customs clearance of imported goods.
  • They will also facilitate arriving international passengers with e-filing of baggage and currency declarations.

About ICEDASH:

  • ICEDASH is an ease of doing business(EoDB) monitoring dashboard of the Indian Customs helping public see the daily customs clearance times of import cargo at various ports and airports.
  • It will be an effective tool that can help businesses compare clearance times across ports and plan their logistics accordingly.
  • The dashboard has has been developed by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs(CBIC) in collaboration with National Informatics Centre(NIC).

About ATITHI:

  • ATITHI is a mobile app for international travelers to file the Customs declaration in advance.
  • Passengers can use this app to file declaration of dutiable items and currency with the Indian Customs even before boarding the flight to India.
  • The app would in particular create a tech-savvy image of India’s customs and would encourage tourism and business travel to India.

Additional information:

About CBIC:

  • Central board of Indirect taxes(CBIC) was established in 1944.It is the nodal national agency responsible for administering Customs, GST, Central Excise, Service Tax & Narcotics in India. 
  • It is part of the Department of Revenue under Union Ministry of Finance. It is headquartered in New Delhi.

About National Informatics Centre(NIC):

  • The National Informatics Centre (NIC) is an institute set up by the Indian government in 1976 to drive its technology and e-governance initiatives in the country.
  • The institute is part of the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s Department of Electronics & Information Technology.
  • NIC has the mandate to set up, implement and support all the information technology led-programs of the central and state governments and other government organizations in In

‘Red Atlas Map’ unveiled for flood mitigation in Chennai

News:Vice President has unveiled the Red Atlas Action Plan Map and Coastal Flood Warning System App(CFLOWS-Chennai).

Facts:

About Red Atlas Action Plan Map:

  • The Atlas has been prepared by the Ministry of Earth Sciences to aid Tamil Nadu government in effective flood mitigation in Chennai.
  • It was prepared with the help of India Meteorological Department (IMD), National Centre for Coastal Research(NCCR) and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting(NCMRWF) in association with TN State Disaster Management Authority(SDMA) and Greater Chennai Corporation.

Significance of the atlas:

  • The atlas with probable scenarios for different rainfall periods is aimed at flood mitigation, preparedness, operations and management aspects.
  • The manual provides information including on corporation wards that are likely to be affected due to flooding and the areas that may need evacuation in Chennai taking into account all historical datasets.

About Coastal Flood Warning System App(CFLOWS-Chennai):

  • CFLOWS is a complete webGIS-based decision support system that can be used both for mitigation planning operations before flooding and in real time to for aspects like relief work.
  • It is an integrated system that involves coupling models of regional weather forecasts,storm surges and captures about 796 flood scenarios.
  • The app was launched by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).
  • The app can simulate the scenario and predict what will happen in a particular area.

Additional information:

About NIOT:

  • The National Institute of Ocean Technology(NIOT) was established in November 1993 as an autonomous society under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India.
  • The aim of NIOT is to develop reliable indigenous technologies to solve various engineering problems associated with harvesting of non-living and living resources in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) which is about two-thirds of the land area of India.

Economic Outlook for South East Asia,China and India

News:The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) has released its report titled Economic Outlook for South East Asia,China and India.

Facts:

Key takeaways from the report:

  • India’s gross domestic product(GDP) is projected to grow at 6.6% in 2020-24 lower than its 2013-17 average of 7.4%.
  • The report said that India’s reliance on consumption will continue due to large informal labour share which indicates that there is room to strengthen the consumption base. 
  • It has also added that India must continue to focus on boosting the health of the banking sector while bridging the disparity in urban and rural infrastructure.
  • Further,the report has said that India needs to improve its digital literacy and increase access to digital devices.

Report on ASEAN countries:

  • Among ASEAN countries,Vietnam and the Philippines will remain as the growth leaders.
  • The report also predicts that the emerging trade tensions between the US and China will affect emerging Asian market.

Additional information:

About OECD:

  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries
  • It was founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.It is headquartered in Paris,France.
  • India is not a member of OECD but has been a key economic partner.

16th ASEAN-India Summit

News:Indian Prime minister has attended the 16th India-ASEAN summit held in Bangkok,Thailand.

Facts:

Key takeaways from the summit:

  • India has allocated 1 billion USD as line of credit to improve physical and digital connectivity.
  • The ASEAN countries has acknowledged India’s growing role in the Indo-Pacific for the first time after the bloc came out with an Outlook for the region.
  • India also welcomed the decision to review India ASEAN FTA saying it will improve economic partnership between the two countries.
  • On the socio-cultural front, the focus was made on enhancing people-to-people connectivity, cultural exchanges, humanitarian aid and tourism.
  • Indian PM has also announced that India would be looking at creating an endowment of Rs 50 million for promoting exchanges between faculty as well as students under India-ASEAN network.

Additional information:

About ASEAN:

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN was established in 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.
  • The members of ASEAN are Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei, and Laos.

India and ASEAN:

  • India’s focus to strengthen relationship with the ASEAN countries started since 1990’s with the country’s search for economic space which resulted in the ‘Look East Policy’ which has been matured to ‘Act East Policy’.
  • ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner.India’s trade with ASEAN stands at 81.33 billion USD.
  • India and ASEAN have a combined population of 1.9 billion, which is a quarter of the world’s population and the combined GDP of around $5 trillion.
  • The FDI inflows from ASEAN between 2000 and 2018 into India has been 68.91 billion USD.The FDI outflows from India to the ASEAN countries have been 38.672 billion USD.

14th East Asia Summit

News:Indian Prime minister has attended the 14th East Asia Summit in Bangkok,Thailand.

Facts:

About East Asia Summit:

  • The East Asia Summit(EAS) was established in 2005.It is a forum of 18 countries.
  • The summit has evolved as a forum for strategic dialogue and cooperation on political, security and economic issues of common regional concerns.
  • The EAS comprises the ten member states of the ASEAN countries along with 8 members Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.
  • The concept of an East Asia Grouping was first promoted in 1991 by then Malaysian Prime Minister,Mahathir bin Mohamad. 
  • There are six priority areas of regional cooperation within the framework of the EAS which are (a) Environment and Energy (b) Education (c)Finance (d) Global Health Issues and Pandemic Diseases (e) Natural Disaster Management and (f) ASEAN Connectivity.
  • The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia in 2005.India is a founding member of the East Asia Summit.

Tawang festival-Arunachal Pradesh

News:Recently, Tawang Festival has been celebrated in Arunachal Pradesh.

Facts:

About Tawang Festival:

  • Tawang Festival is an annual festival of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • It celebrates states rich cultural heritage and includes attractions like Buddhist religious functions, indigenous sports, traditional dances among others.
  • The festival starts with the religious tradition known as Sebang which is the process of monks of Tawang town moving to the festival spot in rallies from the Tawang monastery.
  • The major attractions of the festival are the Dance of Yak and the Aji-lhamu Dance.

Additional information:

About Tawang monastery:

  • Tawang monastery is located in Tawang city of Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • It is the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
  • The monastery belongs to the Gelug school of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • The Monastery is also known in Tibetan as Gaden Namgyal Lhatse, which translates to celestial paradise in a clear night.

Explained: Why is India’s labour productivity growth faltering?

News:Recently,an analysis done by India Ratings and Annual Survey of Industries on India’s labour productivity growth in the organised manufacturing sector has shown a declining trend between 2016 and 2018.

Facts:

About Labour Productivity:

  • Productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which resources of both human and material are converted into goods and services.
  • Labour productivity is an important economic indicator that is closely linked to economic growth, competitiveness and living standards within an economy. 
  • Labour productivity represents the total volume of output(measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product or GDP) produced per unit of labour (measured in terms of the number of employed persons) during a given time reference period. 
  • The indicator allows data users to assess GDP-to-labour input levels and growth rates over time, thus providing general information about the efficiency and quality of human capital in the country.

Key takeaways from the study:

  • The study has found that India’s labour productivity has grown by just 3.7% between 2016 and 2018 compared to the annual growth of 14% between 2004 and 2008.
  • The analysis has also found that between financial years 2001 and 2018, the capital intensity which is fixed capital used per worker in India’s organised manufacturing has been rising.
  • However,with the rise in capital intensity, the output intensity that is,the value of output per fixed capital has actually declined over the same period.
  • In other words,while more and more capital is being used per unit of labour, it is not yielding commensurate level of output growth.

India, Russia to conclude mutual logistics agreement

News:India and Russia are expected to conclude the Agreement on Reciprocal Logistics Support(ARLS).

Facts:

About Agreement on Reciprocal Logistics Support(ARLS):

  • The Agreement on Reciprocal Logistics Support(ARLS) is a proposed Military Logistics Support Agreement(MLSA) between India and Russia.
  • The agreement aims to simplify interoperability and enable military platforms to receive support and supplies across bases in both nations. 
  • The logistics agreement will be beneficial to the Indian Navy as warships will get access to mutual ports and exclusive economic zones to refuel and pick up supplies.
  • On the other hand,Russia can also use ports like Mumbai and Visakhapatnam.Besides ports, Russia would also be able to access airbases.

Additional information:

About Logistics agreement:

  • Logistics agreements are administrative arrangements facilitating access to each other’s military facilities for fuels and services between countries.
  • Since 2016,India has signed militarily logistics sharing agreements with the US, France, Oman, and Singapore.
  • India is looking to conclude three Military Logistics Support Agreements (MLSA) by the year-end with Japan, Russia and Australia.

Explained: Why must India have a National Registry of Voluntary Organ Donors?

News:Recently,Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the Centre to implement the Transplant of Human Organs and Tissues Act,1994 and to also consider the recommendations of an Expert Committee.

Facts:

About the Transplant of Human Organs and Tissues Act,1994:

  • The act governs the transplantation of human organs and tissues in India including the donation of organs after death.The act also legalised the concept of brain death.
  • It also prevents commercial dealings in human organs.It has a provision of imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine up to Rs. 20 lakh for removal of organs without authority.
  • In 2016, public interest petitions were filed in the Punjab High Court, seeking effective implementation of the law.This led to the setting up of a Committee to give suggestions for an effective implementation of the law.

What did the committee said?

  • The committee has recommended the creation of a ‘National Registry of Voluntary Organ Donors’.
  • The registry may be based on a unique national ID number given by the National Organ & Tissue Transplant Organisation(NOTTO).
  • The database of all surgeons and medical experts sanctioned for transplantation should also be maintained.
  • It also recommended that the identity of the donor and the recipient be verified through a biometric system of authentication to prevent fabrication of identity or other fraud in the process.
  • Further,the committee has said that a donor card should be treated as a Living Directive for cadaver donations.
  • It has also said that mandatory informed consent should be taken in case of live donors after explaining to them the risks involved in donation surgery.
  • The Committee has also recommended that a lump sum monetary reimbursement be given to the donor towards expenses related to the transplantation and suggested a payment of at least Rs 50,000 at the time of discharge.

Additional information:

About National Organ & Tissue Transplant Organisation(NOTTO):

  • NOTTO is a National level organization set up under Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,Government of India.
  • It functions as an apex centre for All India activities of coordination and networking for procurement and distribution of Organs and Tissues and registry of Organs and Tissues Donation and Transplantation in the country.

Union Minister for Rural Development releases ‘Wastelands Atlas’ – 2019

News: The Ministry of Rural Development has released the Wastelands Atlas – 2019

Facts:

About Wastelands Atlas:

  • The Westland Atlas is prepared by the Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development in collaboration with National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Department of Space.
  • Wastelands Atlases of India were previously published in 2000, 2005, 2010 & 2011.

Key takeaways from Wastelands Atlas 2019

  • The spatial extent of wastelands for India is 55.76 Mha (16.96 % of geographical area of India i.e. 328.72 Mha) for the year 2015-16 as compared to 56.60 Mha (17.21%) in the year 2008-09.
  • During this period 1.45 Mha of wastelands have been converted into non wastelands categories. 
  • Majority of wastelands have been changed into categories of ‘croplands’, ‘forest-dense / open’, ‘forest plantation’, ‘plantation’ and ‘industrial area’
  • A reduction in wasteland area was observed in the categories of land with dense scrub, waterlogged and marshy land, sandy areas, degraded pastures / grazing land and gullied and / or ravinous land.

Additional Information:

Wastelands

  • Wastelands refer to degraded lands that are currently underutilized, and are deteriorating for lack of appropriate soil & water management or on account of natural causes.
  • Wastelands develop naturally or due to influence of environment, chemical and physical properties of the soil or management constraints.

Important Categories of Wasteland

  1. Gullied and/or Ravinous Land: Gully is a narrow channel when surface water flow increases in response to clearing and excessive use of land. The intricate network of gullies is referred to as ravines.
  2. Scrubland: This is the land, which is generally prone to deterioration due to erosion.
  3. Waterlogged / Marshy Land: It is that low lying land where the water is at/or near the surface and the water stands for most part of the year.
  4. Land affected by salinity/alkalinity:  Land affected by salinity/alkalinity have excess soluble salts (saline) or high exchangeable sodium.
  5. Shifting Cultivation Areas: Shifting cultivation is a traditional practice of growing crops on forested/ vegetated hill-slope by the slash and burn method.
  6. Degraded pastures/grazing land: These are the lands in non-forest areas that are either under permanent pastures or meadows, which have degraded due to lack of proper soil and water conservation and drainage development measures.
  7. Mining /Industrial wastelands: Mine dumps are those lands where waste debris is accumulated after extraction of minerals.
  8. Barren Rocky Area: These are rock exposures of varying lithology often barren and devoid of soil and vegetative cover.

‘Visibly elusive’ Bengal tree frog gets recorded as new species

News: Herpetologists have discovered a new species of tree frog from West Bengal. It has been named Brown Blotched Bengal Tree Frog (Polypedates bengalensis).

Facts:

About Brown Blotched Bengal Tree Frog (Polypedates bengalensis):

  • It belongs to the genus Polypedates- a genus of tree frog found throughout South and Southeast Asia.
  • The frog’s body colour is yellowish-brown to greenish-brown.

Delhi Air Pollution: End stubble burning immediately, orders SC

News: The Supreme Court has asked the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to immediately stop their farmers from stubble burning.

Facts:

Stubble Burning: It is the practice of intentionally setting fire to residues which remains after the harvest of a crop. It is usually done to clear the field quickly for the next season and to burn off weeds and other pests.

Issue:

  • Stubble burning is pan-Indian problem. However, it is most acute in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.
  • It contributes significantly to air pollution in Delhi-NCR region when in autumn, paddy stubbles are burned to prepare field for wheat cultivation.
  • The climatic conditions during winter aggravate the condition. During the winter, dust particles and pollutants in the air become unable to move. Due to stagnant winds, these pollutants get locked in the air and results in smog in Delhi-NCR region.

Steps taken

  • In 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued a directive to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to take immediate steps to curb stubble burning. The Centre and states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have declared “zero tolerance policy” on stubble burning.
  • Further, in 2018, the Punjab government drafted an action plan to deal with stubble burning. Under the plan, the state has decided to provide straw management machinery at 80% subsidy to the cooperative societies and other groups and at 50% subsidy to individual farmers.
  • Happy Seeder: It is a tractor-operated machine developed by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in collaboration with Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). It is used for in-situ management of paddy stubble (straw).
  • Advanced Air Quality Early Warning System: It has been developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, under MoES. The system uses data of stubble burning incidents from the past 15 years to predict the date and place of the next burning.

Explained: What is the Danakil Depression?

News: A new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has concluded that active and naturally occurring life cannot be sustained at Danakil depression.

Facts:

About Danakil Depression:

  • The Danakil Depression is the northern part of the Afar Triangle or Afar Triple Junction in Ethiopia. It lies between the Danakil Alps (east) and the Ethiopian Plateau (west).
  • The Depression overlaps the borders of Eritrea, Djibouti and the entire Afar Region of Ethiopia. It is part of the great East African Rift Valley.
  • It is one of the lowest place on earth -about 125 m (410 ft) below sea level.
  • It is also the hottest place on Earth in terms of year-round average temperatures. Further, it receives extremely low rainfall.
  • Due to its extreme climatic conditions, all the water entering Danakil evaporates, and no streams flow out of it. It is covered with more than 10 lakh tonnes of salt.
  • In 1974, Donald Johanson and colleagues found the celebrated Australopithecus fossil known as “Lucy” in the region.

About the recent study

  • The hot springs in the Danakil Depression are home to microorganisms called extremophiles (which live in extreme conditions). These microbes have been a major interest to astrobiologists.
  • However, the recent study has concluded that active and naturally occurring life cannot survive here due to:
    • Magnesium-dominated brines that cause cells to break down; and
    • An environment having simultaneously very low pH and high salt, a combination that makes adaptation highly difficult.

Additional Information:

Afar Triple Junction:

  • The Afar Triple Junction is located along a divergent plate boundary (tectonic plates moving away from each other) dividing the Nubian, Somali, and Arabian plates. At this junction, the Red Sea Rift meets the Aden Ridge and the East African Rift.
  • It extends a total of 6,500 kilometers in three arms from the Afar Triangle to Mozambique. The connecting three arms form a triple junction (a name given to a place where three tectonic plates meet).
  • The northern most branching arm extends North through the Red Sea and into the Dead Sea. The eastern branch extends through the Gulf of Aden and connects to the Mid-Indian Ocean ridge further to the east.
  • The southern arm passes through the countries of Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and, Mozambique. This arm is known as the East African Rift.

Explained: National Health Stack (NHS) and National Digital Health Blueprint

Facts:

National Health Stack (NHS):

  • NITI Aayog unveiled the blue print of National Health Stack (NHS) in 2018
  • NHS is a shared digital healthcare infrastructure. It envisages a centralised health record for all citizens.
  • It is in line with the implementation of the Centre’s flagship scheme Ayushman Bharat and other public healthcare programmes in the country.
  • It aims at making the health insurance system more transparent and robust. Further, centralised healthcare data will allow policy makers to further build their projections around upcoming outcomes, experiment with new services as well as fill the existing gaps in the Indian healthcare industry.
  • The key components of the National Health Stack are—
  • National Health Electronic Registries: to create a single source of truth for and manage master health data of the nation;
  • A Coverage and Claims platform: building blocks to support large health protection schemes, enable horizontal and vertical expansion of RSSM by states and robust fraud detection;
    • A Federated Personal Health Records (PHR) Framework: to solve twin challenges of access to their own health data by patients and availability of health data for medical research, critical for advancing our understanding of human health;
    • A National Health Analytics Platform: to bring a holistic view combining information on multiple health initiatives and feed into smart policy making, for instance, through improved predictive analytics;
    • Other horizontal Components: including unique Digital Health ID, Health Data Dictionaries and Supply Chain Management for Drugs, payment gateways etc shared across all health programs.

National Digital Health Blueprint (NHDB)

  • It was released by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in July 2019.
  • Vision: To create a National Digital Health ecosystem that supports Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
  • It focuses on providing an efficient and affordable health coverage through a wide-range of data and infrastructure services using open digital systems that will ensure security and privacy of personal information.
  • Key recommendations:
    • It has recommended setting up of a National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to manage enormous amounts of health data generated by Ayushman Bharat and other health schemes.
    • The NDHM would provide technology to manage and analyse data and create a system of personal health records and health applications. Further, central to the ecosystem would be a Personal Health Identifier (PHI) to maintain a Personal Health Record (PHR).
    • The PHI would contain the names of patients and those of their immediate family, date of birth, gender, mobile number, email address, location, family ID and photograph.
    • It has also suggested a Command, Control and Communication Centre (CCCC) as a single point of contact in public health emergencies.
    • It has also recommended to use Aadhaar-based identification of patients for maintaining health records.
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