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9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – February 22, 2021

Good evening dear reader

Here is our 9pm current affairs brief for you today

About 9 PM Brief- With the 9 PM Current affairs brief we intend to simplify the newspaper reading experience. In 9PM briefs, we provide our reader with a summary of all the important articles and editorials from three important newspapers namely The Hindu, Indian Express, and Livemint. This will provide you with analysis, broad coverage, and factual information from a Mains examination point of view.

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Clean energy is the key to COVID-19 recovery

Source- The Hindu

Syllabus- GS 3 – Investment models.

Synopsis – United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) report shows that energy demand reductions have mainly impacted fossil fuels. But Renewable energy development continued to grow throughout 2020. This shows that clean energy is key to the COVID-19 recovery, not fossil fuels.

Introduction-

UN-ESCAP released the Regional Trends Report, 2021. The report titled ‘shaping a sustainable energy future in Asia and the Pacific – A greener, more resilient and inclusive energy system’. The report examines the ambitions and progress of ESCAP member states in achieving sustainable energy goals.

Importance of continuous energy supply during the pandemic-

  1. Hospitals and healthcare facilities require continuous energy supply to function 24X7.
  2. Allowing work from home, distance learning and communication of essential health information status all required uninterrupted power.
  3. Support for cold chain systems and logistics also need an uninterrupted power supply. This is essential for the proper transportation, distribution and storage of the Covid-19 vaccine.

How to make society more resilient to future crises such as COVID-19?

  1. Governments should make meaningful progress on SDGs. The government can achieve this by addressing the systemic issues that made societies more vulnerable to COVID-19. Such as addressing issues in health, decent work, poverty and socio-economic inequalities,
  2. Fiscal stimulus packages focused on investments that support SDGs. This can be achieved by not investing in industries such as fossil fuels. At the same time focusing more on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects is required. This will create industries that are resilient to crisis.

What are the advantages of promoting clean energy?

  1. Clean energy will create more jobs. Evidence suggests that clean energy will create more jobs than fossil fuel projects for similar investments. For example, an increase in spending on clean cooking and electricity access will enhance economic activities in rural areas. Further, it will improve the health and well-being of women and children.
  2. Low-carbon infrastructure and technologies reduce global warming. This will take a step closer towards achieving ambitious climate pledges, and the Paris Climate deal.
    It is also important to note that several countries have announced the carbon neutrality targets.

Conclusion:

COVID-19 crisis has shown that we can restrict fossil fuels and can be more adaptive and resilient. But we should not waste the opportunities given by the crisis to phase out fossil fuels.


Impacts of School Closures and way forward

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS 2: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Synopsis: Policies to deliver education during COVID-led school closures has increased the disparities. Disparities need to be rectified by suitable policy measures to deliver universal education to all.

Background

  • Lockdown measures to contain COVID spread has forced the government to resort to school closures.
  • The governments tried to address the situation by giving a push to the digital distance learning method.
  • However, studies indicate that the initiative failed to take into account existing divides such as spatial, digital, gender and class.
  • The digital learning methods widened the digital divide between the rich and the poor and the urban and rural areas.

What were the steps taken by the government?

  • The government used various means such as text/video/audio content through SMS, WhatsApp, radio and TV programmes to reach out to students and engage them.
  • Further, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development in March 2020 started sharing the following free e-learning platforms.
1.Diksha portal: It contains e-learning content aligned to the curriculum
2. e-Pathshala: It is an app by the National Council of Educational Research and Training for Classes 1 to 12 in multiple languages
3. SWAYAM:  It consists of 1,900 complete courses including teaching videos, computer weekly assignments, examinations and credit transfers, aimed both at school (Classes 1 to 12) and higher education.
4. SWAYAM Prabha: It is a group of 32 direct to home channels devoted to the telecasting of educational programmes

What are the issues concerning the use of digital distance learning method?

The attempts at initiating a rapid transition to digital learning following the pandemic have many lessons,

  1. First, according to a recent UNICEF report, the massive school closures exposed the uneven distribution of technology required for remote learning. It reduced the chances of social and economic mobility through education.
  2. Second, it also disrupted the significant school programmes that resulted in high enrollment as well as regular attendance. (The mid-day meal scheme, the school health Programme and pre-matric scholarships to girl children).
  3. Third, the abilities of the families and communities to support their children’s education reduced. For example, A survey promoted by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies found that in families which faced cash and food shortages, only 50% of the boys and girls were confident of returning to school.
  4. Fourth, students with lesser access to digital connectivity forced them to share the burden of household chores. Also, their educational routine disrupted. In many cases, students don’t remember what they learnt earlier.
  5. Fifth, apart from the above issues the education sector faced many challenges. Such as delivery of pedagogical processes, classroom assessment frameworks, students’ support and teacher-student engagement.
Case study of Rajasthan:

  • Rajasthan has a low literacy rate in India. It is the 2nd worst in overall literacy rate and worst in female literacy rate. (NSS,2017-18).
  • 20% of girls in the age group 15-16 were out of school against the national average of 13.5 (Annual Status of Education Report 2018).
  • Despite pioneering initiatives in education such as the Lok Jumbish and Shiksha Karmi projects, it suffers from systemic issues in education related to quality, equity and gender.
  • In Rajasthan, the access of girls to education during the COVID-19 period was limited to 11%. Girls who had online access reported links through WhatsApp (92%) and YouTube (12%).
  • The reasons for students inability to access online education were lack of devices, poor or no internet connectivity, and also girls’ preoccupation with household activity.
  •  In contrast, the schools run by NGO’s performed better. They did not resort to online education. Instead, teachers visited individual students at home and also taught children in small groups.

 What needs to be done?

  • First, Education planning should be made context-specific, gender-responsive and inclusive.
  • Second, the government should take enabling measures even when schools are closed. Such as;
    • providing access to online education,
    • removal of barriers in pre-matric scholarships and
    • ensuring the provision of mid-day meals, iron and folic acid tablets and
    • provision of personal hygiene products to girl students
  • Third, currently, there are around 300 million children reported to be out of school in India across all age groups. This number can increase once schools will reopen.
    • Hence, the authorities should establish the re-enrolment of children as mandated by the National Education Policy 2020. Mass outreach programmes should be developed with civil society to encourage re-enrollment.
  • Fourth, to retain the poorest at schools’ remedial tuitions and counselling along with scholarships, targeted cash transfers and other entitlements are advisable.
  • Fifth, we can also think about making secondary education for girls free.
  • Finally, to implement all these measures we need to support the education sector with adequate budgetary resources. Hence, it is important to increase the share of education to 6% of GDP, as emphasized by the President of India.

Importance of Perseverance Mission on Mars

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS 3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life

Synopsis: The Perseverance mission on Mars will test out technologies to help sustain the presence of humans there.  Further, it will help the future manned mission to Mars along with several other important experiments.

Introduction 

The scientific community is suspecting that life may have existed on Mars before Earth. Thus, there might be a possibility of microscopic life on the planet. Understanding this will enhance our studies of evolution and nurture of life outside the earth.

Landing of Perseverance rover:

  1. NASA’s mission on Mars has focused on finding traces and trails of water. The water may be related to the possible existence of life on the planet.
  2. The curiosity rover which landed on Mars in 2012 found out regions that could have hosted life. 
  3. The recent NASA mission, Mars 2020, landed on the Jezero Crater in Mars on February 18.

What does the new Mars mission aim to do?

The mission is expected to last at least the duration of one Mars year, i.e. 687 earth days.  The goals for this mission are to look for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples.

  1. Perseverance will take the investigation made by the earlier Curiosity rover to the next level by studying the Jezero Crater. This particular crater was chosen because it was found to be home to an ancient delta according to an aerial study.
    •  Clay minerals and carbonates were found on the crater. It makes this crater a good place to search for life’s existence. 
  2. The rover will study the geology of mars and store samples in a place that can be accessed by a future mission.
  3. The rover will test out technologies that will help to sustain the presence of humans in future. This includes testing an instrument that extracts oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide
  4. The rover carries a helicopter named Ingenuity. Ingenuity is specially designed to fly in Mars’s thin atmosphere. Its only purpose would be to demonstrate flight on Mars.

The conclusion 

  • Perseverance Mission will be able to answer whether little green microbes did inhabit Mars in the distant past or not. But till then we have to wait and watch the progress.

The trend of Undermining the Role of Upper House

Source: https://epaper.thehindu.com/Home/ShareArticle?OrgId=GH88A6BJ6.1&imageview=0 

Syllabus: GS 2 – Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges, and issues arising out of these

Synopsis: The ruling party who dominates the lower house is sometimes seen undermining the role of the Upper House. Such an approach dilutes the principle of bicameralism and undermines the spirit of the Constitution.

Background:

  • The recent passage of the Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill in Karnataka’s legislative council has attracted criticism.
  • The reason for criticism is that the bill was passed through a voice vote in place of a division vote as demanded by the opposition.
  • The opposition parties had a majority and didn’t support the bill. This has created an impression that the bill was passed without majority support. 

Instruments to undermine the Upper House:

  • First, the use of voice vote undermines the higher number of opposition members in the upper house. In this process, the presiding officer gives a decision as per his judgment, because the names or numbers of legislators voting on each side are not recorded.
    • A similar thing was seen in the passing of controversial farm laws by Rajya Sabha in 2020.
  • Second, the presiding officer sometimes declares a bill as a ‘Money Bill’ even if it is not covered under the definition of a money bill. 
    • As the second house can only give recommendations on it and can’t stop its passage.
    • For Example, Aadhaar, electoral bonds, retrospective validation of foreign political contribution, etc. passed as money bills.
  • Third, the government promulgates the ordinance and frequently re-promulgates it. 
    • This is an abuse of temporary legislative power given to the executive who tries to give it permanency by re-promulgation. 
    • The objective is to forbid the second house from performing its constitutional role as the majority is already enjoyed in the lower house.

Role of Upper House:

  • First, it gives credible second opinions on bills introduced by the ruling party in the lower house.
  • Second, to prevent the country from the brute will of the majority of one party in the lower house. This becomes crucial as even the courts are barred from intervening in the legislative process.
  • Third, it duly represents the interests of states at the national level. Rajya Sabha is representative of all the Indian states.
  • Fourth, it upholds the principle of separation of powers in a robust way. The majority of the executive is often chosen from lok sabha by the ruling party. This allows the executive domination over the legislature and easily passes bills in Lok Sabha.

Way Forward:

  • The speaker/chairman of the house must act in the spirit of positive morality. It would allow him to function objectively.
  • The demands of opposition should be respected. For example, division vote instead of voice vote should be used.
  • The money bill issue can be rightly tackled if the Supreme Court hears the case over its misuse, gives its verdict in due time.
  • The executive and ruling party must respect the dissent of the Second Chamber as done in case of repeal of the 42nd amendment. 
    • Janta Government was not able to completely repeal it as Congress enjoyed a significant majority in Rajya Sabha.
  • Greater focus should be on debates and discussions rather than solely focusing on quick passing of bills. 
    • The Parliament was not convened for a long time during the pandemic and later got convened after suspending the question hour so that swift passage can happen. This approach needs to be changed.

Centre’s decision over Finance Commission’s recommendations

Source: https://epaper.thehindu.com/Home/ShareArticle?OrgId=GH88A6BJ2.1&imageview=0 

Syllabus: GS 2 – powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

Synopsis: The 15th Finance Commission has submitted its recommendations for 2021-26 to the Centre. Amongst which maximum have been accepted by the Centre while others are put on a hold by it. 

Background:

  • The commission headed by N.K Singh was required to give recommendations for the period 2020-21 to 2024-25. 
  • Although due to COVID-19, it was required to submit an interim report for a year 2020-21 and later give a road map for 2021-22 to 2025-2026.
  • Further, the recommendations were to be given keeping in mind the multiple challenges. This included dissolution of the planning Commission, introduction of GST and above all the fiscal and revenue stress induced by the pandemic.
  • The commission gave the recommendations based on a judicious interpretation of the unusual terms of reference given to it. This has ensured that recommendations are based on the principle of equity.

Recommendations accepted by the Centre:

  • 41% of the Centre’s taxes would be distributed amongst the states.
  • Revenue deficit grants amounting to 2.95 lakh crore would be given to 17 states in 5 years.
  • Grants towards urban and local bodies would be conditional upon: 
    • Setting up of a State Finance Commission
    • Online publication of Local bodies accounts
    • Sanitation and Water services provided by local bodies (60% weightage)
  • Setting up of a non-lapsable defence modernisation fund for augmenting capital expenditure on defence beyond the normal budgetary allocations.

Recommendations put on hold:

  • Taking out 1.53 lakh crore rupees from the consolidated fund of India to partly finance defence modernization fund.
  • Sectors specific and other grants to States amounting to 1.8 lakh crore rupees.

Way Forward:

  • The Centre must take proactive steps to win the confidence of States, especially in the current stressful times. 
  • The instances of introducing more cess and surcharges should be reduced as these are not shared with States, like the recent agricultural infrastructure development cess. 
  • The Centre needs to take States along with it to drive the country on a sustainable fiscal path and ensure equitable growth throughout the country.

Factly :-News Articles For UPSC Prelims | Feb 22, 2021

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