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9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – March 16, 2021

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Here is our 9pm current affairs brief for you today

About 9 PM Brief- With the 9 PM Daily Current affairs for UPSC 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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Highlights of the Quad Summit

Source: Click Here

Syllabus: GS 2 – Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India

 

Synopsis: The maiden Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) witnessed declaration of a joint statement by four leaders along with a common article in the Washington post. It is a step which is expected to yield positive outcomes in the Asian Geopolitics and the Indo Pacific region.

 

Background:

  • The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 triggered cooperation among the navies and governments of the Quad powers namely India,U.S,Australia and Japan.
  • The countries wanted to build a diplomatic alliance in 2006-08 but sidelined the idea as:
    • China opposed creation of such a group
    • Chinese Dominance at that time was not strong enough to unite QUAD members in comparison to the current scenario
  • However China’s behaviour has turned hostile since 2017. The nation’s constant adventures (including the 2020 Galwan Valley incident) induced QUAD members to concretise the vision of QUAD summit.
  • Thus the 1st virtual summit took place on 12th March 2021.

 

Highlights of the Summit:

  • A joint statement titled ‘The Spirit of the Quad’ was released along with a common article in the Washington post. The leaders have visualised Quad as a flexible group of like-minded partners dedicated towards advancement of a common vision which will ensure peace and prosperity.
  • The diverging views on the Indo Pacific are over. The aim is to ensure a free, open, inclusive and healthy Indo Pacifc.The region should be anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion.
  • The security challenges from China especially in the east and south china seas has been recognised without expressly using the word China. The countries have agreed to adopt a smart blend of competition, cooperation and confrontation for containing Chinese actions.
  • The summit has focused on winning people’s hearts in the indo pacific region. In this regard a special initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines from the western Pacific to eastern Africa would be run.
  • Three working groups on vaccine partnership; climate change; and critical and emerging technologies (such as telecom and biotechnology) would be established.
  • Country leaders and foreign ministers have agreed to do periodic meetings in order to strengthen the habits of the Quad working together for a common vision.
  • Complete denuclearization of North Korea as per the United Nations Security Council resolutions will be carried on by members. A statement made in South Korea’s interest.
  • The Quad members agreed to restore democracy in Myanmar along with strengthening democratic resilience across the region.

Way Ahead:

  • The summit should get the four national establishments into serious policy coordination and action mode, creating new capacities.
  • The new synergy in vaccine development is a real highlight that should result in the production of one billion vaccine doses in India by 2022. 
    • In this regard, the U.S and Japan have volunteered for financial support, Australia performs well in logistics while manufacturing would be taken care of by India.
  • The call for democracy restoration can help ASEAN in carrying forward its diplomatic initiative to promote reconciliation in Myanmar.
  • Further Beijing has already shown its discontent against Quad. It has cautioned India from becoming a negative asset in SCO and BRICS groupings. 
    • Greater clarity is expected to emerge post the scheduled March 18 discussions between the top officials of the U.S. and China.
  • It is believed that some of Asian Capitals may express a cautious welcome to QUAD as they are suspicious about the vision and objectives of QUAD.

Government should initiate steps to make Agriculture remunerative

Source: Indian Express

Gs3: Transport and Marketing of Agricultural Produce and Issues and Related Constraints;

Synopsis: Government should avoid handing over India’s agriculture to agribusiness companies. Instead, it should take steps to make agriculture remunerative.

Development of Agriculture during the green revolution period

  • During the mid-1960s, the green revolution resulted in increased productivity in India and, especially, Punjab.
  • Further, the growth in agriculture was aided by public investment in irrigation and market infrastructure. Also, the guaranteed minimum support price incentivised the cultivation of wheat and rice.
  • Consequently, the area under paddy cultivation in Punjab jumped from 4.8 per cent of the total cropped area in 1960-61 to 39.19 per cent in 2018-19. Similarly, the wheat area shares too increased from 27 percent to 45 percent.

What are the reasons for India’s deep agrarian crisis?

  1. First, the adverse consequence of the Green revolution.
      • Monocropping: Though the production of wheat and rice increased, the cultivation of other crops started to decline. For example, Punjab had a total of 21 crops in 1960-61, which fell to nine in 1991.
      • Long-term economic and ecological effects: Wheat-rice cropping monoculture led to the depletion of groundwater levels. Excessive use of chemical pesticides reduced land productivity. For example, currently, the growth rate of yield has reduced to 2 percent per year due to water scarcity.
  2. Second, the absence of land reforms has increased inequalities among farmer communities. For example, According to the 10th agriculture census of 2015-16,
      • Small and marginal farmers (< 2 hectares of land): account for 86.2 per cent of all farmers in India. But own just 47.3 per cent of the crop area.
      • Whereas, semi-medium and medium land holding farmers (2-10 hectares of land) : account for 13.2 per cent of all farmers, but own 43.6 per cent of crop area.
  3. Third, widening rural-urban divide also contributed to the rural distress.
    • For example, according to the NSO household consumer expenditure survey for 2017-2018, Consumer expenditure by rural residents in 2017-18 decreased by 8.8 percent compared to 2012 statistics. Whereas, urban consumer expenditure for the same period increased by 2 percent.

Will the new farm laws address these problems?

The three contentious farm bills seek to deregulate and dismantle the APMC network. However, dismantling APMCs will not address the above-said issues. The Bihar experiment of scrapping APMC markets in 2006 can illustrate it better,

  • The scrapping of APMC markets in Bihar (2006) did not improve its agricultural performance. According to the study by National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER),
  • Even after the scrapping of APMC markets, farm growth in the state averaged 2.04 percent, lower than the all-India average of 3.12 percent.
  • Also, the scrapping of APMC markets has not led to any private investment in new marketplaces according to the study by National Institute of Agriculture Marketing (CCSNIAM).

What needs to be done?

  1. First, since market accessibility is a major issue, the state should help the smallholder farmers to have access to the market.
      • The role of the private sector will be limited as evident from the Bihar example. Hence, Public investment in infrastructure and MSPs needs to increase.
      • Worryingly, the Public sector investment in agriculture is inadequate. As per the RBI, India has spent only 0.4 percent of the GDP between 2011-12 and 2017-18.
  2. Second, shifting towards agroecological farming that includes crop diversification, will ensure sustainability for Indian agriculture.
      • Agroecology emphasizes using locally available resources thereby minimizing external and artificial inputs.
      • Recently, in 2018, the Andhra Pradesh government announced to bring all 80 lakh hectares of its cultivable land under agroecological farming by 2024.
      • A study by Azim Premji University has shown that following sustainable agro-ecological principles has resulted in increased yields. For example, 79 percent increase in brinjal.

Supreme Court’s Judgment on State Election Commission

Source- The Hindu

Syllabus- GS 2 – Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels, and challenges therein.

Synopsis – The Supreme Court in its recent judgment ruled that government officials cannot be appointed as State Election Commissioner (SEC).

Introduction-

  • 25 years have passed since local governance was introduced in India by the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments. However, there is very little and actual progress in this direction.
  • There is inadequate devolution of powers to the third tier of governance.
  • The SEC is responsible for holding unbiased elections for local bodies in the state. But local elections often suffer from abuse, charges of ward fixing, and ward reservation.

What is the case?

  • The government notification on municipality elections in Goa was initially challenged in the Bombay HC. Allegedly, the reservation of wards for women, SCs, and STs was not in accordance with the law.
  • The Bombay HC struck down the reservation notices of specific wards. It ruled that they caused constitutional infractions.
  • Then the Goa government approached the SC, challenging this order.
  • However, the SC upheld the Bombay HC’s ruling. SC said that the appointment of the law secretary as the poll body head is against the independence of the election.

The Supreme Court ruling

  • Entrusting additional charge of State Election Commissioner to a government official is a mockery of the Constitution.
  • Under Article 142 the SC directed all SECs who currently hold an additional charge, to step down immediately. It stated that a government employee or bureaucrat cannot be appointed as Election Commissioner.

Way forward-

  • The SC ruling will help secure the independence of SECs in the future.
  • The independence of the Election Commission cannot be compromised in a democracy.
  • Centre should work on the devolution of powers to the local level of governance. It ensures that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities, and businesses.

Why Taxes on Fuel may increase in the future?

Source: Indian Express

Gs2: Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure, Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein.

Synopsis:  Due to economic pressure, the centre and states may increase taxation on fuel.

Disparity between the taxation powers of the centre and states

  • Taxation is an economic tool used by government to raise revenues. The Supreme Court of India described taxation as a “sovereign” power. Taxation powers of a state cannot be subjected to judicial scrutiny.
  • Compared to States, the Centre has a lot of independence with respect to taxation powers. It has a wide scope in this regard. For example, in 2016, the Centre levied the equalisation levy to tax non-resident e-commerce service providers. The levy was neither an income tax nor a service tax. It was levied using provisions of the Income Tax Act and service tax laws.
  • Whereas the subject matters over which states can raise revenue are very limited.
  • In ITC Ltd. V. State of Karnataka 1985, Justice Sabyasachi Mukharji observed that “States must have the power to raise and mobilise resources in their exclusive fields”.

Fiscal Independence of states further reduced after GST

  • With the implementation of GST, states have lost their autonomy to raise finances.
  • The Constitution’s (101 Amendment) Act, 2016 deleted provisions empowering states to independently levy taxes.
  • However, states retained their taxation powers in few items such as the sale of petrol, alcoholic liquor for human consumption, and Taxes on entertainments and amusements.

Why fuel tax will be increasing?

  • First, the need for economic recovery after the pandemic will incur more public spending. High public spending means government needs more revenues. This is one main reason why the Centre’s has kept the excise duties of fuel high.
  • Second, the central government’s need for fiscal responsibility under the Fiscal Responsibility Budget Management Act has ensured that it maintains high taxes on fuel to raise resources.
  • Third, the fiscal deficits of the states are also increasing at an all-time high. Provided with very less options to raise resources after the implementation of GST, even the states will try to tax fuel to raise more revenues.
  • Fourth, while many states are in the run-up to election within a month, the tax on fuel would also be required to finance various promises made before the elections.

Impacts of rising in fuel prices:

  • Inflation: Rising fuel prices will translate to higher cost of goods. However, RBI has noted that that inflation rates have been revised and risks have been balanced.
  • Impact on the demand for fuel:  The demand will not decrease. The lack of robust public transport system in India makes the demand for fuel inelastic. (no change in demand even after the price increases).

Factly :-News Articles For UPSC Prelims | Mar 16, 2021

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