Current Affairs 2nd December

International flights: take-off plan on hold #GS3 #SnT

The Union Government on Wednesday cited concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and indefinitely postponed the full resumption of scheduled international flights from December 15.

This means international flights will continue to operate on a smaller scale and only with 31 countries with which India has air bubble agreements.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation said, “In view of the evolving global scenario with the emergence of new variant of concern, the situation is being watched closely in consultation with all the stakeholders and an appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course.”

The Union Health Ministry said six COVID-19 positive cases were reported from 11 international flights from “at-risk” countries on Wednesday — the first day of stricter testing norms kicking in. This includes four passengers who arrived in Delhi.

The Maharashtra Government has issued strict guidelines for international passengers, requiring all those arriving from “at-risk” countries from December 3 to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine for a week.

The State also said that all international passengers must compulsorily undergo an RT-PCR test on arrival, and domestic passengers headed to the State must be allowed to board a flight only if they carry a negative RT-PCR test report with them.

Following this, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to the State Government to “align orders” with the guidelines issued by the Union Health Ministry to ensure their uniform implementation across all the States.

1,160 elephants killed in a decade #GS3 #Environment

A whopping 1,160 elephants were killed in the country for reasons other than natural causes in the 10 years up to December 31, 2020, according to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

While electrocution claimed the lives of 741 elephants, train hits led to the death of 186 pachyderms, followed by poaching (169) and poisoning (64), a document accessed from the Ministry through the Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed.

Karnataka and Odisha lost 133 elephants each to electrocution during the period and Assam reported 129 deaths. Among elephant casualties due to train hits, Assam stood first with 62 deaths, followed by West Bengal at 57. A total of 169 elephants were killed by poachers in the 10 years and Odisha reported the highest of 49, followed by Kerala 23. Assam reported the highest number of elephants poisoned, 32, and Odisha stood second with 15.

The Ministry said in the document that India had a total of 29,964 wild elephants as per an estimate done in 2017. The southern region comprising Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra accounted for the highest population — 14,612 elephants.

RTI activist R. Pandiyaraja of Tenkasi district in Tamil Nadu, who accessed the details in May, said the Centre and the States together had a greater responsibility in protecting elephants, a keystone species, and their habitats. A Permanent Coordination Committee has been constituted between the Ministry of Railways and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths due to train hits.

More data on jabs for children sought #GS3 #SnT

The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has sought additional information on administration of Covaxin for children.

Previously, the interim phase 2 and 3 clinical trial data of Covaxin on healthy volunteers aged two to 18 submitted by Bharat Biotech was deliberated at a meeting of the Subject Expert Committee.

The committee recommended the grant of market authorisation for this age group for Restricted Use in Emergency Situation, subject to various conditions, said Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Bharati Pawar, in reply to a question in Parliament on use of Covaxin for children.

The statement comes close on the heels of a study conducted between March 2020 and July 2021 and published recently in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine . The study said that school-age children with asthma and previous hospital admission and two or more courses of oral corticosteroids were markedly at increased risk of COVID-19 hospital admission and should be considered on priority for vaccination.

The national incident cohort study was done in children aged five to 17, who were included in the linked dataset of Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance. “These findings can be used for informed deliberations on prioritising COVID-19 vaccination for children. Consideration needs to be given to extending the offer of vaccination to younger children also,” noted the study.

The Global Asthma Report 2018 estimated that 6% of Indian children have asthma. Some estimates suggest that the total number of asthma patients in India could be in the range of 1.5-2 crore.

On booster doses

Ms. Pawar said that while there were countries which were providing booster doses, “in India, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 are deliberating and considering scientific evidence related to dose schedule of vaccines as well as the need and justification for booster dose”.

Winter in northern India to be warmer than normal: IMD #GS1 #Geography

Winter in northern India will unlikely be harsh with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecasting “normal to above normal” minimum temperatures for December-February. These elevated temperatures are likely to be prevalent not only in northwest India but also south and northeast India and parts of the Himalayan foothills.

The IMD, however, did not provide by how many degrees, on average, would temperatures be elevated. Overall, winter temperatures have been on the rise. The IMD which started issuing winter forecasts in 2016 , except for 2017, had forecast warm winters for all years since then. Warm winters, experts say, are a sign of global warming. India on an average is 0.5 degree Celsius warmer than 50 years ago.

Colour code regions

IMD officials said that from this year they had a “new forecasting system” in which they would no longer give the actual expected temperature deviation but only colour code regions indicating if they were normal, above or below normal.

“Above normal would mean more than half the standard deviation of a region’s temperature,” said D.S. Pai, who heads the IMD’s climate division in Pune. He said that because all regions had different normal temperatures, it would not be feasible to provide individual temperature deviations.

Cloud cover, said Mr. Pai, was one of the key factors influencing minimum temperatures as they influenced how the ground heated up. “This doesn’t however mean there won’t be cold waves.”

Maximum temperatures were likely to be “below normal” over most parts of the country except over some parts of northwest India and most parts of northeast India, where normal to above normal

Winter rains over south Peninsular India, particularly Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Karaikal, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Yanam, Rayalaseema, Kerala and Mahe and south interior Karnataka, are most likely to be above normal (more than 132% of the Long Period Average.

Low-pressure area

Currently the Andaman Sea is seeing a cyclone precursor, called a low-pressure area. The IMD has forecast it to intensify into a cyclone, called Jawad, by December 3 that is likely to approach the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coasts.

Ensure code of ethics is followed on social media #GS4 #Ethics

Observing that social media platforms have placed journalism in the hands of citizens, a Parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked the Government to ensure a code of ethics is followed in the digital media space while preserving the right to freedom of expression.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology in its 27th report on ‘Ethical Standards in Media Coverage’, presented in Parliament, impressed upon the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) “to ensure that adequate consultations take place with all stakeholders” and that monitoring of digital media may be exercised while fully preserving the right to freedom of expression. The panel observed that social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter, have placed journalism in the hands of the citizens.

Citizens use their personal recording devices including cellphones to capture events and post them on the Internet, it noted.

OTT platforms

The panel also considered the issue of unregulated content made available through online and OTT (over the top) platforms “which had hitherto escaped any architecture of regulation”.

“During the COVID pandemic, more and more people have resorted to these platforms due to closure of cinema halls. The committee is conscious that the information and content portrayed on such platforms can impact viewers, including minor children,” it said.

“At the same time, the committee acknowledges that OTT platforms offer freedom to the individual user to decide what to watch, a freedom that should not be abridged by the heavy hand of Government,” the panel said.

Referring to the latest ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ notified in February this year, the panel said it hoped that the new rules and guidelines would go a “long way in ensuring transparency and accountability for social media platforms with a robust oversight mechanism by the government.”

It also hoped that the MIB along with the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology will work in tandem to ensure that the code for ethics is followed by digital media also.

The report said that any regulation must have checks and balances to ensure that it is neither misused nor violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

India joins G20’s Troika with Indonesia and Italy #GS2 #IR

India on Wednesday joined the G20 ‘Troika’.

With this move, India has started the procedure for taking over the G20 presidency next year. Troika refers to the top grouping within the G20 that consists of the current, previous and the incoming presidencies — Indonesia, Italy and India.

“India will assume the G20 presidency on December 1, 2022 from Indonesia, and will convene the G20 Leaders’ Summit for the first time in India in 2023,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

Italy hosted the G20 summit during October 30-31 that was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi where India had raised the issue of Afghanistan’s future following the takeover by the Taliban.

Indonesia took over the G20 presidency on Wednesday. In the coming months, Indonesia will hold rounds of discussion at various levels among the members of the G20 before convening the G20 Leaders’ Summit scheduled for October 30-31, 2022. Next year’s summit will be organised along the overall theme of “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”.

“As a Troika member, India will work closely with Indonesia and Italy to ensure consistency and continuity of the G20’s agenda,” the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Manufacturing PMI signals Nov. output growth at 9-month high #GS3 #Economy

India’s manufacturing sector recorded the strongest production expansion in nine months in November, with the survey-based IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbing to 57.6, from October’s 55.9.

The November PMI signals the strongest improvement in the health of the manufacturing sector for 10 months, with factory orders rising for a fifth straight month and at the fastest pace since February. The long-run PMI average for India is 53.6

There was a fractional improvement in hiring by goods producers, which marked only the second expansion in jobs over the past 20 months. The survey also suggested that the domestic market drove sales growth as ‘new export orders rose at a slight pace that was weaker than in October’.

“The overall level of positive sentiment slipped to a 17-month low,” IHS Markit said. Cost inflation pressures for producers remained ‘intense’, broadly at the same rate as October which had marked a 92-month high.

“The key threat to the outlook, in addition to potential new waves of COVID-19, is inflationary pressures,” said Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at IHS Markit. “For now, companies are absorbing most of the additional cost burdens and lifting output charges only moderately. Should raw material scarcity and shipping issues continue to feed through to purchasing prices, substantial increases in output charges could be seen and demand resilience would be tested,” she added.

Exports dip widening trade deficit to a record $23.27 bn #GS3 #Economy

India’s merchandise exports slipped below the $30-billion mark for the first time in eight months in November to $29.88 billion, even as imports rose sharply, taking the monthly trade deficit to a fresh high.

Imports outpaced exports, jumping 38% from pre-COVID levels compared with the 16% increase in exports, though they moderated slightly month-on-month to $53.1 billion from $55.4 billion in October.

The trade deficit widened to a fresh record of $23.27 billion, from $19.9 billion in the previous month. This is almost 83% higher than the November 2019 levels. The previous highest monthly trade deficit of $22.6 billion was recorded in September.

‘Worrying deficit’

The trade deficit from April to November 2021 is now close to $122 billion, 7.5% over the same period in FY20. The sharp 16% sequential slide in exports led to a flare-up in the trade deficit to a record-high, and the three months since September have now recorded a deficit of $65 billion, which is worrying, said ICRA chief economist Aditi Nayar. Imports, she pointed out, had exceeded $50 billion in each of these months.

“Holidays in the festive season have substantially dented the momentum in merchandise exports in November, bringing them down to the lowest level of FY22. We are cautiously optimistic that export momentum will revive, although the uncertainty engendered by the Omicron variant poses a concern regarding the immediate outlook.

OECD cuts world growth outlook on Omicron fears #GS3 #Economy

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned on Wednesday that the Omicron variant threatens the global economic recovery as it lowered the growth outlook for 2021 and appealed for a swifter roll-out of COVID vaccines.

The global economy is now expected to expand by 5.6% this year, down from an earlier forecast of 5.7%, the OECD said in its updated economic outlook which warns that low vaccination areas could create “breeding grounds” for deadlier virus mutations. Its forecast for 2022 remains unchanged at 4.5%, but the report was released only days after Omicron was detected.

“We are concerned that the new variant of the virus is further adding to the already high levels of uncertainty and risks, and that could be a threat to the recovery.

India-China trade deficit was $30 bn in April-Sept. #GS3 #Economy

India’s trade deficit with China stood at $30.07 billion during April-September 2021, Parliament was informed on Wednesday.

India’s exports to China during the April-September 2021 period were $12.26 billion, while imports aggregated to $42.33 billion, according to data given by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Anupriya Patel in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

She said the imports from China had increased from $60.41 billion in 2014-15 to $65.21 billion in 2020-21, exhibiting an increase of 7.94% over six years. However, the imports were static between 2019-20 and 2020-21, she said. “The government has made sustained efforts to achieve a more balanced trade with China, including bilateral engagements to address the non-tariff barriers on Indian exports to China,” Ms. Patel said.

Schemes like the production-linked incentive scheme will help promote domestic manufacturing capacities and attract investments and reduce dependency on imports from China.

Debt-to-GDP ratio of States worrying: RBI #GS3 #Economy

The combined debt-to-GDP ratio of states is expected to remain at 31% by end-March 2022, which is worryingly higher than the target of 20% to be achieved by 2022-23, according to an RBI report.

In view of the pandemic induced slowdown, in its projections, the 15th Finance Commission expects the debt-GDP ratio to peak at 33.3% in 2022-23 (in view of the higher deficits in 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23), and gradually decline thereafter to reach 32.5% by 2025-26, RBI said in its ‘State Finances: A Study of Budgets of 2021-22’ report.