Current Affairs 4th May 2022

April exports cross $38 bn, deficit widens #GS3 #Economy

India exported merchandise estimated at $38.19 billion in April 2022, a 24.2% increase from a year earlier but 9.5% lower than the record $42.2 billion shipped out in March, official estimates released on Tuesday show.

The trade deficit, however, expanded to $20.07 billion from $18.5 billion in March, as imports grew at a faster 26.6% pace to $58.26 billion. Sequentially, goods imports declined 4.1% last month from March’s level.

Gold imports fell by a sharp 73% year-on-year to just $1.7 billion, even as coal imports more than doubled to over $4.7 billion from $2 billion a year earlier. Petroleum imports comprising crude and products surged 81.2% to exceed $19.5 billion, and made up a third of the total imports in the month.

“India’s goods trade deficit has crossed $200 billion for a 12-month period for the first time in April 2022,” said Richard Rossow, Wadhwani chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Washington-based security think tank, CSIS. Petroleum imports alone had accounted for $172 billion during this period, he pointed out.

ICRA chief economist Aditi Nayar also noted that higher oil imports were entirely responsible for the trade deficit’s rise from $15.3 billion in April 2021. “Unless commodity prices recede appreciably, we expect the merchandise trade deficit to print above $20 billion in a majority of the months of 2022-23,” she warned.

Ukraine war fallout

India’s goods exports hit a record $420 billion in 2021-22, while imports also hit an all-time high of about $612 billion, leading to a $192 billion deficit in the last financial year.

“Although the non-oil trade deficit remained stable in April, there was a shift in its composition, with a plunge in gold imports being offset by a rise in non-oil, non-gold imports such as coal and chemicals, an unsavoury yet expected fallout of the higher commodity prices engendered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” Ms. Nayar observed.

Among India’s top 10 export commodities, gems and jewellery exports dipped by a marginal 2.1% in April, while rice exports fell 14.24%.

India, Denmark to strengthen green strategic partnership #GS2 #IR

India and Denmark on Tuesday agreed to further strengthen the Green Strategic Partnership with a focus on green hydrogen, renewable energy and wastewater management.

“During our discussions, we reviewed the joint work plan for the Green Strategic Partnership. I am happy that significant progress has been made in various fields, especially in the areas of renewable energy, health, ports, shipping, circular economy, and water management,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told reporters here after talks with his Danish counterpart, Mette Frederiksen.

A number of agreements covering sectors such as green shipping, animal husbandry, and dairying, water management, energy, cultural exchange were inked after the bilateral talks.

In a joint statement issued here, the two Prime Ministers welcomed the intention of both countries to deepen and expand the existing cooperation in the field of safe and secure water to meet present and future demand through a holistic and sustainable approach.

“They looked forward to the early signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Jal Shakti and the Danish Environment Ministry as a broad-based framework to enhance the existing cooperation and to launch new initiatives, including a Smart Laboratory on Clean River Water in Varanasi and a Centre of Excellence on Smart Water Resources Management,” it said.

India and Denmark also confirmed their continued collaboration in the field of antimicrobial resistance. India conveyed its acceptance of the Danish invitation to join the International Center for Antimicrobial Resistance Solutions (ICARS) as a Mission Partner, the joint statement said. Ms. Frederiksen confirmed Danish accession to the Global Digital Health Partnership on India’s invitation to improve public health.

Home Ministry seeks regular prison checks #GS2 #Governance

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked the prison authorities in the States to maintain “appropriate oversight” on “literature available in prison libraries to ensure that inmates are not influenced negatively.”

In a letter sent to the Principal Secretary (Home) and the Director General of Prisons of all States on May 2, the MHA said that “background of NGOs involved with prison activities may be verified on periodic basis.”

“State Governments and prison authorities should take effective steps to prevent prisons from becoming breeding ground for anti-national activities, for which regular inspection of prisons may be conducted,” the letter stated. The inmates may also be motivated to leave the life of crime and become responsible citizens of the nation.

Use of mobile phones

The Ministry has called for deploying effective jamming solutions and advanced technology to restrict the illegal access/use of mobile phones by inmates.

In April, a court in Mumbai was informed that civil rights campaigner Gautam Navlakha, arrested by the National Investigation Agency for his alleged role in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case and lodged in the Taloja central jail, was denied a book written by famous author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse, citing “security risk.”

In 2021, trade unionist and human rights campaigner Sudha Bhardwaj, another accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, had to move court after the prison authorities removed the book, The Empire of Cotton, by Sten Backert from a parcel sent by her lawyer.

Manual devised

The MHA said that “despite constant follow-ups,” many States were yet to confirm the status of the adoption of the Model Prison Manual, 2016, in their jurisdictions. According to sources in the Tamil Nadu prison department, the MHA stated that the manual was devised on the basis of various guiding principles and directions of the Supreme Court and Parliamentary Standing Committees on efficient prison administration.

The MHA noted that “First-time offenders and repeat offenders may be segregated and should be housed in separate wards/prison complex with a view to ensuring that habitual offenders are not able to negatively influence the first-time offenders.”

The Ministry suggested that medical facilities in jail hospitals and dispensary may be strengthened and improved in such a manner that reduces the requirement of referral of inmates outside the prison complex.

“Psychological assessment of inmates by competent medical professionals may be encouraged to reduce depression in prison inmates and provide them with a positive outlook in life,” it said.

First case of XE variant detected #GS3 #SnT

India has one confirmed case of the XE variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomics Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) said in a bulletin for April 25, which was released on Tuesday.

However, the location of this variant has not been identified.

“As compared to the previous week, 12 States have shown an increase in cases, while 19 states have shown a decline,” the bulletin said.

Further analysis

It said the suspected recombinant sequences were undergoing further analysis. “BA.2.10 and BA.2.12 are BA.2 sub-lineages that have been detected and many old BA.2 sequences have been reclassified into these new sub-lineages. So far these sub-lineages are not reported to be associated with increased severity of disease,” the bulletin added.

The statement from INSACOG said that there are no reports of XE clusters across India as yet.

India slips to 150 in press freedom index #GS2 #Governance

The Press Club of India (PCI) and the Indian Women Press Corps (IWPC) on Tuesday said attacks on press freedoms had seen an exponential rise and that India did not fare too well in this regard, ranking 150 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Reporters Sans Frontières.

On World Press Freedom Day, the PCI said journalists had been incarcerated under draconian laws for flimsy reasons, and on some occasions, faced threat to their lives as well from “self-styled” custodians of iaw In the social media space.

“The freedom of the press is Integral to the functioning of a vibrant democracy. The media has to come together to reclaim its role towards realisation of this objective,” they said in a joint statement.

India extends more aid to Sri Lanka #GS2 #IR

Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has cleared a proposal to source more fuel from India, through a $200 million short-term loan facility from the Exim Bank of India, as the island nation struggles to cope with a deepening economic crisis.

“The Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by the Minister of Power to award this [fuel] contract to Indian Oil Corporation,” the Department of Government Information said.

India has extended nearly $3 billion to cash-strapped Sri Lanka since January 2022, by way of currency swaps, credit lines for essentials, and loan deferments to help Sri Lanka amidst one of its worst economic crises in history.

A $400-million currency swap with the Reserve Bank of India, extended early this year, was on April 18 extended by another three months. A billion-dollar credit line for essential imports is operational and around 16,000 MT of rice has been supplied under it so far.

India has helped Sri Lanka defer repayment of loans totalling $1 billion under the Asian Clearing Union. Further, 400,000 MT of fuel has been delivered to Sri Lanka through a $500 million credit facility, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“Multi-pronged assistance provided by India testifies to the importance Government of India attaches to the welfare of the people of Sri Lanka and is guided by the twin principles of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and S.A.G.A.R (Security and Growth for All in the Region),” a statement said.

Sri Lanka’s economic crash intensified from the beginning of this year, with the country’s foreign reserves plunging to barely a couple of billion dollars, owing to an acute balance of payments crisis in recent years. The crisis manifested in severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines, as the country experienced record inflation, that hit nearly 30% in April.

Consequently, the ruling Rajapaksa administration’s popularity has plummeted over the last few months, with citizens demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa quit.

For almost a month now, demonstrators have been gathering at Colombo’s seafront, protesting every day against the government’s “failed” crisis response.

Students, professionals, businesspeople, worker unions, and scores of children, among others, can be spotted at the daily rallies, chanting anti-government slogans. Renowned Sri Lankan artistes and scholars, such as Kandyan dance exponent Upeka Chitrasena, and senior feminist scholar Kumari Jayawardena participated in the protests this week.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Tourism Ministry reported that tourist arrivals have fallen nearly by half in April, compared to the 1,06,500 arrivals recorded in March. The All Ceylon Tourist Service Providers’ Association attributed the fall to the prevailing fuel shortages, frequent power cuts and short supply of medicines in local hospitals.

“Some are suggesting that the protests could be a deterrent, but that is not the case. Tourists are very supportive of the democratic protests, and there’s even a stall for tourists at the agitation site in Colombo