Current Affairs 5th February

One in five Indians exposed to novel coronavirus: sero-survey #GS3 #SnT

Nearly one in five Indians had been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus until December 2020, the third round of the serological survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has found. This is roughly a three-fold increase since August and a 30-fold increase since May, when previous rounds of the survey were conducted.

Vaccines are necessary and there can be no complacency with regards to masks, social distancing and hand hygiene.

The overall prevalence in the population was 21.5%, which averaged over India’s population indicated that about 270 million may have been exposed to the virus. India has so far confirmed a little over 10 million infections — or 27 cases to each confirmed case of infection.

Experts have previously noted that serosurveys don’t capture the extent of the spread, and other modelling studies have shown that as much as 50% of the population may have been exposed. In the previous survey, only 5.2% of those sampled in rural areas showed antibodies. It has jumped to 19% in the latest survey.

There was a sharp rise across urban and non-urban slum areas, too. In urban slums, it was 31%, nearly twice as much as the previous survey findings of 16%. In “urban non slums” the prevalence this time was 26% compared with 9% in the second survey.

About 19.9% of adults sampled in the 18-44 years age group had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies as did 25% of children/teenagers (10-17 years), and 23% in those over 45 years.

Benefit of the News– Related to study about Novel coronavirus.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/one-in-five-indians-exposed-to-novel-coronavirus-sero-survey/article33754890.ece

For affluent, EPF is not nest egg but goose that lays golden eggs #GS3 #Economy

More than 1.23 lakh “high net worth individuals” (HNIs) deposited more than Rs. 62,500 crore into their Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) accounts in 2018-19 alone, and the largest EPF account has a staggering Rs. 103 crore balance, defending the Budget move to tax the income on employees’ PF contributions over Rs. 2.5 lakh a year.

Since any tax exemption is provided through taxpayers’ money, it was unfair to allow a small group of HNIs to misuse a welfare facility and earn wrongfully tax-free income as assured interest return, stressing that the step was intended to enforce the principle of equity among contributors.

Of an estimated 4.5 crore EPF accounts, the source said about 0.27% members had an average corpus of Rs. 5.92 crore and so were earning over Rs. 50 lakh a year as “tax-free assured interest”.

Mandatory for staff

EPF accounts are mandatory for employees earning up to Rs. 15,000 a month in firms with over 20 workers, with 12% of the basic pay and dearness allowance deducted as employees’ contribution and another 12% remitted by the employer.

The government had capped the contributions by employers into employee welfare schemes like the EPF or the National Pension Scheme or a superannuation plan, at Rs. 7.5 lakh a year, in last year’s Budget.

Benefit of the News– About EPF account

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/for-affluent-epf-is-not-nest-egg-but-goose-that-lays-golden-eggs/article33754894.ece

CM launches ‘Switch Delhi’ campaign to promote EV policy #GS3 #SnT

To promote the use of electric vehicles in the Capital, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched a ‘Switch Delhi’ campaign to educate people about the benefits of electric vehicles (EV) and urge them to make a switch.

Delhi has to turn its EV adoption movement into a mass movement to form a collective commitment to decrease pollution by purchasing EVs. The campaign aims at informing, encouraging, and motivating each and every person in Delhi to switch from polluting vehicles to zero-emission electric vehicles.

He also said that all hired government department cars will go electric within the next six months. The Delhi government has rolled out the highest incentives on the purchase of EVs among all States. He added that road tax and registration fees as also been made completely free and that tenders have been issued to develop 100 public charging stations spread across the city.

Benefit of the News– About new initiative Switch Delhi

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-miscellaneous/tp-others/cm-launches-switch-delhi-campaign-to-promote-ev-policy/article33755093.ece

HAL planning to export light combat aircraft #GS3 #Defence

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) is actively looking for exports of the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) with countries in South East Asia and West Asia showing interest in buying it. Each LCA MK1A jet would cost Rs. 306 crore.

Giving a break-up of the Rs. 48,000-crore deal for 83 LCAs for the IAF, As far as the order is concerned, if you remove the tax part of it, it’s worth about Rs. 36,000 crore, out of which close to Rs. 6,000 crore directly goes to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), and as we are supplying ground support equipment and other things, another Rs. 3,000 crore is expected to go towards Indian partners.”

Further, Rs. 2,200 crore is the exchange rate variation while the Customs and taxes came to around Rs. 7,000 crore, together making around Rs. 9,000 crore. Also, Rs. 11,000 crore would be used for ground support equipment, spares and training aids and manuals.

The cost of each LCA-MK1A was Rs. 309 crore and the trainer Rs. 280 crore which, Mr. Madhavan said, was a very competitive price. The indigenous content of the aircraft was about 52%. HAL was looking at ways to increase it to 65%. It would be offering the same version that was in service with the IAF to friendly foreign countries and at the same price.

At Aero India, HAL received the Request For Proposal (RFP) from the IAF for the basic trainer aircraft HTT-40. The RFP is for 70 aircraft with additional clause for 38 more. The certification will be given against the requirements and production will take place at HAL’s two manufacturing units at Bengaluru and Nasik.

Unmanned fighter

HAL also announced an ambitious futuristic project for the development of an unmanned fighter jet, which would be controlled by a manned aircraft called ‘manned–unmanned’ teaming and be able to strike deep inside the enemy territory called Combat Air Teaming System (CATS).

It would consist of CATS Hunter, CATS Warrior and Alpha-S, all of which are unmanned systems and would be controlled by a manned mother aircraft, a fighter jet, being customised around a LCA and Jaguar aircraft.

The CATS warrior would be armed and be able to strike deep inside the enemy territory, while the mothership would be in the Indian territory. It would be powered by the HAL engine that was powering pilotless target aircraft Lakshya .

Benefit of the News-About HAL proposals

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/hal-planning-to-export-light-combat-aircraft/article33754837.ece

India ready to supply weapon systems to Indian Ocean nations #GS2 #IR

Stating that “we have already seen the negative impact of conflicting claims in some maritime areas of the world”, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a strong pitch for collaboration among countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) while offering to supply a range of weapon systems to them and also helping to build capacities of partner countries.

We must, therefore, ensure that the maritime expanse of the Indian Ocean is peaceful and is optimally harnessed for the benefit of all nations in the region. Together, we have demonstrated our mutual respect for a rules-based order, setting an example of how abiding with international law will enable harnessing the global commons for the good of all.

Wide range

Calling the recent order of 83 LCA Tejas jets to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a milestone in indigenisation of defence manufacturing capabilities, Mr. Singh said India is ready to supply various types of missile systems, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), helicopters, multi-purpose light transport aircraft, warship and patrol vessels, artillery gun systems, tanks, radars, military vehicles, electronic warfare systems and other weapons systems to the IOR countries.

We have also taken the initiative to develop a comprehensive maritime domain awareness picture in the IOR, which has resulted in the signing of technical agreements for sharing of ‘White Shipping Information’ with many countries.”

Stating that India had been the first responder during natural disasters, Mr. Singh said the country had always been ready to share expertise and capacity with all IOR countries for coordination in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Benefit of the News– India relation with IOR countries.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/india-ready-to-supply-weapon-systems-to-indian-ocean-nations/article33754835.ece

Health is not just about COVID-19 #GS3 #SnT

India’s health expenditure programme is not just about COVID-19, just like spending after the 2004 tsunami could not have focused only on disaster management, launching a strong defence against the criticism of the allocation for the health sector in the 2021-22 Budget.

Responding to critiques citing a 137% hike in allocations for health and well-being by including spending on water and sanitation, Mr. Somanathan said even the World Health Organisation stressed that water and sanitation were crucial for basic healthcare.

“In a normal year, India doesn’t suffer from COVID-19. It suffers from diarrhoea, malaria and dengue, with diarrhoeal diseases accounting for most of our child deaths. Lack of sewerage, stagnant water, non-disposal of solid and liquid waste, and absence of clean water are very major problems in Indian health in a non-pandemic year,” he said.

Our health expenditure programme is not a COVID-19 expenditure programme; the COVID-19 part is the Rs. 35,000 crore provided for vaccines. We are building health infrastructure for the future, not for 2020. In 2004, we had the tsunami, but you have not had a tsunami since. If you planned all your budgets on preventing a tsunami, everything that you would have spent since 2004 would have been wasted,” he said.

The 137% hike mentioned in the Budget speech was also not an “apples vs mangoes” comparison, as it included last year’s water and sanitation spending, along with healthcare expenditure, he pointed out.

While the Rs. 71,000 crore allocation for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was 10% higher than 2020-21, Mr. Somanathan said taking the Rs. 35,000 crore for the vaccine into account, it reflected a 56% hike.

On vaccines

Moreover, Rs. 13,192 crore had been granted to the States and local bodies for health on the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendation.

There is also a provision for the Ministry of Ayush, which is up 40%, health research is up 25%, and drinking water is up 200%. It is not correct to assume that only doctors, nurses and medicines are health. So I would submit that this is not a fair criticism,” he said.

The Rs. 35,000 crore allocation for vaccines could cover as many as 50 crore people at an estimated cost of Rs. 700 a person for administering both doses, but no decision had been made on the funding mechanism for vaccines beyond the three crore health workers in the first phase (whose cost the Centre is footing).

“Hypothetically, if the whole cost was covered, it will vaccinate 50 crore out of a population of 130 crore. That would take us to 53 crore vaccinations, and it is possible we may have reached herd immunity, or maybe we would not. That is why the Finance Minister said we are committed to providing more if it is required,” Mr. Somanathan said.

Benefit of the News– Criticism about Health Budget news

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/we-are-building-health-infrastructure-for-the-future/article33754883.ece

Maternal welfare scheme beneficiaries cross 1.75 crore #GS3 #SnT

The government’s maternity benefit scheme, or Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, has crossed 1.75 crore eligible women till financial year 2020.

A total sum of Rs. 5,931.95 crore was paid to 1.75 crore eligible beneficiaries between financial year 2018 and 2020. Apart from that, Rs. 2,063.70 crore was disbursed in the current fiscal to 65.12 lakh women, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani informed the Rajya Sabha.

Disaggregated data on how many of these were unique beneficiaries, and how many were those receiving different instalments of the scheme was not provided. According to the government’s initial estimate, it aimed to reach 51.7 lakh women per year through the scheme.

Under PMMVY, pregnant women and lactating mothers receive Rs. 5,000 on the birth of their first child in three instalments, after fulfilling certain conditionalities. The direct benefit cash transfer is to help expectant mothers meet enhanced nutritional requirements as well as to partially compensate them for wage loss during their pregnancy.

Benefit of the News– About PMMVY

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/maternal-welfare-scheme-beneficiaries-cross-175-crore/article33754858.ece

India strikes cautious note on developments in Myanmar #GS2 #IR

India struck a cautious note on the developments in Myanmar saying it continues to monitor the situation. Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava during the weekly press briefing highlighted regional developments including Sri Lanka’s cancellation of the East Container Terminal (ECT) pact with Japan and India and reminded Colombo to adhere to international commitments for “mutually beneficial proposition”.

India and Myanmar are neighbours with close cultural and people-to-people ties, bolstered by trade, economic, security and defence-related exchanges. We are therefore monitoring the developments closely. We are also engaged on the issue as a member of the U.N. Security Council.

India had earlier expressed “deep concern” after the February 1 military takeover was first reported from Myanmar and asked for maintenance of the “rule of law and the democratic process”.

Reiterating the concern on the East Container Terminal pact, he said High Commissioner Gopal Baglay is in talks with the government of Sri Lanka. “We sincerely believe that the development of infrastructure in Sri Lanka, in areas such as ports and energy, with foreign investment from India and Japan will be mutually beneficial proposition.

Benefit of the News– Recent Events for India- Myanmar relations.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/india-strikes-cautious-note-on-developments-in-myanmar/article33754866.ece

Farm exports defy overall trend in 2020, see 9.8 per cent growth #GS3 #Economy

India’s overall merchandise exports have fallen 15.5% year-on-year during April-December. But the same period has seen its farm exports register 9.8% growth – thanks to agricultural production being relatively unaffected by the Covid-19-induced lockdown and a steep surge in global commodity prices.

Commerce Ministry data shows the country’s export of all goods during April-December 2020 at $201.30 billion, down from the $238.27 billion for April-December 2019. In contrast, exports of agri-commodities have risen from $26.34 billion to $28.91 billion for this period.

And with imports simultaneously contracting 5.5%, the agricultural trade surplus has widened from $9.57 billion in April-December 2019 to $13.07 billion in April-December 2020 (see table).

The increase in agri exports largely courtesy favourable world prices. The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, on Thursday, released its latest Food Price Index (FPI) for January. That number, at 113.3 points (base year: 2014-2016=100), was the highest since the 116.4 of July 2014. Between May 2020 and January 2021, the FPI has soared from a 48-month-low to a 78-month-high!

International prices rising – due to steady normalisation of demand with most countries unlocking their economies after May and, at the same time, restoration of supply chains post-Covid not keeping pace – has made exports of many farm products from India competitive. That includes non-basmati rice, sugar, oilseed meals, cotton and even wheat and other cereals (mainly maize). In fact, the country was a significant exporter of wheat and maize last in 2013-14.

Green shoots

Amid the farm protests, the Commerce Ministry data have two bright spots. The first is bumper crops, aided by good rains and extended winter. The second is global agri-commodity prices rising to a six-and-a-half year high, making exports competitive and imports costlier. Both should help boost farm realisations and incomes.

The current export revival is equally a result of dry weather conditions in major producing countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, Thailand and Vietnam. Russia (world’s largest wheat exporter) and Argentina (No. 1 in soyabean meal and No. 3 in maize) have even announced temporary suspension or taxes on grain shipments in response to high domestic food inflation.

Global prices have also been buoyed by Chinese stockpiling. The latter had stepped up imports of everything – from maize, wheat, soyabean and barely to sugar and milk powder – to build strategic food reserves amid geopolitical tensions.

India, on the other hand, hasn’t faced serious weather issues; both 2019 and 2020 recorded surplus monsoon rainfall along with timely onset of winter. Farmers harvested a bumper rabi crop during April-June, enabled by the government exempting agriculture-related activities from lockdown restrictions.  They look set to repeat the performance in the coming season as well, on the back of fully recharged groundwater tables and low temperatures conducive for high yields of wheat, mustard, chickpea and lentils. That should also help exports – notwithstanding the ongoing farm protests against the Centre’s recent agricultural reform laws.

The country experienced a sustained farm export boom during the previous United Progressive Alliance regime. Between 2003-04 and 2013-14, these zoomed from a mere $7.53 billion to $43.25 billion, basically rising on a bull run in global commodity prices.

With a collapse of that boom, just about when the new Narendra Modi government took over, exports nosedived to $32.81 billion in 2015-16. They recovered somewhat to $39.20 by 2018-19, before falling again to $35.60 billion in 2019-20.

The current revival, if it sustains, can help prop up crop prices when the next rabi harvest is due from March. And that may be politically useful in a context of farm unrest.

Benefit of the News– About Agricultural exports.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/farm-exports-india-covid-19-2020-7175200/

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