Current Affairs 6th April

Lavrov-Jaishankar talks today #GS2 #IR

An important round of discussion between India and Russia will take place between the visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. Mr. Lavrov who will be accompanied by Moscow’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov is expected to brief the Indian side about the Russian plans regarding the difficult peace process underway in Afghanistan.

Tuesday’s meeting will provide India with a window to share its frank assessment about the continuing scenario in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control.

Mr. Lavrov’s visit will coincide with the tour of India by the U.S. President Joe Biden’s Envoy for Climate John Kerry. The U.S. Embassy’s spokesperson said on Monday that Washington views “India as an important partner on future clean energy research, development, and deployment”.

Mr. Lavrov had visited China in March where both countries put up a joint front against the United States. India, on the other hand, has called upon China to withdraw from the remaining friction points along the LAC following the spirit of disengagement that was achieved at Pangong Tso earlier.

Mr. Kabulov’s presence in the discussion will provide a first hand briefing on the latest Russian moves on the Afghan front. He has argued for engaging the Taliban of Afghanistan for a fruitful negotiation.

Updates on talks

Russia held a summit on Afghanistan on March 18 where India was not invited. Tuesday’s meeting is, therefore, being interpreted as a Russian move to update New Delhi about the latest on the issue. Mr. Lavrov is expected to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his April 5-6 visit which will conclude on Tuesday afternoon with his departure for Pakistan, where he will meet Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Another major item that is expected to feature in the talks is the pending delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defence system to India.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd James Austin III during his latest visit to New Delhi had said that he had not raised the issue of sanctions with the Indian side. India is expected to receive the first S-400 system later this year.

The delivery may attract U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. On the visit of President Biden’s climate envoy, the U.S. Embassy spokesperson said, “A key focus for our a0dministration is supporting and encouraging India’s decarbonisation efforts through clean, zero and low-carbon investment, and supporting India in mitigating its fossil energy use.”

‘India delayed second wave, can contain economic impact’ #GS3 #Economy

Though India is in the middle of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, with a new peak of over 1 lakh cases reported, the Finance Ministry stressed that the country had been able to delay the onset of the second wave and was well armed to cope with downside risks to the economy.

“The gap between the first peak to start of the second wave has been 151 days in India, while it was much lower in other countries. This implies the readiness of the health infrastructure and awareness of the standard operating protocols at this time,” the Ministry said in its monthly economic report for March.

Five-fold strategy

“India is emphasising on a five-fold strategy to curb the tide of new cases — exponential increase in testing, effective isolation and contact tracing of those infected, reinvigoration of public and private healthcare resources, ensuring of COVID-appropriate behaviour and targeted approach to vaccination in districts reporting large numbers, adding that a fast vaccine roll-out would bolster the battle against the virus. “Despite the surge in cases, the recovery in economy is resilient with sustained improvement in a majority of high-frequency indicators.

Predicting a strong revival in investment growth supported by the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Mission and the infrastructure and capital expenditure impetus provided in the Union Budget for 2021-22 “The wheels of India’s capex cycle have been set into motion, signs of which were imminent in the second half of the year.”

Panacea Biotec to make 100 million doses of Sputnik V #GS3 #SnT

Vaccine and pharma major Panacea Biotec has joined a growing list of Indian firms cleared to produce Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine against COVID-19.

The firm will produce 100 million doses per year of Sputnik V, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF (Russian Direct Investment Fund) said, announcing its fifth such partnership with vaccine makers in India. The RDIF, however, did not mention when the firm is likely to begin production of the two-dose adenoviral-based vector vaccine, with a reported efficacy of 91.6%.

Registered in 59 countries, Sputnik V in India awaits emergency use authorisation from the subject expert committee (SEC) that advises the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). The regulator last week deferred a decision on grant of emergency use authorisation.

A statement from RDIF said production of Sputnik V at Panacea Biotec sites will help facilitate global supply of the vaccine to its international partners.

Panacea Biotec Managing Director Rajesh Jain said the company will produce the Russian vaccine at its internationally accredited facilities complying with strict GMP standards and prequalified by WHO.

With this, RDIF has formed partnerships for production of 850 million doses of Sputnik V in India. The first tie-up was with Hetero Biopharma in November, while the collaboration with Gland Pharma, Stelis Biopharma and Virchow Biotech was announced last month. For the clinical trials and distribution in the country, it has partnered with pharma major Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories.

Highlighting the advantages of Sputnik V, RDIF said the storage temperature of 2 to 8 degree Celsius means the vaccine can be stored in a conventional refrigerator without need for additional cold-chain infrastructure. At less than $10 a shot, the vaccine is affordable.

Farm unions protest FCI’s direct payment orders #GS3 #Economy

Recent orders from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) have led to a new flashpoint in the ongoing farmers protests, with farm unions warning that the Centre’s insistence on direct payment and tenancy documentation could derail the crop procurement process.

Farm unions affiliated to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha protested outside the FCI offices in Punjab and Haryana, as well as some locations in other States such as Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Declaring it as FCI Bachao Divas (or Save FCI Day), farmers demanded an immediate withdrawal of the recent orders.

The government should roll back the provision of direct payment to the bank account. Implementing it in haste can lead to many complex problems that will exclude so many farmers from getting their price of the crop.

The FCI has insisted that direct payment to farmers’ bank accounts, bypassing the powerful arhatiyas or commission agents, will lead to greater transparency and accountability. Since arhatiyas play a key role in the Punjab and Haryana farm ecosystem by providing farm loans, the move has been opposed by a large section of farmers, as well as the Punjab government.

Another FCI order stipulates that tenant farmers and sharecroppers must produce a jamabandhi, or legal agreement proving that they have the right to till leased land, in order to get paid for procured crops. Thousands of sharecroppers do not have such agreements and will be hit hard by this move. SKM is demanding that this order be withdrawn as well.

The FCI’s fresh proposals to tighten quality requirements for wheat and paddy procurement from the next marketing season are also being opposed.

At a broader level, farmers connected their issues with the FCI with their existing demands to repeal the farm laws and enact a legal guarantee for procurement of all crops and minimum support prices.

‘Private control’

“The Acts will increase control of the private sector in food grains storage, cold storage, food processing and marketing.

Ultimately the government plans to wind up subsidised food distribution under [the Public Distribution System] and reduce it to a cash transfer scheme under pressure from the [World Trade Organisation] and imperialist countries like the U.S.A. It also plans to sell off the FCI warehouses to the private sector to pay off the debts, accusing the Centre of reducing the FCI’s budget and procurement centres in recent years.

‘INS Viraat now private property of ship-breaker’ #GS3 #Defence

INS Viraat , the Navy’s decomissioned aircraft carrier, has become the “private property” of a ship-breaker who has already torn down 40% of its body, chiefly for scrap, the Supreme Court told a private company, that wants to turn the vessel into a maritime museum-cum-adventure centre.

On February 10, the court had ordered a stay on the process of dismantling the ship. The carrier was bought by the Gujarat-based Shree Ram Group, a ship-breaking firm, in a bid. The 67-year-old iconic warship was towed to the breaking yard after over three decades’ service in the Navy.

Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited, represented by Vishnukant Sharma and Rupali Vishnukant Sharma, had first approached the Bombay High Court with a proposal to reclaim the aircraft carrier and convert it into a museum.

The HC had asked the government to take a call. But the government had maintained a non-commital tone and asked Envitech to approach the Shree Ram Group with a proposal to re-purchase the ship.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan for Shree Ram Group, asked the court to lift the stay order. Ms. Sharma said warships the world around are used as museums. “We share your sentiments about warships. But it ( Viraat ) has become their property. They have spent money on it.

Govt. amends nine laws via ordinance #GS3 #Economy

In as many as nine laws, the Centre has replaced the existing appellate authorities and vested those powers in the High Courts through an ordinance, the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021.

These laws are Cinematograph Act; Copyright Act; Customs Act; Patents Act; Airports Authority of India Act; Trade Marks Act; Geographical Indications of Goods (registration and protection) Act; Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act and Control of National Highways (land and traffic) Act.

The tenures of Chairperson and members of Tribunals were also amended. The tenure of Chairperson has been fixed for a term of four years or till the age of 70, whichever is earlier.

Railways completes arch closure of Chenab bridge #GS1 #Geography

The Railways said it had completed the arch closure of the 1315m Chenab bridge, the world’s highest railway bridge.

Terming it one of the biggest civil engineering challenges faced by any project in India, the Railways added that at 359m above the river bed level, the bridge would be 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The Chenab bridge is part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link project (USBRL) and completion of the steel arch is an important construction milestone.

Most difficult part

This was one of the most difficult part of the bridge over Chenab. This achievement is a major leap towards the completion of the 111-km-long winding stretch from Katra to Banihal. The arch consists of steel boxes, which will be filled with concrete to improve stability. The bridge is being built at a cost of Rs. 1,486 crore and can withstand high wind speed up to 266 km per hour.

Flexible inflation targeting working well, says FinMin #GS3 #Economy

The flexible inflation targeting monetary policy regime has been successful in leashing the inflation rate within a range along with providing a favourable environment for economic growth, the finance ministry said, explaining its decision to stick to the same ‘tried and tested’ model.

The government last week retained the 4% inflation target with upper and lower tolerance bounds of 6% and 2% respectively, adopted first in 2016, for the five-year period from April 2021 to March 2026. While the repo rate dipped from 6.5% in October 2016 to 4% by March 2021, headline inflation averaged 3.9% during this period compared with 7.5% during 2013-16, the ministry pointed out.

The flexible inflation targeting led to a decline in price fluctuations, halved the volatility of core inflation, and moderated the median inflation expectations of urban households over a one-year ahead horizon. Volatility in interest rate and exchange rate also decreased during 2017-20, the ministry said in its monthly economic report for March.

“Until the pre-COVID period, there was only one occasion [Q4 of 2019-20] when inflation exceeded the upper tolerance level,” the ministry said. “The breach was due to a sharp spike in food inflation [9.7%] on a combination of adverse developments, i.e., the late withdrawal of the monsoon, unseasonal rains and associated supply disruptions,

Manufacturing PMI dips to 7-month low on renewed COVID-19 lockdowns #GS3 #Economy

India’s factory activity grew at its weakest pace in seven months in March as renewed lockdowns to curtail a resurgence in COVID-19 cases dampened domestic demand and output, a private survey showed, forcing firms to cut headcount again.

Last week, the Indian government advised States to try and control the rapid spread of the virus. Tighter restrictions on activity suggest factories could be in for a tough April.

Expansion slows

The Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index, compiled by IHS Markit, declined to a seven-month low of 55.4 last month from February’s 57.5, but remained above the 50-level separating growth from contraction for an eighth straight month.

Despite foreign orders growing at a faster pace in March, a sub-index tracking overall demand declined to its lowest since August 2020. Output also grew at its weakest pace in seven months.

“Survey participants indicated that demand growth was constrained by the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the rise in input buying was curtailed by an intensification of cost pressures,” said Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at IHS Markit.

“With COVID-19 restrictions expanded and lockdown measures re-introduced in many States, Indian manufacturers look set to experience a challenging month in April,” she added.

Rate of lay-offs intensify

Although Asia’s third-largest economy was predicted to grow at a faster pace this fiscal year than previously thought, according to a Reuters poll published last week, a significant majority of economists said a surge in coronavirus cases was the biggest risk to the outlook.

After a year-long spree of job cuts, factories intensified the rate of lay-offs to its strongest in six months in March.

Both input and output prices increased at a slower pace last month, signalling overall inflation that accelerated to a three-month high in February might ease and stay within the RBI’s inflation target of 2-6%.

That would help the central bank maintain its accommodative policy stance to support economic growth but optimism about the year ahead waned.

“While predictions that the vaccination programme will curb the disease and underpin output growth in the year ahead meant that business confidence remained positive, growing uncertainty over the near-term outlook due to a rise in COVID-19 cases dragged sentiment to a seven-month low

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