Current Affairs 8th April

India adds over 1 lakh cases for the second day in a row #GS3 #SnT

India reported 1,14,352 new COVID-19 cases and 624 deaths as of 9.30 p.m. on Wednesday. This is the second day in a row that the country has crossed the one- lakh mark.

The figures do not include data from Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Sikkim and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The data were sourced from , an independent aggregator of daily figures.

The rise in cases in the past two days was primarily due to a record number of tests on Monday and Tuesday. More than 12 lakh daily tests were conducted on both these days. The last time the daily tests crossed the 12-lakh mark was on November 28, 2020.

Maharashtra (14%) and Uttar Pradesh (13%) led the list in terms of the absolute number of new tests conducted in these two days. However, in terms of tests conducted relative to the population size, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand were the front-runners.

The country has so far reported a total of 1,29,14,148 cases and 1,66,832 deaths.

Maharashtra reported 59,907 infections, accounting for nearly 52% of the new cases, on Wednesday, followed by Karnataka (6,976) and Uttar Pradesh (6,023). Maharashtra also recorded the most casualties (322), followed by Punjab (62) and Uttar Pradesh (40).

Vaccination doses

The number of vaccine doses administered exceeded the 8.5-crore mark, with 8,70,77,474 shots given as of 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The number of daily vaccinations recovered from the low figures recorded during the last few days of March and peaked at 42 lakh doses on April 2.

However, since then, the pace of vaccinations has fallen again. As of 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 13.14 lakh vaccine doses were administered across India.

RBI keeps policy rates unchanged #GS3 #Economy

The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously to leave the policy repo rate unchanged at 4%, Governor Shaktikanta Das announced on Wednesday.

“It also unanimously decided to continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary to sustain growth on a durable basis and continue to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward,” he added.

Observing that the economic prospects for 2021-22 had strengthened with the progress of the vaccination programme, Mr. Das said the recent surge in infections had, however, “imparted greater uncertainty to the outlook and it needs to be closely watched, especially as localised and regional lockdowns could dampen the recent improvement in demand conditions and delay the return of normalcy.”

The MPC had, therefore, decided to retain the accommodative policy stance “till the prospects of sustained recovery” were well secured, he added.

Mr. Das stressed that the focus must now be on containing the spread of the virus as well as on economic revival by consolidating the gains achieved so far and sustaining the impulses of growth in the new financial year.

A key aspect of this strategy will be to strengthen the bedrock of macroeconomic stability that has anchored India’s revival from the pandemic. This will help stakeholders in taking efficient spending decisions over longer horizons, thereby improving the investment climate.

Optimistic surge

RBI is optimistic about a pick-up in demand and expansion of business activity this year. Rural demand remains buoyant and record agriculture production in 2020-21 bodes well for its resilience. Urban demand has gained traction and should get a fillip with the ongoing vaccination drive.

Taking various factors into consideration, the projection of real GDP growth for 2021-22 has been retained at 10.5% consisting of 26.2% in Q1; 8.3% in Q2; 5.4% in Q3; and 6.2% in Q4.

The RBI Governor said that while headline inflation at 5.0% in February 2021 remained within the tolerance band, some underlying constituents were testing the upper tolerance level. Taking into consideration various factors, the RBI had revised the projection for CPI inflation to 5.0% in Q4 of 2020-21; 5.2 % in Q1 of 2021-22; 5.2% in Q2; 4.4% in Q3; and 5.1% in Q4, with risks broadly balanced, he said.

Based on its experience last year, the RBI had also decided to put in place a secondary market G-sec acquisition programme or G-SAP 1.0, whereby the central bank would commit upfront to a specific amount of open market purchases of government securities with a view to enabling a stable and orderly evolution of the yield curve amid comfortable liquidity conditions.

The endeavour will be to ensure congenial financial conditions for the recovery to gain traction,” Mr. Das said. For Q1, it had been decided to announce a G-SAP of Rs. 1 lakh crore. The first purchase of government securities for an aggregate amount of Rs. 25,000 crore under G-SAP 1.0 would be conducted on April 15.

Govt. mulling ways to boost yield from poppy #GS3 #Economy

The Union government has decided to rope in the private sector to commence production of concentrated poppy straw from India’s opium crop to boost the yield of alkaloids, used for medical purposes and exported to several countries.

Among the few countries permitted to cultivate the opium poppy crop for export and extraction of alkaloids, India currently only extracts alkaloids from opium gum at facilities controlled by the Revenue Department in the Finance Ministry. This entails farmers extracting gum by manually lancing the opium pods and selling the gum to government factories.

The Ministry has now decided to switch to new technologies, after trial cultivation reports submitted last year by two private firms showed higher extraction of alkaloids using the concentrated poppy straw (CPS).

Indoor greenhouses

“While alkaloid extraction from the current opium crop using the CPS was found more than opium gum, it is possible to have two or three crop cycles in one year if we use CPS varieties of seeds that can be grown in indoor greenhouses too.

The outcome of the two trials conducted in the crop years of 2017-18 and 2018-19 were received in February 2020 and June 2020.

India’s opium crop acreage has been steadily declining over the years and using the CPS extraction method is expected to help cut the occasional dependence on imports of products like codeine (extracted from opium) for medicinal uses.

While roping in private players to partner with the government in producing CPS and extracting alkaloids from it is likely to require amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, the Department has decided to appoint a consultant to help frame the bidding parameters and concession agreements for the same.

Partnership model

“The consultant will be required to help frame the modalities for this endeavour, with an appropriate model including public-private partnership (PPP), advise on the changes needed to the rules and laws to facilitate this, and recommend security measures to protect the crop and the final product.

The firms carrying out the trials faced legal hassles in terms of getting relevant licences from the State governments to manufacture bulk alkaloids on their premises, which will need to be ironed out. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are the three traditional opium-growing States, where poppy cultivation is allowed based on licences issued annually by the Central Bureau of Narcotics.

As per the trials’ findings, the imported seeds of certain CPS varieties worked effectively in Indian fields and their narcotic raw material yield was much higher from imported seeds instead of those used currently.

“One of the firms purchased poppy straw of locally cultivated crop to analyse the yield from the same crop with the CPS method. They also cultivated CPS with hydroponic and aeroponic methods under a greenhouse environment. The other firm imported seeds from the U.K. and Australia, and carried out cultivation in association with an agriculture university.

Incentives for solar energy sector #GS3 #Economy

The Union Cabinet approved two production-linked incentive schemes for white goods (air-conditioners and LED lights) and high-efficiency solar photovoltaic modules.

The Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took another step towards the vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) with the approval for the Rs. 6,238-crore PLI scheme for air-conditioners and LEDs.

“The prime objective of the PLI scheme is to make manufacturing in India globally competitive by removing sectoral disabilities, creating economies of scale and ensuring efficiencies. It is designed to create complete component ecosystem in India and make India an integral part of the global supply chains.

White goods

The scheme would extend an incentive of 4% to 6% on incremental sales of goods made in India for five years. The statement said the scheme was estimated to lead to incremental investment of Rs. 7,920 crore over five years and lead to production worth Rs. 1.68 lakh crore, as well as lead to 4 lakh jobs.

The Cabinet also approved a proposal of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy for a PLI scheme for high efficiency solar PV modules with an outlay of Rs. 4,500 crore.

Solar capacity addition presently depends largely upon imported solar PV cells and modules as the domestic manufacturing industry has limited operational capacities of solar PV cells and modules. The National Programme on High Efficiency Solar PV Modules will reduce import dependence in a strategic sector like electricity. It will also support the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative.

The scheme was expected to lead to 10,000 MW of additional capacity of solar PV plants and investment of around Rs. 17,200 crore in solar PV manufacturing projects. The scheme would lead to direct employment of 30,000 people and indirect jobs to 1.2 lakh.

PM to launch vessel for the Seychelles #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over a fast patrol vessel to the Seychelles Coast Guard. The handing over will be part of a high-level virtual interaction between the Indian leader and the President of the Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan.

This is the first interaction between the two leaders since Mr. Ramkalawan won the October 2020 election in the Seychelles. The African archipelago nation has been a steady part of India’s policy for the Indian Ocean region and Mr. Modi visited the country in 2015. India gifted similar vessels to the Seychelles in 2005, 2014 and 2016.

During the event, the leaders will inaugurate a 1 MW solar power plant, and the Magistrates’ Court building project in Mahe, the largest island in the archipelago. The Magistrates’ Court will help the Seychelles in centralising the legal and administrative processes that are spread over different regions of the nation.

Anti-piracy operations

The fast petrol vessel PS Zoroaster will help the Seychelles in carrying out anti-piracy operations. The vessel, built by the Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineering Limited, was delivered to Seychelles on March 16 and will be dedicated to the Seychelles Coast Guard by Prime Minister Modi during the virtual interaction.

The virtual interaction comes weeks after India gifted 50,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine to Seychelles.

RBI extends fresh support of Rs. 50,000 cr. to NABARD, others #GS3 #Economy

To help mitigate the impact of the pandemic and aid economic revival, the RBI said it would extend fresh support of Rs. 50,000 crore to the All India Financial Institutions for new lending in FY22.

Accordingly, NABARD will be provided a special liquidity facility (SLF) of Rs. 25,000 crore for one year to support agriculture and allied activities, the rural non-farm sector and non-banking financial companies-micro finance institutions, the RBI said.

An SLF of Rs. 10,000 crore will be extended to the National Housing Bank for one year to support the housing sector. SIDBI will be provided Rs. 15,000 crore under this facility for up to one year for funding of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). All three facilities will be available at the prevailing policy repo rate.

Signalling the importance of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) to deal with bad loans, the RBI said it would constitute a committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the working of ARCs in the financial sector ecosystem and recommend suitable measures for enabling such entities to meet the growing requirements of the financial sector.

It said while ARCs had grown in number and size, their potential for resolving stressed assets was yet to be realised fully.

A six-month extension to September 30 for Priority Sector Lending (PSL) classification for lending by banks to NBFCs for ‘on-lending’ to sectors that contribute significantly to the economy in terms of export and employment — has been approved. This would provide an impetus to NBFCs providing credit at the bottom of the pyramid.

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