Current Affairs 23rd April

We expect national plan from Centre on oxygen, drugs: SC #GS2 #Governance

Taking note of the ‘grim’ situation created by the massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, the Supreme Court said it expected the Centre to come out with a ‘national plan’ to deal with proper distribution of oxygen and essential drugs for patients.

Observing that oxygen to patients infected with the virus was said to be an “essential part” of treatment, the court said it seemed that a certain amount of “panic” had been generated, due to which people had approached several High Courts seeking relief related to the prevailing situation.

A Bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, which took suo motu cognisance on the issue of distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic, said prima facieit was of the view that the distribution must be done in an “even handed manner” according to the advice of the health authorities.

“In these circumstances, we direct that notices be issued to the Union government, the State governments /Union Territories and the parties, who appeared to have approached the High Courts to show cause why uniform orders be not passed by this court in relation to a) supply of oxygen; b) supply of essential drugs; c) method and manner of vaccination; and d) declaration of lockdown.

The court said it was of the opinion that the Centre should respond, including on the existence or otherwise and requirement of setting up of a coordinating body to consider allocation of the above resources in a consultative manner (with the involvement of the concerned States and the Union Territories).

Centre cracks down on curbs to oxygen movement #GS2 #Governance

The Centre invoked the Disaster Management Act making the District Magistrates and Senior Superintendent of Police personally liable to ensure unhindered inter-State movement of vehicles carrying medical oxygen and to not restrict the supply to a particular State where the oxygen plant is located.

The order comes hours after Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia alleged that the governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were blocking the supply of oxygen to Delhi. Delhi procures medical oxygen from neighbouring districts in these States.

The Union Home Secretary is the Chairman of the National Executive Committee under the DM Act, 2005. The 2005 legislation was invoked for the first time in March 2020 to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic after it came into being in the wake of the tsunami disaster.

“No restriction shall be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the States, and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-State movement of oxygen carrying vehicles.”

“No restrictions shall be imposed on oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit supplies only to the hospitals of the State/UT in which they are located.”

The order added that there shall be free movement of oxygen carrying vehicles into cities, without any restriction of timings, while also enabling inter-city supply without any restriction and “no authority shall attach the oxygen carrying vehicles passing through the district or areas for making supplies specific to any particular district(s) or area”.

Oxygen trains to set off for Maharashtra, U.P. #GS3 #SnT

Amid a severe shortage of medical oxygen, the Indian Railways said two Oxygen Express trains carrying tankers loaded with liquid medical oxygen would begin their journey from Andhra Pradesh to Maharashtra and from Jharkhand to Uttar Pradesh by night.

“Indian Railway is running Oxygen Express in response to its fight against Covid-19. Oxygen Expresses are getting prepared to leave with Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) from Visakhapatnam and Bokaro today for Maharashtra and U.P. respectively. The tankers are being transported on roll on, roll off (Ro-Ro) services.

An Oxygen Express was sent from Lucknow to Bokaro, via Varanasi, to load liquid oxygen. For the movement of the train, a green corridor was created between Lucknow and Varanasi. The distance of 270 km was covered by the train in four hours and 20 minutes with an average speed of 62.35 kmph. It added that transportation of oxygen by trains was faster than by road over long distances.

High Court dismisses FB, WhatsApp pleas #GS2 #Governance

The Delhi High Court dismissed plea of instant messaging app WhatsApp challenging a decision of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) calling for an investigation into its controversial new privacy policy.

WhatsApp had contended that since the issue of its privacy policy was before the Supreme Court, the CCI did not need to order the probe. Not only WhatsApp, but social media giant Facebook, which owns the instant messaging app, had also filed a similar petition challenging the competition watchdog’s March 24 decision.

WhatsApp had said the CCI “jumped the gun” and started the probe when this was not a competition issue. It had said the issue with respect to personal data of users, and sharing of personalised data was already before the Supreme Court, hence CCI ought not to have intervened.

The High Court, however, noted that CCI’s order of investigation could not be quashed merely because it did not await the outcome of the pending cases before the Supreme Court and High Court.

Data access

The CCI, on the other hand, had argued the probe order was made to gauge whether access to data would lead to abuse of dominant position. The commission had said it was dealing with the instant messaging app’s new privacy policy that could lead to “excessive data collection” of consumers, the use and sharing of the data in anti-competitive context.

The commission had said it was not concerned with the privacy aspect of the issue as the Supreme Court was already seized of it.

India joins search for submarine #GS3 #Defence

The Indian Navy dispatched its deep submergence rescue vessel (DSRV) from Visakhapatnam to support the Indonesian Navy in the search and rescue efforts for its submarine KRI Nanggala that went missing with 53 personnel aboard.

“Spoke to the Defence Minister of Indonesia, General Prabowo Subianto over the phone and shared my pain over the news of missing submarine Nanggala and its crew members. India is extending its full support to the ongoing Indonesian rescue efforts. I have already directed the Indian Navy to move its DSRV to Indonesia. I have also tasked the Indian Air Force to see the feasibility of induction of the DSRV intervention system by air

On April 21, an alert was received by the Navy through the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO), regarding the missing Indonesian submarine. The submarine was reportedly exercising in a location 25 miles north of Bali. The DSRV departed by sea and has to cover a distance of approximately 2,500 nautical miles.

Air Chief Marhal Hadi Tjahjanto, Commander of Indonesian armed forces, said KRI Nanggala 402 was participating in a torpedo firing exercise when it went missing. The Indonesian Defence Ministry said the submarine lost contact after being granted clearance to dive.

The Indonesian Navy launched a massive search and rescue effort for the missing submarine and requested assistance from countries in the region. The 53 personnel onboard includes 49 crew members, three gunners and its commander.

Specialised capability

India is amongst the few countries in the world capable of undertaking search and rescue of a disabled submarine through a DSRV, the Navy said.

“Indian Navy’s DSRV system can locate a submarine up to 1,000-metre depth utilising its state-of-the-art side scan sonar and remotely operated vehicle,” it stated, adding that after the submarine is successfully located, another sub module of DSRV — the Submarine Rescue Vehicle (SRV) — links with the submarine to rescue the trapped personnel. The SRV can also be used to provide emergency supplies to the submarine.

The Singapore Navy has already pressed its rescue vessel while Australia too has offered assistance.

‘U.S. will cut emissions by 52% by 2030’ #GS2 #IR

U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50%-52% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, in a clean break with the Trump administration policies on climate action.

Mr. Biden also announced that the U.S. would double, by 2024, its annual financing commitments to developing countries, including a tripling of its adaptation finance by 2024.

The President made the new target announcements at a ‘Leaders Summit on Climate’, which he is hosting on Thursday and Friday and in which 40 heads of state and government are invited — including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Xi Jinping of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

The emissions targets — part of the Paris Agreement on climate — are non-binding and the details of how they will be achieved are not available. However, in announcing the targets, the Biden administration is hoping to encourage other countries to increase their commitments. It is also seeking to bring America back into a leadership role on climate action after Mr. Trump had withdrawn the country from the Paris Agreement.

Mr. Biden’s financing announcements are part of a $100 billion a year commitment from developed countries to developing countries for the period 2020-25, “an investment that is going to pay significant dividends for all of us”, Mr. Biden said.

The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement means it has not yet met its financing commitments either. The Obama administration had promised $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (to help developing countries), only $1 billion has been paid.

Jobs and growth

In selling climate action to the American public, which until recently was governed by an administration sceptical of the climate crisis, President Biden and his administration have linked climate action and clean technology to jobs and economic growth. On Thursday, Mr. Biden extended this message to other countries.

“And meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet. It’s also about providing a better future for all of us. That’s why, when people talk about climate, I think jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation and economic opportunity ready to be fired up,” he said.

“By maintaining those investments and putting these people to work, the United States sets out on the road to cut greenhouse gases in half — in half — by the end of this decade,” Mr. Biden said.

“The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable,” he said. The first guests to speak at the summit were UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Mr. Xi, Mr. Modi, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the U.K. and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.

Modi announces climate partnership with U.S. #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India and the U.S. were launching an energy and climate partnership during U.S. President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, a two-day gathering that included 40 heads of state and government.

“As a climate-responsible developing country, India welcomes partners to create templates of sustainable development in India. These can also help other developing countries, who need affordable access to green finance and clean technologies.

“That is why, President Biden and I are launching the ‘India-U.S. climate and clean energy Agenda 2030 partnership’. Together, we will help mobilise investments, demonstrate clean technologies, and enable green collaborations,” he said.

“Despite our development challenges, we have taken many bold steps on clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and bio-diversity. That is why we are among the few countries whose NDCs are 2-degree-Celsius compatible.

NDCs or Nationally Defined Contributions are targets defined by each country to help achieve the Paris Agreement’s objective of keeping global warming to considerably below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius. India is targeting a 2030 GDP emissions intensity ( i.e., volume of emissions per unit of GDP) that is 33%-35% below 2005 levels. It also seeks to have 40% of power generated from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

Back to basics

Although China, the U.S. and India are the top three emitters of CO2 in absolute terms, the U.S. has a much greater per capita emission statistic than China and India.

“Today, as we discuss global climate action, I want to leave one thought with you. India’s per capita carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global average. It is because our lifestyle is still rooted in sustainable traditional practices. Global economic output and growth in India were decimated last year due to the pandemic.

Industry urges FM to extend timelines for compliance #GS3 #Economy

Industry leaders have urged the government to extend the timelines for compliance under the numerous corporate and taxation laws and to consider repeating some of the support measures that were extended to businesses after the national lockdown in March 2020, given the fresh local restrictions imposed in different parts of the country, including Maharashtra and Delhi.

Observing that the central government had acted swiftly last year and extended the timelines for compliance under various laws, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Sanjay Aggarwal told Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, that the same steps and support measures were required this year too.

Ms. Sitharaman assured industry that its inputs would be considered, a statement from the finance ministry cited her as having said. The minister had also stressed that the way to tackle the current situation was through micro containment zones ‘so that life and livelihood can be protected’.

The government was ‘working arduously for smooth co-ordination between States, hospitals and suppliers of oxygen and vaccines’, Ms. Sitharaman had pointed out.

“Provision of oxygen, vaccines and their logistics to people affected by coronavirus is being ensured, given the recent surge in cases of COVID-19 pandemic across the country,” she was quoted as having said, adding that the government was identifying idle manufacturing capacities for bolstering oxygen supplies.

COVID impacts 82% of small businesses, shows survey #GS3 #Economy

More than 82% of businesses have suffered a negative impact on account of COVID-19 and 70% expect it will take almost a year for demand to recover to pre-pandemic levels. About 60% of the companies surveyed by Dun & Bradstreet said they would require more support measures, including government initiatives, to withstand the adverse impact.

Market access (42%), improving overall productivity (37%) and access to more finance (34%) were cited as the three key challenges that were most likely to hinder small businesses’ recovery.

The survey covered responses from more than 250 small businesses (50% each in manufacturing and services sectors) with annual revenue between Rs. 100 crore and Rs. 300 crore across seven major cities in India. The data indicated that about 95% of firms were impacted in April 2020 when the nationwide lockdown was imposed. Even with progressive unlocking, 70% of businesses remained disrupted till August 2020 and 40% till the end of February 2021.

“During our recent survey, small business owners cited three most important support measures they needed to revive their businesses post the pandemic — better credit facility (59%), better marketing support (48%) and adoption of technology (35%).

RBI plans and an upcoming Bill: Where are digital currencies headed? #GS3 #Economy

Uncertainty over the legal status of cryptocurrencies is unnerving Indian investors who, according to unofficial estimates, hold around $1.5 billion (Rs 10,000 crore) in digital currencies. The government, which plans a law to ban private digital currencies, favours a digital currency backed by the Reserve Bank of India.

While existing investors could get breathing space to exit their holdings in the event of a ban on trading, mining and holding cryptos, the proposed legal structure may seek declarations of holdings and transactions retrospectively from investors and traders.

On the other hand, RBI has indicated it’s “very much in the game”, and getting ready to launch its own digital currency. “Central bank digital currency is a work in progress. The RBI team is working on it, technology side and procedural side…how it will be launched and rolled out,” Governor Shaktikanta Das said recently.

The proposed law

The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, which will prohibit all private cryptocurrencies and lay down the regulatory framework for the launch of an “official digital currency”, was to be introduced in Parliament’s Budget session, but was held up as the government continues discussions with stakeholders.

“We have held extensive deliberations. There is the expert panel’s report, followed by inter-ministerial discussions, meetings by the Cabinet Secretary and submissions by various people concerned. The Bill will take all of that into account,” a senior government official said, without committing to a timeline.

A 3-6 month exit period prior to banning the trading, mining and issuing of cryptos has been discussed in inter-ministerial discussions. The high-power inter-ministerial committee has previously recommended a ban on all private cryptocurrencies. The final draft Bill is yet to go to the Cabinet, a source said.

RBI and digital currency

RBI had said central banks are exploring DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) for application in improving financial market infrastructure, and considering it as a potential technological solution in implementing central bank digital currency (CBDC). Sources indicated the government is open to supporting a central bank-backed digital currency.

A fiat currency cannot have the kind of volatility and fluctuations you see in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. We have an open mind. We are very open to a digital currency, the RBI is working on that,” the official said.

A recent survey of central banks conducted by the Bank for International Settlements found that some 80 per cent of the 66 responding central banks have started projects to explore the use of CBDC in some form, and are studying its potential benefits and implications for the economy.

RBI had expressed concern over other cryptocurrencies, saying they can be used for illegal activities, and pose a threat to financial stability. In April 2018, RBI banned banks and other regulated entities from supporting crypto transactions after digital currencies were used for frauds.

In March 2020, the Supreme Court struck down the ban as unconstitutional. One of the reasons it gave was that cryptocurrencies, though unregulated, were not illegal in India.

Various start-ups dealing with cryptocurrency have come up in India, such as Unocoin in 2013 and Zebpay in 2014 (Tracxn, 2019). But volatility in Bitcoin prices and instances of fraud have underlined regulatory concerns, RBI says.

Both the government and RBI have said they have not authorised or issued regulation for any entity to deal with cryptocurrencies, and individuals dealing with them would bear all risks. RBI has issued several warnings against dealing in cryptocurrencies.

Volatility in prices

Government officials and experts argue cryptocurrency prices are too volatile to serve as a fiat currency — govt issued currency which is not backed by gold or any commodity – even as its proponents say volatility would ebb over time with greater acceptance.

Monark Modi, Founder & CEO, Bitex, a digital asset and cryptocurrency exchange, said, “Since mid-February, Bitcoin has witnessed a phase of drops and consolidation and crossed an all-time high of $61K, reflecting a larger trend. Bitcoin’s price has risen more than 10-fold over the last year.”

While the current price rise can be attributed to the increased institutional exposure to Bitcoin and global progress in fostering a friendlier legislative environment for cryptocurrencies, it is also the net effect of a large supply reduction coupled with increasing demand.

“I hope the speculation around a ban on cryptocurrency in India is over soon, and the government takes note of the growing demand for Bitcoin among investors closer home,” Modi said. Bitcoin has the potential to hit $100K by the end of the year, he said.

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