Current Affairs 19th February

Quad meet: India, U.S. call for rule of law in Myanmar #GS2 #IR

India joined Australia, Japan and the United States for a ministerial meeting under the quadrilateral grouping where key issues, including Myanmar, came up for discussion.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the military takeover in Myanmar featured in the talks and participants reiterated democratic values for the region. India also emphasised in its statement that the meeting expressed commitment to “upholding rules-based international order” and “peaceful resolution of disputes”.

The leaders referred to the military crackdown in Myanmar, with the U.S. highlighting “the urgent need to restore the democratically elected government in Burma, and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience in the broader region”. 

Significantly, the U.S. statement referred to Myanmar as Burma, the name that Naypyitaw had stopped using since 1989 after a brutal crackdown against the democratic movement. “In the discussion pertaining to developments in Myanmar, the upholding of rule of law and the democratic transition was reiterated by India.

Benefit of the NewsMyanmar Crisis

‘Polluted air killed 54,000 in Delhi’ #GS3 #Environment

Air pollution claimed approximately 54,000 lives in Delhi in 2020, according to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis of cost to the economy due to air pollution. Six Indian cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Lucknow — feature in the global analysis.

Globally, approximately 1,60,000 deaths have been attributed to PM (particulate matter) 2.5 air pollution in the five most populous cities — Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo.

The damage is “equally worrying” in other Indian cities. “An estimated 25,000 avoidable deaths in Mumbai in 2020 have been attributed to air pollution. Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad estimated an approximate 12,000, 11,000, and 11,000 avoidable deaths respectively due to polluted air.

According to the report, the ‘Cost Estimator’, an online tool that estimates the real-time health impact and economic cost from fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) air pollution in major world cities, was deployed in collaboration between Greenpeace Southeast Asia, IQAir and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Using real-time ground-level PM 2.5 measurements collated in IQAir’s database, the algorithm applies scientific risk models in combination with population and public health data to estimate the health and economic costs of air pollution exposure.

Cost to economy

To show the impact of air pollution-related deaths on the economy, the approach used by Greenpeace is called ‘willingness-to-pay’ — a lost life year or a year lived with disability is converted to money by the amount that people are willing to pay in order to avoid this negative outcome, a release from Greenpeace said. The cost estimator also sustained the estimated air pollution-related economic losses of Rs. 1,23,65,15,40,000.

No time to lose

“Despite a temporary reprieve in air quality owing to the lockdown, the latest figures from the report underscore the need to act immediately. The need of the hour is to rapidly scale up renewable energy, bring an end to fossil fuel emissions and boost sustainable transport systems

Last July, Greenpeace said that of the 28 global cities studied, Delhi bore the highest economic cost of air pollution with an estimated loss of 24,000 lives in the first half of 2020 despite a strict COVID-19 lockdown. In Mumbai, air pollution from PM 2.5 and NO2was responsible for the loss of an estimated 14,000 lives since January 1, 2020.

Benefit of the NewsPollution air matter in Greenpeace

WhatsApp messaging users on privacy #GS3 #Security

WhatsApp, which faced a severe backlash over the latest update to its privacy policy, will now leverage its own platform to reach out to users directly via the “status” feature, while also putting up banners on the application, to share detailed information on the proposed policy updates. WhatsApp’s new policy was to come into effect on February 8.

It has since clarified that this update does not expand its ability to share data with Facebook. It stressed that this update does not change the privacy of people’s personal conversations and is about “optional business features”.

The company said during this time, some people may check out other apps to see what they have to offer.

“We’ve seen some of our competitors try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages — if an app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default that means they can read your messages.”

It said while other apps say they are better because they know even less information than WhatsApp, it believes that people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data.

We have reflected on what we could have done better here. We want everyone to know our history of defending end-to-end encryption and trust we are committed to protecting people’s privacy and security. We’re now using our Status feature to share our values and updates directly within WhatsApp. We’ll be doing much more to make our voice clear going forward.

Benefit of the NewsWhatsApp private policy

More roads on Arunachal border #GS3 #Defence

The Union government has given the go-ahead for critical infrastructure development in Arunachal Pradesh at an estimated cost of more than Rs. 1,100 crore. It would include construction of roads and 18 foot-tracks measuring 598 km.

The official said most projects were earmarked in areas along the China border in north and northeast part of Arunachal. Arunachal shares its longest border with China, followed by Myanmar and Bhutan.

Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, who is an MP from Arunachal, said the pace of development along the China border had picked up after 2014.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in December 2020, cleared a proposal for “development of critical infrastructure” in Arunachal Pradesh “at a cost of Rs. 1162.19 crore”. China has made rapid strides in border areas of Arunachal by setting up new villages and a labyrinth of road network.

Arduous task

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel took around 21 days to march on foot to the last patrolling point at the Arunachal-China border due to lack of road and foot-tracks. India and China recently reached a consensus to withdraw from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake) in eastern Ladakh after a 10-month face-off.

The build-up continues in other areas in Ladakh- Depsang, Demchok, Gogra-Hotsprings and Galwan Valley, where patrolling by Indian troops within India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been blocked by the Chinese troops.

In September 2020, the CCS cleared a proposal for construction of 32 roads under phase II of the Indo-China Border Roads (ICBR) scheme. The roads, measuring 638.12 km and amounting to Rs. 12,434.90 crore, are to come up in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Many delays

The first phase was initiated in 2005, when it was decided that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) would construct 27 priority roads totalling 608 km along China areas at an estimated cost of Rs. 912 crore and other 14 roads will be built by agencies such as the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

The first phase has missed several deadlines, and in November 2017, at the height of the Doklam crisis, the Cabinet sanctioned another Rs. 3482.52 crore to complete the construction of roads by December 2020.

According to a December 2019 report of a parliamentary standing committee, in all 137 roads are to be built along the China border in three phases- 41 under phase-I, 46 under phase-II and 50 in phase-III.

Benefit of the NewsAbout Arunachal border situation

PM moots special visa scheme for medical staff in South Asia #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at a workshop on “COVID-19 management: exchange of good practices in tackling pandemic and the way forward” with nine neighbouring countries, suggested that they consider creating a special visa scheme for doctors and nurses so that they can travel quickly within the region during health emergencies, on the request of the receiving country.

India is hosting a Secretary-level virtual meeting on COVID-19 management with the countries including Pakistan. It is being chaired by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

The Prime Minister suggested that the Civil Aviation Ministries could coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for contingencies, and countries could come together to create a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among our populations.

Highlighting the work done during the pandemic, he said that when it hit the world last year, many experts voiced special concern about our densely populated region.

But, from the very beginning, we all met this challenge with a coordinated response. In March, we were the first to come together for recognising the threat and committing to fight it together. Many other regions and groups followed our early example.

Today, the hopes of our region and the world are focused on rapid deployment of vaccines. In this too, we must maintain the same cooperative and collaborative spirit.”

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan delivered the valedictory address at the meet which saw the participation of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, the Seychelles and Sri Lanka.

Sources said all countries including Pakistan supported the PM’s proposals and suggested a structured discussion for regional cooperation to take them forward.

Benefit of the NewsIndia Building Better relation with South Asian countries.

Biometric authentication to benefit farmers: Centre #GS3 #Economy

In a bid to cut out the middleman and ensure greater transparency in the procurement of farm produce, the Centre is encouraging the States to deploy biometric authentication of farmers. The practice, already adopted in Uttar Pradesh and set to be rolled out in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha this year, will aid in tracking the end-use beneficiary.

The initiative comes at a time when farmers are agitating for a legal guarantee that all their crops will be procured at a minimum support price (MSP) and demanding the repeal of three farm reform laws that they believe will weaken the current system of procurement at State-run markets. 

In States such as Punjab and Haryana, where the agitation has been the strongest, middlemen who act as commission agents or arhitiyas are a key part of the procurement process at these mandis. The Centre had already taken steps to roll out online payments to farmers who sell their produce to the government.

It had directed the State governments of Haryana and Punjab to ensure payments in e-mode from the upcoming season, and was expecting all the States to follow suit this year.

The next step was the biometric authentication scheme that Uttar Pradesh had already rolled out.

“The entire process of procurement has to be made faster. Once you have data of farmers available and once they are bio-authenticated, the entire details are digitally available to the procurement machinery, the kind of crop he is cultivating, the kind of landholding he has, all the details are available.

This initiative reduced the need for extensive paperwork, prevented leakages and speeded up process of procurement, with payment settlement being completed within 72 hours.

The other advantage is that the farmer gets a receipt for his goods, showing the quantity and the MSP price, so nobody can cheat the farmer. He did not respond to a query whether bio authentication would be mandatory for farmers to participate in the procurement process.

Benefit of the NewsReforms in farming

Russia’s Kalashnikov may make AK-203 rifle in India #GS3 #Economy

Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov plans to start making its AK-203 assault rifle in India this year and wants to attract a wider audience with a hi-tech shotgun. Named after the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle that has been used for decades in wars around the world, Kalashnikov has been seeking new business and markets after being hit by U.S. and EU sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

It is targeting a 60% increase in annual revenue to more than 50 billion roubles ($675.33 million) by 2025. Featuring a built-in computer, the Ultima shotgun envisages Wi-FI and bluetooth connectivity and can synchronise with smartphones.

Also central to Kalashnikov’s growth plans is India, where it aims to produce 6.7 lakh AK-203 rifles in the next decade together with the Indian Defence Ministry.

Benefit of the NewsIndia- Russia relations

What is PM WANI scheme?

Cleared by the Union Cabinet in December, the PM WANI scheme aims to bring large-scale deployment of WiFi hotspots throughout the country for better connectivity options and to improve digital access. This is essentially a nationwide network of public WiFi hotspots, termed public data offices (PDOs) after the public call office (PCO) concept rolled out by the Indian government to set up a nationwide network of landline public pay-phones. It will not involve any license, fee or registration.

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