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Daily Current Affairs

13 -January-2024

1. India Faces Economic Dilemma as Retail Inflation Hits 5.69%, Industrial Production at Eight-Month Low

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy- Issues relating to Growth
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of data on retail inflation, industrial production, and economic challenges in India.
Context:
  • Retail inflation in India reached a four-month high of 5.69% in December, driven mostly by higher prices for staple foods like fruits, vegetables, pulses, and spices, the National Statistical Office (NSO) reported.
  • This month’s increase in headline retail inflation is the second straight, and it represents more than four years of retail inflation continuously rising beyond the 4% threshold—the range the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) set for medium-term inflation targets.
Industrial Production Hits Eight-Month Low in November: Factors at Play:
  • At the same time, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) showed a fall from 11.6% in October of last year to 2.4% in November, an eight-month low.
  • The low growth in capital goods output, mining, manufacturing, and the high-base effect are the reasons for this decline.
  • Rising prices and a slowdown in industrial production could have an impact on the state of the economy as a whole.
Food inflation Hits 9.53% in December: Urban and Rural Disparities
  • The Consumer Food Price Index, which gauges the yearly rate of food inflation, increased significantly from the previous month to 9.53% in December.
  • Food inflation was double digits in urban regions (10.42%) and single digits in rural areas (8.49%).
  • Notably, core inflation which does not include food and fuel—reduced to sub-4% levels in December, marking the first time since the pandemic that this has happened.
Analysts Puzzle over Declining Core Inflation: Economic Implications
  • Core inflation fell to a 48-month low of 3.89% in December, against a backdrop of robust economic growth.
  • This tendency, which many find perplexing, emphasises the paradox of declining core inflation in the face of strong economic growth.
  • A prolonged pause in the rate cycle could result from the RBI’s decision-making process being affected by the drop in core inflation.
Detailed Analysis of Inflation Components: Impact on Various Sectors
  • Breaking down the inflation components, the prices of vegetables increased by 27.64% in December, pulses and spices had inflation rates of 20.73% and 19.69%, respectively.
  • With goods inflation still hovering around 9.5%, analysts were predicting a prolonged pause in the RBI’s interest rate changes. Inflation on apparel and footwear decreased, whereas inflation on housing went up. Both the fuel and light groups continued to be negative.
Regional Variances and Industrial Output: State-wise Inflation Rates
  • There were clear regional differences in inflation rates in December, with rates higher than the national average in nine of the 22 largest states and territories.
  • The states with the highest rates were Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
  • In terms of industrial output, November saw a decrease in growth for manufacturing, which accounts for a sizable amount of the IIP.
  • Different sectors experienced varying rates of growth; some even saw reductions, which could have an effect on the projections for the economy as a whole.
Conclusion:
  • Analysts continue to be apprehensive over the inflation outlook as the nation struggles with growing food prices and a decline in industrial productivity.
  • The fragility of some goods, such as rice, wheat, and pulses, is emphasised due to predicted declines in yearly kharif production and delays in the ongoing rabi sowing season during El Nino conditions.
  • The data points to possible difficulties for decision-makers in maintaining economic growth while moderating inflationary pressures. 
PYQ: Consider the following statements: (2020) 1. The weightage of food in Consumer Price Index (CPI) is higher than that in Wholesale Price Index (WPI). 2. The WPI does not capture changes in the prices of services, which CPI does. 3. Reserve Bank of India has now adopted WPI as its key measure of inflation and to decide on changing the key policy rates. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 and 2 only (b) 2 only (c) 3 only (d) 1, 2 and 3 Ans: (a)
Practice Question: How does the interplay between inflation and industrial production impact the broader socio-economic aspects, and what strategies should policymakers consider for achieving a balanced and sustainable economic growth trajectory. (200 words/12.5 m)

2. India Poised to Surpass Canada as World's Largest Lentil Producer in 2023-24 Crop Year

Topic: GS3 – Agriculture- Major crops, Food Security
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of India’s lentil production and its impact on self-sufficiency.
Context:
  • India is expected to surpass even Canada as the world’s top producer of lentils (masoor) in the 2023–24 crop year, according to Consumer Affairs Secretary.
  • Even though India is among the world’s top five producers of lentils—Canada being the leader—it has always depended on imports to meet domestic demand.
  • This is a significant milestone for the nation as it represents a change from the tapering of lentil production that has been seen since 2017–18, when 1.62 million tonnes was the greatest output recorded.
Higher Acreage and Government Incentives Boost Lentil Production:
  • The nation reports a significant rise in the area under lentil production this year due to government incentives for farmers to grow more pulses.
  • According to data from the Agriculture Ministry, 19.45 lakh hectares would be planted with lentils through January 12, 2024, a 6% rise over the previous year and a notable 37% increase over the typical area planted with lentils.
  • The government’s initiatives to promote lentil farming are responsible for the increased acreage.
Import-Reliant Past and Current Trends: Changing Dynamics:
  • Even though India is the world’s second-largest producer of lentils, it has historically relied on imports to meet domestic demand from nations like Australia, Canada, Russia, Singapore, and Turkey.
  • Recent events, however, point to a change in the dynamics as the nation strives towards self-sufficiency.
  • India imported 9.46 lakh tonnes of lentils for the current fiscal year (2023–24) until October, a notable 159% rise over the same period the previous year.
Global Comparison: Lentil Production Rankings:
  • According to information provided by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the leading producers of lentils in 2022 were Turkey (0.44 million tonnes), Canada (2.3 million tonnes), India (1.26 million tonnes), Australia (0.99 million tonnes), and Russia (0.26 million tonnes).
  • India’s rise to the top of the production hierarchy is indicative of its dedication to raising agricultural yield and attaining food commodity self-sufficiency.
PYQ: With reference to pulse production in India, consider the following statements: (2020)  1.Black gram can be cultivated as both kharif and rabi crop. 2.Green-gram alone accounts for nearly half of pulse production. 3. In the last three decades, while the production of kharif pulses has increased, the production of rabi pulses has decreased. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 only (b) 2 and 3 only (c) 2 only (d) 1, 2 and 3 Ans: (a)
Practice Question: Examine the significance of India’s projected transition to become the world’s largest lentil producer during the 2023-24 crop year. Analyze the key factors contributing to this shift and assess its potential implications on India’s domestic food security. (250 words/15 m)

3. Prime Minister Modi Visits Historic Kala Ram Mandir in Nashik, Resonating with Mythological and Dalit Rights Significance

Topic: GS1 – Indian History- Indian Heritage, Architecture, Modern Indian History- significant events
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of Kala Ram Mandir and its historical and sociopolitical context.
Context:
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi stopped by the Kala Ram Mandir, which is located in the Panchavati region on the banks of the Godavari, following a roadshow in Nashik,
Historical and Mythological Significance of Panchavati: A Link to Ramayana:
  • The Kala Ram Mandir’s location in Panchavati is significant in the Ramayana.
  • The epic states that the first few years of Lord Ram’s fourteen-year exile were spent in Dandakaranya, a thick forest that included Panchavati, alongside Sita and Lakshman.
  • Because of the auspiciousness of the five banyan trees in the area—where Lord Ram erected a hut—the name “Panchavati” comes from these trees.
  • Sita was taken by Ravan from Panchavati.
Dalit Satyagraha at Kala Ram Temple: Ambedkar’s Struggle for Temple Entry Rights:
  • In 1930, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and social activist Pandurang Sadashiv Sane organised a protest at the Kala Ram temple, demanding access for Dalits to Hindu temples.
  • Ambedkar led a sizable demonstration outside the temple on March 2, 1930, during which Dalit demonstrators staged a sit-in and surrounded the property.
  • The satyagraha persisted until 1935 in spite of obstacles and instances of stone-throwing. An important turning point in the fight for Dalits’ ability to enter temples was this movement.
Unique Features of Kala Ram Temple: Unusual Statue and Symbolism
  • The black statue of Lord Ram is the source of the name of the Kala Ram temple (“Kala Ram” means “Black Ram”).
  • The main entrance of the sanctum sanctorum is adorned with a black idol of Hanuman, and within are statues of Ram, Sita, and Lakshman.
  • The temple, which was constructed in 1792 by Sardar Rangarao Odhekar, has 84 pillars that symbolise the cycle of 84 lakh species that one must complete in order to be born as a human, and 14 steps that symbolise the 14 years of Ram’s banishment.
  • The history of the temple is intricately connected with social, historical, and mythical significance. 
Practice Question: How does the Kala Ram temple serve as a symbol of cultural and social integration, reflecting India’s diverse heritage? Assess the contemporary relevance of such historical sites in shaping societal perspectives and fostering inclusivity in the country. (200 words/12.5 m)

4. SC refuses to stay law on selection of CEC, EC.

Topic: GS2 – Indian polity – Parliament – Functioning – Issues arising out of these Crucial for UPSC as it involves a constitutional challenge on the authority to amend a Constitution.
Context:
  • The Supreme Court rejects a stay on a new law removing the Chief Justice of India from the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) appointment committee, prompting legal challenges citing a compromise in the selection process.
Supreme Court’s Decision on CEC Appointment Law:
  • The Supreme Court refused to stay a new law overturning a previous judgment, removing the Chief Justice of India from the CEC appointment committee.
Legal Challenge and Notice Issued:
  • Jaya Thakur, a Congress party leader, challenged the new law, arguing it dilutes the Supreme Court judgment by replacing the CJI with a Union Cabinet Minister.
  • The court issued notice to the Union of India and scheduled the case for hearing in April.
Contentions Against the New Law:
  • Thakur’s petition asserted that excluding the CJI from the committee compromised the independence of the selection process, giving undue influence to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Minister.
  • The petition contended that the new law violates the concept of separation of powers and compromises the free and fair election process.
Comparison with Previous Judgment:
  • The previous judgment had directed the appointment of CEC and ECs through a committee including the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, and Chief Justice of India.
  • The new law replaces this with a committee excluding the CJI, giving more primacy to the government in the appointment process.
Constitutional Challenge:
  • The petitions raise a constitutional question about the authority of the Parliament to nullify or amend a Supreme Court judgment, particularly one from a Constitution Bench.
“Recent Amendments and Issues Associated”
Lack of Transparency and Independence:
  • Government Dominance: The committee comprises the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister. This majority government presence raises concerns about the committee’s ability to select genuinely independent candidates.
  • Exclusion of Judiciary: The Supreme Court’s earlier recommendation to include the Chief Justice of India in the committee was ignored, diminishing judicial oversight and potentially impacting the selection’s impartiality.
Political Influence and Bias:
  • Prime Minister’s Power: The Prime Minister, with the ability to choose a Cabinet Minister on the committee and having the final say with the President, exerts significant influence, potentially swaying selections towards candidates favoring the government.
  • Opposition’s Limited Role: The Leader of Opposition has only one vote in the committee, making their influence minimal, raising concerns about potential marginalization of minority viewpoints.
Constitutional Concerns:
  • Deviation from Supreme Court Judgment: The new law bypasses the Supreme Court’s 2023 ruling mandating a committee with the Chief Justice of India.
  • Erosion of Checks and Balances: Critics argue that the increased government control weakens the Election Commission’s independence, a crucial pillar of India’s electoral democracy.
Other Issues:
  • Lack of Public Consultation: The bill was passed without extensive public consultation, raising concerns about its lack of transparency and democratic legitimacy.
  • Uncertainty about Eligibility Criteria: The bill’s provisions regarding eligibility for CEC and EC positions remain unclear, potentially opening doors for political appointments based on favoritism rather than merit.
Practice Question: Critically analyze the potential impact of the “CEC and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023” on the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission of India. (250 words/15 m)

5. Science Ministry team visits Hawaii to take stock of telescope project

Topic: GS3 – Science and Technology – Development & their applications
The TMT project’s challenges and international collaboration highlight geopolitical, scientific, and environmental considerations, relevant for UPSC aspirants. 
Context:
  • The Department of Science and Technology delegation visited Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to address challenges to the global Thirty Meter Telescope project, facing local opposition.
  • Alternate sites, including Spain’s Canary Islands, are being considered.
Additional information on this news:
  • An official delegation from the Department of Science and Technology visited Mauna Kea in Hawaii to discuss challenges to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project.
  • The TMT is a joint collaboration involving institutions from the U.S., Japan, China, Canada, and India, with India contributing hardware worth $200 million.
  • Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano, hosts multiple telescopes, but there is local opposition to new projects, citing violations of religious and cultural customs.
  • Permits for constructing the TMT were invalidated by the Supreme Court of Hawaii in 2015 but were restored in 2018. Construction has not begun due to continued local opposition.
  • There are plans to consider an alternate site, with the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM) in Spain’s Canary Islands being a potential choice.
  • In 2020, the then-Secretary of the DST, Ashutosh Sharma, expressed a preference for an alternate site if all necessary procedures and permits were in place.
  • The Mauna Kea site is considered the world’s best for astronomy, and discussions are ongoing to find a consensus and gain local support for the TMT project.
  • The director of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAP) stated that decisions on the site are expected to be firm within the next two years.
More about Thirty Meter Telescope project
  • The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a cutting-edge astronomical observatory project.
  • It aims to build a telescope with a primary mirror diameter of 30 meters, allowing for unprecedented observational capabilities.
  • The TMT is a collaborative effort involving institutions from the United States, Canada, China, India, and Japan.
  • Proposed location: Mauna Kea in Hawaii, but faced opposition due to environmental and cultural concerns, leading to legal challenges and protests.
  • The project’s scientific goals include studying the early universe, galaxy formation, and the characterization of exoplanets.
  • TMT promises advancements in astrophysics, providing insights into fundamental questions about the cosmos.
  • Despite delays and controversies, efforts persist to move forward with construction.
PYQ: Launched on 25th December, 2021, James Webb Space Telescope has been much in the news since then. What are its unique features which make it superior to its predecessor Space Telescopes? What are the key goals of this mission? What potential benefits does it hold for the human race? (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2022)

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