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Daily Current Affairs

17-February-2024- Top News of the Day

1. ED probe finds no FEMA violations in Paytm case.

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government Policies – Issues arising out of their design & implementation. FEMA crucial for UPSC as it assesses candidates’ understanding of economic regulations, global trade impact, and policy implications.
  • Enforcement Directorate finds no Foreign Exchange Management Act violations in Paytm Payments Bank; RBI’s authority remains for non-compliance issues, including Know Your Customer (KYC).
 Additional information on this news:
  • The Enforcement Directorate (ED) found no violations under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) in its inquiry into Paytm Payments Bank Limited (PPBL) transactions.
  • PPBL was barred by the RBI from further deposits and transactions based on a Comprehensive System Audit report and compliance validation reports highlighting persistent non-compliances and supervisory concerns.
  • The deadline for PPBL’s restrictions has been extended from February 29 to March 15.
  • The ED scrutinized over 50 lakh wallets or accounts, revealing no foreign exchange rule contraventions, focusing on KYC compliance and other issues, leaving any potential action in the hands of the RBI.
  • As no scheduled offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) were found, a money laundering probe was not pursued.
Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA)
  • Overview: FEMA is an Indian law regulating foreign exchange and payments.
  • Objective: Ensure stability and control in the foreign exchange market.
  • Enactment: Enforced in 1999, replacing the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) of 1973.
  • Authority: Administered by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
  • Key Aspects: Governs cross-border transactions, currency conversion, and related issues.
  • Violations: Strict penalties for contraventions, including fines and imprisonment.
  • Transactions Covered: Encompasses imports, exports, remittances, and investments.
  • Liberalization: Emphasizes a liberalized approach to promote foreign trade and investment.
  • Amendments: Periodic updates to align with changing economic scenarios and global trends.
PYQ: Examine critically the recent changes in the rules governing foreign funding of NGOs under the Foreign contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 1976. (200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2015)
Practice Question:  Explain the key objectives and regulatory framework of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) in the context of India’s economic policies. (150 words/10 m)

2. INDIA bloc will ensure MSP legal guarantee: Rahul

Topic: GS3– Agriculture – MSP Understanding MSP’s potential impact is crucial for UPSC as it touches upon farmer welfare, food security, fiscal management, and agricultural market dynamics.
  • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pledges legal guarantee for Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for farmers if the INDIA bloc (Opposition alliance) comes to power, addressing ongoing farmer protests.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Rahul Gandhi, Congress leader, promises legal guarantee for Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) if the INDIA bloc (Opposition alliance, including Congress) comes to power.
  • Thousands of farmers currently in a standoff with the Union government, demanding legally guaranteed MSPs; nationwide strike called by Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM).
  • Rahul Gandhi addresses Kishan Nyay Mahapanchayat in Bihar, emphasizing Congress’s history of supporting farmers’ demands.
  • Gandhi pledges to implement the recommendations of the S. Swaminathan report, ensuring higher rates for farmers’ produce.
  • Farmers’ grievances include inadequate prices for crops like paddy, wheat, pulses, and vegetables.
  • The Opposition vows to prioritize farmers’ concerns if voted into power in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
Legal backing to MSP
  • Assured income for farmers: Legal MSP could guarantee a minimum income for farmers, potentially reducing poverty and improving their livelihood.
  • Incentivize production: Knowing a guaranteed price could encourage farmers to invest in inputs and increase production, leading to improved food security.
  • Market stability: Legal MSP could act as a floor price, preventing sharp price fluctuations and protecting farmers from exploitation by middlemen.
  • Reduced post-harvest losses: Farmers might be less likely to resort to distress sales if they are assured a minimum price, potentially reducing food wastage.
  • Negative:
  • Fiscal burden on government: Implementing and sustaining legal MSP could put a significant strain on government finances, especially for crops with high MSPs.
  • Market distortions: Artificially high MSPs could lead to overproduction, creating gluts and inefficiencies in the market.
  • Consumer burden: Higher procurement costs due to MSP could translate to increased food prices for consumers, impacting low-income households.
  • Implementation challenges: Effective implementation of legal MSP might be difficult due to logistical complexities, corruption, and potential black markets.
PYQ: What do you mean by Minimum Support Price (MSP)? How will MSP rescue the farmers from the low income trap? (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2018)
Practice Question:  Critically evaluate the potential implications of providing legal backing to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) scheme in India. (150 words/10 m)

3. Use Chabahar port, India tells Central Asian countries

Topic: GS2 –  International Relations This news is crucial for UPSC as it highlights India’s regional diplomacy, Afghanistan policy, and strategic economic interests in Central Asia.
  • India urges Central Asian nations to utilize Iran’s Chabahar port for enhanced trade connectivity.
  • Deputy National Security Adviser emphasizes an inclusive government in Afghanistan during a regional dialogue in Bishkek.
 Additional information on this news:
  • India encourages Central Asian nations to utilize Iran’s Chabahar port for enhanced connectivity and trade during the Regional Dialogue in Bishkek.
  • Deputy National Security Adviser Vikram Misri emphasizes the need for an “inclusive and representative” government in Afghanistan.
  • India, not recognizing the Taliban regime, focuses on consensus-based approaches towards Afghanistan.
  • Misri invites Central Asian neighbors to use Chabahar port and the Shahid Beheshti terminal for maritime trade, discussing terrorism, drug trafficking, and regional connectivity.
  • India’s non-recognition of the Taliban government is evident through the closure of the old Afghan embassy facilities in Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad.
  • Recent Indian participation in discussions with the Taliban raises eyebrows, while India highlights its legitimate economic and security interests in Afghanistan at the Bishkek dialogue.
Geopolitical Importance of Chabahar Port for India:
  • Bypasses Pakistan: Provides access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan’s territory and reducing dependence on their goodwill for trade routes.
  • Strengthens ties with Iran: Deepens strategic partnership with Iran, a key player in the region.
  • Gateway to Central Asia: Opens up access to resource-rich Central Asian markets, fostering economic cooperation and regional connectivity.
  • Reduces reliance on Suez Canal: Offers an alternative route for trade with Europe, potentially reducing dependence on the Suez Canal and associated vulnerabilities.
  • Strategic location: Situated near Gwadar port, operated by China in Pakistan, holds significance for India’s maritime security interests
PYQ: What is the importance of developing Chabahar Port by India? (2017)  (a) India’s trade with African countries will enormously increase. (b) India’s relations with oil-producing Arab countries will be strengthened. (c) India will not depend on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. (d) Pakistan will facilitate and protect the installation of a gas pipeline between Iraq and India. Ans: (c)
Practice Question:  Examine the geopolitical significance of Chabahar port for India, highlighting its potential benefits and challenges. (150 words/10 m)

4. Chinese Residents Inhabit Xiaokang Border Villages Along India's Northeastern Border, Alarming Indian Authorities

Topic: GS3 – Internal Security – Security challenges and their management in border areas This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of infrastructure development and occupation of border defense villages by China, highlighting the importance of border management and security issues.
  • Recent reports indicate that Chinese nationals have begun occupying several model “Xiaokang” border defense villages along the China-India border in India’s northeastern region.
  • These villages, built by China since 2019, were previously unoccupied until a few months ago.
  • Some of these villages, located opposite the Lohit Valley and the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh, are now being inhabited by residents.
More about the news: Introduction to Xiaokang Border Defense Villages:
  • China has constructed 628 Xiaokang or “well-off villages” along India’s border with the Tibet Autonomous Region over the past five years.
  • These villages, spanning the Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh borders, comprise mostly double-storey, spacious buildings.
  • While the exact purpose of these villages remains unclear, they are believed to serve dual-use infrastructure for both civilian and military purposes, raising concerns within the Indian strategic community regarding Chinese claims along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Legal Status and Implications:
  • A new law concerning China’s land borders came into effect on January 1, 2022, aiming to protect and exploit the country’s border areas.
  • This law, passed by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, emphasizes strengthening border defense, supporting economic and social development, improving public services and infrastructure, and promoting coordination between border defense and socio-economic development in border areas.
  • This law seemingly covers the Xiaokang border defense villages program.
India’s Response and Vibrant Villages Programme:
  • In response, the Indian government launched the Vibrant Villages Programme in 2022 to develop border villages into modern settlements with amenities and tourist attractions.
  • This program builds upon the existing Border Area Development Programme (BADP) under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • The first phase aims to develop 663 border villages, including 17 along the China-India border, such as Zemithang, Taksing, Chayang Tajo, Tuting, and Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh’s eastern part and Tawang region.
Infrastructure Development Along the LAC:
  • China has consistently developed infrastructure along the LAC, including in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang region and the Siang Valley, constructing roads, bridges, and houses.
  • Additionally, China has undertaken infrastructure development in Bhutanese territory.
  • In response, India has focused on strengthening its border infrastructure, improving connectivity with new roads, bridges, and helipads, and developing alternate routes to the LAC while enhancing inter-valley connectivity in the Northeast region.
  • The occupation of Xiaokang border defense villages by Chinese nationals raises concerns about territorial claims and border security, prompting responses from both India and China in terms of infrastructure development and governance initiatives.
Line of Actual Control (LAC)
  • LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese controlled territory.
  • India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
  • LAC is divided into three sectors:
§  Eastern sector (spans Arunachal Pradesh & Sikkim): Boundary dispute over the MacMahon Line. §  Middle sector (Uttarakhand & Himachal Pradesh): It is the only one where India and China have exchanged maps on which they broadly agree. §  Western sector (in Ladakh): Boundary dispute pertains to the Johnson Line.
Practice Question:  Evaluate the strategic significance of Xiaokang villages in the context of China’s infrastructure development along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and India’s response. (150 words/10 m)

5. Punjab Farmers Demand Legal Guarantee for MSP, Echoing Swaminathan Commission's Recommendations

Topic: GS3 – Agriculture – MSP GS2 – Governance – Government policies; Issues arising out of their design & implementation.This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the establishment and work of the Swaminathan Commission, shedding light on the terms of reference, reports submitted, and recommendations made.
  • Protesting Punjab farmers, in their email to the government, have articulated twelve demands, with the primary one calling for a law guaranteeing the procurement of all crops for all farmers at Minimum Support Prices (MSP), based on the recommendations of the Dr. Swaminathan Commission.
  • Despite three inconclusive rounds of talks held in Chandigarh between Union Ministers and farm union leaders, a fourth round is scheduled.
More about the news: Overview of Swaminathan Commission:
  • The Swaminathan Commission, initiated in 2004 by the Ministry of Agriculture, was tasked with suggesting a comprehensive medium-term strategy for food and nutrition security, among other objectives.
  • Comprising five reports submitted between 2004 and 2006, the commission made several recommendations, including those related to MSP.
  • However, it did not propose a legal guarantee for MSP or the formula for its calculation, as currently demanded by protesting farmers.
Reforms Recommended by Swaminathan Commission:
  • The first report of the National Commission on Farmers highlighted agricultural distress and the need for public investment and action.
  • Additionally, it advocated for a new deal for women in agriculture, establishment of Farm Schools, and various other measures to address agricultural challenges.
  • The second report, titled “From Crisis to Confidence,” recommended pro-market reforms, including a code of conduct for contract farming and amendments to state APMC Acts and the Essential Commodities Act, echoing some aspects of the repealed farm laws.
Minimum Support Prices and Swaminathan Commission’s Perspective:
  • Contrary to farmers’ demands, the Swaminathan Commission did not recommend fixing MSP based on C2 (actual cost of production) plus 50 per cent.
  • Instead, it focused on improving MSP implementation across regions and avoiding delays in its issuance.
  • While acknowledging the importance of MSP, the commission suggested that MSP should be the bottom line for procurement, with the government ensuring a fair price reflecting prevailing market rates.
Absence of Specific MSP Calculation Formula in Swaminathan Commission’s Recommendations:
  • While the Swaminathan Commission discussed the cost of production and suggested considerations for MSP calculation, it did not provide a specific formula based on C2 cost.
  • The absence of this recommendation from the commission’s reports contrasts with the demands of protesting farmers seeking a legal guarantee for MSP based on C2 plus 50 per cent.
  • Despite the Swaminathan Commission’s significant contributions to agricultural policy reform and its acknowledgment of the importance of MSP, its recommendations did not align precisely with the demands of protesting farmers regarding MSP calculation.
  • The commission’s emphasis on improving MSP implementation and ensuring farmers’ income parity with civil servants underscores the complexity of agricultural policy formulation and the challenges in addressing farmers’ concerns effectively.
Who was MS Swaminathan?
  • Born on 7th August, 1925, in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India, he was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s principles and India’s struggle for independence.
  • He initially aimed to pursue a medical career but shifted his focus to agriculture due to the Bengal famine of 1942-43, a tragic event that left a profound impact on him and stirred his passion for improving India’s agricultural sector.
  • He pursued agricultural studies and research, delving into genetics and breeding, with the belief that improved crop varieties could have a significant impact on farmers’ lives and help overcome food scarcity.
  • He served as the Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), where he played a crucial role in advancing agricultural research and education in India.
  • He also served as the Independent Chairman of the Food and Agricultural Organization Council and held leadership roles in international conservation and agricultural organizations.
  • Role in the Green Revolution: He was widely recognized for his pivotal role in the Green Revolution, a transformative phase in Indian agriculture that significantly increased crop productivity and ensured Food Security for the nation.
  • High-Yielding Wheat and Rice: Swaminathan’s groundbreaking work with Norman Borlaug in developing high-yielding wheat and rice varieties, notably the semi-dwarf wheat varieties, revolutionized agriculture in India during the 1960s and ’70s.
  • This transformation significantly increased crop yields, making India self-sufficient in food production and averting the looming threat of famine.
Farmer Welfare:
  • Swaminathan advocated for the welfare of farmers, emphasizing fair prices for agricultural produce and sustainable farming practices.
  • As chair of the National Commission of Farmers, the ‘Swaminathan Report’ probed the causes of farm distress.
  • One of its recommendations, that Minimum Support Prices (MSP) should at least be 50% more than average production costs, continues to be a primary demand of farm unions across India. MSP is the price at which the government purchases crops directly from farmers.
Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act 2001:
  • He played a pivotal role in developing the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act 2001.
Other Contributions:
  • He will be remembered forever for his role in the global recognition of the ‘Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere (Go MMB)’ and Kerala’s Kuttanad known for ‘traditional cultivation of paddy below sea-level’ as a globally important agricultural heritage site.
  • He also contributed to the conservation and enhancement of the biodiversity and ecology of these regions.
  • He also established the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in 1988 to promote sustainable agriculture and rural development.
  • MSSRF focuses specifically on tribal and rural communities with a pro-poor, pro-women and pro-nature approach.
PYQ: How was India benefited from the contributions of Sir M.Visvesvaraya and Dr. M. S. Swaminathan in the fields of water engineering and agricultural science respectively? (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2019)
Practice Question:  Analyze the role of government commissions like the Swaminathan Commission in shaping agricultural policies and reforms in India. Critically assess the alignment between the demands of protesting farmers and the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, highlighting areas of convergence and divergence. (250 words/15 m)

6. ISRO’s ‘naughty boy’ rocket to launch India’s latest weather satellite

Topic: GS3 – Science & Technology – Developing new technology; Space
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about ISRO’s missions which are of national importance, contributing to various sectors like weather forecasting, disaster management, and environmental monitoring.
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is set to launch the meteorological satellite INSAT-3DS into space which is nicknamed “Naughty Boy”.
  • The satellite will be launched aboard a Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV), marking a critical mission for the GSLV rocket, which has had a somewhat inconsistent track record.
  • This launch, designated GSLV-F14, will be the rocket’s 16th mission overall and its 10th flight utilizing the domestically developed cryogenic engine.
More about the news: Importance of the Mission:
  • The success of this mission holds significant importance for the GSLV, as it is slated to carry the Earth observation satellite NISAR later in the year.
  • NISAR, a joint project between NASA and ISRO, aims to map the entire globe in just 12 days, providing consistent data on Earth’s ecosystems, ice mass, sea level rise, and natural hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis.
Historical Context and Expectations:
  • Notably, the GSLV has encountered several unsuccessful launches in its history, with four out of fifteen missions ending in failure.
  • In comparison, ISRO’s PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) has had a much higher success rate, with only three failures out of sixty missions.
  • The upcoming launch of INSAT-3DS aims to fulfill the functions of its predecessors INSAT-3D and INSAT-3DR, both of which have reached the end of their mission life.
  • Funded by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, INSAT-3DS weighs 2,274 kg and boasts a mission life of 10 years.
Operational Capabilities:
  • Once in orbit, INSAT-3DS will provide advanced weather observations for both land and ocean surfaces.
  • Its capabilities include aiding in short-range forecasts of extreme weather events, estimating visibility for aviation purposes, and facilitating the study of phenomena such as forest fires, smoke, snow cover, and climate patterns.
About Insat-3DS and GSLV-F14
About Insat-3DS:
  • It is a collaborative effort between ISRO and the India Meteorological Organisation (IMD).
  • It is part of a series of climate observatory satellites aimed at enhancing climate services.
  • Comprising three dedicated Earth observation satellites, including INSAT-3D and INSAT-3DR already in orbit.
  • It will be launched by using the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F14).
What is GSLV-F14?
  • It is a more advanced rocket utilising liquid propellant.
  • The rocket, distinguished by its higher capacity and the use of cryogenic liquid propellants in all three stages, presents a more complex engineering challenge but allows for a substantially higher lift-off weight capacity.
Key facts about INSAT-3DR
  • It is an advanced meteorological satellite of India configured with an imaging System and an Atmospheric Sounder.
  • The significant improvements incorporated in INSAT-3DR are:
    • Imaging in Middle Infrared band to provide night time pictures of low clouds and fog
    • Imaging in two Thermal Infrared bands for estimation of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) with better accuracy
    • Higher Spatial Resolution in the Visible and Thermal Infrared bands
  • Payloads: INSAT-3DR carries a multi spectral Imager, 19 channel Sounder, Data Relay Transponder and Search and Rescue Transponder.
PYQ: What do you understand by ‘Standard Positioning Systems’ and ‘Protection Positioning Systems’ in the GPS era? Discuss the advantages India perceives from its ambitious IRNSS programme employing just seven satellites. (200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2015)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the launch of INSAT-3DS by ISRO aboard GSLV for India’s space program and its implications for national development. (150 words/10 m)

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