Current Affairs summary 7 Sept

Oracle IAS, the best coaching institute for UPSC/IAS/PCS preparation in Dehradun (Uttarakhand), brings to you daily current Affairs summary.

1. GM mustard trials may get nod soon

• The environment ministry is set to convene this month a ‘special meeting’ of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to decide on field-trial approvals for the controversial transgenic mustard developed by the University of Delhi’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP).

• The CGMCP had earlier applied to grow transgenic mustard (DMH-11) in plots in Delhi and Punjab to test the plant’s effects on honeybees after the GEAC, which had initially cleared the GM crop for ‘commercial cultivation’, backtracked and demanded more tests and additional data on honeybees and other pollinators and on soil microbial diversity.

• The GEAC, the country’s apex regulator of transgenic products, had in July put a decision on the proposed field trials on hold after some members objected to the use of ‘unapproved pesticides/herbicides’ in the project proposal, according to a record of the meeting made public this week.

• The CGMCP team had proposed to use endosulfan – a banned pesticide – as part of their experiment. The trial protocols had also been submitted just three days before the GEAC meeting and some members had voiced objections over the lack of time to examine the field safety protocol. The field safety protocol specifies what measures can be undertaken in case there’s a pest attack on the mustard being tested.

• In March, the GEAC had sought more tests for GM mustard in the wake of a chorus of objections to the transgenic crop and following Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan’s intervention in the matter.

• Environmentalists, farmer groups and some scientists argue that transgenic mustard poses several environmental and health risks. Included among these is a contention that it contains a foreign gene from another species, that tests so far have failed to show any appreciable gains in yield over traditional varieties and that it could, if commercially approved, make farmers growing the GM mustard dependent on glyphosate – a weedicide that has been linked to cancer.

• If cleared it would be the first transgenic food crop to be allowed in India.


2. Govt to exempt electric vehicles, automobiles run on alternative fuel from permit requirements

• About 87 per cent people believe reducing air pollution is the biggest reason for them to purchase an electric vehicle and not rising fuel prices, according to a new survey that comes amid an increase in government’s efforts to promote eco-friendly vehicles.

• The survey commissioned by Climate Trends and carried out by FourthLion Technologies was conducted online between August 21-24 among 2,178 Indian drivers, vehicle owners and those who plan to purchase, own or drive a vehicle in the next 10 years, the survey said.

• “Transportation accounts for about 24 per cent of India’s carbon emissions and is a major source of air pollution in several cities across the country. According to a recent WHO report, 14 of the top 20 most polluted cities of the world are in India,” the study said.

• The survey also revealed that most drivers and vehicle owners are personally affected by poor air quality.

• Nearly 87 per cent of the people surveyed said for them, the rising air pollution is the biggest motivation to buy electric vehicles.

• About 76 per cent said they along with their neighbours, friends or family – suffer from poor air quality every day or are starting to show symptoms of being affected by air pollution.

• Delhi seemed to be worst affected with 91 per cent of its respondents saying they or someone they knew were suffering from poor air quality.

• Similarly, high percentages were recorded in Hyderabad (78 per cent), Chennai (75 per cent), Mumbai (74 per cent), Bengaluru (71 per cent), and Kolkata (70 per cent).

• Drivers and vehicle owners said they are ‘much more likely’ to consider purchasing an electric vehicle after learning that ‘electric vehicles reduce air pollution through zero on-road emissions’ (72 per cent), the survey said.

• India is the third largest market for automobiles and the world’s largest market when it comes to two-wheelers.

• More than four million internal combustion engine vehicles were sold in India in 2017, and 81 per cent of those sales (20 million units) came from the two-wheeler segment alone.

• The government is promoting electric vehicles to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and protect the environment.

• The government has decided to exempt electric vehicles and automobiles run on alternative fuel from permit requirements in a bid to boost such vehicles in the country, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said.

• The government is also promoting eco-friendly vehicles through Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) India scheme, which was launched in 2015.

• The second phase of FAME India scheme will be launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 7.

• According to official sources, FAME II offers incentives for mass adoption of EVs with an outlay of Rs 55 billion.

• Gadkari also said the ministry has done away with the requirement of local testing for initially bringing EVs into India for sale.


3. COMCASA will help India track China’s Indian Ocean moves better

• The foundational agreement Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which India concluded with the US at the 2+2 dialogue will enable Indian military to get a better picture of the Indian Ocean Region which is seeing increasing Chinese movements.

• With CISMOA (COMCASA is an India-specific version of CISMOA), Indian armed forces will get to fully exploit the capability of the military platforms procured from the US. For instance, the P-8I reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy which have emerged as a major force multiplier are currently operating at limited capacity.

• As a consequence of CISMOA, India will get access to Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System or CENTRIXS for short which is the secure communication system network of the US.

• Navy ships with CENTRIXS systems on board can communicate securely with the US Navy when needed and can benefit from the wider situational picture of the region as they have a large number of ships and aircraft deployed.

• Even within the system there are also specific codes/keys which have to be verified by both sides to enable communication or access information.

• According to information on the US Navy website, ‘CENTRIXS consists of a collection of coalition wide area networks known as enclaves and is a great enabler allowing ship-to-ship operational dialogue between the two nations in text and web-based formats.

• However, there are persistent concerns that this would allow US Navy access to India’s own secure communication network and also that the information shared with the US will be accessible by Pakistan. Officials brushed aside these fears as specific measures have been incorporated in the agreement to ‘have full access to the relevant equipment and there will be no disruptions.


4. SEBI sends officials overseas to study cryptocurrencies, initial coin offering

• Markets regulator SEBI has sent its officials to foreign countries to study initial coin offerings and cryptocurrencies, a move that will help in understanding of the systems and mechanisms.

• Cryptocurrencies are digital units in which encryption techniques are used for trading and these ‘currencies’ operate independently of a central bank, while initial coin offerings are equivalents of initial public offerings in stock markets.

• The regulator has organized study tours to Japan’s Financial Services Agency, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and Swiss Financial Supervisory Authority, ‘to study initial coin offering and cryptocurrencies,’.

• Besides, SEBI hosted a number of international organizations including regulatory bodies and business and ministerial delegations in the past fiscal.

• The government has already constituted an inter-disciplinary committee chaired by, Subhash Chandra Garg, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, to examine the existing framework with regard to virtual currencies. Other members of the panel include SEBI chairman Ajay Tyagi and Reserve Bank of India deputy governor B P Kanungo. The committee is yet to submit its report.

• Earlier in July, RBI had told the Supreme Court that allowing dealings in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins would encourage illegal transactions and it has already issued a circular prohibiting the use of these virtual currencies.


5. CAD eases marginally to 2.4% of GDP: RBI

• India’s current account deficit (CAD) as a percentage of GDP declined marginally to 2.4% in the April-June quarter of 2018-19 against 2.5% in the year-ago period, the RBI data showed.

• In value terms, the CAD was higher at USD 15.8 billion in April-June this year as against USD 15 billion in the same quarter of 2017-18 mainly due to a higher trade deficit.

• The Indian currency is declining against the US dollar due to global factors as well as concerns on higher trade deficit on account of sustained high crude oil prices.

• According to the data, net services receipts increased by 2.1% year-on-year mainly on the back of a rise in net earnings from software and financial services.

• Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, amounted to USD 18.8 billion, increasing by 16.9% from their level a year ago.

• The data on BoP also revealed that net foreign direct investment at USD 9.7 billion in the first quarter of 2018-19 was higher than USD 7.1 billion in the year-ago period.

• However, portfolio investment recorded net outflow of USD 8.1 billion in the first quarter of 2018-19 as compared with an inflow of USD 12.5 billion in the year-ago period – on account of net sales in both the debt and equity markets, the RBI added.

• Net receipts on account of non-resident deposits amounted to USD 3.5 billion in April-June, 2018-19, as compared with USD 1.2 billion a year ago.

• There was a depletion of USD 11.3 billion of the foreign exchange reserves (on BoP basis) in the first quarter as against an accretion of USD 11.4 billion in the year-ago period.

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Hemant Bhatt

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