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Coronavirus – Economic Issues

The contours of economic recovery

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fiscal deficit. Monetisation of debt

Mains level : Paper 3- Quality of fiscal deficit

This article analyses the various aspects of the stimulus package announced by the government. It gives a broad idea about the borrowing and fiscal deficit of the government. Where the fiscal deficit should be spent? Which area the announced reforms should focus on? You’ll be able to answer these questions after reading the article.

Contraction of the Indian economy

  •  Many analysts have recently predicted a contraction for the Indian economy.
  • Goldman Sachs/ICRA and Nomura, in their recent assessments, have forecasted India’s growth to contract by (-)5.0 per cent and (-)5.2 per cent, respectively.
  • Even the RBI assesses that growth in the current year may be in the negative zone although it has not given a specific number.
  • The World Bank has predicted growth in the range of 1.5 to 2.8 per cent.
  • In order to relate budgetary magnitudes to GDP, we also need an idea of the magnitude of nominal GDP growth.
  • In the current year, this is expected to be at least 4 per cent points less than the rate of growth at 10 per cent as assumed in the 2020-21 budget.

Let’s clear the misunderstanding about the stimulus

  • One misunderstanding about the “stimulus” must also be cleared.
  • Any increase in government expenditure over and above the base level acts as stimulus.
  • This is the traditional Keynesian approach.
  • It made no distinction between different types of expenditures.
  • It is only later studies that made a distinction based on the size of fiscal multipliers.

How much will be the gross borrowing and fiscal deficit?

  • The Centre has already announced an increase in gross borrowing for 2020-21 from INR 7.8 lakh crore to Rs. 12 lakh crore.
  • This may lead to a fiscal deficit of about 5.7 to 5.8 per cent of GDP.
  • This may only be enough to provide for the considerable shortfall in the budgeted tax and non-tax revenues and non-debt capital receipts, which is also being estimated by a number of analysts to be in the range of Rs 18 lakh crore, implying a shortfall of Rs 4.45 lakh crore.
  • This shortfall is 2.08 per cent of GDP.
  • The Centre’s fiscal deficit will have to be further increased to accommodate the additional burden on the 2020-21 budget arising on account of the stimulus package.

Let’s divide stimulus package into budgetary and non-budgetary part

  • The series of measures announced by the FM are a mix of i) already budgeted expenditure,ii) additional expenditure, iii) extension of credit facility with government guarantee for certain select sectors and a host of reform measures.
  • Analytically, the overall stimulus package of Rs 20.97 lakh crore can be divided into a budgetary and a non-budgetary part.

1) Non-budgetary part

  • The non-budgetary part, accounting for nearly 85 per cent of the overall package.
  • Non-budgetary part consists mainly of liquidity enhancing measures for banks and NBFCs which may facilitate the financial sector in playing a key role to kickstart the economy.
  • The credit guarantee provided by the government under the various schemes announced recently is of central importance in this context.
  • In fact, for certain schemes, the government has come forward to provide 100 per cent guarantee, which should quicken the pace of credit sanction and delivery by banks.
  • Production of goods and services is inter-related in an economic system.
  • Once production starts, different sectors will be mutually supporting since different industries and service providers are locked in an input-output system.

2) Budgetary part and fiscal deficits

  • The budgetary part amounts only to about 15 per cent of the overall package.
  • This can be further divided into government expenditure which was already budgeted in the 2020-21 budget and expenditures constituting genuine additionality.
  • The genuine additionality component is only 10 per cent of the package equivalent to 1 per cent of GDP.
  • Adding this to the enhanced level of 5.7 per cent of GDP, the Centre’s fiscal deficit may be close to 6.7-7 per cent of GDP.
  • This will maintain the level of budgeted expenditure while providing for the additional cost of the announced fiscal stimulus.
  • In fact, the fiscal deficit will be even higher if the current year’s GDP is lower than that of the previous year.

Composition of government expenditure matters

  • With this high fiscal deficit, the composition of government expenditure becomes critical.
  • Some of the establishment expenditures and subsidies, especially those linked to petroleum prices like fertiliser and petroleum subsidies, may be reduced.
  • While expenditure on health-related items may be increased.
  • The central government has announced freezing of increments of DA and dearness relief components in the case of salaries and pensions respectively.
  • In fact, the government should be doing much more to relieve the plight of migrant workers.

What is budgetary contribution for infrastructure?

  • According to the National Infrastructure Pipeline, the Centre’s budgetary contribution to infrastructure is estimated at 1.25 per cent of GDP on an annual basis.
  • This is less than 18 per cent of the estimated fiscal deficit of the Centre in 2020-21, indicating a very poor quality of fiscal deficit.
  • One dimension of expenditure restructuring should be to frontload infrastructure spending, including that on health infrastructure
  • Which will be helpful in taking advantage of the higher multiplier effects associated with capital expenditures.
  • Investment augmentation is also demand supporting and employment and income generating.

Support to demand

  • Support to demand will come not only from the Centre but also from the states and the public sector undertakings.
  • States have been allowed to borrow an additional 2 per cent of their respective GSDPs subject to certain conditions.
  • In fact, at the present juncture, these conditions are not required since the enhancement of the borrowing limit is for one time while the reforms linked to conditions are permanent in nature.
  • In any case, states should be encouraged to support demand by going up to the full extent of the enhanced limit.

Why the monetisation of debt is unavoidable?

  •  The combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and states alone may amount to close to 12 per cent of GDP in 2020-21.
  • Besides, the total public sector borrowing also includes the borrowing by central and state public sector undertakings.
  • Thus, the total Public Sector Borrowing Requirement may well exceed available sources of financing consisting of i) the financial savings of the household sector, ii) savings of the public sector iii) net capital inflows.
  • In this context, monetising debt has become unavoidable.
  • The Centre must be forthcoming on these issues while recognising that extraordinary situations call for extraordinary solutions.

Reforms should be sector-specific

  • In the case of reforms, we have reached a new stage.
  • General reforms cutting across industries and sectors have been critical in the early stages.
  • The earlier regime of controls and permits had to be brought to a close.
  • But now reforms have to focus on specific sectors.
  • Applying the general principles of liberalisation to sectors such as agriculture and, more particularly, agricultural marketing, power sector, and telecom have assumed importance.
  • Labour market reforms are needed across all the states.
  • But labour reforms are introduced better when the economy is in the upswing.
  • Consensus building is critical before introducing labour reforms.
  • Land markets need to be freed up consistent with the concerns of small and marginal farmers.

Consider the question “The fiscal stimulus and the promise of reforms announced by the government would be instrumental in bringing the Indian economy devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic back on track. Comment.”

Conclusion

Fiscal deficit should be used to create infrastructure ensuring that the quality of fiscal deficit is not poor. At the same time, reforms announced should be sector-specific and consensus-based in case of labour laws.


Back2Basics: AT&C losses

  • Distribution loss consists of two parts: a. Technical loss and b. Commercial loss.
  • It is also called AT&C loss.
  • AT&C loss is nothing but the sum total of technical and commercial losses and shortage due to non-realization of billed amount.
  • AT&C Loss = (Energy input – Energy billed) * 100 / Energy input.

Foreign Policy Watch: United Nations

Multilateralism in the new cold war

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : G7 countries

Mains level : Paper 2- Challenges the current form of multilateralism faces and opportunity for India to shape the new multilateralism.

The world is going through turmoil. The new world that will emerge will be different from what we have known. This provides India with some unique opportunities. This article explains the changes that are taking place and gives the outline of the changing order. So, how can India set and shape the global response? And what should be the principles on which the new multilateralism should be based? Read to know…

Opportunity for India to set the global response

  • As chair of the Executive Board of the World Health Assembly – India can set the global response in terms of multilateralism, not just medical issues.
  • How can India set a global response in terms of multilateralism? Consider the following- a rare alignment of stars for agenda-setting.
  • 1) In September, the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the theme, “The Future We Want”.
  • 2) In 2021, India joins the UN Security Council (non-permanent seat).
  • 3) And chairs the BRICS Summit in 2021.
  • 4) Also hosts the G-20 in 2022.
  • New principles for international system: At the online summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, in May, Prime Minister Modi called for new principles for the international system.
  • His new globalisation model based on humanity, fairness and equality has wide support in a more equal world as, for the first time since 1950, everyone is experiencing the same (virus) threat.

Changing global context

  • China is losing influence and the dynamics in its relations with the United States.
  • And Asia again is emerging as the centre of global prosperity.
  • The global governance, economy, scientific research and society are all in need of being re-invented.
  • India should use this opportunity to recover our global thought leadership.

The US-China powerplay and its consequences for multilateralism

  • The clash between China and the U.S. at the just concluded World Health Assembly in May marks the end of the multilateralism of the past 70 years.
  • The donor-recipient relationship between developed and developing countries has ended with China’s pledge of $2-billion.
  • The agenda-setting role of the G7 over UN institutions and global rules has also been effectively challenged by WHO ignoring the reform diktat of the U.S. leading to its withdrawal, and characterisation of the G7 as “outdated”.
  • The U.S. has also implicitly rejected the G20 and UN Security Council, for an expanded G7 “to discuss the future of China”.
  • Important shift in the UN: After World War II, the newly independent states were not consulted when the U.S. imposed global institutions fostering trade, capital and technology dependence.
  • This was done ignoring the socio-economic development of these countries.
  • But social and economic rights have emerged to be as important as political and procedural rights.
  • Against this backdrop, China’s President Xi Jinping deftly endorsed the UN Resolution on equitable access to any new vaccine.

Emergence of Asia and China: Challenges for the US and the West

  • The U.S. faces an uphill task in seeking to lead a new multidimensional institution in the face of China’s re-emergence.
  • The re-emergence of China is based on technology, innovation and trade balancing U.S. military superiority.
  • At the same time, there is a clear trend of declining global trust in free-market liberalism, central to western civilisation.
  • With the West experiencing a shock comparable to the one experienced by Asia, 200 years ago, the superiority of western civilisation is also under question.
  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift of global wealth to Asia suggesting an inclusive global order based on principles drawn from ancient Asian civilisations.
  • Colonised Asia played no role in shaping the Industrial Revolution.
  • But, the Digital Revolution will be shaped by different values.
  • It is really this clash that multilateralism has now to resolve.

World is questioning both U.S. and China’s exceptionalism

  • China has come out with alternative governance mechanisms to the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization with its all-encompassing Belt and Road Initiative.
  • The U.S., European Union and Japan are re-evaluating globalisation as it pertains to China and the U.S. is unabashedly “America First”.
  • The world is questioning both U.S. and China’s exceptionalism.
  • For India, the strategic issue is neither adjustment to China’s power nor deference to U.S. leadership.

Opportune moment for India to propose new multilateralism

  • The global vacuum, shift in relative power and its own potential, provides India the capacity to articulate a benign multilateralism.
  • It should include in its fold NAM-Plus that resonates with large parts of the world and brings both BRICS and the G7 into the tent.
  • This new multilateralism should rely on outcomes, not rules, ‘security’ downplayed for ‘comparable levels of wellbeing’ and a new P-5 that is not based on the G7.

India in a important role

  • China, through an opinion piece by its Ambassador in India, has suggested writing “together a new chapter” with “a shared future for mankind”.
  • The U.S. wants a security partnership to contain China.
  • And the Association of Southeast Asian Nations trade bloc — with the U.S. walking out of the negotiations — is keen India joins to balance China.
  • With a new template. India does not have to choose.

Three principles the new system should be based on-

1. Peaceful coexistence

    • First, the Asian Century should be defined in terms of peaceful co-existence, freezing post-colonial sovereignty.
    • Non-interference in the internal affairs of others is a key lesson from the decline of the U.S. and the rise of China.
    • National security now relies on technological superiority in artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and space, and not expensive capital equipment, as India’s military has acknowledged.
    • Instead of massive arms imports, we should use the savings to enhance endogenous capacity.
    • And mould the global digital economy between state-centric (China), firm-centric (the U.S.) and public-centric (India) systems.

2. New principles of trade

  • A global community at comparable levels of well-being requires new principles for trade, for example, rejecting the 25-year-old trade rule creating intellectual property monopolies.
  • Global public goods should include public health, crop research, renewable energy and batteries, even AI as its value comes from shared data.
  • We have the scientific capacity to support these platforms as part of foreign policy.

3.  Civilisational values

  • Ancient civilisational values provide the conceptual underpinning, restructuring both the economic order and societal behaviour for equitable sustainable development.
  • Which is what a climate change impacted world, especially Africa, is seeking.

Consider the question-“The global order is going through serious churn, and it provides India with an opportunity to shape the new multilateralism based on humanity, fairness and equality. Comment.”

Conclusion

In the new cold war, defined by technology and trade not territory, non-alignment is an uncertain option; India should craft a global triumvirate.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Seizing the moment at the WHO

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WHA

Mains level : Paper 2- Policy that India should follow at WHA executive board

India has been tasked with helming the  WHO executive board at the turbulent times. The world is facing the health crisis. It is against this backdrop, India has to lead the executive board. This article suggests 5 elements that should form the part of India’s policy approach.

Challenges for India as it heads WHO executive board

  • Minister of Health and Family Welfare is elected as the Chair of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive board.
  • The 34-member body is tasked with implementing the decisions of the recently concluded World Health Assembly (WHA).
  • The elevation affords India an important platform to steer the global public health response to COVID-19.
  • It also comes at a time when the WHO is being rocked politically as never before.

WHO: caught between the US-China crossfire

  • Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote a letter to the WHO Director-General.
  • In the letter, he threatened to make permanent his temporary funding freeze as well as reconsider the U.S’s membership in the organisation if the latter did not commit to major substantive reforms within 30 days.
  • By contrast, at the WHA plenary, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $2 billion to fight the virus.
  • He also promised to pair up 30 African hospitals with domestic counterparts, accelerate the building of the Africa Centers for Disease Control headquarters, and ensure that vaccine development in China, when available, would be made a global public good.

So, as WHO executive body chair, India will have to navigate this treacherous power landscape with candour and tact. Following 5 elements should inform its policy approach.

1. Set epidemic prevention and control as a priority

  • India must insist that epidemic prevention and control remain the international community’s foremost priority.
  • As the virus’ chain of transmission is broken, the focus should shift to identifying the animal-to-human transmission origins of SARS-CoV-2.
  • China shares an important interest in facilitating international access to investigate COVID-19’s zoonotic origins.
  • Why China shares interest? Because Wuhan and other previously infected zones could yet be susceptible to the risk of viral reintroduction.

2. Review the early response of China and WHO to outbreak

  • India should lean on the WHO secretariat to fast-track the “impartial, independent, and comprehensive review” of the WHO’s – and China’s – early response to the outbreak.
  • The review’s findings should illuminate best practice and highlight areas for improvement, both in the WHO’s leadership and capacity as well as member states’ implementation of the International Health Regulations.
  • For those in New Delhi inclined to relish the prospect of Beijing’s comeuppance, the review’s findings may yet sorely disappoint.
  • The WHO-China Joint Mission featuring renowned global epidemiologists had termed China’s early COVID-19 response as the “most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history”.

3. Ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all

  • For ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines for all countries, India must promote the establishment of an appropriate multilateral governance mechanism.
  • The envisaged voluntary pooling mechanism to collect patent rights and regulatory test data should be suitably tailored to the needs of crisis.
  • And the World Trade Organization’s intellectual property rights provisions should be overridden as is allowed during a public health emergency to assure affordable vaccine availability.

4. Taiwan issue at WHA: India should stay aloof

  •  India must stay aloof from the West’s campaign to re-seat Taiwan as an observer at the WHA.
  • When Taipei last attended in 2016, it did so under the explicit aegis of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, whereby the UN considers Taiwan to be an integral part of the People’s Republic of China.
  • That the independence-minded Tsai government is unwilling to concede this basis for attendance has more to do with domestic political manoeuvring than Chinese or international ostracism.

5.Global ban on consumption of wild animals

  •  India must lead the call for a permanent global ban on the consumption and trade of wild animals.
  • This ban should be with limited exceptions built-in for scientific research, species protection and traditional livelihood interests.
  • With two-thirds of emerging infections and diseases now arising from wildlife, the destruction of natural habitats and biodiversity loss must be taken much more seriously.

Consider the question “The WHO has been facing the credibility crisis for its response to the Covid-19. In such a difficult time for the agency, India has to lead the executive board of WHA. In light of this, suggest the policy approach that India should adopt at WHA.”

Conclusion

India has its work cut out. The government should seize the moment to steer the global response in addressing the shortcomings in various areas exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

The Sixth Mass Extinction

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sixth Mass Extinction

Mains level : Mass Extinction

Click here for high resolution of the image: National Geographic

The ongoing sixth mass extinction may be one of the most serious environmental threats to the persistence of civilization, according to new research published in an American journal.

Try this question from CSP 2018:

The term “sixth mass extinction/sixth extinction” is often mentioned in the news in the context of the discussion of

(a) Widespread monoculture Practices agriculture and large-scale commercial farming with indiscriminate use of chemicals in many parts of the world that may result in the loss of good native ecosystems.

(b) Fears of a possible collision of a meteorite with the Earth in the near future in the manner it happened 65million years ago that caused the mass extinction of many species including those of dinosaurs.

(c) Large scale cultivation of genetically modified crops in many parts of the world and promoting their cultivationin other Parts of the world which may cause the disappearance of good native crop plants and the loss offood biodiversity.

(d) Mankind’s over-exploitation/misuse of natural resources, fragmentation/loss, natural habitats, destructionof ecosystems, pollution and global climate change.

Highlights of the research

  • The study analysed 29,400 species of terrestrial vertebrates and determined which of these are on the brink of extinction because they have fewer than 1,000 individuals.
  • The disappearance of their component populations has been occurring since the 1800s.
  • Most of these 515 species are from South America (30 per cent), followed by Oceania (21 per cent), Asia (21 per cent) and Africa (16 per cent) among others.

The Anthropocene Extinction

  • Mass extinction refers to a substantial increase in the degree of extinction or when the Earth loses more than three-quarters of its species in a geologically short period of time.
  • So far, during the entire history of the Earth, there have been five mass extinctions.
  • The sixth, which is ongoing, is referred to as the Anthropocene extinction.
  • The five mass extinctions that took place in the last 450 million years have led to the destruction of 70-95 per cent of the species of plants, animals and microorganisms that existed earlier.
  • These extinctions were caused by “catastrophic alterations” to the environment, such as massive volcanic eruptions, depletion of oceanic oxygen or collision with an asteroid.
  • After each of these extinctions, it took millions of years to regain species comparable to those that existed before the event.

So what is the sixth mass extinction then?

  • Researchers have described it as the “most serious environmental problem” since the loss of species will be permanent.
  • Even though only an estimated 2% of all of the species that ever lived are alive today, the absolute number of species is greater now than ever before.
  • The research claims that this extinction is human-caused and is more immediate than climate destruction.

Major drivers of mass extinction

  • Significantly, the study calls for a complete ban on wildlife trade as many of the species currently endangered or on the brink of extinction are being decimated by legal and illegal wildlife trade.
  • The current COVID-19 pandemic, while not fully understood, is also linked to the wildlife trade.
  • There is no doubt that there will be more pandemics if man continues destroying habitats and trading wildlife for own consumption as food and traditional medicines.

What happens when species go extinct?

  • When species go extinct, the impact can be tangible such as in the form of a loss in crop pollination and water purification.
  • Further, if a species has a specific function in an ecosystem, the loss can lead to consequences for other species by impacting the food chain.
  • The effects of extinction will worsen in the coming decades as the resulting genetic and cultural variability will change entire ecosystems.
  • If the number of individuals in a population or species drops, their contributions to ecosystem services become unimportant.
  • Their genetic variability and resilience is reduced, and its contribution to human welfare may be lost.” the study says.

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Moody’s downgrade India’s Ratings

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Signs of economic slowdown in the country

The Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the Government of India’s foreign-currency and local-currency long-term issuer ratings to “Baa3” from “Baa2”. It stated that the outlook remained “negative”.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Why India’s GDP growth rate is being labelled an overestimate yet again by the global credit rating agencies? Discuss this in context to the latest downgrade of Indian Economy as highlighted by the Moody’s.

Why this matters?

  • The Moody’s is historically the most optimistic rating agency about India.
  • This downgrade challenges India’s policymaking institutions.
  • They will be challenged in enacting and implementing policies which effectively mitigate the risks of a sustained period of relatively low growth.

What is the reason for this downgrade?

There are four main reasons why Moody’s has taken the decision:

  • Weak implementation of economic reforms since 2017
  • Relatively low economic growth over a sustained period
  • A significant deterioration in the fiscal position of governments (central and state)
  • And the rising stress in India’s financial sector

What does “negative” outlook mean?

  • The negative outlook reflects dominant, mutually-reinforcing, downside risks from deeper stresses in the economy and financial system.
  • These could lead to more severe and prolonged erosion in fiscal strength than Moody’s current projections.
  • The ratings have highlighted persistent structural challenges to fast economic growth such as “weak infrastructure, rigidities in labour, land and product markets, and rising financial sector risks”.
  • In other words, a “negative” implies India could be rated down further.

Is the downgrade because of Covid-19 impact?

No. The pandemic has amplified vulnerabilities in India’s credit profile that were present and building prior to the shock, and which motivated the assignment of a negative outlook last year.

Then why did the downgrade happen?

  • More than two years ago, in November 2017, Moody’s had upgraded India’s rating to “Baa2” with a “stable” outlook.
  • At that time, it expected that effective implementation of key reforms would strengthen the sovereign’s credit profile through gradual but persistent measures.
  • But those hopes were belied. Since that upgrade in 2017, implementation of reforms has been relatively weak and has not resulted in material credit improvements, indicating limited policy effectiveness.
  • Each year, the central government has failed to meet its fiscal deficit (essentially the total borrowings from the market) target.
  • This has led to a steady accretion of total government debt.

What will be the implications of this downgrade?

  • Ratings are based on the overall health of the economy and the state of government finances.
  • When India’s sovereign rating is downgraded, it becomes costlier for the Indian government as well as all Indian companies to raise funds because now the world sees such debt as a riskier proposition.
  • A rating downgrade means that bonds issued by the Indian governments are now “riskier” than before.
  • The weaker economic growth and worsening fiscal health undermine a government’s ability to pay back.
  • Lower risk is better because it allows governments and companies of that country to raise debts at a lower rate of interest.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Radio lights from Sun’s Corona

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), Nanoflares

Mains level : Coronal heating of Sun

A group of India scientists have recently discovered tiny flashes of radio light emanating from all over the Sun, which they say could help in explaining the long-pending coronal heating problem.

Possible prelim question:

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) Telescope recently seen in news is a landmark in observing: Gravitational Waves/Black Holes/Sun’s Corona/ etc..

What is Sun’s Corona?

  • The corona is the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere. It is the aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars.
  • The Sun’s corona extends millions of kilometres into outer space and is most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but it is also observable with a coronagraph.
  • Spectroscopy measurements indicate strong ionization in the corona and a plasma temperature in excess of 1000000 Kelvin much hotter than the surface of the Sun.

Radio lights observed

  • These radio lights or signals result from beams of electrons accelerated in the aftermath of a magnetic explosion on the Sun.
  • While the magnetic explosions are not yet observable, these weak radio flashes are ‘smoking guns’ or the evidence for the same.
  • Hence it brought the researchers closer to explaining the coronal heating problem.

Their significance

  • These observations are the strongest evidence till date that the tiny magnetic explosions originally referred to as ‘nanoflares’ by eminent American solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker.
  • It is the possible phenomena that could be heating up the corona (the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and other stars).

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)

  • The phenomenon of coronal heating has been known for the last 70 years, the availability of cutting edge data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope proved to be a game-changer.
  • The MWA is a low-frequency radio telescope, located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia.
  • The MWA has been developed by an international collaboration, including partners from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, Canada and the United States.

Solving the mystery

  • The strength of the magnetic fields varies a lot from one place on the surface of the Sun to another, by more than a factor of 1,000.
  • But the corona is hot everywhere. So, this heating process has to work all over the corona, even in regions of weak magnetic fields.
  • Until now, the process of how this magnetic energy is deposited in the corona had remained a mystery.

Tribes in News

Tribes in news: Changpa Tribe

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pashmina Goats

Mains level : NA

The Chinese Army’s intrusion in Chumur and Demchok has left Ladakh’s nomadic herding Changpa community cut off from large parts of summer pastures.

Pashmina shawl is a landmark product of the Kashmir Valley. But make a note here. It carries only a BIS certification and not a Geographical Indicator.

Also try this PYQ from CSP 2014:

Q. With reference to ‘Changpa’ community of India, consider the following statement:

1. They live mainly in the State of Uttarakhand.
2. They rear the Pashmina goats that yield fine wool.
3. They are kept in the category of Scheduled Tribes.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

a) 1 only
b) 2 and 3 only
c) 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

Changpa Tribes

  • The Changpa of Ladakh is high altitude pastoralists, raising mainly yaks and goats.
  • Among the Ladakh Changpa, those who are still nomadic are known as Phalpa, and they take their herds from in the Hanley Valley to the village of Lato.
  • Hanley is home to six isolated settlements, where the sedentary Changpa, the Fangpa reside.
  • Despite their different lifestyles, both these groups intermarry.
  • The Changpa speak Changskhat, a dialect of Tibetan, and practice Tibetan Buddhism.

What is the issue?

  • The Chinese Army has taken over 16 kanals (two acres) of cultivable land in Chumur and advanced around 15 km inside Demchok, taking over traditional grazing pastures and cultivable lowlands.
  • In a cascading effect, this has resulted in a sharp rise in deaths of young Pashmina goats this year in the Korzok-Chumur belt of Changthang plateau in Ladakh.
  • This incursion has destabilized the annual seasonal migration of livestocks, including yaks and Pashmina goats.

Back2Basics: Pashmina

  • The Changthangi or Ladakh Pashmina is a breed of Cashmere goat native to the high plateau of Ladakh.
  • The much-valued wool from the Ladakh herds is essential for the prized Pashmina shawls woven in Kashmir and famous for their intricate handwork.
  • They survive on the grass in Ladakh, where temperatures plunge to as low as −20 °C.
  • These goats provide the wool for Kashmir’s famous pashmina shawls. Shawls made from Pashmina wool are considered very fine and are exported worldwide.
  • Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has recently published an Indian Standard for identification, marking and labelling of Pashmina products to certify its purity.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Depsang Plain near LAC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Depsang Plain and its location

Mains level : India-China border skirmishes and their impacts on bilateral relations

Reports of a heavy Chinese presence at Depsang, an area at a crucial dip (called the Bulge) on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have increased the recent tensions between Indian and Chinese troops.

For the Depsang Plain, a prelim based question is hardly possible. However one must know all the fronts of border disputes from mains perspective.

Depsang Plain

  • The “Depsang Plain” is one of the few places in the Western Sector where light armour (vehicles) would have ease of manoeuvre, so any Chinese buildup there is a cause for concern.
  • India controls the western portion of the plains as part of Ladakh, whereas the eastern portion is part of the Aksai Chin region, which is controlled by China and claimed by India.
  • The buildup invokes memories of both the 1962 war, when Chinese troops had occupied all of the Depsang plains.
  • More recently in April 2013, the PLA crossed the LAC and pitched tents on the Indian side for three weeks, before they agreed to pull out.

Also read:

https://www.civilsdaily.com/burning-issue-india-china-skirmish-in-ladakh/

Railway Reforms

The Deccan Queen Express

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deccan Queen

Mains level : NA

The historic Deccan Queen train between Mumbai and Pune completed 90 years on June 1.

Take the opportunity to revise some of reformative measure in the Indian Railways taken through these years.  Click here to read more .

The Deccan Queen

  • The Deccan Queen was introduced between Mumbai and Pune on June 1, 1930 by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR), the forerunner of the Central Railway.
  • This was the first deluxe train introduced to serve the two important cities of the region, and was named after Pune – also known as the “Queen of Deccan”.
  • It is among the rare Indian trains that have never been hauled using steam traction and were always electric-powered; on rare instances running on diesel.
  • The GIPR in the 1940s would run Race Special trains for Mumbai’s horse racing enthusiasts who would come to Pune on weekends and race days.
  • This train holds many a record, including that of being India’s first superfast train, first long-distance electric-hauled train, first vestibuled train, the first train to have a ‘women-only’ car, and the first train to feature a dining car.

Back2Basics: Railways in India

  • Indian Railways started its service 164 years ago on 16 April 1853.
  • The first railway proposals for India were made in Madras in 1832.
  • The first train was run over a stretch of 33 kilometres from Mumbai to Thane and was hauled by three steam locomotives named Sahib, Sindh and Sultan.
  • Indian Railway now has the 4th largest rail network in the world after the United States of America, China and Russia.