CURRENT AFFAIRS – 21/07/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS - 21/07/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 21/07/2023

Why is Kerch Bridge attack significant?

What is the strategic importance of the bridge? Is Ukraine behind this attack? How did Russia respond? What was the key objective of the Ukrainian counteroffensive? Why did Russia withdraw from a UN-brokered grain deal? What guarantees did Ukraine get from its Western allies at the NATO summit?


The story so far:

The Kerch Bridge, which links the Russian mainland to the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, came under attack last week. One section of the bridge was damaged in what the Russians called an attack by two Ukrainian sea drones. Ukraine hasn’t taken direct responsibility for the attack, but its security services SBU said details of what happened to the bridge would be revealed after “Ukraine has won the war”. In retaliation, Russia carried out a massive airstrike at the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa. Russia also announced, hours after the attack, that it was withdrawing from an UN-brokered deal that allowed Ukraine to export its grain via the Black Sea, where Russia has enforced a naval blockade.

What happened to the Kerch Bridge?

According to Russian authorities, one of the sections of the bridge was blown up killing two people and injuring a child. A video footage released by local media showed a portion of the bridge tilted and hanging down. The Kerch bridge, across the Kerch Strait, is 19 km long and has two parallel rail and roadways. It was opened in 2018 by Russian President Vladimir Putin with great fanfare, four years after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine through a contested referendum. Six hours after the attack, the rail service was restored, but the road remains shut. This is not the first time the bridge is being targeted. Last October, a massive truck bomb damaged the bridge and killed three people. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later termed the attack on the bridge one of the successful operations of the Ukrainian forces.

Why is this bridge so important?

The bridge is important for Russia for symbolic, administrative and operational reasons. When Russia swiftly moved to annex Crimea in 2014, after a pro-Russian elected government in Kyiv fell amid West-backed anti-regime protests, there was no direct connectivity between the Russian mainland and Crimea. Mr. Putin immediately ordered the construction of the bridge. But the bridge remained a weak link as Ukraine grew in military strength, backed by the West, in the subsequent years. When Mr. Putin ordered a full-scale war on February 24, 2022 (what the Russians still call a ‘special military operation’), one of the military objectives, according to experts, was to secure a “land bridge” from mainland Russia to Crimea. Russia now has the land bridge extending from northeastern Ukraine through the Donbas and Kherson to Crimea, but it is not far from the frontline and well within the range of Ukrainian fire. So, the Kerch Bridge remains a critical logistical supply link for the Russian troops in the south. Last year, Ukraine targeted the Kerch Bridge when it was planning an offensive to retake kherson. The plan was to disrupt the supplies when Ukrainians attacked Russian troops on the western bank of the Dnieper River. The Russian troops withdrew from the kherson city in November to the eastern bank of the river. Last week’s attack came at a time when a Ukrainian counteroffensive was under way. One of the key goals of the counteroffensive, which began in early June, was to destroy Mr. Putin’s land bridge, according to the Western officials. Ukrainian troops want to make deep thrusts into the Russian-held territories of the southeast reaching the Sea of Azov coast, which would leave Crimea further vulnerable to future Ukrainian attacks, leaving the Kerch Bridge the only link between mainland Russia and the peninsula. Ukraine also wants to disrupt Russian supplies to southern Ukraine, which is the focal area of the counteroffensive.

Where does Ukraine’s counteroffensive stand?

Ukraine launched the counteroffensive with advanced weapons supplied by the West. Over the past several months, Mr. Zelenskyy has consistently campaigned for more advanced weapons from the West to fight the Russians. The U.S. and its European allies have supplied armoured vehicles, long range rockets, cruise missiles, main battle tanks and missile defence systems, besides artillery shells and ammunition. They also provide training to Ukrainian troops at different facilities in Europe and in the U.S. The U.S. alone has announced 42 aid packages for Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. In the latest package, the U.S. announced its decision to send cluster munitions, which have been banned by over 100 countries for the indiscriminate harm they cause to civilians, to Ukraine. Allies wanted Ukraine to make swift battlefield gains against Russia in the counteroffensive to put pressure on Mr. Putin. But after six weeks of fighting, Ukraine hasn’t taken any breakthrough victory. Kyiv says its troops have recaptured some 210 sq. km of territories since the counteroffensive began, mostly in the southeast. But these were ghost villages along the frontline. Ukraine made these limited gains at a high cost. According to an NYT report, which cites American and European officials, Ukraine lost 20% of the weaponry it sent to the battlefield, including West-supplied main battle tanks and armoured vehicles, in the first two weeks of the counteroffensive.

The battle lines moved substantially only twice this year — first in January when the Russians took Soledar and then in May when the Russians took Bakhmut. The Russians have built huge fortifications along the over 1000-km long frontline, with mines and tank traps, which seem to have slowed down the much-expected Ukrainian counteroffensive. This puts Ukraine under pressure. In the recently concluded NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Ukraine got guarantees from its Western allies for more weapons and training. Kyiv also said the major thrust of the counteroffensive was yet to begin. Then came the attack on the Kerch Bridge.


The Kerch Bridge, which links the Russian mainland to the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, came under attack last week. Waterborne drones struck the sole bridge.

Ukraine hasn’t taken responsibility for the attack, but its security services SBU has said details of what happened to the bridge will be revealed after Ukraine has won the war.

The bridge is important to Russia for symbolic, administrative and operational reasons.

One of the key goals of the Ukrainian counteroffensive was to destroy the bridge, cutting off Russia from Crimea; it also wants to disrupt Russian supplies to southern Ukraine, which is the focal area.

No quick fix

India’s private sector must be incentivised to see value in invention

Among the most important pieces of legislation slated to be tabled in the current monsoon session of Parliament is the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023. While a draft is not in the public domain, it envisages a new, centralised body to fund research, with a budget of ₹50,000 crore, over the next five years. The NRF draws on models such as the United States’s National Science Foundation whose nearly $8 billion budget is the major source of funding for college and university research, and the European Research Council, which funds basic and applied research. However, the NRF’s plan, going by public statements of administrators, is to draw the bulk of its budget — ₹36,000 crore — from the private sector. For many years, India’s spending on research has lagged between 0.6%-0.8% of GDP, or lower than the 1%-2% spent by countries with an economic base reliant on science and technology. In countries such as China, the U.S. and Israel, the private sector contributed nearly 70% of the research expenditure whereas in India, this was only about 36% of India’s total research expenditure — roughly ₹1.2 lakh crore — in 2019-20. Therefore, the Centre reasons, the way to galvanise university research in India would be to attract more private money. While that is a reasonable expectation, it is unclear how such a proposal can be executed. One of the suggestions is to have the funds private companies allot, as part of their annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations, directed to the NRF. Data from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs show that during FY-2022, companies spent ₹14,588 crore as part of their CSR obligations. CSR trends suggest that nearly 70% of such funds were spent in education, health care, and sanitation projects. Moreover, many of the companies spend this on initiatives that are located within their own communities, with the government not having a say on how this must be spent. Whether the government can force, or offer tax benefits, to coax some of these funds into the NRF remains to be seen.

The relatively greater contribution of private sector research in many countries is because of sustained government support to universities and research institutions, that have then encouraged individuals to build companies, and institutions that saw value in investing in research and development. The challenge in India is not the absence of such companies but the fact that there are too few of them. Organisations such as the NRF should work to create conditions which incentivise the development of private sector organisations that see value in invention and developing proprietary technology. Philanthropy is unlikely to be the panacea.

Facts about the News

This significant move aims to establish the NRF, an apex body that will play a pivotal role in seeding, nurturing, and promoting Research and Development (R&D) while fostering a culture of research and innovation across universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories in India.

  • NRF – The bill will establish National Research Foundation as an apex body.
  • SERB – The bill will repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), a statutory body that was established in 2008 to promote basic research in Science and Engineering and to provide financial assistance to persons engaged in R&D.
  • SERB will be subsumed into NRF which has an expanded mandate and covers activities over and above the activities of SERB.
  • NRF is one of the key recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
  • It is modelled on the lines of the hugely successful National Science Foundation of the United States.
  • Aim – The NRF intends to act as a coordinating agency between researchers, various government bodies and industry, thus bringing industry into the mainstream of research.
  • The NRF plans to seed, grow and facilitate research in India’s universities, especially State universities, by funding research infrastructure and researchers.

Composition of Governing Board

  • Ex-Officio President – Prime Minister
  • Ex-Officio Vice Presidents

Minister of Science and Technology and

Minister of Education

  • Executive Council will govern the functioning of NRF
  • Executive Council will be chaired by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India.

Establishment of NRF: The NRF Bill, upon approval by Parliament, will establish the National Research Foundation. This apex body will provide high-level strategic direction for scientific research in the country, aligning with the recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP). The estimated cost for NRF’s establishment and operation over five years (2023-2028) is approximately Rs. 50,000 crore.

Administrative Department and Governing Board: The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will serve as the administrative department for NRF. The foundation will be governed by a distinguished Governing Board comprising eminent researchers and professionals across various disciplines. The Prime Minister will be the ex-officio President of the Board, while the Union Minister of Science & Technology and the Union Minister of Education will serve as ex-officio Vice-Presidents. The Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India will chair the Executive Council, which will oversee NRF’s functioning.

Collaboration and Participation: NRF will facilitate collaborations between academia, industry, government departments, and research institutions. It will establish an interface mechanism to encourage active participation and contributions from industries and state governments, in addition to scientific and line ministries. The foundation will focus on creating a policy framework and regulatory processes to promote collaboration and enhance industry spending on R&D.

Repeal of Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB): The NRF Bill will also entail the repeal of the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established in 2008 through an act of Parliament. SERB will be subsumed into NRF, which will have an expanded mandate covering activities beyond those of SERB.

Centre-mandated health spending has positive impact: study

Measures taken by the National Health Mission (NHM) have given a positive fillip to the health sector across the country over the past 15 years, a study published in the Public Health For All journal has concluded.The States received Cenfunding only if theycomplied with the Central government’s schemes, and States were nudged to enhance investment in primary health care.

This had a positive impact, write researchers Shankar Prinja, V.R. Muraleedharan and Girija Vaidhyanathan in Financing Primary Healthcare Fiscal Federal Relations in India in the journal published by the India International Centre.

The researchers studied the impact of public health policies and the Centre’s contribution in four States – Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Haryana and Bihar. They found that States had slowly increased allocation to their health budgets.

The target of 8% of total State budget has yet to be achieved. The target was envisaged in the National Health Policy of 2017.

In 2018-2019 states spent an estimated 5.2% of the total budget on health.

ThatNHM’s conditional allocation has helped is seen from the steady fall in the country’s infant mortality rate.

Also, the disparity in per capita public spending across States has reduced. But the health departments continue to struggle with the issue of underspending of allocated funds.

The NHM is not likely to withdraw conditions to contributions it makes to the States in “the near future” given that the mission is invested with implementing Centrally-sponsored schemes with a sizable allocation, the researchers conclude.States must develop concrete plans to build their primary health care delivery system to achieve one of the key objectives of the NHM – universal health coverage.

For States to develop a clear road map, the Centre must develop a National Database of Health System Cost, which should be updated with the estimated cost of comprehensive primary health care, researchers recommend.

They posit that the way forward isto make realistic estimates of the cost of delivering (primary, secondary and tertiary) healthcare; to arrive at a threshold level of cost-per year of quality adjusted life year (QALY) gained through primary healthcare interventions.

SC urges Centre to transfer cheetahs to another location

The SC has asked the law officer to submit an affidavit on the death of cheetahs.

The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday told the Union government that the deaths of 40% of the 20 cheetahs brought from South Africa and Namibia to the Kuno National Park (KNP) within a year does not present a good picture.

A Bench headed by Justice B.R. Gavai urged the government to move the big cats to a more conducive environment, if required, and not make it a “prestige issue”.

“Eight cheetahs dying out of a total 20 brought here in just one year does not present a good picture. Last week alone, two died. You should look at other possibilities, like transferring them to other sanctuaries irrespective of which State government is running them. Why are you making this a prestige issue,” the court asked the government.

Additional Solicitor-General Aishwarya Bhati, for the Centre, said the deaths, though unfortunate, were expected. She said there were several reasons leading to the deaths. The cheetah project was prestigious and the authorities are exploring various options for the well-being of the animals.

The court asked the law officer to file a detailed affidavit on the circumstances leading to the deaths and posted the case for further hearing on August 1.

On July 14, a male cheetah named Suraj, translocated from South Africa, died.

This took the total number of cheetah deaths at the park in Sheopur district since March to eight.

Another male cheetah, Tejas, brought from South Africa in February died on July 11.

Centre bans export of non-basmati white rice to control price rise in India

The Union government banned the export of non-basmati white rice on Thursday. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade under the Union Commerce Ministry announced in a notification that the ban would come into effect immediately and exemptions would be given only if the loading of non-basmati rice on the ship had commenced before the notification or the shipping bill was filed and vessels had already berthed or arrived and anchored in Indian ports.

The Union Food Ministry, in a statement, said the step was taken to ensure adequate availability of non-basmati white rice in the domestic market and to curb the price rise. Non-basmati rice was exported under the category ‘Free with export duty of 20%’. “The retail prices have increased by 11.5% over a year and 3% over the past month,” it added.

Export duty of 20% on non-basmati white rice was imposed last year to lower the price and to ensure availability in the domestic market. “However, the export of this variety increased from 33.66 lakh tonnes (September-March 2021-22) to 42.12 lt (September-March 2022-23) even after imposition of 20% export duty,” the Centre said, adding that in 2023-24, about 15.54 lt of this variety was exported against only 11.55 lt during 2022-23. “This sharp increase in exports can be ascribed to high international prices due to geo-political scenario, El Nino sentiments and extreme climatic conditions in other rice-producing countries, etc,” the Ministry said.

Bhoomi Samman Awards

Recently, the President of India presented the “Bhoomi Samman” 2023 at a function organised by the Union Ministry of Rural Development in New Delhi

Why in news?

The 9 state Secretaries and 68 District Collectors were presented with “Bhoomi Samman awards who have excelled in achieving saturation of the core components of Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP).

  • It aims to acknowledge and encourage outstanding performance in the implementation of the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP).
  • Madhya Pradesh has secured the first position in the field of Digital India Land Records modernization in the country.
  • 15 districts of Madhya Pradesh have been awarded Platinum Grading for 100 percent achievement in all the components of Digital India Land Records Management Programme.
  • It is a fine example of Centre-State cooperative federalism based on trust and partnership, as the grading system is largely based on reports and inputs of the States/UTs in the core components of computerization and digitization of land records.

about DILRMP

  • It is a central sector scheme being implemented by the Department of Land Resources under the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • Aim: It attempts to build upon the commonalities that exist in the arena of land records in various States to develop an appropriate Integrated Land Information Management System (ILIMS) across the country.
  • The ILIMS integrates all the processes and lands records databases with the banks, financial institutions, circle rates, Registration Offices and other sectors.
  • Major components: Computerization of land records, Survey/re-survey, Computerization of Registration.