CURRENT AFFAIRS – 18/08/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 18/08/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 18/08/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 18/08/2023

Sulina Channel for Ukraine Grain Trade

(General Studies- Paper I and II)

Source : IE

The Danube delta has become an alternative route for Ukraine’s grain exports after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal.

  • The earlier deal facilitated safe passage for cargo ships carrying grain from Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdennyi.

Key Highlights

  • The Sulina Channel, a 63 km long distributary of the Danube within Romania’s borders, is a crucial part of this new trade route.
  • Ukraine is a significant grain exporter and heavily relies on agricultural exports for its economy.
  • The Sulina Channel is the only deep and wide enough route for freight transport on the Danube, serving as a riverine ‘expressway’ to the Black Sea.
  • Ukrainian ships carrying grain travel from ports like Izmail and Reni on the Chilia Channel to the port of Sulina.
  • From Sulina, grain is transferred to larger ships in Constanta, Romania’s largest seaport, for further export through the Mediterranean.
  • Although this route offers an alternative to Russia-caused disruptions, issues like potential attacks on Ukrainian ports and limited port capacity remain.
  • The sudden increase in grain volume has strained Ukrainian ports’ capacity to handle the exports.
  • Romania’s transport minister suggested using rail to transport grain from Ukraine to Romanian ports as an alternative solution.
  • Congestion at the mouth of the Sulina Channel has caused shipping delays due to the high traffic volume.
  • Utilizing the Danube delta for grain exports is a significant shift for Ukraine, which historically relied on rail and Black Sea ports.

About The Danube delta

  • Location: The Danube delta is located in Eastern Europe at the mouth of the Danube River, where it empties into the Black Sea.
  • Countries: The delta spans across the borders of Romania and Ukraine.
  • Size: It covers an area of about 4,152 square kilometers.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Danube delta is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique biodiversity and ecosystem.
  • Three Major Channels: The delta is characterized by three major distributaries of the Danube River: Chilia, Sulina, and St. George.
  • Sulina Channel: The Sulina Channel is the most significant channel for freight transport due to its depth and width.
    • It provides a crucial trade route from major Ukrainian ports to the Black Sea.
  • Biodiversity: The delta is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including various bird species, fish, and plant life.
  • Wetlands and Lagoons: The landscape consists of wetlands, lagoons, marshes, and lakes, forming a complex and ecologically rich environment.
  • Economic Importance: The delta supports local economies through fishing, agriculture, and tourism, attracting visitors interested in its natural beauty and wildlife.

The new non-poor

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source : IE

The Prime Minister recently emphasized a relationship between poverty reduction and middle-class empowerment.

  • E highlighted that the 13.5 crore individuals who moved out of poverty can be seen as transitioning into the middle class.

National Multidimensional Poverty Index Report:

  • This reference to 13.5 crore people is derived from the second National Multidimensional Poverty Index report released by NitiAayog on July 17.
  • The report represents an update to the first version published in 2021.
  • The 2023 edition of the index employs data gathered from the latest round of the National Family Health Survey, which spans the years 2019 to 2021.
  • The report’s analysis captures changes in multidimensional poverty across two survey periods: NFHS-4 (2015-16) and NFHS-5 (2019-21).Poverty Reduction Statistics:

Poverty Reduction Statistics:

  • Poverty headcount ratio dropped from around 25% to under 15% between NFHS-4 and NFHS-5.
  • This signifies a decline in the proportion of multi-dimensionally poor individuals in the country.
  • In absolute terms, approximately 135 million Indians emerged from multidimensional poverty during this period.

Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and Estimation:

  • The MPI assesses poverty by considering multiple dimensions of deprivation.
  • It measures deprivations in health and nutrition, education, and standard of living.
  • Three dimensions: health and nutrition, education, and standard of living.
  • Health Dimension:
    • Monitors nutrition, child and adolescent mortality, and maternal health.
  • Education Dimension:
    • Tracks years of schooling and school attendance.
  • Standard of Living Dimension:
    • Monitors various variables like sanitation, drinking water, and bank account.
  • India’s MPI encompasses 12 variables within these dimensions.
  • Methodology and Partners:
    • The MPI is based on Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) methodology.
    • OPHI and UNDP are technical partners in the formulation of India’s MPI.
  • Comparison to Global MPI:
    • India’s MPI differs from the Global MPI.
    • Global MPI has 10 variables, while India’s MPI includes 12 variables.
    • Additional variables in India’s MPI: maternal health and bank account.

Comparison of Poverty Reduction and India’s Past Record:

  • The reduction in poverty (13.5 crore individuals) within the NFHS rounds’ period is not comparable to India’s traditional poverty estimation due to the multidimensional nature of the index.

Global MPI Report:

  • The Global MPI 2023 report, released in July, highlights a significant poverty reduction in India.
  • It indicates that 415 million people in India escaped poverty between 2005-06 and 2019-21.

Breakdown of Poverty Reduction:

  • It is highlighted that out of the 415 million people who moved out of poverty:
    • 270 million transitioned between 2005-06 and 2015-16.
    • The remaining transitioned in the subsequent years.

Comparison of Poverty Ratios:

  • The Global MPI calculates India’s poverty ratio at 16.4%.
  • NitiAayog’s MPI reports a poverty ratio of 14.96%.
  • The disparity arises due to the inclusion of two additional metrics and variations in definitions between the two indices.

Traditional Poverty Estimation in India:

  • Since the publication of DadabhaiNaoroji’s book “Poverty and Un-British Rule in India” in 1901, India has employed a monetary approach to estimate poverty.
  • The objective has been to determine the monetary amount required for subsistence diet (Naoroji’s approach) or a basic standard of living.
  • Data Collection and Expert Committees:
    • Due to challenges in collecting income data, India utilized consumption expenditure surveys conducted every five years to gauge spending on consumption.
    • Expert committees led by D T Lakdawala (1993), Suresh Tendulkar (2009), and C Rangarajan (2014) formulated poverty lines based on consumption expenditure data.
    • Poverty line is the consumption expenditure level (in rupees) that differentiates the poor from the non-poor.
  • Official Poverty Statistics and Challenges:
    • India’s last official poverty statistics are from 2011, using consumption expenditure data.
    • However, the government discarded the 2017-18 consumption expenditure survey, which indicated declining rural consumption and potential rise in abject poverty.
  • Alternate Approaches and Data Challenges:
    • In the absence of updated consumption data, economists have explored alternatives like using data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) or the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
  • Despite efforts, the lack of reliable data continues to cast uncertainty on poverty estimation, hampering comprehensive discussions.

Link between Poverty Reduction and Middle Class

  • There is no official definition of the middle class in India, making it challenging to determine if those leaving poverty directly enter the middle class.
  • Private research organizations offer estimates of the Indian middle class, often with income levels higher than those emerging from poverty.
  • Middle Class Estimates by Research Organizations:
    • A report titled ‘The rise of India’s middle class,’ published by People Research on India’s Consumer Economy (PRICE), categorizes households into four groups: Destitutes, Aspirers, Middle Class, and Rich.
    • The Middle Class group is characterized by an annual income range of Rs 5 lakh to Rs 30 lakh (2020-21 prices).
    • In contrast, households categorized as Destitutes have an annual income below Rs 1.25 lakh.
  • Middle Class Statistics According to PRICE:
    • As of 2021, within India’s population of 1,416 million:
    • 196 million individuals fall under the ‘Destitutes’ category.
    • 432 million individuals belong to the ‘Middle Class’ category.
    • 732 million individuals are classified as ‘Aspirers.’

Drones to monitor MGNREGA worksites

(General Studies- Paper II)

Now, drones to monitor progress, quality of assets produced at MGNREGS worksites

Now, drones to monitor MGNREGS worksites

Source : TH

The Union Ministry of Rural Development plans to enhance surveillance of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) worksites using drones.

  • Drones will be utilized to monitor progress and quality of assets produced under the scheme.
  • A standard operating procedure (SOP) has been issued by the Ministry outlining the drone-based monitoring process.

Key Highlights

  • Four Types of Monitoring Using Drones:
    • Ongoing Works Survey: Drones will survey the progress of ongoing projects.
    • Completed Works Inspection: Drones will inspect the quality of completed projects.
    • Impact Assessment: Drones will aid in assessing the impact of MGNREGA projects.
    • Special Inspection for Complaints: In response to complaints, drones will provide real-time monitoring and evidence gathering.
  • Reason for Drone Implementation:
    • Corruption complaints related to MGNREGA projects prompted the introduction of drones.
    • Drones will help with real-time monitoring, evidence collection, and addressing irregularities in the scheme.
  • Previous Technological Intervention:
    • Since May 2022, a mobile-based application has been used to capture attendance of MGNREGA workers at worksites.
  • Drones’ Usage and Role of Ombudsperson:
    • Drones will be operated by the ombudsperson, designated under the MGNREGA Act for each district.
    • Ombudspersons are responsible for registering complaints and resolving them within 30 days.
    • Drones will assist in efficient monitoring, grievance redressal, and virtual verification of works.
  • Funding and Implementation:
    • States won’t receive extra funds from the Union government for drone deployment.
    • States are expected to allocate funds from their administrative budget (around 10% of MGNREGA budget) for this purpose.
    • Instead of purchasing drones, States are advised to hire drone-specializing agencies.
  • Centralized Dashboard for Data Analysis:
    • A central dashboard will be established to store videos and photos collected by drones.
    • The dashboard will facilitate data analysis, reporting, and centralized data storage.
    • This approach aims to enhance transparency, curb corruption, and improve the effectiveness of MGNREGA projects through real-time surveillance using drone technology.

The funding and demand for MGNREGA

  • Importance of MGNREGA for Rural Employment:
    • The Economic Survey 2022-23 highlighted that 6.49 crore households demanded work under MGNREGA.
    • Out of these, 6.48 crore households were offered employment, and 5.7 crore households availed it.
    • MGNREGA positively impacts household income, agricultural productivity, and production-related spending.
    • The scheme diversifies income and strengthens resilience in rural livelihoods.

  • Overview of MGNREGA:
    • MGNREGA, enacted in 2005, aims to enhance rural livelihood security.
    • It guarantees 100 days of unskilled work annually for rural households in all districts except 100% urban ones.
    • Current enrolment includes 15.51 crore active workers.
    • Projects include water conservation, land development, construction, agriculture, and allied work.
  • MGNREGA’s Role during COVID-19:
    • MGNREGA provided crucial support during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the first lockdown in 2020.
    • The scheme’s budget was increased to ₹1.11 lakh crore, benefiting a record 11 crore workers.
    • Studies show MGNREGA wages compensated 20% to 80% of income loss due to lockdown.
    • Demand surged during pandemic years: 8.55 crore households in 2020-21, 8.05 crore in 2021-22.
  • Budget Allocation Changes:
    • Budgetary allocations for MGNREGA have shown a consistent upward trend since 2013.
    • Allocations increased from ₹32,992 crore in the 2013-14 Union Budget to ₹73,000 crore in 2021-22.
    • Recent years have seen actual expenditures surpass the budgeted amounts.
    • In 2021-22, despite an allocation of ₹73,000 crore, supplementary allocations were required due to funds depletion.
    • But, it is noted that a significant portion (80-90%) of the budget gets utilized within the first six months each year.
    • This rapid expenditure rate results in a slowdown of work on the ground and delays in wage payments to workers.
  • Challenges in Implementation:
    • Despite the scheme guaranteeing 100 days of employment per household, less than 10% of the households completed this since 2016-17.
    • Average employment days per household dropped to a five-year low, from 50 to 42 days in 2022.
    • Parliamentary Committee and activist groups recommend raising guaranteed days to 150 per year.
  • Wage Payment Delays:
    • Delayed wage payments are a persistent issue; ₹4,700 crore in MGNREGA wages were owed to 18 States in December 2022.
    • Supreme Court’s 2016 directive to ensure timely wages due to forced labour concerns.
  • Additional Concerns:
    • Delayed material costs (₹5,450 crore) disrupt the supply chain and MNREGA projects.
    • Central government fixes minimum wage rate based on Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers.
    • Panel suggests deciding minimum wage using Consumer Price Index-Rural for more accurate estimation.
  • Challenges include fake job cards, corruption, late muster roll uploads, inconsistent unemployment allowance payment.

The gaps in the Births and Deaths Registration (Amendment) Act

(General Studies- Paper II)

Gaps in Births and Deaths Registration (Amendment) Act

Source : TH

The Registration of Births and Deaths (RBD) Act, 1969, mandates the registration of births and deaths under a uniform law across India.

  • The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to amend the Act for various reasons.

Key Highlights

  • Objectives of the Amendment Bill:
    • The Bill aims to create a National and State-level database of registered births and deaths.
    • This database will update various other databases for efficient and transparent delivery of public services and social benefits.
  • Building Databases:
    • Registrar General of India must maintain a national-level database of births and deaths.
    • Chief Registrar of births and deaths in each State should maintain a State-level database using an approved portal.
    • These databases will provide information to update databases like National Population Register, Aadhaar, electoral rolls, ration card, passport, etc.
  • Aadhaar Numbers and Deceased Individuals:
    • Amendments require collecting Aadhaar numbers of parents during birth registration.
    • There’s no mention of collecting Aadhaar numbers of deceased individuals.
    • Not collecting Aadhaar numbers of deceased individuals might hinder the objective of efficient service delivery.
  • Central vs. State Databases:
    • Registration is primarily a State government responsibility.
    • Registrar General of India’s role is to coordinate and unify the registration system.
    • The central database complements State-level databases but raises questions about the necessity of a separate national-level database.
  • Sharing Information:
    • Central database information are accessible to authorities maintaining other national-level databases.
    • But, if those authorities require information from the database of registered births and deaths to update their databases, it requires amendment in the laws or executive orders.
    • In this Act, it needs only an enabling provision for information sharing, considering birth and death registers are public documents.
  • Concerns about Database Listing:
    • Listing a few databases for consideration by Parliament and leaving future additions to the government is questionable.
    • Parliament’s role might be undermined, and future additions could be concerning.
    • Example: Addition of databases without parliamentary approval, potentially impacting family planning programs.
  • Certificate of Cause of Death:
    • Amendments require a cause of death certificate for deaths in medical institutions.
    • Challenges include medical practitioners not always arriving at a definitive diagnosis before death.
    • Non-standard causes of death recorded by practitioners of alternative medicine might not align with international classifications.
    • Challenge in issuing certificates for deaths outside medical facilities where diagnosis might be lacking.
  • Presumed Deaths in Calamities:
    • Suggestion to include a provision for registering ‘presumed deaths’ during natural calamities or accidents.
    • This would allow families to obtain death certificates earlier than the current seven-year waiting period.

The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill, 2023

The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill, 2023 seeks to amend the 1969 Act.

Key Features of the Bill

  • Database of Births and Deaths:
    • The Act provides for the appointment of a Registrar-General, India who may issue general directions for registration of births and deaths.
    • Registrar General to maintain a national database of registered births and deaths.
    • Chief Registrars (appointed by states) and Registrars (appointed for local areas) obligated to share data with the national database.
    • Chief Registrars to maintain a similar state-level database.
  • Electronic Certificates:
    • Individuals can request a search for entries or extracts from birth and death registers.
    • Bill amends this to enable obtaining birth or death certificates electronically or otherwise.
  • Aadhaar Details of Parents and Informants:
    • The Act requires certain persons to report births and deaths to the Registrar.
      • For example, the medical officer in charge of a hospital where a baby is born must report the birth.
    • In cases of births, specified persons must provide Aadhaar numbers of parents and informants.
    • Applies to births in hospitals, jails, hotels, lodges, and more.
    • List of specified persons expanded to include adoptive parents, biological parents in surrogacy, single parents, and unwed mothers.
  • Connecting Databases:
    • National database can be shared with authorities maintaining other databases like population register, electoral rolls, ration card, etc.
    • Use of national database requires central government approval.
    • State database can be shared with authorities maintaining state-level databases, with state government approval.
  • Use of Birth Certificate:
    • The Bill requires the use of birth and death certificates to prove the date and place of birth for persons born on or after this Bill comes into effect.
    • The information will be used for purposes including:
      • (i) admission to an educational institution,
      • (ii) preparation of voter lists,
      • (iii) appointment to a government post, and
      • (iv) any other purpose determined by the central government.
    • Appeal Process:
      • Individuals can appeal actions or orders of Registrar or District Registrar to the District Registrar or Chief Registrar.
      • Appeals must be made within 30 days from receipt of action or order.
      • Decision on appeals by District Registrar or Chief Registrar within 90 days from the date of appeal.
    • Use of Birth Certificate: Concerns and Implications:
      • The Right to Education Act, 2009, mandates admission to elementary education based on birth certificates or other prescribed documents.
      • The earlier Act also provides that no child should be denied admission on the grounds of lack of age proof.
      • The Bill lacks exemptions, potentially leading to lifelong denial of education for children whose births were not registered.
    • Right to vote:
      • Article 326 guarantees citizens above 18 the right to vote.
      • Requiring birth certificates for voting could curtail this fundamental right.
    • Violation of Aadhaar Judgment:
      • The Aadhaar judgment (Puttaswamy 2018) recognized the Aadhaar Act, 2016, as a money Bill and limited its use to government benefits and services.
      • The judgement invalidated Aadhaar linking for non-government purposes, such as bank accounts and mobile phone connections.
      • Linking Aadhaar to birth certificates may similarly violate the principles set forth in the Aadhaar judgment.
    • Data Sharing Across Databases:
      • The Bill permits the sharing of the national database for births and deaths with authorities responsible for maintaining other databases, such as electoral rolls and ration cards.
      • This data sharing is contingent on approval from the central and state governments, respectively.
      • Notably, the Bill does not mandate obtaining consent from individuals whose data is being linked across databases.
      • This absence of a consent requirement raises potential concerns about violating an individual’s right to privacy and control over their personal information.
    • Birth certificate may become the sole conclusive proof for age:
      • The Bill establishes birth certificates as the sole and definitive proof of age and place of birth for various purposes, including voting, education, marriage, and government jobs.
      • Individuals without a birth certificate may face significant challenges in exercising their rights.
      • They could be excluded from activities such as voting, accessing education, and pursuing certain job opportunities.
      • The exclusive reliance on birth certificates as the primary proof could create perverse incentives for corruption.
      • Individuals without birth certificates may feel compelled to pay bribes or engage in unethical practices to obtain one, particularly if these certificates become a gateway to essential rights and services.
    • May discriminate against children in need of care and protection:
      • Placing the burden of proving age and identity solely on a birth certificate could be unfair to children who lack this documentation.
      • It might further marginalize those who are already vulnerable and in need of support.
      • For example, there may be instances where a child’s birth was registered but they ran away from home, or lost their parents in a natural disaster.
      • If such a child wants to enrol in school, determining their age may be difficult.   

Stealth Frigate INS Vindhyagiri

(General Studies- Paper III)

President Murmu launches warship Vindhyagiri

Source : TH

The Indian Navy launched INS Vindhyagiri, a ship in the series of Project 17A (Alpha) frigates.

  • The ship was built by the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) in Kolkata.

Key Highlights

  • NS Vindhyagiri is named after a mountain range located in Karnataka, India.
  • It is, overall, the sixth ship to be built under the Project 17A frigates initiative.
  • The Project 17A programme involves the construction of a total of seven frigates, out of which four are being built by Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) and three by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE).
  • These frigates are designed to be advanced successors of the Project 17 Class Frigates (Shivalik Class).
  • The first five ships of the Project 17A frigates were launched between 2019 and 2022 by MDL and GRSE.
  • The Project 17A frigates are designed with enhanced stealth features, advanced weaponry, sensors, and platform management systems compared to their predecessors.
  • The first stealth ship launched under Project 17A was the Nilgiri, which was launched in 2019.
  • Udaygiri, the second ship, was launched in May 2022, and will likely be commissioned in 2024.

Note: The Project 17A ships have been designed in-house by the Indian Navy’s Warship Design Bureau. According to the Navy, as much as 75% of the orders for equipment and systems of Project 17A ships are from indigenous firms.