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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – June 09-10, 2024

{GS2 – IR – International Organisations} Indo-U.S. poultry dispute

  • Context (TH): The settlement of complex disputes during litigation, or broadly ‘litigotiation’, was key to solving the long pending Indo-U.S. poultry dispute.

Background

  • In 2012, the US challenged India’s import restrictions on poultry products from the U.S. due to avian influenza or bird flu.
  • This is one of the oldest sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures related to disputes of the WTO.
  • The U.S.’s primary contention was that India failed to provide scientific justifications.
  • WTO Appellate Body ruled in favour of the US. Subsequently, India was given a year to modify or withdraw its inconsistent measures.
  • The U.S. later alleged that India had failed to meet obligations and filed a retaliation claim at the WTO.
  • In response, India filed its counter-dispute to establish that its revised measures conformed with WTO rules. Over the past decade, both parties have mainly kept these disputes abeyant.
  • In fresh negotiations, India has dodged a yearly $450 million claim. India has agreed to reduce tariffs on select products such as berries, frozen turkey & premium frozen duck meat destined for luxury hotels.

Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement)

  • It entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995.
  • It concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations.
  • The SPS Agreement explicitly permits governments to choose not to use international standards.
  • They should not arbitrarily discriminate between countries with identical or similar conditions.
  • Harmonisation: The SPS Agreement encourages governments to establish national SPS measures that are consistent with international standards, guidelines, and recommendations.
  • The WTO itself does not and will not develop such standards.

To know more, visit > WTO.

{GS2 – MoSPI – Initiatives} Household Consumption Expenditure (2022-23)

Key Findings

Expenditure on food items

  • Nationally, both rural and urban households spent the most on ‘beverages, refreshments, and processed food‘ among food items, with a few states like Kerala and Rajasthan as exceptions.
  • At the rural level, Haryana leads in spending on ‘milk and milk products’ (41.7%), and Kerala leads in spending on ‘egg, fish & meat’ (23.5%). In urban areas, Rajasthan tops in spending on ‘milk and milk products’ (33.2%), and Kerala leads in spending on ‘egg, fish & meat’ (19.8%).
  • Tamil Nadu emerged as the top in spending on “beverages, processed food, etc.” (both in rural & urban).
  • Food constitutes 46% of rural household spending and 39% of average monthly per capita consumption expenditure in urban areas. Milk and milk products have the second highest allocation in both areas.

Expenditure on non-food items

  • Conveyance” emerged as the top expense for non-food items in both rural and urban areas across most major states, followed by spending on durable goods, miscellaneous goods, and entertainment.
  • Durable goods: Highest in Kerala (both rural and urban).
  • Fuel & light: Highest in West Bengal (rural) and Odisha (urban).

Shifting Expenditure Patterns

  • The consumption expenditure on non-food items has steadily risen over the years, surpassing 50% for the first time in 2022-23. Rural areas – 53.62%; Urban areas – 60.83%.
  • In 2022-23, food expenditure fell below 50% of total monthly consumption for the first time.

Overall Consumption Growth

  • Rural: Average monthly per capita expenditure increased by 164% to Rs 3,773 (2022-23) from Rs 1,430 (2011-12). Urban: Increase of 146% to Rs 6,459 (2022-23) from Rs 2,630 (2011-12).

{GS2 – Polity – IC – Elections} A Case for Proportional Representation in India

  • Context (TH): The distribution of vote share in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections in 2024 raised the debate on the need for proportional representation in India’s electoral system.

Proportional Representation (PR) System

  • PR aims to ensure that a party’s share of legislative seats closely matches its share of the popular vote.
  • Three types: Single Transferable Vote (STV), Party-List System, and Mixed Member Proportional system.

Proportional Representation vs First Past the Post System

Feature First Past the Post (FPTP) Proportional Representation (PR)
Winner

Selection

  • The candidate with the most votes in a constituency wins.
  • Seats are allocated based on the party’s overall vote share (Party List PR).
Representation of Parties
  • Can lead to over/under-representation of parties.
  • Seats closely reflect parties’ vote shares.
Voter Choice
  • Vote for individual candidates.
  • Often, vote for party lists, not individuals.
Governing

Majorities

  • Provides stability by allowing the ruling party/coalition to govern with a majority.
  • May lead to coalition governments and diverse representation.
Political

Diversity

  • Tends to favour two-party systems.
  • Encourages multi-party systems.
Geographical Representation
  • The strong link between MPs and local constituencies.
  • Weaker local ties, especially in list-based PR.
Simplicity
  • Simple to understand and count.
  • It can be more complex (depending on the specific PR system)
Wasted Votes
  • High (votes for non-winning candidates don’t count).
  • Low (most votes contribute to seat allocation).
Examples
  • UK, US, India, Canada.
  • Brazil, Argentina, South Africa.
Thresholds
  • No minimum vote threshold.
  • Often has a minimum vote % for representation (e.g., 3-5% vote share).
Minority Representation
  • Can underrepresent minorities
  • Better represents minority views
Extremist

Parties

  • Tends to marginalise
  • May give a platform to extreme views
By-elections
  • Required if MP resigns/dies
  • Often filled from party lists

International Practices

  • Germany: Uses Mixed Member PR (MMPR), combining FPTP and proportional allocation.
  • New Zealand: The House of Representatives has 120 seats, 60% of which are FPTP and 40% proportional.
  • South Africa: Party-list proportional representation system.
  • Netherlands: Seats in parliament are directly proportional to vote share.
  • Belgium: Proportional representation ensures parties are represented according to their vote share.
  • The Law Commission’s 170th report recommended introducing the MMPR system on an experimental basis by filling 25% of seats through a PR system and increasing Lok Sabha’s strength.
  • It is also recommended that PR be implemented at the state/UT level to respect the federal structure.

{GS2 – Polity – IC – Parliament} Cabinet committees

  • Context (IE): After the Union Cabinet is sworn in and ministerial portfolios are assigned, the high-profile Cabinet committees are formed by the Prime Minister.

Cabinet Committees

  • The cabinet committees consist of selected cabinet members who address specific functions.
  • Each committee has 3-8 members and may occasionally include non-cabinet ministers or special invitees.
  • The Prime Minister can adjust the number of committees and their assigned functions.
  • Committees propose solutions, formulate proposals for cabinet consideration, and make decisions within their assigned areas. The cabinet can review these decisions.

Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS)

  • The PM heads it and comprises Finance, Defense, Home Affairs, and External Affairs ministries.
  • The scope of responsibility is National security discussions and appointments, Defence expenditure decisions, Law & order, and internal security, Foreign affairs related to security, Atomic energy matters.
  • The term “cabinet” is explicitly mentioned only in Article 352(3) (Proclamation of Emergency) of the Indian Constitution. It was added by the 44th Constitution (Amendment) Act of 1978.

{GS2 – Polity – IC – Parliament} Swearing-in Ceremony

  • Context (IE): The swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers was held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan after the conclusion of the 18th Lok Sabha elections.

Swearing-in ceremony and Oath-taking

  • A swearing-in ceremony is a formal event where a person assumes control of a government office by pledging loyalty to the Constitution and promising to discharge their duties faithfully (oath-taking).
  • In India, it is held for various offices, including the President, Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, and judges.
  • The oath of office is administered by different authorities based on the office:
    • For the President: Chief Justice of India
    • For Prime Minister and Union Cabinet: President – Article 74(4)
    • For Chief Ministers and state ministers: Governor – Article 164(3)
  • Oath-takers can swear in the name of God or “solemnly affirm.”
  • Article 60 of the constitution deals with the President’s oath of office, and the oaths for various other offices are outlined in the Third Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Article 164 mandates that the oath must be read exactly as written. If any deviations occur, the administrator of the oath must correct the individual being sworn in.
  • Oath of Secrecy: Taken by ministers, promising not to reveal matters under their consideration.
  • The Third Schedule of the Indian Constitution outlines the oaths and affirmations for various constitutional positions, including Union Ministers, Parliament election candidates, MPs, SC Judges, CAG, State Ministers, State Legislature election candidates, State Legislature Members, and HC Judges.

{GS2 – Social Sector – Health – Initiatives} National Health Claim Exchange

  • Context (TH): India is launching a digital platform called National Health Claim Exchange (NHCX) to improve healthcare access and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for patients.
  • NHCX will integrate insurance companies, healthcare providers, and insurance scheme administrators.
  • The NHCX will serve as a central hub for health claims data, promoting seamless interoperability among stakeholders. This integration aims to enhance efficiency and transparency in claims processing.
  • NHCX aligns with IRDAI’s vision of “Insurance for All by 2047.”
  • As a centralised platform for all health claims, NHCX will significantly reduce the administrative burden on hospitals, which currently manage multiple portals for different insurers.
  • Recently, IRDAI has mandated a three-hour timeline for processing cashless claims, starting from the receipt of discharge authorisation from the hospital.

Digital Health Incentive Scheme (DHIS)

  • DHIS, initiated by the National Health Authority (NHA), aims to encourage the adoption of digital health transactions and the digitisation of patient health records across the country.
  • Under the DHIS, hospitals receive financial incentives for processing insurance claims through NHCX.
    • ₹500 per claim or 10% of the claim amount, whichever is lower.
    • The incentives are given directly to the hospitals.

National Health Authority

  • National Health Authority implements the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, the flagship public health insurance scheme. It also designs and builds the technological infrastructure for the National Digital Health Mission, which aims to create a digital health ecosystem.

Challenges

  • Strained relationships between hospitals and insurance companies.
  • The IT system and training staff are outdated.
  • Discharge delays and miscommunications.
  • Data Security.

Facts

  • Health insurance contributes to 29% of India’s general insurance premium income.
  • Hospitalisation rates are highest among those with private insurance (54.4 per 100,000 persons) across India. In urban areas, government-funded schemes lead to the highest inpatient care (60.4 cases per 100,000), while in rural areas, private insurance dominates (73.5 cases per 100,000).
  • Urban areas have higher inpatient rates than rural areas.
  • In India, the share of Out-of-Pocket Expenditure (OOPE) in total health expenditure declined from 62.6% in 2014-15 to 47.1% in 2019-20.

{GS2 – Vulnerable Sections – Children} Child Nutrition Report 2024

  • Context (UNICEF): UNICEF released the Child Nutrition Report 2024.
  • UNICEF defines child food poverty as children’s inability to access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet in early childhood (i.e., the first five years of life).
  • Child food poverty is distinct from other measures of child poverty and food poverty because it captures children’s direct experience of dietary deprivation.

How is child food poverty measured?

  • It is measured using the UNICEF and WHO dietary diversity score.
  • To meet the minimum dietary diversity for healthy growth and development, children need to consume foods from at least five out of the eight defined food groups.

A close-up of food groups
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Credit: UNICEF

Findings of the report

  • Globally, one in four children (27%) are living in severe child food poverty in early childhood, amounting to 181 million children under 5 years of age.
  • South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are home to more than two-thirds (68%) of the 181 million children living in severe child food poverty.
  • Severe child food poverty is experienced by children belonging to poor and non-poor households, indicating that household income is not the only driver of child food poverty.
  • Unhealthy foods are displacing more nutritious foods, becoming more entrenched in children’s diets.
  • Drivers of child food poverty: Increasing inequities, economic crises, climatic shocks and conflict, poor food environments, poor feeding practices and household income poverty.

Recommendations

  • Position child food poverty elimination as a policy imperative and child food poverty reduction as a metric of success towards achieving global and national nutrition and development goals.
  • Transform food systems to make nutritious and healthy foods the most accessible, affordable and desirable option for feeding young children.
  • Leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to prevent and treat child malnutrition.
  • Strengthen data systems to assess the prevalence and severity of child food poverty and identify its key drivers.

Also, learn about the ICMR’s Dietary Guidelines for Indians.

 

{GS3 – Agri – Fisheries} State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2024

  • Context (TH | DTE): The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2024 was recently released.
  • The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) is a flagship report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
  • It provides a comprehensive analysis of the global and regional status and trends in fisheries and aquaculture.

Findings of the report

  • Total fisheries and aquaculture production reached an all-time record of 223.2 million tonnes in 2022.
  • 62% of aquatic animals were harvested in marine areas and 38% in inland waters.

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Credit: FAO

  • The year 2022 marked the first time in history that aquaculture production of aquatic animals surpassed capture fisheries production.

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Credit: FAO

  • In 2022, China remained the major producer (36% of the total production of aquatic animals), followed by India (8%), Indonesia (7%), Vietnam (5%) and Peru (3%) (together responsible for 59% of the world production of aquatic animals).
  • The Northwest Pacific continued to have the highest production, followed by Central Pacific and Southeast Pacific.
  • Inland fisheries produced 11.3 million tonnes, harvested mainly in Asia (63.4%) and Africa. Lead producers were India, Bangladesh and China.
  • Finfish contributed 89.7% of global inland aquaculture production, followed by crustaceans (8.7%).
  • Exports of aquatic animals grew at an average annual growth rate of 7.2%. China remains the main exporter, followed by Norway, Vietnam, Ecuador and Chile.
  • The European Union was the largest single market for aquatic animal products, and the United States of America was the largest individual importer, followed by China and Japan.
  • Approx 90% of farmed/fished aquatic animals are used for human consumption, with the remainder going to other uses like feed for other animals or fish oils.
  • In 2011, up to 35% of global fisheries and aquaculture production was either lost or wasted.
  • In Asia, 85% of workers were involved in fisheries and aquaculture, followed by Africa (10%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (4%).
  • Nutrition from fishes:

A diagram of a fish
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Credit: FAO

FAO Fish Price Index (FPI)

  • It was disseminated for the first time in 2010.
  • It is a key barometer of the world market of aquatic products.
  • It was developed in collaboration with the University of Florida, United States of America and the University of Stavanger, Norway.
  • The index measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of fisheries and aquaculture commodities.
  • It is calculated as a weighted average of five subindices associated with the main traded species groups: pelagic fish, salmon, shrimp, tuna, and whitefish.

{GS3 – Envi – Conservation} India’s private biosphere *

  • Context (TH): Rajaji Raghati Biosphere (RRB) in Uttarakhand is India’s first private biosphere led by ecologists Vijay Dhasmana and Jai Dhar Gupta.

    A map of the indian state
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  • Situated adjoining the Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand, the biosphere overlooks the rocky white Raghati riverbed, nestled in the Shivalik foothills.
  • Vijay Dhasmana is known for restoring the Aravalli landscapes. Jai Dhar Gupta was also on the Delhi government’s air pollution think tank, where he helped implement the odd-even rule for vehicles.

From degraded land to a biosphere

  • RRB had been previously flattened, eroding natural contours and leading to severe soil erosion.
  • Monoculture agroforestry with non-native eucalyptus trees was practised on the land, further deteriorating the ecosystem’s health.
  • Thousands of non-native eucalyptus trees were removed. Subsequently, the land was contoured to retain water, prevent erosion, and promote groundwater recharge.
  • The duo and their team conducted extensive surveys to identify suitable native plant species, especially those rare or disappearing in the region. Combustion-engine vehicles were also banned in the area.
  • It’s estimated to take another two to three years for the forest to truly resemble a natural habitat.
  • The focus extends beyond combating climate change to establish a harmonious model of cohabitation.
  • The duo relies on the knowledge and skills of the local nomadic communityGujjars.
  • Logistical hurdles, such as land acquisition, regulatory compliance, and long-term sustainability planning, could impede the widespread adoption of the private biosphere model.
  • Collaborative efforts among governments, private entities, and local communities are crucial in overcoming these hurdles and realising the potential of private biospheres.
  • They are also working on a second biosphere atop the Western Ghats, above the Koyna River, in the buffer zone of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve near Pune, Maharashtra.

Note: Example in GS3 Environment Conservation, GS4 Ethics case study.

{GS3 – IE – Industry} Car-testing scandal in Japan

  • Context (IE): Toyota, Mazda, Suzuki and Yamaha were found to have submitted incorrect or manipulated test data in the vehicle certification test.
  • It comes just months after China overtook Japan to become the world’s largest car exporter, partly due to booming sales of electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Toyota subsidiary Daihatsu admitted to widespread manipulation of tests, including engine and crash performance, dating back to the late 1980s, affecting 64 models.
  • Daihatsu halted all production in Japan for several months as a result of the inquiry. The carmaker said the cheating involved the use of inadequate or outdated data in collision tests.
  • However, The issue does not affect Toyota’s overseas production. The Japanese Transport Ministry also ordered other automakers and parts suppliers to review test results from the previous decade.
  • In April 2024, Japan’s Transport Ministry verified that all Daihatsu production vehicles met official safety standards and lifted the ban on shipments.
  • Other car makers also found similar issues with the manipulation of certification.
  • It erodes the trust of vehicle users and shakes the very foundation of the vehicle certification system.
  • India now has its vehicle crash certification system, Bharat NCAP.

Dieselgate

  • Earlier in 2015, Dieselgate was the largest and most expensive auto disgrace in history.
  • Volkswagen (VW) was found to have violated the US Clean Air Act by intentionally programming diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory testing.
  • Faulty vehicles emitted up to 40 times more NOx during normal driving.
  • VW was then investigated in multiple other countries and received billion-dollar fines from governments and compensation claims from owners, costing VW over $30 billion in fines and compensation.

Note: It is also useful for the GS-4 Ethics case study.

{GS3 – IE – RBI} Consumer Confidence Survey

  • Context (IE): The Consumer Confidence Survey by RBI shows Indian consumers are optimistic about increasing their spending on both essential and non-essential items over the next year.
  • The survey also reveals a slight moderation in overall consumer confidence for the current period.
  • The marginal decline is due to tempered sentiments on the economy and employment prospects.
  • Current Situation Index (CSI) dipped slightly to 97.1 in May 2024, down from 98.5 two months earlier.
  • Future Expectations Index (FEI) remains in optimistic territory at 124.8 in May 2024.
  • The survey reflects perceptions of the economy, income, spending, employment, and prices compared to the previous year and expectations for the following year.
  • The RBI’s Households’ Inflation Expectations survey shows an uptick in inflation expectations.
  • A higher share of respondents expect prices to rise across all major product groups.
  • Female respondents (52.6%) had marginally lower inflation assessments and expectations than males.

{GS3 – IE – Securities} Pump and Dump Scheme

  • Context (BS): The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) slapped a fine of Rs 7.75 crore on 11 individuals for allegedly operating a ‘pump and dump’ scheme.
  • Under SEBI guidelines, pump and dump schemes are completely banned.
  • Pump and Dump scheme is a type of manipulation activity that involves artificially inflating the price of a stock through false and misleading information, only to sell the stock at the inflated price.
  • It is prevalent, particularly in the micro-cap and small-cap sectors, where companies often have limited public information and trading volumes are lower.

Working mechanism

  • First, a significant amount of stock in a relatively small or thinly traded company is acquired. These stocks are often referred to as ‘penny stocks’ because they trade at low prices and are more susceptible to price manipulation due to low trading volumes.
  • Then the stock is aggressively promoted to create a buzz and attract investors. Once the stock price has been pumped up, a sell-off begins, causing it to plummet, often leaving unsuspecting investors with significant losses as the stock returns to its actual value or even lower.

Pumps and Dumps - How to Spot and Trade Them - Living From Trading

Credit: LFT

Impact

  • Causes significant losses to unsuspecting investors due to stock price crash.
  • Undermines confidence in the financial markets, making legitimate investors wary of potential fraud.

{GS3 – S&T – Tech} Large Action Models (LAMs) | Rabbit R1 *

  • Context (TH): Global firms are adopting Large Action Models (LAMs) to cut costs.
  • LAM has been integrated into a phone-sized standalone AI device called “Rabbit R1”.

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Credits: Peacemonger

  • But “Rabbit R1” is not limited to performing simpler tasks only. It can be taught to perform any task.
  • LAMs are super advanced versions of LLMs, operating at approx. 10x the speed of general LLMs.
  • They are advanced computational models designed to handle complex and sophisticated actions.
  • These help in understanding complex goals communicated with natural language, and they follow up with autonomous actions to achieve them.
  • LAMs use agents to perform actions. The agents are software entities capable of independently executing tasks and actively contributing to the achievement of specific goals.
  • LAMs integrate the linguistic proficiency of LLMs with the ability to perform tasks and make decisions.
  • Its applications include tackling simpler tasks like ordering a cab, sending emails, etc., and complex tasks like robot motion planning, human-robot interaction, and game development.

Key Features and Capabilities of LAM

  • Advanced Data Processing: LAM can handle and analyse vast datasets, making it ideal for applications requiring extensive data interpretation.
  • Enhanced Decision-Making: With its sophisticated algorithms, LAM offers improved decision-making capabilities, enabling AI systems to execute more complex tasks effectively.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: The model’s scalable nature allows it to adapt to various applications, ranging from simple automation to complex problem-solving scenarios.

How it works?

  • It breaks down complex actions into smaller sub-actions, allowing for efficient planning and execution.
  • It uses pattern recognition algorithms to analyse and understand complex data.
  • After this, Neuro-Symbolic AI comes into play, which combines the pattern recognition capabilities of neural networks with logical reasoning.
  • Then, the Action Model understands human intentions and executes tasks accordingly.

Potential applications

  • Healthcare: LAM is revolutionising patient care through advanced diagnostics & personalised treatment.
  • Finance: In the financial sector, LAM aids in risk assessment, fraud detection, and algorithmic trading.
  • Automotive: Developing autonomous driving technologies and enhancing vehicle safety systems.

Will LAMs cut jobs?

  • US insurance firms and a European airline are already using LAm to cut down costs. LAMs would likely automate many knowledge work tasks currently done by humans.
  • However, supporters argue that they are likely to create more jobs than they replace by enabling new capabilities and allowing humans to focus on higher-level, creative tasks.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius)

  • Context (TH): As the wetlands of Assam give way to rapid urbanisation, greater adjutant storks are finding their survival a daily struggle.
  • Greater adjutant (also called Calcutta adjutant and Hargila in Assamese) is a stork species.
  • Distribution: South Asia and mainland Southeast Asia. It has three breeding populations: two in India, with the largest colony in Assam & a smaller one around Bhagalpur, and another in Cambodia.
  • Habitat: Wetlands, mangroves, intertidal flats and urban areas. It makes its nest in tall trees.
  • Diet: Principally carnivorous, it preys on fish, frogs, snakes and other reptiles, eels, birds, and carrion.
  • Threats: Habitat loss, overfishing, hunting, and pollution.
  • Conservation Status: IUCN: Near Threatened | WPA, 1972: Schedule I
  • Significance: Greater adjutants are important scavengers of large carrion and likely contribute to sanitation and disease control in the environment.

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