16th January 2021

The houbara: hunted by UAE royals at Pak invite

  • UAE’s royal family members arrived in Panjgur district in Balochistan recently to hunt the internationally protected and vulnerable houbara bustard under a licence issued by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry to strengthen the country’s relations with Gulf nations. They kill the bird for sport and also because its meat is supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
  • This is not the first time royals from the Gulf and their wealthy friends have reached the deserts of Pakistan to hunt the rare bird. These controversial private hunting expeditions date back over four decades and have continued even after Pakistan’s Supreme Court imposed a blanket ban on the killing of the houbara bustard in 2015, which was later reversed in 2016.

HOUBARA BUSTARD

  • It is a large terrestrial bird found in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The North African houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) and the Asian houbara (Chlamydotis macqueenii) are separate species.
  • The Asian houbara is related to the critically endangered great Indian bustard native to India.
  • After breeding in Central Asia during the spring, Asian houbara bustards migrate south to spend the winter in Pakistan, the Arabian peninsula and nearby Southwest Asia. Some Asian houbara bustards live and breed in parts of Iran, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
  • According to the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC), roughly 42,000 Asian houbara bustards and over 22,000 of the North African houbara bustards remain today.
  • THREATS: Poaching, unregulated hunting and the degradation of its natural habitat.

 

Sewage action plan: Himachal walks different path, despite Centre’s push

  • Recently, Himachal Pradesh has proposed a sewage management action plan that contrasts models suggested by the central government and international consultancies.
  • Roughly 70 per cent of Himachal’s 57 cities are connected to underground pipes and, to connect the remaining, the state plans to build 23 more sewage treatment plants and convert septic tank services into networks.
  • States have been pushed towards Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) following a major push from the Centre which came out with a FSSM policy in 2017.
  • The Centre’s push for FSSM follows arguments from major international agencies, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Gates Foundation, which provide significant funding for these projects.
  • They say centralised, large-scale sewarage systems are time-consuming, expensive, and environmentally- disruptive. A February 2020 ADB report pushes strongly for a decentralized solution for sewage and fecal sludge management.
  • Currently, the country has only 25 Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs), which treat sewage from septic tanks, but cities are building 400 more.
  • Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have begun to lean towards FSSM in medium and small urban settings, others like Gujarat, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh have shown less inclination.
  • In July last year, a National Mission for Clean Ganga webinar was also held for “mainstreaming” FSSM.
  • Despite a concerted four-year push from the Centre towards individual septic tank solutions, even in urban areas, Himachal Pradesh plans to dig up more ground to enlarge its piped underground networks.
  • The state submitted its action plan this month to the Central Monitoring Committee (CMC), which is overseeing compliance to a set of National Green Tribunal orders to make sewage 100 per cent treated by March 2021.
  • In 2016, Shimla’s insufficiently treated sewage in the Ashwani Khud river system led to a Hepatitis E outbreak, which causes jaundice. It affected more than half of the total families in the city in three months.

 

Russia announces exit from Open Skies treaty citing US withdrawal

  • Recently, Russia announced that it was pulling out of the Open Skies treaty as this pact allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, had been seriously compromised by the withdrawal of the US.
  • The US left the Open Skies arms control and verification treaty in November, accusing Russia of violating it, something denied by Moscow as it had made specific proposals to other members to mitigate against the impact of the US exit but that those proposals were not backed by Washington’s allies.
  • The Open Skies treaty allows surveillance flights from member countries to gather information on military activities. Russia fears that even though the US has exited the treaty, it will continue to have access to overflight intelligence gathered by its allies who are still signatories.
  • Russia exited the pact reportedly after others refused to give assurances that they would not share this intelligence with US.

 

2020 among the three warmest years: WMO

  • According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the year 2020 was among the three warmest years on record.
  • In 2019, the average global temperature recorded was 14.9 degrees Celsius, which was 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels (1850 – 1900).
  • The warmest ever years recorded are 2016, 2019 and 2020.
  • In India, 2020 was the eighth warmest recorded since 1901, when the India Meteorological Department started maintaining temperature records.
  • The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Nina event, which is a temporary cooling effect.
  • La Nina is an oceanic phenomenon when cooler than normal sea surface temperatures are recorded along the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean. It affects the global average temperatures. The current cycle of La Nina is expected to continue till the middle of 2021.
  • Under the Paris Climate Agreement, it was agreed to try to keep warming well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid the most extreme effects of climate change. But according to the WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, there is a one-in-five chance that by 2024, warming would have already exceeded 1.5 degrees.

 

First time in 10 mths, imports in positive zone; exports inch up

Recently, an estimate has been released by the Commerce Ministry which showed that Merchandise Exports increased in December 2020, for a second time since February 2020, while imports advanced for the first time in 10 months, suggesting a gradual return towards normalcy.

  • Exports rose 0.1 percent on year to $27.15 billion in December, better than a 0.8 percent contraction announced earlier.
  • Imports rose at a much faster pace of 7.6 percent last December to $42.59 billion, inflating trade deficit to a 25-month high of $15.44 billion.
  • This reflects a nascent revival of domestic demand, following the Covid-induced compression since March 2020, as businesses go through a “reset” phase, taking advantage of the lifting of lockdown curbs. Some amount of pent up demand for raw materials may also have contributed to the rise in imports.
  • If inbound shipments continue to rise, import-sensitive exports, too, will get a boost but it will also mark are turn to the usual high trade deficit trend.
  • The outbound shipment of core products (goods excluding petroleum and gems & jewellery), which reflects the economy’s competitiveness, grew 5.5 per cent in December, against a 0.4per cent fall in November 2020.
  • Similarly, core imports rose 8 per cent in December 2020,compared with a 1.7 per cent fall in November.
  • Overall, merchandise exports is still down by 15.7 percent up to December this fiscal, while imports shrunk by 29 per cent.

 

Clouds mar annual temple phenomenon

The Sun’s rays were blocked by clouds and thus, entered the cave temple premises at the expected late afternoon time on Makar Sankranti day.

  • 1. This is the first time that something like this has happened that clouds blocked the Sun’s rays from falling on the Shiva Linga at the Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple in Gavipuram. It is an annual phenomenon every Sankranti.
  • 2. The ancient cave temple, said to be renovated by Kempegowda I, is built in such a way that the Sun’s rays fall on the south-facing idol on Sankranti day, when the Sun begins to move northwards with respect to Earth.
  • 3. There was cloud formation observed in the city area because of the impact of easterly winds. Sri Lanka and Kanyakumari region receive rain during this time of the year. 

 

Nepal raises Kalapani boundary issue with India

  • Nepal has raised the Kalapani boundary dispute with India during the Joint Commission meeting between both countries Foreign ministers since the issue erupted in November 2019 prompting Nepal to unveil a new political map that showed the Kalapani-Lipulekh-Limpiyadhura region of Pithoragarh district as part of the country’s sovereign territory.
  • Nepal also requires vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and it has approved Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield vaccine.

Mapping of territory

  • Indo-Nepal boundary dispute existed in “two segments” and Kathmandu wished to find a solution to the matter urgently.
  • Nepal has started the demarcation and mapping of the boundary since 1981. At that time, a Joint Technical Committee was founded which had tenure till 2007.
  • It produced 182 strip maps which depicts the border but for various reasons [work on] two segments — Susta and Kalapani — were not completed.

 

Trade with China shrank in 2020, deficit at five-year low

According to new figures from China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC), India’s trade with China declined in 2020 to the lowest level since 2017. Trade deficit narrowed to a five-year low as India imported far fewer goods from China.

  • Bilateral trade decreased 5.6% to $87.6 billion, India’s imports from China shrank by 10.8% to $66.7 billion, marking the lowest level of inbound shipments since 2016.
  • India’s exports to China, however, jumped 16%, crossing the $20 billion-mark for the first time to a record high of $20.86 billion.
  • The trade deficit, a source of friction in bilateral ties, shrank to $45.8 billion, the lowest level since 2015.
  • India’s biggest import in 2019 was electrical machinery and equipment, and fertilisers, while India’s top exports that year were iron ore, organic chemicals, cotton and unfinished diamonds.
  • Demand for iron ore increased in China, as new infrastructure projects aimed at reviving growth after the COVID-19 slump lifted consumption of steel. Total iron ore imports in Asia’s largest economy rose 9.5% in 2020.
  • The drop in India’s imports from China largely mirrored a decline in overall inbound shipments last year as domestic demand slumped in the wake of the pandemic.
  • That makes it difficult to determine whether 2020 is an exception or marks a turn away from the recent pattern of India’s trade with China, especially since there is, as yet, no evidence to suggest India has replaced its import dependence on China by either sourcing those goods elsewhere or manufacturing them at home.

 ‘POSITIVE GROWTH’

  • China was “the world’s only major economy to have registered positive growth in foreign trade in goods, with China’s foreign trade and exports in the first 10 months of the year accounting for a record 12.8% and 14.2% share of the global totals, respectively.
  • China posted sharp increases with most of its major trading partners. Exports to the ASEAN bloc, China’s largest trading partner last year with bilateral trade rose 6.7%, while exports to the EU, China’s second-largest trading partner, also rose 6.7% as total trade reached $649 billion.
  • Despite the trade war with the U.S. and the pandemic, two-way trade was up 8.3% to $586 billion, with China’s exports rising 7.9% to reach a record $451 billion.

 

Indian economy ‘weak,’ credit growth bottoming out: BofA

According to the American brokerage BofA Securities, the Indian economy continues to be ‘weak,’ pointing to activity indicators tracked by it.

POSITIVE NEWS:

  • It has been noted that on the positive side, credit demand is decreasing and the real lending rates, adjusted for wholesale price inflation, are falling. It can also be noted that there has been a slew of reports lately about a stronger recovery being underway after the jolt caused by the pandemic. The government expects the GDP to contract 7.7% in financial year 2021 because of the reverses.

BAD NEWS:

  • The continued drop in our BofA India Activity Indicator reinforces our view that the economy still remains weak. The indicator fell by 0.6% in November on top of the 0.8% decline in October, and 4.6% drop in the September quarter.
  • This supports our call of GVA (gross value added) contractions of 1% in the December quarter and 6.7% in FY21.
  • The credit growth for FY22 will come at 12%. It can be noted that credit growth had been declining for the last few years, in sync with a dip in the overall economic growth which has been on a downward spiral since demonetisation in late 2016 as borrowers went slow on expansion.
  • The real lending rates adjusted for WPI will be one of the prime reasons for the faster credit growth estimate in financial year 2022.

 

Army inks $20 mn deal with ideaForge for UAV

The Indian Army has signed a $20-million contract with ideaForge, a player in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, to procure undisclosed quantities of a high-altitude variant of SWITCH UAV, an indigenous system used in surveillance operations.

  • SWITCH UAV is an indigenous system built to cater to the most demanding surveillance operations of the Indian forces.
  • This fixed-wing vertical take-off and landing UAV can be deployed at high altitudes and under harsh environments for day and night surveillance.
  • UAV player ideaForge has been awarded this one-year contract after it qualified the operational requirements in an evaluation done in real-world conditions.
  • The contract marks a strategic shift in the Indian defence procurement process.
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