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18th March Current Affairs

Ujjwala Yojana

(GS-II: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections)

In News:

The first independent impact assessment of the Ujjwala programme has highlighted its benefits in terms of saving of lives and reduction in air pollution

Key observations:

Reduction in Death: Greater penetration and usage of LPG as a cooking fuel is estimated to have prevented at least 1.5 lakh pollution-related premature deaths in the year 2019 alone.

Reduction in pollution: It also avoided at least 8 million tonnes of PM2.5 emissions in 2019 (13% reduction in air pollution deaths)

Other Study by researchers from IIT Kanpur: It had shown a vast improvement not just in prevalence of respiratory diseases but also in general health conditions in villages with high coverage of Ujjwala connections.

The survey had found 50 per cent improvement in general health conditions in villages of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with high coverage of Ujjwala connections.

Previously government report had said:

Three States have become kerosene free. These include- Haryana, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.

Union Territories that have become kerosene-freeare the Union Territories of Delhi, Chandigarh, Daman & Diu, Dadar & Nagar Haveli, Andaman & Nicobar Island and Puducherry.

Limitations of the Study:

The study has not estimated health or emission benefits of reduction in outdoor air pollution due to the scheme

Biomass burning in household cooking could be contributing 30-40 per cent of outdoor air pollution.

Benefits have been estimated for the year 2019 only.

Study found that only 65 per cent of the households in 2019 were using LPG as the primary cooking fuel.

About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:

Launched in May 2016.

Aim: To provide LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) connections to poor households and reduce health risk associated with burning biomass.

Key features: A deposit-free LPG connection is given to eligible with financial assistance of Rs 1,600 per connection by the Centre.

Achievement: Government data shows that by January 2022, 9 crore new LPG connections had been rolled out under this scheme, and that 99.8 per cent of the over 28 crore households in India now have access to LPG, up from 61.9 per cent in 2015.

Eligibility criteria:

Applicant must a woman above the age of 18 and a citizen of India.

Applicant should belong to a BPL (Below Poverty Line) household.

No one in the applicant’s household should own an LPG connection.

The household income of the family, per month, must not exceed a certain limit as defined by the government of the Union Territories and State Government.

Applicant must not be a recipient of other similar schemes provided by the government.

Objectives of the scheme are:

  • Empowering women and protecting their health.
  • Reducing the serious health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuel.
  • Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel.
  • Preventing young children from significant number of acute respiratory illnesses caused due to indoor air pollution by burning the fossil fuel.

IAF to employ ‘direct tactical planning’ for S-400

(GS-II: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests)

In News:

The S-400 Triumf long-range air defence system, currently being inducted by India, and remains a potent weapon for the neighbour, the Indian Air Force will counter it based on “direct tactical planning”, an IAF representative informed the parliamentary standing committee on defence.

What is S400?

In October 2018, India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems,

It is a modern long-range surface-to-air missile (MLRSAM) system developed by Russia which will be delivered to India by 2025

Missile system integrates a multifunction radar, autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti- aircraft missile systems, launchers, and command and control centre. It can provide a layered defence as it is capable of firing three types of missiles

S-400 Triumf can engage all types of aerial targets such as aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which are within the range of 400km, at an altitude of up to 30km.

S400 and CAATSA:

The U.S. State Department spokesperson has said that there will be no “blanket” waiver for India, indicating that even if S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missiles system deal is not sanctioned, other “significant” military and nuclear transactions between India and Russia could still trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)

What’s the concern?

There has been unease in Washington ever since 2016 when India announced the deal with Russia, which remains New Delhi’s biggest defence partner.

Now, the S-400 deal could attract sanctions under US’ CAATSA law.The US has already sanctioned China and Turkey over similar purchases.

What is CAATSA, and how did the S-400 deal fall foul of this Act?

Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) ‘s core objective is to counter Iran, Russia and North Korea through punitive measures.

Enacted in 2017.

Includes sanctions against countries that engage in significant transactions with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors.

What sanctions can possibly be imposed?

Prohibition on loans to the sanctioned person.

Prohibition of Export-Import bank assistance for exports to sanctioned persons.

Prohibition on procurement by United States Government to procure goods or services from the sanctioned person.

Denial of visas to persons closely associated with the sanctioned person

Significance of the deal:

The S-400 decision is a very strong example of how advanced our defence and strategic partnership is, and how strong Indian sovereignty is, to choose its international partners, especially when it comes to issues of national interest and national security.

Competition Commission of India (CCI)

(GS-II: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies)

In News:

The Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2022 has been introduced that aims to improve regulatory set-up by increasing the CCI’s accountability, giving it flexibility and enforcement efficiency.

Key Changes mentioned in the bill:

Increasing transparency and strengthening the accountability:

A board with part-time members to supervise CCI activities.

This would bring its regulatory architecture at par with that of financial regulators.

CCI to mandatorily issue penalty guidelines and give reasons in case of any divergence.

It will give much-needed certainty in regulatory environment.

Enforcement efficiency:

CCI could engage in structured negotiations with parties and arrive at mutually-workable solutions without having to go through lengthy formal proceedings.

This will bring powers of CCI on par with Sebi, which has been passing settlement orders for over a decade.

Previously CCI was only empowered to take action for abuse of dominance or anti-competitive agreements in the form of final orders in proceedings before it.

CCI can make appeals to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal conditional on a pre-deposit of up to 25% of the penalty imposed by the CCI.

This change is likely to deter frivolous appeals.

Shortening of the merger review period from 210 to 150 days

Introduction of a green channel for merger applications: Certain categories of mergers that had to wait for CCI approval would be allowed to attain full consummation without any standstill obligation under the new green-channel process.

Flexibility: Previously, only those agreements are allowed if agreements made between businesses at the same level of production (such as competitors that form a cartel) or businesses that are in a directly upstream or downstream market (such as agreements between a manufacturer and distributor). If the parties do not fall in either of these brackets, anti-competitive agreements between them can go unchecked.

But the bill also recognizes other forms of cartels such as hub-and-spoke cartels, it also has a catch-all provision to enable the CCI to deal with anti-competitive pacts irrespective of the structural relationships between parties.

Limitations:

The bill does little to address competition concerns in digital markets. e.g., mergers concern in digital markets between entities that do not have significant assets or turnover, but are still very significant (such as Facebook-WhatsApp). The flexibility to introduce new thresholds will let the CCI review such mergers.

No effective clause for regulating anti-competitive conduct by digital platforms.

Delayed: It was released for public comments in 2020, and given the rapid developments in digital markets and global regulatory responses, it seems to have got dated already.

Competition Commission of India:

It is a statutory body of the Government of India, responsible for enforcing the Competition Act, 2002 throughout India and to prevent activities that have an adverse effect on competition.

Objectives of the Commission:

  • To prevent practices having adverse effect on competition.
  • To promote and sustain competition in markets.
  • To protect the interests of consumers.
  • To ensure freedom of trade.

Functions of the commission:

It is the duty of the Commission to eliminate practices having adverse effect on competition, promote and sustain competition, protect the interests of consumers and ensure freedom of trade in the markets of India.

The Commission is also required to give opinion on competition issues on a reference received from a statutory authority established under any law and to undertake competition advocacy, create public awareness and impart training on competition issues.

Ukraine war could cut 1% off global growth: OECD

(GS-III: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment)

In News:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently reported that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could reduce the global growth rate by a percentage this year and increase inflation by two-and-a-half percentage points.

What were the other important observations made by OECD?

War’s impact on European Union could be high because of its high dependence on Russia’s energy imports

OECD countries through increased government spending by 0.5% could lessen the impact of inflation on these countries

About OECD:

Origin:

Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) was founded in 1948 to help administer the Marshall Plan

In 1961, the OEEC was reformed into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development by the Convention on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and membership was extended to non-European states

Headquarter — Paris, France

It works through consensus to develop policy recommendations and other “soft law” instruments to encourage policy reform in member countries

Membership:

Currently, it has 38 members

India is not a member but a key partner

It is a forum of countries describing themselves as committed to democracy and the market economy

Most OECD members are high-income economies with a very high Human Development Index (HDI) and are regarded as developed countries

It provides a platform to compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practices and coordinate domestic and international policies of its members.

Resources — funded by contributions from member states at varying rates

Governance:

OECD Council — provide direction and guidance to the work of the Organisation. Each member country is represented.

OECD Substantive Committees — oversee all the work on each theme (publications, task forces, conferences, and so on)

OECD Secretariat — led by the Secretary-General provides support to Standing and Substantive Committees

Special bodies and entities associated with OECD:

  • International Transport Forum (ITF) (formally known as the European Conference of Ministers of Transport)
  • International Energy Agency
  • Nuclear Energy Agency
  • Partnership for Democratic Governance (PDG)
  • Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC)