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December 30, 2020
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31st December Current Affairs

UK’s ‘more infectious’ Covid-19 strain spreads faster

In News:

A new variant Covid-19 strain has been discovered in the United Kingdom last week and could be the reason behind the sharp rise in cases in the country.

Details:

Scientists and researchers say the new strain has much higher transmissibility than compared to the earlier variant.

Why do viruses mutate?

A mutation just means a difference; a letter change in the genome.

Mutations in viruses are a natural part of evolution.

The pressure on the virus to evolve is increased by the fact that so many millions of people have now been infected.

What is the Covid-19 mutant strain?

It has been named VUI-202012/01 (the first “Variant Under Investigation” in December 2020) and is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. As of Dec 13, a total of 1,108 cases with this new variant had been identified, predominantly in the south and east of England where cases have been rising.

How harmful is the new Covid strain?

This new variant is showing some 17 changes in the genome, this is a very large change. Due to this change, the transmissibility of this virus has also changed and is 70% more infectious compared to the earlier variant.

There is a high possibility that the new strain is still in the UK as it has not been detected in other parts of Europe.

India, U.S. mull over unfinished work

As Trump tenure winds down, deals in trade, sanctions, nuclear energy hang fire between India and the US. The unfinished businesses include:

No blanket waiver of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions for buying Russian/Chinese arms.

Failure to reverse the decision to revoke India’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

Commercial contract to be finalised for the decade-old MoU between U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Company and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) to build six reactors in Andhra Pradesh.

Achievements so far:

The growing defence partnership, enhanced military exchanges bolstered by the signing of four foundational agreements: GSOMIA, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA.

U.S. grant of the STA-1 Strategic Trade Authorisation to India, capped by intelligence sharing and quick procurements during the ongoing standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Crystallisation of the “Quad” arrangement.

What is the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP)?

It is a U.S. trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 4,800 products from 129 designated beneficiary countries and territories.

GSP was instituted on January 1, 1976, by the Trade Act of 1974.

GSP has been given on non-reciprocal basis. Yet the US has linked it with market access and tariff reduction which is against the basic tenets of GSP.

When was it withdrawn?

The privilege was withdrawn by outgoing President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington DC in June 2019 and India has been prodding the United States to restore it.

Benefits of GSP:

Indian exporters benefit indirectly – through the benefit that accrues to the importer by way of reduced tariff or duty free entry of eligible Indian products.

Reduction or removal of import duty on an Indian product makes it more competitive to the importer – other things (e.g. quality) being equal.

This tariff preference helps new exporters to penetrate a market and established exporters to increase their market share and to improve upon the profit margins, in the donor country.

Karnataka appoints Regional Commissioner to compile status of ponzi cases

In News:

In a bid to protect the depositors’ interest in Ponzi schemes run by financial companies, against whom cases have been registered, and monitor cases pending in various courts, the State government has appointed Bengaluru Regional Commissioner to compile the status of all cases that have been filed in the State and coordinate with the district administration.

Background:

The order comes in the light of the Reserve Bank of India identifying 118 finance companies in the State and seeking action against them under:

  • The Karnataka Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishment Act, 2004.
  • Banning of Unregulated Deposit Scheme Act, 2019.

Need for such protective measures:

The finance companies running ponzi schemes could dupe investors completely and if movable and immovable properties belonging to these companies are not attached, there is a possibility that investors’ interest cannot be protected since these properties could be sold.

Ponzi Scheme:

A Ponzi scheme is a form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors.

The scheme leads victims to believe that profits are coming from product sales or other means, and they remain unaware that other investors are the source of funds.

The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, who became notorious for using the technique in the 1920s.

Key Provisions in the Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Act, 2019:

Substantive banning clause which bans Deposit Takers from promoting, operating, issuing advertisements or accepting deposits in any Unregulated Deposit Scheme.

Creation of three different types of offences, namely, running of Unregulated Deposit Schemes, fraudulent default in Regulated Deposit Schemes, and wrongful inducement in relation to Unregulated Deposit Schemes.

Severe punishment and heavy pecuniary fines to act as deterrent.

Provisions for disgorgement or repayment of deposits in cases where such schemes nonetheless manage to raise deposits illegally.

Attachment of properties / assets by the Competent Authority, and subsequent realization of assets for repayment to depositors.

Creation of an online central database, for collection and sharing of information on deposit-taking activities in the country.

India to bring more nations into coastal radar network

India is planning to further expand:

The coastal radar chain network meant to enable real-time monitoring of the high seas for threats.

Assistance for capacity building to Indian Ocean littoral states.

India’s past and future efforts in this regard:

Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka have already been integrated into the country’s coastal radar chain network.

Plans to set up coastal radar stations in the Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Maritime data fusion in India- institutional and structural efforts:

Indian Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) is the nodal agency for maritime data fusion. Located in Gurugram, it was set up after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

As part of information exchange regarding traffic on the high seas, the Navy has been authorised by the government to conclude white shipping agreements with 36 countries and three multilateral constructs. So far agreements have been concluded with 22 countries and one multilateral construct.

At the Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) which is meant to promote Maritime Domain Awareness, three more International Liaison Officers (ILO) are expected to join soon. The ILOs from France, Japan and the U.S. have joined the centre.

Under Phase-I of the coastal radar chain network, 46 coastal radar stations have been set up across the country’s coastline. Under Phase-II of the project, which is currently under way, 38 static radar stations and four mobile radar stations are being set up by the Coast Guard and is in advanced stage of completion.

About the Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR):

The Navy set up the IFC-IOR in December 2018 within the premises of the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurugram to track maritime movements in the region.