Daily Analysis: 17th September 2020

The Hindu, PIB, IE and Others

Index

A) International Relations

1. New US-Mekong Partnership (IE)

2. UN Human Rights Council (TH, pg 14)

B) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

3. National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) (PIB)

4. SWAMIH Investment Fund (PIB)

5. National Action Plan for Senior Citizens (NAPSrC) (PIB)

C) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

6. ‘Kharai’ camel (DTE)

7. Global Initiative to reduce Land Degradation and Coral Reef program launched (PIB)

8. Batesian Mimicry and Aposematism (TH, pg 13)

D) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

9. New Atomic Power Plants (PIB)

10. Vaccine based on adenovirus (TH, pg 14)

E) Indices/Committees/Reports/Organisations

11. National Council for Transgender persons (NCT) (PIB)

F) Economy

12. What is a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF)? (TH, pg 1)

G) Miscellaneous

13. Global Action on Disability (GLAD) (TH, pg 7)

A) International Relations

1. New US-Mekong Partnership (IE)

  • In September 2020, the United States and the five lower Mekong nations (Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos) launched a new framework for multilateral cooperation amid rising concerns about China’s expanding influence in mainland Southeast Asia.
  • The Mekong-U.S. partnership aims to “improve transparency, good governance, connectivity, and sustainable development” in the region. It also intends to “strengthen regional connectivity” and “to identify and implement solutions for key regional challenges.”
  • The announcement comes amid particular concern about Beijing’s cascade of dams on the upper Mekong, known in China as the Lancang, which has been blamed for contributing to a record period of drought in the downstream countries.
  • Beginning high up in the Tibetan Plateau inside China, the Mekong River winds its way through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before spilling into the South China Sea.
  • It forms part of the international border between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, as well as between Laos and Thailand.

2. UN Human Rights Council (TH, pg 14)

Context: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his top Ministers are responsible for probable crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings and the systematic use of torture, the International Fact-Finding Mission, created by the United Nations Human Rights Council a year ago, said in its first report.

Analysis

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system.
  • It can mandate independent inquiries into specific situations.
  • It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year.
  • It meets at the UN Office at Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
  • To do all the work, the Human Rights Council gets help from groups of experts. They are called ‘Advisory Committees’.
  • Sometimes, the Human Rights Council also works with other experts who know a lot about 1 right or 1 country. When this happens, we call it ‘Special Procedures’.

HRC Meetings

  • The Human Rights Council holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year.
  • If one-third of the Member States so request, the HRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies.

Membership

  • The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States, which are elected by the UNGA through a direct and secret ballot.
  • The General Assembly takes into account the contribution of the candidate states to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.

Seats on the Council are distributed as follows:

  1. African States: 13 seats
  2. Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  3. Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  4. Western European and other States: 7 seats
  5. Eastern European States: 6 seats
  • Members of the Council serve for a period of three years, and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
  • Both India and Pakistan as the members of UNHRC.
  • The HRC has a Bureau of one President and four Vice-Presidents, representing the five regional groups. They serve for a year, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle.

Human Rights Day

  • It is observed by the international community every year on 10 December.
  • It commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • The Declaration with its broad range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights is not a binding document.

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

  • Also known as VDPA, it is a human rights declaration adopted by consensus at the World Conference on Human Rights in June 1993 in Vienna, Austria.
  • The position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was recommended by this Declaration and subsequently created by General Assembly.

What are human rights?

  • Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death.
  • They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security.
  • These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.
  • These values are generally defined and protected by law.

B) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

3. National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) (PIB)

  • The overall objective of the Project is to undertake suitable structural and non-structural measures to mitigate the effects of cyclones in the coastal states and UTs of India.
  • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the aegis of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will implement the Project.
  • The Project has identified 13 cyclone prone States and Union Territories (UTs), with varying levels of vulnerability.
  1. Category I: Higher vulnerability States i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
  2. Category II: Lower vulnerability States i.e. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Pondicherry, Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • The Project is being implemented with the financial help from the World Bank.
  • The cyclone forecast accuracy has significantly improved in recent years as has been demonstrated during cyclones Phailin (2013), Hudhud (2014), Vardah (2016), Titli (2018), Fani & Bulbul (2019) and Amphan & Nisarga (2020).

Benefits of Tropical Cyclones

  • Relieve drought conditions.
  • Carry heat and energy away from the tropics and transport it towards temperate latitudes, thus helps to maintain equilibrium in the Earth’s troposphere and
  • Maintain a relatively stable and warm temperature worldwide.

4. SWAMIH Investment Fund (PIB)

  • In order to give relief to homebuyers of stalled projects, a Special Window for Completion of Affordable and Mid-Income Housing (SWAMIH investment fund) has been created for funding stalled projects that are net-worth positive, including those projects that have been declared as Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) or are pending proceedings before the National Company Law Tribunal under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.
  • SWAMIH investment fund of the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs will provide last mile funding to the stressed affordable and middle-income housing projects in the country.

5. National Action Plan for Senior Citizens (NAPSrC) (PIB)

  • Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is implementing National Action Plan for Senior Citizens (NAPSrC).
  • It has a component of Integrated Programme for Senior Citizens (IPSr.C) under which grants in aid is given for running and maintenance of, inter alia, Senior Citizens Homes (Old Age Homes) to Implementing Agencies (IAs) such as State Governments/Union Territory Administrations (through Registered Societies)/Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)/Local bodies; Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)/Voluntary Organizations.

C) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

6. ‘Kharai’ camel

  • It is a unique breed of camels found only in Kachchh.
  • They have the special ability to survive on both, dry land and in the sea.
  • They swim in seawater and feed on saline plants and mangroves.
  • The Kharai was recognised as a separate breed in 2015 by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Why are they Threatened?

  • There has been heavy industrialisation (salt and cement factories) along the coastline of the areas inhabited by them which has restricted the access of the Kharai camels to their mangroves, on which they are dependent for their food.

Subspecies, Races, and Breeds

  • Subspecies: A group within a particular species that shares genetic characteristics with other group members but that it doesn’t share with members of the larger species.
  • Race: Used most often to describe variation within the human species.
  • Breed: Domestic animals (such as dogs and cows) whose characteristics are artificially selected and maintained by humans through animal husbandry are divided into breeds

7. Global Initiative to reduce Land Degradation and Coral Reef program launched (PIB)

  • The Environment Ministerial Meeting (EMM) of the G20 countries took place recently through video conferencing under the Presidency of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to launch the Global Initiative to reduce Land Degradation and Coral Reef program.
  • The Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation aims to strengthen the implementation of existing frameworks to prevent, halt, and reverse land degradation within G20 member states and globally, taking into account possible implications on the achievement of other SDGs and adhering to the principle of doing no harm.
  • The Global Coral Reef R&D Accelerator Platform is an innovative action-oriented initiative aimed at creating a global research and development (R&D) program to advance research, innovation and capacity building in all facets of coral reef conservation, restoration, and adaptation, and strengthen ongoing efforts and commitments made to enhance coral reefs conservation and their further degradation.

8. Batesian Mimicry and Aposematism (TH, pg 13)

  • This article has been covered in detail in 13th August file.

D) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

9. New Atomic Power Plants (PIB)

  • In recent years, the Government has accorded administrative approval and financial sanction for construction of new nuclear power reactors
    .
  • The details of these projects are given below:
Indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs)
Madhya PradeshChutka
KarnatakaKaiga
RajasthanMahi Banswara
HaryanaGorakhpur
RajasthanMahi Banswara
Light Water Reactors (LWRs) to be set up in cooperation with Russian Federation
Tamil NaduKudankulam
  • Presently, two public sector companies of the Department of Atomic Energy, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI) are involved in nuclear power generation.
  • There is no proposal under consideration at present to permit non-Government sector in the area of nuclear power generation.
  • However, the private sector participates in the nuclear power sector by providing core reactor components, equipment, materials etc.

10. Vaccine based on adenovirus (TH, pg 14)

Context: The Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is piloting Russia’s Sputnik V candidate vaccine, currently in Phase 3 trials, has partnered with the Hyderabad-based Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories to test, and subject to regulatory approvals in India, supply 100 million doses of the vaccine. The Sputnik V vaccine, which is based on well-studied human adenoviral vector platform with proven safety, is undergoing clinical trials for the coronavirus pandemic.

Analysis

  • Governments around the world are making a big bet that the first vaccines for COVID-19 could be made with genetically engineered viruses.
  • The engineered viruses, called adenoviral vectors, are designed to shuttle a gene from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, into our bodies where our cells will read it and make coronavirus spike proteins.
  • As with all vaccines, the idea is to trick our body into thinking it’s been infected.
  • Those self-made spike proteins would train our bodies to detect and terminate any real SARS-CoV-2 infections before the virus wreaks havoc.
  • The technique has been in development for more than 3 decades, but thanks to COVID-19, it is about to be put to the test like never before.

E) Indices/Committees/Reports/Organisations

11. National Council for Transgender persons (NCT)

The NCT will consist of:

  1. Union Minister for Social Justice (Chairperson);
  2. Minister of State for Social Justice (Vice- Chairperson);
  3. Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice;
  4. One representative from ministries including Health, Home Affairs, and Human Resources Development
  • Other members include representatives of the NITI Aayog, and the National Human Rights Commission. 
  • State governments will also be represented. 
  • The Council will also consist of five members from the transgender community and five experts from non-governmental organisations. 
  • The Council will also redress the grievances of transgender persons. 

F) Economy

12. What is a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF)?

Context: Russia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (RDIF) is in talks with Indian firms to manufacture Sputnik-V( Covid -19 vaccine currently undergoing trials).

Analysis

  • A Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) is primarily owned by the National Government or an entity that is commonly established from:
  1. Balance of payments surpluses
  2. Official foreign currency operations
  3. The proceeds of privatizations
  4. Governmental transfer payments
  5. Fiscal surpluses and/or
  6. Receipts resulting from exports
  • These funds generally invest in financial instruments such as bonds, stocks, gold, and real estate.
  • Some funds may invest indirectly in domestic industries
  • They tend to prefer returns over liquidity, thus they have a higher risk tolerance than traditional foreign exchange reserves
  • Sovereign Wealth Funds may have their origin in:
  1. Commodities: Created through commodity exports, either taxed or owned by the government
  2. Non-Commodities: Usually created through transfers of assets from official foreign exchange reserves

The definition of sovereign wealth fund does not include:

  • Foreign currency reserve assets held by monetary authorities for the traditional balance of payments or monetary policy purposes.
  • State-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the traditional sense
  • Government-employee pension funds (funded by employee/employer contributions)
  • Or assets managed for the benefit of individuals

Objective of SWF

  • Generally, the country’s central bank is in charge of managing the reserves of the foreign exchange, and it aims at offering liquidity at times of crisis and market intervention. It doesn’t focus much on providing long-term returns.
  • On the other hand, an SWF’s primary objective is to generate good returns over a long-term duration.
  • SWFs are formed with the intent to protect and stabilise the budget and economy at times when the revenues and exports are excessively volatile.
  • The SWFs ensure the long-term growth of the capital and diversifying the export of non-renewable commodities.
  • To assist the monetary authorities to dissipate any unwanted liquidity.
  • To increase savings for future generations.
  • Providing funds for the social and economic development of a country.
  • An SWF can be used to counter a recession and increased government spendings.

Background of SWF

  • Singapore’s Government Investment Corporation (GIC) is known to be the first SWF.

Operating Principle of SWF

  • The operating principles for SWFs were framed in 2008 to ensure that funds would act for economic growth.
  • Santiago principles’ are laid down which dictates that a sovereign wealth fund must compulsorily invest for good returns and has a transparent structure.
  • However, these rules apply only to those countries that volunteer to follow.

India’s Sovereign wealth fund: NIIF

  • The National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) is India’s first Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
  • The NIIF was proposed to build an investment fund which offers long-term capital for infra-related projects, and the Indian Government would provide Rs 20,000 crore.

National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF)

  • It is a fund created by the Government of India for enhancing infrastructure financing in the country.
  • The objective of NIIF would be to maximize economic impact mainly through infrastructure development in commercially viable projects, both greenfield and brownfield, including stalled projects.
  • It could also consider other nationally important projects, for example, in manufacturing, if commercially viable. National Infrastructure Pipeline can also financed through this fund.
  • Its creation was announced in the Union Budget 2015-16.
  • NIIF is different from the National Investment Fund.
  • NIIF was proposed to be set up as a Trust, to raise debt to invest in the equity of infrastructure finance companies such as Indian Rail Finance Corporation (IRFC) and National Housing Bank (NHB).
    • “Debt” involves borrowing money to be repaid, plus interest, while “equity” involves raising money by selling interests in the company.
  • The idea is that these infrastructure finance companies can then leverage this extra equity. In that sense, NIIF is a banker of the banker of the banker.
  • NIIF is envisaged as a fund of funds with the ability to make direct investments as required. As a fund of fund it may invest in other SEBI registered funds.

Nature of Government Ownership

  • The proposed corpus of NIIF is Rs. 40,000 Crores (around USD 6 Billion). The initial authorized corpus of NIIF would be Rs. 20,000 crore, which may be raised from time to time, as decided by Ministry of Finance. Government can provide upto 20000 crore per annum into these funds. Government’s contribution/share in the corpus will be 49% in each entity set up as an alternate Investment Fund (AIF) and will neither be increased beyond, nor allowed to fall below, 49%. The whole of 49% would be contributed by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India directly.
  • Cash-rich Central Public Sector Enterprises (PSUs) could contribute to the Fund, which would be over and above the Government’s 49%. Similarly, domestic pension and provident funds and National Small Savings Fund may also provide funds to the NIIF
  • The contribution of Government of India to NIIF would enable it to be seen virtually as a sovereign fund [Hence, the name QUASI SOVERIGN FUND] and is expected to attract overseas sovereign/ quasi-sovereign/multilateral/bilateral investors to co-invest in it. EG: RUSSIA-INDIA HIGH TECHNOLOGY PRIVATE EQUITY FUND for joint implementation of investments into projects in India
  • The NIIF Funds work on a model whereby equity participation from strategic partners (including overseas sovereign /multilateral / bilateral investors) is invited, alongside Government’s contribution.
  • NIIF got registered with SEBI as Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) [ Discussed Below ]

Functions of NIIF

  • Fund raising through suitable instruments including off-shore credit enhanced bonds, and attracting anchor investors [Will be covered later] to participate as partners in NIIF;
  • Servicing of the investors of NIIF.
  • Considering and approving candidate companies/institutions/ projects (including state entities) for investments and periodic monitoring of investments.
  • Investing in the corpus created by Asset Management Companies (AMCs) for investing in private equity.
  • Preparing a shelf of infrastructure projects and providing advisory services.
  • It can also provide equity/quasi-equity support to those Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs)/Asset Management Companies (AMCs)/Financial Institutions (FIs) that are engaged mainly in infrastructure financing. [ Hence, NIIF is a banker of the banker of the banker.]
  • As per the operational framework, NIIF is not a single entity. There can be more than one fund.
  • The NIIF has been established as one or more Alternate Investment Funds (AIF) under the SEBI Regulations.
  • Alternate investment funds (AIFs) are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulations, 2012, and classified under three categories – Categories I, II and III, from the angle of tax treatment under provisions of Income Tax Act.
  • Since it was set up as Category II AIFs, the NIIF is eligible for a pass through status under the Income Tax Act.
  • A ‘pass-through’ status means that the income generated by the fund would be taxed in the hands of the ultimate investor, and the fund itself would not have to pay tax on the same.
  • As on date, 3 funds have been established by the Government under the NIIF platform and registered with SEBI as Category II Alternative Investment Funds individually.
  • National Investment and Infrastructure Fund II (“Strategic Fund”) is one of those three funds.
  • National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (or Master Fund) and
  • NIIF Fund of Funds – I.
  • Strategic Investment Fund:  The objective of this fund is to invest mainly in the equity-linked instruments.
  • Master Fund: The master fund is an infra-related fund with the primary objective of developing roads, ports, and airports.
  • Fund of Funds: This fund invests in the funds operated by fund managers having an excellent history in infrastructure.

13. Global Action on Disability (GLAD) (TH, pg 7)

  • Globally, UNESCO joined its partners in the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network to raise awareness about the need to put in place strategies to mitigate the impact of school closures on learners with disabilities. 
  • The Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network is a coordination body of bilateral and multilateral donors and agencies, the private sector and foundations working to enhance the inclusion of persons with disabilities in international development and humanitarian action.  
  • The GLAD Network meets at least annually.
  • The (GLAD) Network was launched in London in December 2015, by a group of like-minded partners who recognise that to realise the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind, and to further the principles reflected in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the international community needs to work together to share expertise, coordinate actions, and raise the profile of disability across a broader range of organisations contributing to international development efforts.
  • The permanent co-chair of the GLAD Network is the International Disability Alliance (IDA).
  • The UNESCO’s 2019 State of the Education Report of India acknowledges that inclusive education is complex to implement and requires a fine understanding of the diverse needs of children and their families across different contexts.
  • Therefore, further measures are needed to ensure quality education for every child to achieve the targets of Agenda 2030, and more specifically, the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goal 4.

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