Argutes

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – 21 September 2021

EPFO adds new subscribers

  1. The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) added 14.65 lakh net subscribers in July, an increase from the 11.16 lakh net additions in June.
  2. According to Labour and Employment Ministry, 9.02 lakh members had joined the EPFO for the first time.
  3. This shows that the majority of subscribers opted to continue their membership with EPFO, by transferring their past accumulations from the previous job to the current PF account rather than applying for final withdrawal.
  4. With 3.88 lakh new subscribers from the 22 to 25 years age bracket and 3.27 lakh in the 18 to 21 years age group, this pointed towards first-time job-seekers joining the workforce in large numbers.
  5. Over 62% of the net addition came from Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.

EPFO

  1. EPFO is one of the World’s largest Social Security Organisations in terms of clientele and the volume of financial transactions undertaken.
  2. The Employees’ Provident Fund came into existence with the promulgation of the Employees’ Provident Funds Ordinance on the 15th November 1951.
  3. It was replaced by the Employees’ Provident Funds Act, 1952. The Employees’ Provident Funds Bill was introduced in the Parliament as Bill Number 15 of the year 1952 as a Bill to provide for the institution of provident funds for employees in factories and other establishments.
  4. The Act is now referred to as the Employees’ Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 which extends to the whole of India.
  5. The Act and Schemes framed there under are administered by a tri-partite Board known as the Central Board of Trustees, Employees’ Provident Fund, consisting of representatives of Government (Both Central and State), Employers, and Employees.

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Delhi-Mumbai Expressway

  1. The Centre estimates to receive revenues worth 1,000 to 1,500 crore every month once the much-awaited Delhi-Mumbai Expressway becomes operational in 2023.
  2. The expressway will pass through four States apart from the national capital.
  3. The eight-lane expressway, covering Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, is expected to halve the commute time between the national capital and the country’s financial hub from nearly 24 hours to 12 hours.
  4. The Delhi-Mumbai Expressway is likely to be completed by March 2023 and is being built as part of the first phase of the ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’.
  5. Against the backdrop of concerns being flagged about NHAI being saddled with a high level of debt, the nodal agency has received a ‘AAA’ rating and all its road projects are productive.
  6. ‘AAA’ is one of the highest credit ratings and indicates a robust financial position.

NHAI

  1. National Highways Authority of India was set up by an act of the Parliament, NHAI Act, 1988
  2. The act directs to provide for the constitution of an Authority for the development, maintenance, and management of national highways and for matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  3. It has been entrusted with the National Highways Development Project, which along with other minor projects, has vested in it 50329 km of National Highways for development, maintenance, and management.
  4. The total length of NH (including expressways) in the country at present is 1,32,499 km.
  5. While Highways/Expressways constitute only about 1.7% of the length of all roads, they carry about 40% of the road traffic.

Bharatmala Parlyojana

  1. Bharatmala Pariyojana is a new umbrella program for the highways sector that focuses on optimizing the efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps through effective interventions like the development of Economic Corridors, Inter Corridors and Feeder Routes, National Corridor Efficiency Improvement, Border and International connectivity roads, Coastal and Port connectivity roads and Green-field expressways.
  2. The Bharatmala Pariyojana is a centrally-sponsored and funded road and Highways project of the Government of India
  3. It is under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways

Focus areas

    • Improvement in the efficiency of existing corridors through the development of Multimodal Logistics Parks and elimination of chokepoint
    • Enhance focus on improving connectivity in North East and leveraging synergies with Inland Waterways
    • Emphasis on use of technology & scientific planning for Project Preparation and Asset Monitoring
    • Delegation of powers to expedite project delivery – Phase I to complete by 2022
    • Improving connectivity in the North East

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COVID-19 vaccine

  1. Pfizer stated that the COVID-19 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will seek U.S. authorization for this age group soon— a key step toward beginning vaccinations for youngsters.
  2. The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech already is available for anyone 12 and older.
  3. For elementary school-aged kids, Pfizer tested a much lower dose — a third of the amount that’s in each shot given now.
  4. Yet after their second dose, children ages 5 to 11 developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults.
  5. The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects— such as sore arms, fever, or achiness — that teens experience.
  6. Many Western countries so far have vaccinated no younger than age 12, awaiting evidence of what’s the right dose and that it works safely in smaller tots.
  7. Cuba last week began immunizing children as young as 2 with its homegrown vaccines and Chinese regulators have cleared two of its brands down to age 3.
  8. The FDA required what is called an immune “bridging” study: evidence that the younger children developed antibody levels already proven to be protective in teens and adults.
  9. The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that sometimes occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men.

Solar stream Interactions

Astronomers have used data from Parker, along with data from other solar missions, to detect and study Solar stream interactions.

Mechanism

  1. When a fast solar wind stream erupts from a coronal hole (a cooler region in the Sun’s atmosphere) and overtakes a slower moving solar wind stream, a stream interaction region (SIR) can form.
  2. In the SIR, a density “pileup” of compressed plasma develops upstream of the interface; typically there is a peak in pressure followed by a rarefaction region in the fast solar wind component.
  3. As the SIR propagates away from the Sun to distances of one astronomical unit or beyond, the compression can form a shock that efficiently accelerates charged particles.
  4. Thus SIRs are a major source of energetic particles in interplanetary space.
  5. Coronal holes, the main sources of the high-speed stream, rotate as the Sun rotates on its axis, and the SIR structures rotate with it.
  6. After a complete solar rotation, a SIR is reclassified as a corotating interaction region (CIR).
  7. SIRs and CIRs are large-scale, often long-lived structures that, like the solar wind itself, can trigger geomagnetic storms on the Earth and affect its ionosphere and thermosphere.
  8. These structures and their associated shocks can modulate the intensity of incoming galactic cosmic rays.
  9. SIRs and CIRs vary temporally and spatially, and astronomers are working to understand how they form, evolve, and persist for multiple solar rotations.
  10. Doing so requires a robust database of observations at small heliospheric distances together with complementary measurements from other space observatories.
  11.  The goal of this program is to develop a “living catalog” of SIR and CIR events with strict identification criteria.
  12. These results represent the first iteration in a series of observations that will enable case studies of these structures as well as statistical analyses to understand their properties and evolution.

Humbolt Penguins

  1. Mumbai’s Byculla Zoo announced the addition of two new Humboldt penguin chicks this year.
  2. The two join seven adult Humboldt penguins at Byculla Zoo — Popeye, Flipper, Bubble, and the new parents.
  3. Humboldt penguins are medium-sized species among at least 17 species.
  4. The largest, the Emperor penguin, stands at over 4 ft tall while the Little penguin has a maximum height of 1 ft.
  5. Humboldt penguins have an average height of just over 2 ft
  6. The Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) belongs to a genus that is commonly known as the ‘banded’ group.
  7. Humboldt penguins are endemic to the Pacific coasts of Chile and Peru.
  8. They are so named because their habitat is located near the Humboldt Current, a large oceanic upwelling characterized by cold waters.
  9. Humboldt penguins have large, bare skin patches around their eyes, an adaptation to help keep them cool

General Sherman the world’s largest tree

  1. The General Sherman tree is the world’s largest in terms of volume and exists in the Giant Forest sequoia grove of the national park.
  2. As per recent estimates, General Sherman is about 2,200 years old.
  3. It stands at a height of 275 feet (taller than the leaning tower of Pisa) and has a diameter of 36 feet at the base.
  4. Even 60 feet above the base, the tree has a diameter of 17.5 feet.

Forest fires

  1. The National Park Service (NPS) notes that historically, low to moderate severity fires burn every 6 to 35 years in the giant sequoia groves.
  2. Occasional patches of higher severity fires have opened up gaps in the forest canopy where seedlings can then grow.
  3. The park staff has estimated that less than 10 percent of the large sequoias have died due to low severity and about 34 percent have died in moderate severity fire areas.
  4. This burned area represents a third of all sequoia grove areas across the Sierra Nevada, the only area in the world where giant sequoias occur naturally.
  5. Giant sequoia trees have existed in the national park for thousands of years and there are an estimated 2,000 such trees in the park.
  6. Firefighters are now trying to save the world’s largest tree and some other large trees in the area by wrapping fire-resistant aluminum blankets onto the bases of the trees.

Stablecoin

  1. Stablecoins offer a combination of the traits of cryptocurrencies and a fixed real-world asset, often fiat.
  2. The most popular use for stablecoins is to provide users the advantages of cryptocurrency and the blockchain, such as decentralization and quick, low-cost transactions, but with the stability of its fiat peg.
  3. For example, popular stablecoins USDC, USDT, and GUSD will, in theory, always equal $1.00. However, in execution, stablecoin value may differ by 1 to 5% in either direction.

Stablecoins Get Inspiration From Fiat

  1. The strategies used to maintain stable coin value are similar to how governments and central banks control the prices of fiat.
  2. The primary method is the use of reserves to back the fiat.
  3. The controlling authority, similar to a central bank, takes actions to control the supply and demand. An example of the latter is when the central bank prints more money in what is called quantitative easing.
  4. However, instead of being used to manipulate economies, stable coins serve the goal of providing cryptocurrency holders the ability to escape volatility while remaining in the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Different Types of Stablecoins

Stablecoin creators decide which method to use before creating the coin, with each method leading to a different type of stablecoin.

Fiat-backed Stablecoins 

  1. People are most familiar with fiat-collateralized stablecoins.
  2. For example, assume a stablecoin is tied to the US dollar. A custodian would hold $1 for every stablecoin issued. This provides stability by ensuring that stablecoin holders could theoretically exchange their stablecoins for $1 at any time. This $1 would come from the reserves used to collateralize the issuance of the stablecoin asset.
  3. This is the most common method of ensuring the value of stablecoins.

Commodity-backed Stablecoins 

  1. Some stablecoins use other assets as collateral, such as precious metals like gold or silver or even oil.
  2. Digix, for example, uses gold as collateral.

Cryptocurrency-backed Stablecoins

  1. Some stablecoins use cryptocurrency as collateral.
  2. These stablecoins attempt to account for the inherent volatility of cryptocurrency by reserving more cryptocurrency than you would need for a 1:1 ratio, known as over-collateralization.
  3. For example, this method could involve storing $2 worth of the crypto as collateral for each $1 of the stablecoin. These crypto-backed stablecoins also typically include more frequent monitoring and audits to boost price stability further.
  4. A popular example of this method is DAI from MakerDAO, which is backed by Ethereum. 

Non-collateralized Stablecoins (Uncollateralized or Algorithmic Stablecoins)

  1. Finally, some stablecoins don’t rely on reserves and are therefore non-collateralized stablecoins.
  2. Referred to as algorithmic stablecoins, these digital assets rely on smart contracts to monitor prices and determine supply and demand.
  3. In practice, the smart contracts are set to buy stablecoins from the circulating supply if prices are too low. When the prices are too high, the smart contracts issue new stablecoins.
  4. Basecoin is one popular example of this type of stablecoin.
  5. Somewhat ironically, non-collateralized stablecoins are similar to how the government controls the prices of fiat. For example, a central bank may print more bills if prices are too high, and it may issue bonds to “buy back” currency off the market.

Collateralized vs. Uncollateralized Stablecoins

  1. The most significant difference in a stablecoin type is if it’s collateralized or not.
  2. Collateralized stablecoins maintain their value via large reserves of collateral, whether that is fiat, crypto, precious metals, or another commodity.
  3. On the other hand, uncollateralized stablecoins maintain their value via smart contracts that manipulate supply based on demand.
  4. Uncollateralized stablecoins have the benefit of being more decentralized due to the use of smart contracts. They also don’t require large stores of collateral, meaning they require a significantly lower upfront investment to start.
  5. By contrast, collateralized stablecoins provide more confidence in the coin due to the presence of reserves.
  6. Crypto-backed stablecoins and uncollateralized stablecoins tend to be more decentralized, assuming the oracles used for uncollateralized stablecoins are honest.
  7. Fiat-backed cryptocurrencies are more centralized, as there needs to be a central (or multiple) locations where the reserves are physically (or digitally) stored.

Pros and Cons of Stablecoins

  1. Stablecoins provide the benefits associated with cryptocurrencies, including quick transaction times, low transaction fees, cross-border functionality, decentralization, an immutable ledger for transparency, and access to all.
  2. Many people also see stablecoins as a safe option for storing their assets, which is particularly true in countries experiencing hyperinflation or political instability.
  3. Essentially, a stablecoin enables anyone with access to the Internet to buy into USD without going to a brick-and-mortar exchange.
  4. They can also be used to transact with parties around the world using a fixed-peg standard. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to pay in BTC or ETH if the price is changing every second.
  5. However, a hidden advantage of stablecoins that only came into fruition recently was their adaptation for cryptocurrency interest accounts and DeFi.
  6. A cryptocurrency interest account platform, such as BlockFi or Celsius, offers users a percentage APY (around 7% to 10%) on their stablecoin deposits.
  7. These companies then lend out those deposits in collateralized loans to other users, generating some profit for themselves. DeFi accomplishes the same thing, but without a centralized company acting as an intermediary.
  8. While stablecoins have become incredibly popular and are essentially a household infrastructure of the crypto ecosystem, some have concerns about their collateral reserves.

G-33 group

  1. India virtually participated in the G-33 Informal Ministerial Conference on September 16, hosted by Indonesia, to discuss the agricultural priority issues and the way forward for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC-12) scheduled during November 30–December 3, 2021.
  2. India has finally decided to co-sponsor a proposal made by the G-33 group of developing countries on a permanent solution for allowing public stockholding subsidies without limits at the WTO.
  3. In a revised G-33 proposal on public stockholding submitted to the WTO India too became a signatory
  4. Many are of the opinion that it was a good decision by the Indian government to stick to the G-33 alliance as the grouping has served its interests well over the last many years.
  5. India stressed that the WTO Agreement on Agriculture was tilted in favor of developed countries and said that the G-33 must strive for positive outcomes on a permanent solution to public stockholding for food security purposes which is of utmost importance, finalization of a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and a balanced outcome on Domestic Support.

Issues with WTO

  1. The WTO rules consider subsidy provided for public procurement, including for the MSP program, in the category of trade-distorting support, which has to be maintained within a fixed ceiling of 10 percent of the value of production.
  2. India, individually and as part of the G-33, has been fighting for the flexibility to give higher MSP, preferably without any limits.
  3. While there is a peace clause that all members agreed to in 2013 that prevents legal action against developing countries by other members in case the ceiling is breached, there are numerous onerous conditions attached to it, and developing countries, thus, want a permanent solution to the issue.

A study on the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan

  1. A nuclear notebook published in the journal Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that Pakistan has expanded its nuclear stockpile to approximately 165 warheads.
  2. It estimates that the country’s stockpile could more realistically grow to around 200 warheads by 2025 if the current trend continues.
  3. The government of Pakistan has never publicly disclosed the size of its nuclear arsenal.
  4. Pakistan has been trying to develop new short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer-range ballistic missiles for some time now.
  5. Pakistan has at least six operational nuclear-capable land-based ballistic missiles, including the short-range (60-70 km) NASR (Hatf-9) solid-fuel missile.
  6. The medium-range missiles include Shaheen-II and newer Shaheen-III missiles. Once fully operational, researchers point out that the Shaheen-III missiles, with a projected range of 2,750 km, would bring Israel within range of Pakistani nuclear missiles for the first time.
  7. Pakistan is also developing multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRV) technology-enabled nuclear-capable ballistic missile Ababeel.
  8. Pakistan is also reportedly upgrading its original Babur1 missiles into Babur-1A, and Babur-2/Babur-1B versions to improve their capabilities. An under-development sea version named Babur-3 is likely to be used with the diesel-electric Agosta class submarines, once ready.
  9. Pakistan has two versions of US-made F-16s as well as the China-assisted JF-17 fighter jets; however, the nature of their nuclear capabilities remains unclear.
  10. Pakistan was obligated by contract with the US to not modify its earlier versions of older F-16(A/B), but various reports suggested that Pakistan might have modified those aircraft long back.
  11. Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) Mirage III and Mirage V fighter squadrons are likely to have nuclear delivery capabilities as well. Masroor Air Base near Karachi housing three Mirage squadrons has a possible nuclear weapons storage site.