Current Affair-March 27, 2021

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CURRENT AFFAIRS

NISAR

  • NASA and ISRO are collaborating on developing a satellite called NISAR.
  • It will detect movements of the planet’s surface as small as 0.4 inches over areas about half the size of a tennis court.
  • The satellite will be launched in 2022 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, into a near-polar orbit.
  • It will scan the globe every 12 days over the course of its three-year mission of imaging the Earth’s land, ice sheets and sea ice to give an “unprecedented” view of the planet.

About NISAR

  • It’s an SUV-sized satellite that is being jointly developed by the space agencies of the US and India.
  • NISAR will be equipped with the largest reflector antenna ever launched by NASA and its primary goals include tracking subtle changes in the Earth’s surface, spotting warning signs of imminent volcanic eruptions, helping to monitor groundwater supplies and tracking the rate at which ice sheets are melting.
    • The partnership agreement was signed between NASA and ISRO in September 2014, according to which NASA will provide one of the radars for the satellite, a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers and a payload data subsystem.
    • ISRO, on the other hand, will provide the spacecraft bus, the second type of radar (called the S-band radar), the launch vehicle and associated launch services.  It’s an SUV-sized satellite that is being jointly developed by the space agencies of the US and India.

About the name

  • The name NISAR is short for NASA-ISRO-SAR. SAR here refers to the synthetic aperture radar that NASA will use to measure changes in the surface of the Earth.
  • Essentially, SAR refers to a technique for producing high-resolution images. Because of the precision, the radar can penetrate clouds and darkness, which means that it can collect data day and night in any weather.

Significance

  • During the course of three years, the images will allow scientists to track changes in croplands, hazard sites and will help them to monitor crises such as volcanic eruptions.
  • The images will be able to capture changes in the Earth caused by certain activities. For instance, drawing drinking water from an underground aquifer can leave signs on the surface. If too much of it is drawn out, the ground begins to sink, which is what scientists believe the images will be able to show them.
  • It will give us an unprecedented ability to look at how Earth’s surface is changing.
Source: Indian Express

African forest and Savanna Elephants

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared Africa’s forest and savanna elephants to be ‘critically endangered’ and ‘endangered’.
  • Both species were earlier listed as ‘vulnerable’ as per IUCN.
  • The population of African forest elephants plummeted by 86% in the last 31 years while that of the savanna elephants dropped by 60% in the last 50 years.
  • The population of the two species combined is around 415,000.

Reason for declines

  • Both species suffered sharp declines since 2008 due to a significant increase in poaching that peaked in 2011 but continues to threaten populations.
  •  Poaching for ivory has been the scourge of African elephants over the past several decades. As both males and females possess tusks, the impact of ivory poaching is especially severe.
  • Ongoing conversion of their habitats, primarily to agricultural and other land uses.

Stabilisation of population

  • The IUCN assessment also pointed out that there had been successful conservation programmes that had led to the stabilisation of the elephant populations in a few areas.
  • Forest elephants had stabilised in well-managed conservation areas in Gabon and the Republic of the Congo.
  • The numbers of Savanna elephants had also been stable or growing for decades, especially in the Kavango-ZambeziTransfrontier Conservation Area, which harboured the largest subpopulation of this species on the continent.

About the elephants

  • Forest elephants occur in the tropical forests of Central Africa and in a range of habitats in West Africa.
  • They rarely overlap with the range of the savanna elephant, which prefers open country and is found in a variety of habitats in sub-Saharan Africa including grasslands and deserts.
  • The forest elephant has a more restricted natural distribution and is thought to occupy only a quarter of its historic range today. It’s largest remaining populations found in Gabon and the Republic of the Congo.
Source: Downtoearth

Plans to cut imports from Saudi Arabia

  • State-owned oil marketing companies are set to cut crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia.
  • This is in response to sustained production cuts by the OPEC+ countries amid rising crude oil prices.

Reason

  • OPEC+, a group of 23 major oil-producing countries had cut crude oil production levels during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic as the price of Brent crude fell to below $20 per barrel.
  • It has decided to maintain lower production levels through April despite crude oil prices recovering to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Saudi Arabia as source country
    • Saudi Arabia which has consistently been the second-largest source of crude oil for India after Iraq was displaced by the United States in February.
    • A reduction in crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia would likely lead to increased imports from other gulf countries and the United States according to sources aware of developments.
    • Saudi Arabia will however continue to be one of the largest sources for the import of crude oil for India due to its geographical proximity and India’s large crude oil requirements.
    • The move to diversify crude oil sourcing is also a tactic to get a better discount on procurement which is generally difficult in a rising crude price environment.
      A consistent rise in crude oil prices has contributed to auto fuel prices reaching record highs in India as it import over 80% of its crude oil requirements.
  • Saudi Arabia alone has extended a 1 million barrel per day production cut through April contributing to elevated crude oil prices.

Impact of consistent rise in crude oil prices

  • Prices of petrol and diesel reached record high level across India with the price of petrol crossing Rs 100 per litre in some parts of the country.
  • The prices of both petrol and diesel have risen by Rs 7.5 per litre since the beginning of the year despite oil marketing companies partially absorbing the impact of higher crude oil prices.
  • Rising crude oil prices have also magnified the impact of central and state taxes on auto fuels which were hiked significantly in 2020 to boost revenues amid lower economic activity.
Source: Indian Express

Rejection of RTI applications

Data

  • The Centre has only rejected 4.3% of all Right to Information (RTI) requests in 2019­ 20, the lowest ever rate, according to the Central Information Commission’s annual report.
  • However, almost 40% of these rejections did not include any valid reason, as they did not invoke one of the permissible exemption clauses in the RTI Act, according to an analysis of report data by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak.

Grounds for rejection under RTI Act

  • The RTI Act allows public authorities to reject RTI requests on a number of grounds. These include
  •  Information which would endanger life and safety.
  • Information involves irrelevant personal information.
  • Cabinet papers, foreign governments, copyrights, or sovereignty, security and intelligence matters.
  • Public authorities are expected to cite the relevant clause of the Act to invoke the exemption.
Source: The Hindu

About GDP- A misleading picture?

  • An economy’s annual GDP is the total money value of all final (not intermediate) goods and services produced within the geographical boundaries in a year.
  • GDP does not really map the wellbeing of a population. It is often quite likely that even as the overall GDP goes up, economic inequalities also rise, fuelling discontent.

Disagreements over calculation of GDP

  • In 2015, when India’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) introduced a new GDP series, it started a series of disagreements.
  • Over how “growth rate” of GDP is calculated — it doesn’t concern the calculation of the absolute level of GDP per se.
  • It is argued that the way India calculates its GDP growth rate paints an incorrect or misleading picture of the current state of economic growth.

The issue

  • In India, when we say that the Indian economy grew by 10% in a particular quarter, it essentially means is that the total GDP of the country in that quarter was 10% more than the total GDP produced in the same quarter a year ago.
  • When we say the economy contracted by 8% this year what we mean to say is that the total output of the economy (as calculated by GDP) is 8% less than the total output of the economy in the preceding year. This is called the year-on-year (YoY) method of arriving at the growth rate.

About the Y-o-Y method

  • On the face of it, the Y-o-Y method is intuitive and takes care of the seasonal variations. For example, if agricultural production is typically low during the April-May-June quarter (because it doesn’t rain as much during this period) and typically high during the July-August-September quarter, then there is little value in comparing farm productivity growth rate between these two quarters. Doing so will just throw up massive fluctuations without adding any real insight.
  • But comparing farm output YoY — that is, July to September current year with July to September last year — provides a more robust and reasonable growth rate. It is a like-to-like comparison, due to the similarities in weather and farming conditions. The same argument of “seasonality” applies to other sectors of the economy as well and, as such, it makes sense to use the YoY method to arrive at the growth rate.

QoQ is better than YoY

  1. There are very well-established statistical methods to take away the effect of seasonality from quarterly data. Once the data is deseasonalised, the growth rate arrived at by using the QoQ method presents a far more accurate picture of the economic growth rate. It is for this reason that other large economies report QoQ growth rate.
  2. The year-on-year quarterly numbers will keep rising giving the false assurance of a strengthening recovery when in reality the level of income would rise only at a grinding pace.

YoY method is better than the QoQ method for India

  1. The YoY method is better suited to spot such cyclical patterns.
  • Stable economies such as the US use the QoQ method and provide what is called the seasonally-adjusted annualised rate. But the YoY method is better for India — especially when there is a lot of ‘noise’ between the quarters.
  •  “Noise” or “stability” is essentially a settled seasonality. For example, in the US the holiday season — say Christmas — is predefined but in India, the festivals do not fall on the same date or even the same month each year. As such, growth rates of different economic variables tend to fluctuate far more in India.
Source: Indian Express

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