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UPSC Essentials| Weekly news express with MCQs : Project GIB, Remittances and more

The Indian Express’ UPSC weekly news express covers some of the important and burning topics of current affairs news from this week to help you prepare for UPSC-CSE. Try out the MCQs and check your answers provided towards the end of the article.

upsc, upsc essentials, weekly news express, upsc current affairs, upsc weekly current affairs, upsc mcqs, upsc prelims 2023, upsc mains 2023, sarkari naukri, government jobsEssential weekly news categorised as per UPSC syllabus. (Source: Gujarat Forest Department)

The Indian Express’ UPSC weekly news express covers some of the important and burning topics of current affairs news from this week to help you prepare for UPSC-CSE. Try out the MCQs and check your answers provided towards the end of the article.

‘Project GIB’

Syllabus:

Preliminary Examination: General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization.

Main Examination: General Studies III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

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Why in news?

Hearing a plea to protect the endangered bird Great Indian Bustard (GIB), the Supreme Court Wednesday asked if a ‘Project GIB’, on the lines of ‘Project Tiger’, could be launched. “We had that Project Tiger, is it not possible to have some mechanism to bring focus on GIB like having ‘Project Great Indian Bustard’,” the bench of CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice A S Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian said, as reported by PTI.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

What is the Great Indian Bustard?

This large bird, found mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, has been categorised as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

GIBs are the largest among the four bustard species found in India, the other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican. GIBs’ historic range included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunken to just 10 per cent of it. Among the heaviest birds with flight, GIBs prefer grasslands as their habitats. Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other. They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc. GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence barometers of the health of grassland ecosystems.

Why is the Great Indian Bustard endangered?

Among the biggest threats to the GIBs are overhead power transmission lines. Due to their poor frontal vision, the birds can’t spot the power lines from a distance, and are too heavy to change course when close. Thus, they collide with the cables and die.

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According to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), in Rajasthan, 18 GIBs die every year after colliding with overhead power lines.

Great Indian Bustard: Conservation efforts

The Supreme Court in April 2021 ordered that all overhead power transmission lines in core and potential GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat should be made underground.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the court sought reports from the chief secretaries of Rajasthan and Gujarat in six weeks on installation of bird diverters (reflector-like structures strung on power cables) in priority areas. It also asked them to assess the total length of transmission lines that need to go underground in the two states.
Also, in 2015, the Centre had launched the GIB species recovery programme. Under this, the WII and Rajasthan forest department jointly set up breeding centres where GIB eggs harvested from the wild were incubated artificially.

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Point to ponder: Rising temperatures are already driving mass mortality events, as well as the first extinction of an entire species. Discuss.

1. MCQ:

Which of the following can be threats to the biodiversity of a geographical area?(2012)

1. Global warming

2. Fragmentation of habitat

3. Invasion of alien species

4. Promotion of vegetarianism

Select the correct answer using the codes given below :

(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

How the e-rupee will work

Syllabus:

Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Why in news?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Thursday launched the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) — digital rupee or e-rupee (e₹) — for the common man.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

What is CBDC or the digital rupee?

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CBDC is a legal tender issued by the RBI in digital form. It is the same as the fiat currency, and is exchangeable one-to-one with the fiat currency. Only its form is different — it is not paper (or polymer) like physical cash. It is a fungible legal tender, for which holders need not have a bank account. CBDC will appear as ‘liability’ (currency in circulation) on the RBI’s balance sheet.

The e-rupee will be in the form of a digital token representing a claim on the central bank, and will effectively function as the digital equivalent of a banknote that can be transferred electronically from one holder to another. A token CBDC is a “bearer-instrument” like a banknote, meaning whoever ‘holds’ the tokens at a given point in time will be presumed to own them.

How is RBI introducing the CBDC?

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The pilot launched on Thursday will initially cover four cities — Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and Bhubaneswar — and will be later extended to Ahmedabad, Gangtok, GuwahatiHyderabad, Indore, Kochi, Lucknow, Patna, and Shimla.

The pilot will work in a closed user group (CUG) comprising participating customers and merchants, the RBI has said. Select customers from the selected cities will get CBDC wallets with notes printed digitally with the RBI Governor’s signature.

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Eight banks will participate in the pilot — the State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Yes Bank and IDFC First Bank in the first phase in the first four cities, and subsequently, Bank of Baroda, Union Bank of India, HDFC Bank, and Kotak Mahindra Bank.

The scope of the pilot may be expanded gradually to cover more banks, users, and locations.

How can an individual use the e-rupee?

E-rupees will be issued in the same denominations as paper currency and coins, and will be distributed through the intermediaries, that is banks. Transactions will be through a digital wallet offered by the participating banks, and stored on mobile phones and devices.

Transactions can be both person to person (P2P) and person to merchant (P2M). For P2M transactions (such as shopping), there will be QR codes at the merchant location.

A user will be able to withdraw digital tokens from banks in the same way she can currently withdraw physical cash. She will be able to keep her digital tokens in the wallet, and spend them online or in person, or transfer them via an app.

How is this different from other wallets?

Not very different in terms of how it will be used. However, UPI-based apps like Google Pay and Paytm have a daily and per-transaction spending limit. The RBI has not fixed any limit on holding digital rupees in wallets. Digital rupee transactions above Rs 2 lakh are likely to be reported for tax matters.

What are the types of e-rupee?

Based on usage and the functions performed by the digital rupee, and considering different levels of accessibility, the RBI has demarcated the digital rupee into retail and wholesale categories.

Retail e-rupee (launched on Thursday) is an electronic version of cash primarily meant for retail transactions, which can potentially be used by almost everyone, and can provide access to safe money for payment and settlements.

Wholesale CBDC is designed for restricted access to select financial institutions. It has the potential to transform the settlement systems for financial transactions undertaken by banks in the government securities (G-Sec) segment and inter-bank market, and make the capital market more efficient and secure in terms of operational costs, use of collateral, and liquidity management.

What was the need to introduce the e-rupee?

Leveraging blockchain technology for the e-rupee is a stepping stone for India becoming a $1 trillion digital economy. India is witnessing massive growth in digital transactions — the volume and value of UPI transactions increased by 118 per cent and more that 98 per cent respectively in Q2 2022 compared to Q2 2021, said Srinivas Nidugondi, Chief Growth & Transformation Officer at the mobility solutions provider Comviva.

The digital rupee based on transparent and efficient technology will provide customers with continuous access to the payment system, whether wholesale or retail, said Mahesh Shukla, CEO & Founder of fintech firm PayMe India.

How is CBDC different from cryptocurrency?

Being backed by the RBI, e-rupee is not comparable to private virtual currencies like Bitcoin that have mushroomed over the last decade. Private virtual currencies sit at substantial odds with the historical concept of money. They are not commodities or claims on commodities as they have no intrinsic value; claims that they are akin to gold seem opportunistic.

Usually, certainly for the most popular ones now, they do not represent any person’s debt or liabilities. There is no issuer. They are not money — certainly not currency — as the word has come to be understood historically.

Cryptos are not backed by the central bank; in fact, the RBI wants the government to ban cryptocurrencies in India. The inherent design of cryptocurrencies is more geared to bypass the established and regulated intermediation and control arrangements that play the crucial role of ensuring integrity and stability of the monetary and financial ecosystem, says the RBI’s concept note on digital rupee.

What are the benefits of e-rupee?

CBDC has the potential to provide significant benefits such as reduced dependency on cash, higher seigniorage due to lower transaction costs, and reduced settlement risk. To the extent large cash usage can be replaced by CBDCs, the cost of printing, transporting, storing and distributing currency can be reduced, the RBI says.

Digital rupee has some clear advantages over other digital payments systems: payments are final, and thus reduce settlement risk in the financial system. When CBDC is transacted instead of bank balances, the need for interbank settlement disappears. CBDC can also enable a more real-time and cost-effective globalization of payment systems.

“Along with reducing operational costs associated with physical cash management, it will also enhance settlement efficiency and spur innovation in cross-border payments and offer the public the same uses as any private virtual currency without the risks associated with it,” said Sandeep Ghosh, Group Country Manager India & South Asia, Visa.

Will CBDC work in offline mode?

There is no indication yet from the RBI that the e-rupee will function in the offline mode. While offline functionality will allow CBDC transactions in regions with poor or no Internet connectivity and create digital footprints of the unbanked population in the financial system, the RBI feels that a risk of ‘double-spending’ exists in offline mode — because it will be technically possible to use a CBDC unit more than once without updating the common ledger of CBDC. However, the RBI has said this can be mitigated to a large extent by technical solutions and appropriate business rules including a monetary limit on offline transactions.

Is it vulnerable to cyber-attacks?

The RBI concept paper says CBDC ecosystems may be at similar risk for cyber-attacks as existing payment systems. Cybersecurity considerations will need to be taken care of, both for the item and the environment.

(Source: How the e-rupee will work  by George Mathew)

Point to ponder: How e-RUPI can transform government’s welfare schemes?

2. MCQ:

Which one of the following is not the most likely measure the Government/RBI takes to stop the slide of Indian rupee? (2019)

(a) Curbing imports of non-essential goods and promoting exports

(b) Encouraging Indian borrowers to issue rupee-denominated Masala Bonds

(c) Easing conditions relating to external commercial borrowing

(d) Following an expansionary monetary policy

The Great Barrier Reef 

Syllabus:

Preliminary Examination: General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization.

Main Examination: General Studies III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Why in news?

A joint report by the IUCN and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has recommended that the Great Barrier Reef “be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger”, something Australia is opposing.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

What is the Great Barrier Reef?

Located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, the GBR is the world’s largest coral reef system with over 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands and an area covering approximately 344,400 square kilometres. An irreplaceable part of the global ecosystem, the GBR is one of the biggest biodiversity hotspots in the world as well as one of its largest carbon sinks. For Australia, the GBR is a crucial contributor to the economy, supporting over 64,000 jobs and bringing in billions of annual revenue.

As much as 99 per cent of the property lies within the GBR Marine Park in order to protect it from wanton exploitation. It is managed as a “multiple use area”, with a range of commercial and tourism activities permitted. A zoning plan is at the cornerstone of GBR’s management, determining what is permitted and where. Development and land use activities in coastal and water catchments adjacent to the property also have a critical influence on the property and are managed by the Queensland Government.

Aboriginal populations undertake traditional use of marine resource activities to provide traditional food, practise their living maritime culture, and educate younger generations about traditional and cultural rules and protocols. They are one of GBR’s most important custodians.

What does the IUCN-WHC report say?

The report paints a rather bleak picture of the GBR’s current state. Despite Australia’s sustained and scientific efforts to manage the property, currently, the GBR is adversely and significantly impacted by climate change factors, affecting its resilience to sustain and regenerate itself. Frequent bleaching events have made many reefs sterile. Degraded water quality poses a particular threat.

The report says that currently, the management of the property lacks clear climate change goals.

Further, the implementation of existing plans to conserve the GBR has been falling short, specifically in relation to the management of water quality and fishing activities, it says. Inshore land-based activities, often outside the protected area, are particularly responsible for the degraded water quality in GBR. Pollutants from agricultural and construction activities have been damaging and other proposed developments around the Queensland coast are matters of concern.

Keeping in mind the dangers that the reef faces, the report has multiple suggestions.

The foremost is adding the GBR to the List of World Heritage in Danger. Among other things, recommendations also include monitoring and evolving farming practices, greater commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, addressing land erosion on the coast, and adopting sustainable fishing practices.

What does putting GBR on the List of World Heritage in Danger entail?

According to UNESCO, “the List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.”

Under the 1972 World Heritage Convention, inscribing a site on the List allows the WHC to allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property, while simultaneously gathering international support and attention to the site.

While some countries do welcome the extra support that accompanies inscription into this list, many have often protested and made attempts to avoid this from happening, seeing it as a great embarrassment for the country. Furthermore, while it is difficult for UNESCO to enforce any of its recommendations, being put on the list does invite greater scrutiny for the site. This is especially true when talking about ecological heritage sites– often, the interests of conservation and economic development are opposed. Inclusion in such a list can have a tangible impact on all kinds of developmental projects, which may be politically significant for governments.

Point the ponder: What causes coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef?

3. MCQ:

Which of the following have coral reefs? (2014)

  1. Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  2. Gulf of Kachchh
  3. Gulf of Mannar
  4. Sunderbans

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 2 and 4 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Remittances to India

Syllabus:

Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Why in news?

India is expected to receive a record $100 billion in remittance in 2022, the top recipient this year, the World Bank has said. In its Migration and Development Brief, the World Bank has said India’s remittance will grow 12 per cent from 7.5 per cent last year, resulting in $100 billion flow as compared to $89.4 billion in 2021. It attributed the feat to the large share of Indian migrants earning relatively high salaries in the United States, United Kingdom and East Asia.

However, the report has noted, “Despite reaching a historic milestone at $100 billion and retaining its position as the top recipient of remittances globally, India’s remittance flows are expected to account for only 3 per cent of its GDP in 2022.”

Led by strong performances in India and Nepal, the World Bank has predicted that remittance flows to South Asia this year will grow 3.5 per cent to reach $163 billion in 2022. This is, however, a slowdown from the 6.7 per cent gain of 2021, reflecting “the impact of an amalgam of external global shocks (inflation, slowing demand) in destination and source countries alike, as well as domestic factors.”

The overall remittance growth in South Asia reflects a disparity in individual country results; while India has gained 12 per cent and Nepal 4 per cent, other countries have reported an aggregate decline of 10 per cent, the report states.

The report also says that despite global challenges in 2022, remittances to low- and middle-income countries will grow by 5% to $626 billion.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Why is remittance to India so high this year?

According to World Bank, there’s been a “gradual shift in destinations” for Indian migrants aided by a “structural shift in qualifications” that helped them move into the “highest-income-earner-category”, especially in services.

“Higher education mapped on to high income levels with direct implications for remittance flows,” the World Bank says. Migrants moved “from largely low-skipped, informally employment in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to a dominant share of high-skilled jobs in high-income countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and East Asia (Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand).”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian migrants in high-income countries benefited from work-from-home and large fiscal stimulus packages, the report said. As the pandemic eased, the wage hikes and “record-high employment conditions” helped migrants send money home despite high global inflation, the report added.

Despite Indian migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council returning to India during the pandemic, “price support policies kept inflation at bay… and demand for labour increased with higher oil prices, which in turn increased remittances for Indian labourers.”

The report says, “Remittances to India were enhanced by wage hikes and a strong labour market in the United States and other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development] countries. In the GCC destination countries, governments ensured low inflation through direct support measures that protected migrants’ ability to remit.”

Depreciation of the Indian rupee to the US dollar — it fell 10 per cent between January and September 2022 — may have also proven to be advantageous for Indian migrants and increased remittance flows, according to the brief.

In 2022, vaccinations and the resumption of travel helped migrants resume work, increasing remittance to the country.

What is remittance?

The World Bank defines it as “the sum of worker’s remittances, compensation of employees, and migrants’ transfers as recorded in the IMF Balance of Payments. Workers remittances are current transfers by migrant who are considered residents in the source.”

Remittances are a vital source of household income for low- and middle-income countries.

Global remittance: What’s predicted in 2023?

The growth of remittance flows into South Asia in 2023 is expected to slow to 0.7 per cent. “The year will stand as a test for the resilience of remittances from white-collar South Asian migrants in high-income countries,” the report notes.

Point to ponder: How gulf economy effects remittance economy in India?

4. MCQ:

Which of the following constitute Capital Account? (2013)

  1. Foreign Loans
  2. Foreign Direct Investment
  3. Private Remittances
  4. Portfolio Investment

Select the correct answer using the codes given below.

(a) 1, 2 and 3

(b) 1, 2 and 4

(c) 2, 3 and 4

(d) 1, 3 and 4

ANSWERS TO MCQs: 1 (a), 2 (d), 3 (a), 4 (b)

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Note: Catch the UPSC Weekly Quiz every Saturday evening and brush up on your current affairs knowledge.

First published on: 03-12-2022 at 14:15 IST
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