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Current Affairs 27th May 2023 for UPSC Prelims Exam

Current Affairs 27th May 2023 for UPSC Prelims Exam

Rice Fortification

Context:   The Union Ministry has recently reinstated that fortified rice which is being distributed through Public Distribution System is safe to consume.

What is Fortified Rice?

  • Fortification: Fortification is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamins A and D to staple foods such as rice, wheat, oil, milk and salt to improve nutritional value and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.
  • Rice Fortification: Rice fortification is a cost effective, culturally appropriate strategy to address micronutrient deficiency in countries with high per capita rice consumption.
  • Process: The milled broken rice is ground to dust and a premix of vitamins and minerals is added to it.
    • Thereafter, an extruder machine is used to produce fortified rice kernels (FRK) resembling rice grains.
    • The kernels are then mixed in a 1:100 ratio with regular rice to produce fortified rice.
    • The cost to the consumer is estimated to be less than 50 paisa per kg.
  • Need:
    • Addition of Lost Vitamins: Fortifying rice makes it more nutritious by adding vitamins and minerals in the post – harvest phase; many of which are lost during the milling and polishing process.
    • Addressing Malnutrition: Fortification of food is considered to be one of the most suitable methods to combat malnutrition.
      • India has very high levels of malnutrition among women and children.
      • According to the Food Ministry, every second woman in the country is anaemic and every third child is stunted.
      • Rice is one of India’s staple foods, consumed by about two-thirds of the population.
      •  Per capita rice consumption in India is 6.8 kg per month. Therefore, fortifying rice with micronutrients is an option to supplement the diet of the poor.
    • Combat Hidden Hunger:  Even those people who look ‘healthy’ may often be malnourished due to the absence of appropriate nutrition in their food. This deficiency of micronutrients, also known as hidden hunger, thus poses a serious health risk.
      • Food fortification is one strategy to fight hidden hunger.
      • Others include diversification of diet and supplementation of food.
    • Benefit the Poor:  The people receiving fortified rice are mostly poor citizens who rely on State subsidised food and for whom iron-fortified rice has become mandatory since they cannot afford to buy other (non-fortified) rice in the open market.
    • Supplementary Strategy: Many families may not be able to access or have financial resources to eat a diversified diet comprising fruits and vegetables. Food fortification, therefore, is a supplementary strategy in addition to dietary diversity.
  • Rice Fortification Scheme:  To address anaemia and micro-nutrient deficiency in India, the Union Government approved the Centrally Sponsored Scheme on “Fortification of Rice & its Distribution under Public Distribution System” in 2021. Features of the Scheme:
    • Fortified rice will be supplied across the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman-PM POSHAN and other welfare schemes in a phased manner by 2024.
    • The cost of rice fortification, estimated at around Rs 2,700 crore per annum, will be borne by the central government as part of a food subsidy.
    • Fortified rice shall be packed in bags with an imprinted ‘+F’ logo in blue and a ‘Fortified with Iron, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B1’ tagline in black.
  • Regulatory Authority in India: Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)
What is Fortified Rice
What is Fortified Rice

Issues with Fortified Food/Rice:

  • Lack of Evidence: It has been claimed by various experts that evidence supporting fortification is inconclusive and certainly not adequate before major national policies are rolled out.
    • Many of the studies which FSSAI relies on to promote fortification are sponsored by food companies who would benefit from it, leading to conflicts of interest.
  • Hypervitaminosis:  According to some studies, both anaemia and Vitamin A deficiencies are overdiagnosed, meaning that mandatory fortification could lead to hypervitaminosis.
    • Hypervitaminosis A is a disorder in which there is too much vitamin A in the body, which can adversely impact the body.
  • Lack of Warning:  In Jharkhand,  it has been found that there were no warning labels despite the food regulator’s rules on fortified foods.
  • Reduce Immunity: Sickle-cell anaemia and thalassemia result in an excess of iron in the body. The consumption of iron-fortified foods by such patients can reduce immunity and affect organs.
  • Lack of Information:  In States like Jharkhand, it has been found that neither field functionaries nor beneficiaries were educated about the potential harms of fortified.
    • Also, there is no information to, or prior consent obtained from communities which have been recipients of this fortified rice.
  • Toxicity: One major problem with chemical fortification of foods is that nutrients don’t work in isolation but need each other for optimal absorption.
    • Undernourishment in India is caused by monotonous cereal-based diets with low consumption of vegetables and animal protein.
    • Adding one or two synthetic chemical vitamins and minerals will not solve the larger problem, and in undernourished populations can lead to toxicity.
    • A 2010 study showed iron fortification causing gut inflammation and pathogenic gut microbiota profile in undernourished children.
    • Cartelisation: Mandatory fortification would harm the vast informal economy of Indian farmers and food processors including local oil and rice mills, and instead benefit a small group of multinational corporations.

Current Affairs 26th May 2023 for UPSC Prelims Exam

 

Passive Funds

Context:   The Securities and Exchange Board of India is going to introduce new mutual fund regulations called ‘Mutual Fund Lite’ regulations for passives funds.

What are Passive Funds?

  • Definition: A passive fund is an investment vehicle that tracks a market index, or a specific market segment, to determine what to invest in.
    • Unlike with an active fund, the fund manager does not decide what securities the fund takes on.
    • This normally makes passive funds cheaper to invest in than active funds, which require the fund manager to spend time researching and analysing opportunities to invest in.
    • Tracker funds, such as ETFs (exchange traded funds) and index funds fall under the banner of passive funds.

Active and Passive Funds
Active and Passive Funds
  • Index Funds: An “index fund” is a type of mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that seeks to track the returns of a market index.
    • Index funds have generally followed a passive, rather than active, style of investing. It means they aim to maximize returns over the long run by not buying and selling securities very often.
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs): These funds offer investors a way to pool their money in a fund that invests in stocks, bonds, or other assets. In return, investors receive an interest in the fund.  Most ETFs are professionally managed by registered investment advisers.
  • Importance of New Regulations by SEBI: In a bid to boost passive investments, capital market regulator SEBI plans to ease regulations for index funds and exchange traded funds.
    • New norms will facilitate passive investments such as index funds and ETFs.
    • They will reduce compliance requirements for passive funds.
    • The regulations will provide greater flexibility for index funds and ETFs, enabling them to offer transparency, diversification, and lower costs to investors.
passive investing
passive investing
  • Benefits of Passive Funds:
    • Lower Costs:  Passively managed investment products like ETFs, index funds etc. tend to have lower expense ratios because the investment team has almost negligible role to play in terms of selection of stocks and determination of investment timing.
      • Consequently, the fund management charges and transaction costs are minimal, thereby resulting in lower costs for the investors.
    • Diversification:  The benchmark indices are constructed to have an overall market representation, comprising of different sectors and segments of the market.
      • Hence, investing with a passive investment strategy passes the same benefits of diversification across the market segments through a single investment product.
    • Elimination of Unsystematic Risk: Unsystematic risk is the risk of selection of wrong investment products or improper timing of investments in the mutual fund scheme.
      •  Since the passive investment strategy does not render such flexibility to the fund managers, such risks stand mitigated for the investors.
    • Better Transparency: Funds replicating any index / sector provide a greater transparency to the investor as their holdings represent the benchmark in the exact proportions.
  • Disadvantages of Passive Funds:
    • Lack of Flexibility: Index fund managers usually are prohibited from using defensive measures such as reducing a position in shares, even if the manager thinks share prices will decline.
    • Low Returns: Passively managed index funds face performance constraints as they are designed to provide returns that closely track their benchmark index, rather than seek outperformance.
      • They rarely beat the return on the index, and usually return slightly less due to fund operating costs.

 

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal

Context: In a relief to Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL), the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) has set aside a National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) order directing the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) to review their initial approvals to the Zee-Sony merger.

What is National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT)?

  • NCLAT: It was constituted under Section 410 of the Companies Act, 2013 for hearing appeals against the orders of the National Company Law Tribunal(s) (NCLT), with effect from 1st June 2016.
    • NCLAT decisions can be challenged in the Supreme Court on a point of law.
  • Functions:
    • Hearing appeals against the orders passed by NCLT(s) under Section 61 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC).
    • To hear and dispose of appeals against any direction issued or decision made or order passed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).
    • It also hears and disposes of appeals against the orders of the National Financial Reporting Authority.
  • National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT):  NCLT is a quasi-judicial authority incorporated for dealing with corporate disputes that are of civil nature arising under the Companies Act.
    • The Central Government constituted NCLT under section 408 of the Companies Act.

 

Period Poverty and Tampon Tax

Context: More than a quarter of menstruating women and girls around the world – some 500 million people – struggle to manage their periods, often because they cannot afford sanitary pads, according to the World Bank.

What is Period poverty?

  • Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, adequate sanitation facilities, and menstrual education.
  • It primarily affects individuals who menstruate and face financial constraints, making it difficult for them to afford or access necessary menstrual supplies.
  • Period poverty can result in negative consequences for those affected, including compromised hygiene, health issues, limited educational and economic opportunities, and social stigma.

What is Tampon Tax?

  • Tampon tax refers to the value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax imposed on menstrual hygiene products, including tampons, pads, and menstrual cups.
  • These products are essential for individuals who menstruate, yet in many countries, they are categorized as non-essential or luxury items, subjecting them to taxation.

Which countries have abolished the tampon tax?

  • Since Kenya became the first country to scrap VAT on sanitary pads and tampons in 2004, at least 17 countries have followed suit, according to research by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
  • Among the latest countries to pass laws to abolish the tampon tax are Mexico, Britain and Namibia.
  • In 2018, after months of campaigning, the tax on the sanitary pads in India was removed, which was set at 12% under the Goods and Services Act.

Why are some countries unwilling to scrap tampon taxes?

  • VAT is an important source of revenue for governments – and the reason why many countries still have a tampon tax.
  • In countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), VAT revenue represented 6.7% of their gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.

 

Supercomputer & Flops

Context:  India will scale up its supercomputing prowess and install an 18-petaflop system in 2023.

What are Flops?

  • Flops: Flops (floating point operations per second) are an indicator of processing speed of computers and a petaflop refers to a 1,000 trillion flops.
    • Such processing power greatly eases complex mathematical calculations required.
    • It also forecast how the weather will be over the next few days all the way up to two or three months ahead.
  • Supercomputers: Supercomputers are made up of interconnects, I/O systems, memory and processor cores.
    • A supercomputer can process a significant amount of data very quickly.
    • Unlike traditional computers, supercomputers use more than one central processing unit (CPU).
    • These CPUs are grouped into compute nodes, comprising a processor or a group of processors symmetric multiprocessing (SMP)—and a memory block. At scale, a supercomputer can contain tens of thousands of nodes.
    • With interconnect communication capabilities, these nodes can collaborate on solving a specific problem. Nodes also use interconnects to communicate with I/O systems, like data storage and networking.
    • The computing Performance of a supercomputer is measured in FLOPS.
  • India’s Current Supercomputers:  India’s most powerful, civilian supercomputers are Pratyush  at IITM Pune and Mihir at National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Noida.  Both these organisations are affiliated to the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
    • They have a combined capacity of 6.8 petaflops.
    • They were made operational in 2018 at an investment of ₹438 crore.
  • New Supercomputers: The new supercomputers are imported from French corporation, ATOS, an information technology service and consulting company.
    • The new earth-sciences Ministry computers are likely to cost ₹900 crore.
    • The new supercomputers too will be housed at the IITM and NCMRWF.
  • Uses: The current high-performance computers allow to map weather and climate changes to a resolution of 12X12 km.
    •  With the new system, resolution can be improved to 6X6 km.
    •  This will lead to greater clarity and more accurate local forecast.
  • Importance:  The aim is to be able to represent an area by 1 km-square grids and that can be used to warn of cloudburst and such rapidly evolving weather systems.
  •  Fastest Computing System in World: It is currently the Frontier-Cray system at Oakridge National Laboratory, United States. This has a peak speed of one exa-flop (or about 1,000 petaflops).

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