Growth silver lining but food inflation may be dark cloud

Paper:

Mains: G.S. II & III Social Justice, Issues related to the economy 

Why in news?

Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food price index highest since 2014.

Key details

  • First RBI revised downwards it’s GDP de-growth projection for 2020-21 from 9.5% to 7.5%. Then NSO pegged the current fiscal’s GDP growth at -7.7%.
  • The extent of negative growth induced by Covid-19 and the lockdown hasn’t been as much as was initially feared.
  • The NSO’s first advance estimates suggest that the Indian economy may even register a small 0.3% year-on-year growth in the second half (October-March), after contracting minus 14.9% in the first half (April-September) of 2020-21.
  • The emerging challenge of food inflation makes it difficult for the RBI to further cut interest rates or even continue with its accommodative monetary policy stance.
  • Food and Agriculture Organization released its latest Food Price Index (FPI) number for December. This index – reflecting international prices of a basket of food commodities against a base year (2014-16) value of 100 – averaged 107.5 points for the month. It was the highest since November 2014.
  • This extreme global price volatility can be seen across farm commodities like wheat, corn, soyabean, raw sugar, rice.
  • There are three main reasons for international agri-commodity prices firming up in the past few months. Demand-Supply Mismatch, Hoarding and Ultra-low interest rates.
  • The first is a steady normalisation of demand as most countries, including India, have unlocked their economies after May. Even as demand has gradually recovered, restoration of supply chains post-Covid is taking time.(Demand-Supply Mismatch)
  • The second reason is stockpiling by China, which has stepped up imports of everything – from corn, wheat, soyabean and barley to sugar and milk powder – to build strategic food reserves amid rising geopolitical tensions and pandemic uncertainties.(Hoarding)
  • The third reason may have to do the ultra-low global interest rates and floodgates of liquidity opened by major central banks.

Over half of Army personnel under severe stress, says study

Paper:

Mains: G.S. III Internal Security

Why in news?

The Indian armed forces have been losing over 100 soldiers every year due to suicides and (the accidental killing of one’s own forces in war) leading to the “grim reality” of one soldier dying every third day.

Key details

  • According to a study conducted by think tank United Service Institution of India, Indian Army has been losing more personnel every year in suicides, fratricides and untoward incidents than in any enemy action and over half of its soldiers seem to be under severe stress presently.
  • Prolonged exposure of Indian Army personnel to CI (counter-insurgency)/CT (counter-terrorism) environment has been one of the contributory factors for increased stress levels.
  • Various stress management measures implemented by the Indian Army and the Defence ministry during the last 15 years have not been able to achieve the desired results, the study stated.
  • The study noted that units and sub-units under stress are likely to witness an increased number of incidents of indiscipline, unsatisfactory state of training, inadequate maintenance of equipment and low morale that adversely affects their combat preparedness and operational performance.
  • As per the study, the major organisational causes of stress amongst Army officers include inadequacies in the quality of leadership, overburdened commitments, inadequate resources, frequent dislocations, lack of fairness and transparency in postings and promotions, insufficient accommodation and non-grant of leave.
  • The main organisational stressors as perceived by junior commissioned officers (JCOs)/other ranks (ORs) include delay and denial of leave, excessive engagements, domestic problems, humiliation by seniors, lack of dignity, unreasonable restrictions on the use of mobiles, lack of recreational facilities and conflict with seniors as well as subordinates.

Bird Flu now confirmed in six states

Paper:

Mains: G.S. III Science and Technology, Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

Bird Flu cases were confirmed in Haryana and Gujarat, in addition to Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh where the disease has already been confirmed.

Key details

  • Centre has asked the affected states to contain the disease as per the recommended action plan.
  • Unaffected states have been asked to keep a vigil on any unusual mortality among birds so that necessary measures are taken in the fastest possible time.
  • The government has deployed central teams in Kerala, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh for monitoring the situation and epidemiological investigation.
  • Egg and poultry consumption has gone down in some parts of the country where the outbreak of the virus has been reported.
  • Bird flu, also known as Avian influenza (AI), is a highly contagious viral disease affecting several species of food-producing birds (chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, etc.) as well as pet birds and wild birds.
  • Influenza viruses are grouped into three types; A, B, and C. Only type A is known to infect animals and is zoonotic, meaning it can infect animals and also humans.Type B and C mostly infect humans and typically cause mild disease.
  • Avian influenza virus subtypes include A(H5N1), A(H7N9), and A(H9N2).
  • If the infection is detected in animals, a policy of culling infected and contact animals is normally used in an effort to rapidly contain, control and eradicate the disease.
  • Previously in 2019, India was declared free from Avian Influenza (H5N1), which had also been notified to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

H-1B visa

Paper:

Mains: G.S. II International Relations

Why in news?

Trump administration modified the selection process for H-1B visa, giving priority to salary and skills instead of the current lottery procedures.

Key details

  • The H-1B visa is a non-migrant visa that allows U.S. firms to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
  • The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
  • The notification is the latest effort to bar the entry of immigrants to the U.S.
  • If the H-1B holders starts working elsewhere and the transfer is denied, the person could be ‘out of status’ with a bar on entry into the US for three to ten years, unless the old employer is willing to take back the worker.
  • H-1B visa holders can bring their spouse and children under 21 years of age to the US under the H-4 Visa category as dependents. An H4 Visa holder is allowed to remain in the US as long as the H-1B visa holder remains in legal status.