Current Affairs | National | International | SSC | UPSC - 31st December 2023


National News

1.Ayodhya airport takes off ahead of Jan. 22 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched 46 projects estimated at 15,700 crore in Ayodhya and inaugurated the Maharishi Valmiki International Airport and the revamped Ayodhya Dham Junction Railway Station. 
  • Mr. Modi, on a day's visit to the city, launched the capacity upgrade of Amethi Refinery, doubling of four sections under the Jaunpur-Ayodhya-Barabanki railway line project, doubling and electrification of the Malhaur-Daliganj railway section, Ram Path (from Sahadatganj to Naya Ghat), Bhakti Path (from Ayodhya main road to Shri Ram Janmabhoomi via Hanuman Garhi) and Dharma Path (from National Highway 27 to Naya Ghat Old Bridge). 
  • Addressing the public near the airport, the Prime Minister said the world awaited the Ram Temple consecration ceremony on January 22, and no stone would be left unturned to develop the holy place. 
  • "The world is waiting for January 22. I am also eagerly waiting the day of Pran Pratishtha at the Ram Mandir," the Prime Minister said. 
  • Mr. Modi also flagged off six new Vande Bharat trains on the Amritsar-Delhi, Coimbatore-Bengaluru, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra-New Delhi, Ayodhya-Anand Vihar Terminal, Mangaluru-Madgaon and Jalna- Mumbai routes and two Amrit Bharat trains on the Darbhanga-Ayodhya-Anand Vihar Terminal and Malda Town-Sir M. Visvesva-raya Terminal (Bengaluru) routes 

2.Census postponed again; to be delayed till at least October next year 

  • The deadline to freeze the administrative boundaries of districts, tehsils, towns, municipal bodies and others for the Census has been extended till June 30, 2024, a senior government official told The Hindu. 
  • This means the decennial exercise, which should have started in 2020, will now be postponed again till at least October 2024, as it usually takes about three months to prepare the list of enumerators after setting the boundaries. 
  • The Additional Regis trar-General of India, in a notification to the States on Saturday, said that the competent authority had decided to further extend the date of freezing of administrative boundaries up to June 30, 2024. 
  • This rules out the Census exercise before the 2024 election, which is expected to be held in April and May. 
  • This is the ninth such extension of the deadline. 
  • Under the 128th Constitution Amendment Act, 2023, the reservation of one-third of the seats. 
  • This rules out the exercise before the 2024 general election, which is expected to be held in April and May that the Census and the de limitation would be con- ducted after the election but did not specify the year when it would take place. 
  • India has conducted the Census every 10 years since 1881. The first phase of this decade's Census was expected to begin on April 1, 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the absence of fresh data, government agencies are still formulating policies and allocating subsidies based on the data accrued from the 
  • On September 20, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told the Lok Sabha women in the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies shall come into effect after delimitation is undertaken based on the first Census held after the Act came into force. The Act received Presidential assent on September 29. 
  • After initially attributing the pandemic for the post ponement of the exercise, the last three notifications, including the one issued on Saturday by the RGI, have not specified any reason for the continuing delay. The 31 questions for the first phase, the house listing and housing schedule, were notified on January 9, 2020. As many as 28 questions have also been finalised for the second phase, the Population Enumeration, but are yet to be notified. 
  • Apart from the Census, the office of the RGI and the Census Commissioner of India have also not released two key reports on the registration of births, deaths, and causes of deaths for the years 2021,-2022, and 2023 have also not been released. 
  • The report on "Vital statistics of India based on the civil registration System" for 2020 was only released in May 2022. 
  • The preface of the report said that civil registration was a continu ous, permanent, compulsory recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events, such as births, deaths, and stillbirths. "These vital statistics are invaluable for planning. monitoring and evaluating various programmes related to primary health care, family planning, maternal and child health, education etc.," the report stated. Similarly, the annual "Report on medical certifi- cation of cause of death" was last released for 2020. This report carries statis tics on the causes of deaths, cross-tabulating them by age and sex of the deceased. In 2020, on the recommendation of the Indian Council of Medical Research, new codes were introduced to account for deaths due to COVID-19. 

3.Nadda releases commemorative stamp on Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka 

  • Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president J.P. Nadda on Saturday released a commemorative stamp on 200 years of arrival of Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka. 
  • "Our national president shared his experience of working for the Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka as the Health Minister and acknowledged the hardships faced by them in the past. He also elaborated on the need to recognise their agony and the Government of India's commitment to extending support to the brothers and sisters of Indian-origin Tamils living in Sri Lanka during the last nine years and the years to follow," BJP's Tamil Nadu unit chief K. Annamalai said in a statement. 
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had always considered Sri Lanka "our civilisational twin" and had been instrumental in supporting the country with humanitarian and financial aid during its times of distress. "He has also been thoughtful in reinstating the dignified lives of the Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka," he said. 
  • The release of the commemorative stamp had strengthened this commitment of unwavering support to the Indian-origin Tamils living in Sri Lanka, the statement said. 
  • The stamp was released at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi and was received by the Governor of Eastern Province of Sri Lanka Senthil Thondaman. 
  • The statement said that Mr. Thondaman acknowledged and thanked the BJP and the Indian government for recognising the hardships of the Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka and the steadfast projects implemented by the Government of India in the estate regions of the country for the welfare of the Tamil community.
  • Announcing the release of the commemorative stamp on Friday, Mr. Annamalai said that Mr. Modi had "earnestly undertaken several initiatives to ensure the welfare and development of the Indian-origin Tamil community in Sri Lanka" ever since he assumed office in 2014. 
  • He said that the Modi government had sanctioned 14,000 houses in addition to setting up other facilities in areas where the Tamil population resides. 

4.India's foreign policy will have to factor in a series of elections globally 

  • For India, which will hold the world's largest election, the diplomatic calendar and focus will be decided by countries in the neighborhood, global powers and major countries in the Global South, all of which will hold parliamentary or presidential elections next year. 
  • According to the U.S.- based International Foun- dation for Electoral Systems Election Guide, at least 60 countries around the world will see parliamentary, presidential or major Assembly elections over the next 12 months, with a likely population of more than two billion people casting votes. International commentators have called 2024 the "biggest election year" ever. To begin with, India's neighbourhood will see the impact of elections in the first few weeks of 2024 itself, with polls in Bangladesh scheduled for January 7, the second round of general election in Bhutan on January 9 and an election in Pakistan scheduled for February 8. The election in Bangladesh appears to be a "foregone conclusion" in favor of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League (AL), with the largest Opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, deciding to boycott the polls. In Bhutan, outgoing Prime Minister Lotay Tshering has already been ousted in the first round of election, and the contest is now between former Prime Minister Tshering
  • Toby's People's Democratic Party (PDP) and former top-bureaucrat Pe ma Chewang's new Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP). 
  • Pakistan's election, like Bangladesh's, appears one sided at present, with former PM Imran Khan and most of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party's top leadership in prison. The likely winner, three-time PM Nawaz Sharif, has already made it clear that he intends to improve ties with India. 
  • Sri Lanka, on a more stable wicket due to support from India, is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2024, which could change Colombo's course with Delhi too. 
  • India has already felt the impact of elections on ties with global powers, especially the five permanent members of P-5 countries of the UN Security Council (UNSC). U.S. President Joseph Biden declined this month to attend the Republic Day parade as its chief guest. U.S. officials have indicated Mr. Biden's own party primaries, as well as the U.S. Congress's crucial session at the time, mean he will be unable to visit in January India's election season will kick in by March, and subsequently, the U.S. campaign season will be in full swing. 
  • Furthermore, if the U.S. race is won by Mr. Biden's likely rival former President Donald Trump, India and the world will prepare for a return to very choppy waters in ties. China doesn't hold a general election, but its next geopolitical move could be decided by Taiwan's general election on January 13, amidst a threat from Beijing that it seeks to "reunify" Taiwan with the mainland. 
  • The Russian presidential election, expected to hand President Vladimir Putin a fifth term, is due from March 15-17. With the U.K., where the Parliament is set to be dissolved on or before December 19 next year, New Delhi will be watching closely for an opportunity to seal the Free Trade Agreement with the Conservative Party government. 
  • France, another member of the UNSC, is not due for election, but the 700- plus seat European Parliament will head for elections in June 2024, and the result will be closely watched as 400 million from 27 European countries go to vote - with worries of a right-wing resur- gence pushing tougher immigration policies as well as a less flexible position on the India-EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). 
  • Finally, New Delhi will be watching developments in the Global South's biggest powers, including Indonesia, where Presiden Jokowi is stepping down after completing two terms, as well as parliamentary elections in Mexico, South Africa and Iran. 

Economy News

5.Levy 20-30% health tax on food high in sugar, salt, fat: study 

  • A health tax of between 20% 30% n addition to GST can be considered to be imposed on sapat, supar sweetened beverages (SSB) like colas and juices as well as foods high in sugar, salt and fat (HFSS), public health researchers have recommended in a study published in Journal of Health Policy and Planting 
  • The recommendation is an outcome of a UNICEF funded project, and the authors hope that this study along with others will influence policies aimed to reduce consumption of sugar and related products. Niti Aayog is interested in understanding the impact of imposing health taxes and warning labels on food products for encouraging healthy eating practices consumers Indian. 
  • Dr Beena Varghese, health economist and com sultant, WHO and a co-author of the study tells The Hindu that the study does not recommend taxing households on pur chase of their regular ra tion of sugar. "The study insists that bulk consumers of sugar such as confec tionery and sweet mu- facturers may be tased which may reduce their demand for sugar. When the higher costs are trans ferred to consumers, de mand for such products is expected to reduce, Dr Varghese says According to Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Improving health outcomes using sin tax 
  • Currentty, sugar sweetened bevecage 58% GST plus a 12% weighae sait and sugar (FSS) products only 12% GST consumers will be , confectionery manufac turers purchase up to 55% of annual sugar produced in India
  • Currently, sugar is taxed at 18% GST, if an additional 20-30% tax is imposed, this will take the tax to 38 48%. Researchers have ap plied the metric of 'Price Elasticity to determine if there will be any reduction in demand if the prices of the product go up "Sugar is a widely used product, so on studying price and demand for sugar over years from datasets avalla ble between 1984-85 to 2011-2012 of Private Final Consumption Expenditure and Consumer Price In dex, we estimate that if the price of sugar is increased by 10%, demand for sugar will be reduced by 2% with from super sweetened bev erages, traditional sources ike jagery, which is fe times the WHO reces mended foreshold for free super intake," the paper says. India is facing a sape epidemic with a rise in sales of aerated drinks by 22.5% and a rise in all soft drinks by 24.8% from 2006 το 2019. Also, HFSS food products account for 10-30% of the average total chloric intake in rural and urban households respec tively, the paper notes Imposing a bealth tax. 
  • For S58s with a 100 base 12% additional coen, the price to comsumers is This wil proposed additional tax of 20-30% price, cument 1657 at 18 plus all other factors driving the demand constant remaining 
  • "However, for manufacturers of sweets and confectionaries, who buy se gar in bulk ee estimating a higher price elasticity, so by imposing an additional 30% tax to 18% GST, we estimate that there could be a 13-18% de crease in demand for sugar, Dr Varghese says. 
  • For sugar sweetened beverages, a health tax of 10-30% could result in a 7 30% decline in demand, while a 10-30% health tax for HFSS products would result in a 5-24% decline in demand. 
  • Researchers also noted that additional taxes would increase tax revenues for the government by 12-200% across different scenarios. Different products 
  • For HFSS products with a 1300 base price and GST at 12 the price to consumers of 20-30% are currently timed differently attracts 18% GST, gar sweetened beverages attract 28% GST and a 12% additional, while high fat, salt and sugar products only attrаст 12% GST unhealthy recently. 
  • "Taxing foods more is likely to re duce demand while in creasing government reve nues for reinvestment back into public health programmes and policies that may reduce obesity and the incidence of non-comm municable diseases in India," says Dr. Varghese. 
  • India is the largest consumer of sugar in the world, the paper notes, "Global average consump tion of sugar is 22 kg per person per year, an aver age Indian consumes 25 kg per year which includes regular sugar, free sugar on sugar and related products can help control obesity, tooth decay, risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovas cular disease and certain cancers. Researchers say that if people continue to consatte super sweetened beverages year-on-year the overweight and obesity prevalence is expected to rise from 35% 49% from 2044 to 20023 and type 2 diabetes incidence is ex- pected to rise from 319 to 336 per 1,00,000 in the same period. Tax rate is tied to the volume of sugars and mamufacturers are encour aged to reformulate and re duce the amount of sugar in drinks. 
  • Up to 70 countries have imposed a health tax on sugar, SSBS and HFSS in cluding Mexico, Chile, Sar di Arabia, Argentina and South Africa. In Mexico, taxation on SSBs de creased consumption of taxed beverages (and increased purchase of boetied water) in the first year of implementation and re duced mean BMI in youn gragoups. 

Award News 

6.Wrestler Vinesh Phogat returns Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award 

  • Multiple World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat on Saturday returned her Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award, leaving the two awards in the middle of Kartavya Path here after the Delhi Police stopped her from reaching the Prime Minister's office. 
  • On Tuesday, the Asian Games gold medallist grappler had decided to return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award to the government, saying such honours have become meaningless at a time when wrestlers are struggling to get justice. 
  • Ms. Phogat had announced her decision in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
  • On Saturday, she attempted to reach the Prime Minister's Office to return her awards but the police prevented her from reaching the PMO. 
  • As a mark of protest, she left the awards on Kartavya Path and they were later picked up by the Delhi Police. Ms. Phogat, along with Olympic medallists Sakshi. 
  • Malik and Bajrang Punia, had protested against the election of Sanjay Singh, a close aide of former Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who had been accused of sexual harassment by the three grapplers. 
  • Ms. Sakshi had also announced her retirement from wrestling soon after Mr. Sanjay Singh's appointment as WFI chief. 
  • However, the Sports Ministry later suspended the newly elected panel for not following the provisions of its own constitution while taking decisions and asking the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to constitute an ad hoc panel to manage the affairs of the sports body.

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