Current Affairs | National | International | SSC | UPSC - 21st February 2024


National News 

1.Maharashtra Assembly clears 10% Maratha quota

  • Walking the caste tightrope ahead of the Lok Sabha election, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his Cabinet approved a Bill to provide a 10% quota for the Maratha community in education and government jobs, which was later passed unanimously by all parties during a special session of the Maharashtra legislature on Tuesday. 
  • The "historic" legislation fulfilled his promise to create a "foolproof" Maratha quota within three months, Mr. Shinde said. However, activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, who has embarked on multiple hunger strikes on this issue, was unsatisfied with the new legislation, terming it a "betrayal" of the community. He is seeking a Maratha quota carved out from the existing reservation for other backward classes (OBCs), which is more likely to pass Supreme Court scrutiny. 
  • The Bill, passed by the Legislative Assembly and Council, is similar to the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 of the government led by Devendra Fadnavis, which was struck down by the top court in May 2021. In fact, this is the third time in the last decade that the State has introduced legislation for a Maratha quota. 
  • While seeking to fulfill long-pending demands and aspirations of poorer sections of the Maratha community, this Bill does not disturb the existing OBC quota. It will push total reservations in Maharashtra to 62%, above the Supreme Court-mandated limit of 50%. This Bill is distinct from the State government's earlier notification on issuing Kunbi OBC certificates to eligible Marathas who had records showing them as Kunbis.Thus, non-Kunbi Marathas will be covered under the legislation passed on Tuesday. 

2.182-km stretch of Regional Ring Road in Telangana to be declared national highway 5 

  • Hurdles for the declaration of the southern part of the Regional Ring Road spanning 182 km (Choutuppal-Amangal-Shadnagar-Sandi gareddy) as national highway have been cleared. 
  • Union Road Transport & Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to seek proposals for declaration of the southern stretch of the RRR in Telangana as 1 national highway. Mr. Gad- kari gave the directions responding to the request made by Telangana Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy who called on the former in New Delhi on Tuesday. 
  • The Centre had already declared the northern part of the RRR as a national highway. 
  • The Chief Minister urged the Union Minister to take steps to upgrade several important State highways as national highways and sought permission for expansion of some of the national highways. He submitted a list of State highways that needed expansion as national high-ways to Mr. Gadkari explained to him about the need to declare them as national highways. 
  • Revanth briefed the Union Minister about the problems encountered in the expansion of national highways and ongoing works. The meeting discussed the stalemate between the State and Union governments over the expenditure that would be incurred on the removal of utilities like buildings and current poles. 
  • The NHAI asked the State government to bear the expenses involved in the process 10 months ago, but there was no response from the State government. The Congress government, which took over the reins in December, has conveyed to the NHAI, the State's consent to bear the i expenditure 

3.Calm assessment Clarity on the nature and extent of 'deemed forest' is essential 

  • The Supreme Court of India has put on pause an ambitious effort by the Centre to amend India's Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, that was brought in to check the wanton razing of forests for 'non-forestry uses'. According to the Centre, an estimated four million hectares of forest land had been diverted from 1951-75. Under the provisions of the Act, forests could no longer be diverted without adhering to a regulatory mechanism by the Centre. As a measure of its success, the Centre calculates that from 1981-2022, the average annual diversion of forest had reduced to about 22,000 hectares, or about a tenth of what it was from 1951-75. However, the provisions of this piece of legislation largely applied to forest tracts recognised as such by the India Forest Act, or any other State legislation. Illegal timber-felling in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu, triggered the landmark T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad judgment that saw the Court take an expanded view of forest tracts worthy of protection. It also said that forests had to be protected irrespective of how they were classified and who owned them. This brought in the concept of 'deemed forests, or tracts that were not officially classified as such in government or revenue records. States were asked to constitute expert committees to identify such 'deemed forests.' In the 28 years that have passed since the judgment, only a handful of States have constituted such committees or made public the extent of such 'deemed forests' within their territories. the Forest 
  • The Centre's attempt to amend (Conservation) Act was ostensibly to bring "clarity" as there were large tracts of recorded forest land that had already been put to non-forestry uses, with the permission of State governments. There is apparently, the Centre says, a reluctance among private citizens to cultivate private plantations and orchards, despite their significant ecological benefits, for fear that they would be classified as 'forest' (and thus render their ownership void). India's ambitions to create a carbon sink of 2.5 billion-3 billion tonnes, to meet its net zero goals have required forest laws to be "dynamic" and, therefore, the rules have sought to remove 'deemed forest,' not already recorded as such, from the ambit of protection. This has triggered a slew of public interest petitions as, on the face of it, the amendments appear as an assault on the Act's ambition of forest protection. While a final judgment is pending, the Court's order to the Centre to compile and make public, by April, States' efforts at recording the extent of deemed forests is welcome. At this point it is mere conjecture on the part of the Centre that India's carbon sink is being impeded due to insufficient private initiative. Only a dispassionate assessment of ground realities can drive forward this very important debate. 

4.Gulf countries keen to invest in J&K: Modi 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who dedicated 32,000 crore projects to J&K in Jammu on Tuesday, expressed satisfaction over the positive outcome of the removal of Article 370, "with the Gulf countries showing keen interest in investment". "There is a positivity about investing in Kashmir. The successful G-20 meeting in the country and Srinagar have echoed in the globe. A record two crore tourists have visited J&K in the past one year," he said. 

5.Study finds rise in blood clots, heart inflammation after COVID vaccination 

  • One of the largest assessments of its kind, spanning 99 million people and investigating reports of adverse reactions following COVID-19 vaccination, found that instances of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, myocarditis, pericarditis, and cerebral venous ve sinus thrombosis (CVST) were at least 1.5 times more than expected following inoculation with mRNA and ChAdOXI vaccines. 
  • This is in line with previous observations by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency, and was what led to these being classified as rare side effects following the vaccination for COVID-19. 
  • The data set did not include patients from India. However, a majority of Indians were administered the ChAdOX1, or Covishield, vaccines during the pandemic 
  • The need for rapid development and administration of vaccines saw a range of new approaches to vaccination, namely the use of synthetic viral particles, or protein constructs being administered following shortened testing programmes. 
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves. While rarely fatal, it can cause muscular damage and can require prolonged treatment. CVST refers to blood clots in the brain. Myocarditis and pericarditis are inflammation of the heart tissue. All of these are serious conditions and potentially fatal. 
  • The Global Covid Vaccine Safety Project, which made the assessment, compiled electronic healthcare data on adverse events related to COVID-19 vaccines from participants across multiple sites, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Denmark. 
  • The analysis involved computing the so-called OE ratios, or observed versus expected ratios. This means first healthcare providers, having a baseline 'expectation' of how many adverse events are likely given a certain number of vaccinated people, and comparing it with the number of events actually reported to health systems. 
  • Expectations are formed based on experience with the rates of vac vaccination, and reactions observed historically. Ratios greater than 1.5 or, in other words, 50% more adverse-reaction reports than what is expected, are considered "potential safety signals", or necessitating a thorough investigation. 
  • "OE ratios >1.5 were observed for Guillain-Barré syndrome and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (3.23) following the first dose of ChAdOxl vaccine," notes the study, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine. 
  • As on December 6, 2022, a total of 92,003 adverse events following immunization have been rеported in India since the start of vaccination, the Health Ministry told Parliament. This is about 0.009% of Indians who took COVID-19 vaccines. 

6.SC declares AAP leader as Mayor of Chandigarh 

  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it would not tolerate "subterfuges'' that destroy electoral democracy even at the local level, while declaring the Aam Aadmi Party's Kuldeep Kur mar as the new Mayor of the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Bench 
  • A three-judge headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud initiated action against Anil er who presided over the controversial mayoral elections on January 30, whose "defacement of eight ballot papers was caught on security cameras. Mr. Masih's "furtive" conduct had swung the electoral results in favor of the BJP's Manoj Sonkar. The Supreme Court had intervened on February potos silvester records of the polling day. 
  • By declaring Mr. Kumar as Chandigarh Mayor in a single stroke on Tuesday, the court dashed the BJP's hopes for fresh polls to the municipal corporation. On Monday, Chief Justice Chandrachud had tice Chandrachuoncem about horse trading taking place. His remark was made in shift of alle reference to giants of three AAP councilors to the BJP, coinciding with Mr. Sonkar's resignation as Mayor on the eve of the SC hearing. "This court is duty bound in exercise of its powers to do complete justice under Article 142 to ensure that the process of electoral democracy is not thwarted by such subterfuges. Allowing such a state of affairs to take place would be destructive of the most valued principles of democracy our country depends on," he observed. The Bench said that what had happened at the mayoral elections was an "exceptional situation". ensure that must step in to date of the the basic man mocracy, electoral de rat party, albeit, at the local participatory level, is preserved," Chief Justice Chandrachud said. 

7.India Hosts Milan Naval Exercise With Participation Of Nearly 50 Countries 

  • India is hosting the 12th edition of the ‘Milan’ naval exercise in Visakhapatnam, aimed at bolstering maritime cooperation among like-minded nations. 
  • Navies from almost 50 countries including the US, Japan, Australia, France, Bangladesh, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia are participating. 
  • Milan is a biennial multinational naval exercise initiated in 1995 with the participation of Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, aligned with India’s ‘Look East’ policy. The exercise evolved under the Andaman and Nicobar Command until its 10th edition 

8.HAL, DRDO To Begin Rs 60,000 Crore Sukhoi Fighter Jet Fleet Upgrade 

  • Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) embarks on a comprehensive upgrade project worth Rs 60,000 crore for the Su-30MKI fighter jet fleet. 
  • The initiative aims to bolster the aircraft’s capabilities through the integration of advanced technologies and indigenous systems. 
  • Over 50% indigenous content to be incorporated into the manufacturing process, reflecting India’s commitment to self-sufficiency in defence production. 

International News 

9.8-Year-Old From Singapore Beats Polish Grandmaster, Sets Record 

  • An eight-year-old chess prodigy from Singapore, Ashwath Kaushik emerged victorious against the seasoned Polish grandmaster Jacek Stopa, securing his place in history as the youngest chess player to defeat a grandmaster. 
  • Ashwath Kaushik, at the age of eight years and six months, shattered the previous age record set merely days before his triumph. 
  • Previous record holder, Leonid Ivanovic from Serbia, aged eight years and eleven months, had recently defeated the Bulgarian Milko Popchev, aged 59. 

10.Japan Commits To Long-Term Engagement In Ukraine’s Reconstruction 

  • As the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida has affirmed Japan’s commitment to Ukraine’s long-term reconstruction, labelling it as a strategic investment for the future. 
  • Japan, in collaboration with the Ukrainian government and various business organizations, co-organized a conference where Kishida outlined a vision for a comprehensive partnership between the two nations. 
  • The conference highlighted the critical role of investment across various industries for Ukraine’s development, with more than 50 cooperation deals signed between Japanese and Ukrainian entities. 

11.Sarang helicopter display team participated in Singapore Airshow 2024 

  • Indian Air Force's Sarang Aerobatic Team has participated in aerobatics maneuvers at the Singapore Airshow on 20 February 2024. This aerobatics maneuver will be held at Changi Exhibition Center in Singapore from 20 to 25 February 2024. 
  • More than a thousand companies from more than 50 countries and territories are participating in this five-day aerobatics maneuver event. Major helicopter and systems manufacturers and operators also exhibit their products at the airshow. 
  • The Sarang Helicopter Display Team, formed in 2003, made its first international public display at the Asian Aerospace Show in Singapore in 2004. A team of 71 personnel from the Sarang Helicopter Display Team of the Indian Air Force will participate in the mega event along with five Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) 'Dhruv'. Designed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Dhruv is an allweather multi-mission capable helicopter. The helicopter's features also make it suitable for military roles. 
  • The Defense Ministry said the Sarang display team has demonstrated its maneuvers more than 1200 times at more than 385 locations across the world. According to Airshow organizer Experia MD Lek Chet Lam, 20 of the world's top aviation companies are 3. Sarang helicopter display team participated in Singapore Airshow 2024 21 Feb. 2024 participating in the Singapore Airshow. 

12.Malta becomes 119th member of International Solar Alliance 

  • Malta has become the 119th country to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA). 
  • The ISA is an alliance of more than 120 signatory countries that aims to reduce the dependence on non-renewable sources of energy like fossil fuels. 
  • ISA was conceived as a joint effort by India and France. Currently, 116 countries are signatories to ISA Framework. 

About ISA 

  • The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is an action-oriented, member-driven, collaborative platform for increased deployment of solar energy technologies as a means for bringing energy access, ensuring energy security, and driving energy transition in its member countries. 
  • The ISA was conceived as a joint effort by India and France to mobilize efforts against climate change through the deployment of solar energy solutions. 
  • It was conceptualized on the sidelines of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris in 2015. 

About Malta 

  • Capital- Valletta 
  • Currency- Euro (€) 
  • Official languages- Maltese, Maltese Sign Language, English 
  • Continent- Europe 

State News 

13.Maharashtra Government Extends 10% Reservation To Marathas 

  • The Maharashtra Cabinet has approved a draft bill to extend a 10 percent reservation to the Maratha community in both educational institutions and government employment. 
  • This move follows a report submitted by the Maharashtra Backward Class Commission (MBCC) justifying the extension beyond the 50 percent cap. 
  • The government has scheduled a special session of the state assembly to introduce the bill in response to Maratha quota activist Manoj Jarange Patil’s hunger strike. 

14.Arunachal Pradesh Achieves Full Har Ghar Jal Saturation, First In Northeast 

  • Arunachal Pradesh has made a significant achievement by reaching 100 percent saturation in the ‘Har Ghar Jal’ scheme under the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), announced by Chief Minister Pema Khandu. 
  • This milestone sets Arunachal Pradesh apart as the first state in the northeast and the tenth in India to fully embrace the central government’s initiative, aimed at ensuring clean and safe piped water for every household. 
  • Launched in 2019, the JJM aims to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections across rural India by 2024. 

15.Chandigarh Unveils North India’s First ‘Pizza ATM’ 

  • CITCO (Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation) introduces a pizza maker near Sukhna Lake, producing hot pizzas in three minutes, a first in North India. 
  • The pizza vending machine is the only one operational in India, marking a significant breakthrough. Dr. Rohit Shekhar Sharma, Founder & CEO at iMatrix Group of Companies leads the project inspired by France. 
  • The machine is crafted at their Mohali factory, outperforming similar ventures, dispensing 100 pizzas daily. Operational since early 2024, the Pizza ATM swiftly becomes a local favorite, offering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. 

Banking News 

16.Goa And World Bank Launch Pioneering Climate Finance Facility 

  • The Government of Goa has unveiled plans for a pioneering Blended Finance facility in collaboration with the World Bank. 
  • This initiative marks a significant step towards climate-focused financing at a subnational level, aiming to bolster Goa’s resilience to the challenges posed by climate change. 
  • The objective of Blended Finance facility is to facilitate access to concessional finance for low-carbon and climate-resilient investments in Goa. 

Important Day News 

17.21 February – International Mother Language Day 

  • International Mother Language Day is observed globally every year on February 21. 
  • Objective – To recognize and promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. 
  • Theme 2024 – Multilingual education is a pillar of intergenerational learning 
  • According to UNESCO, the idea to celebrate this day was the initiative of Bangladesh and was approved in 1999 at UNESCO General Conference. 

Award News 

17.REC Ltd receives ‘Innovative Technology Development Award’ 

  • REC Limited, a Maharatna Central Public Sector Enterprise under the Ministry of Power and a leading NBFC, has been honoured with the ‘Innovative Technology Development Award’ at the ‘Building India 2047: Technology for Better Tomorrow’, an IIT Madras Corporate Social Responsibility Summit. 
  • The award has been conferred in recognition of REC’s CSR initiative of installation of 2 MW rooftop solar plant at IIT Madras. 
  • The solar plant generates around 3.15 million units of clean energy every year, thus helping IIT Madras reduce its carbon footprint. 

Recent Awards 

  • 58th Jnanpith Award 2023 – Urdu poet Gulzar and Sanskrit scholar Jagadguru Rambhadracharya 
  • Best Technology Bank of the Year award by IBA – South Indian Bank (6 categories) 
  • Banking Technology Awards by IBA – City Union Bank (7 categories) 
  • 9th GovTech Prize for AI-Powered Government Services at World Government Summit 2024 – India 
  • KPP Nambiar Award for 2024 – ISRO Chairman, S Somanath 

18.Tharoor "gets highest civilian award of France 

  • Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was conferred the 'Chevalier de la Légion d' Honneur', the highest civilian honor in France, at an intimate ceremony at the French Embassy on Tuesday. 
  • The French government had announced the award for Mr. Tharoor in August 2022, but the formal con- ferring took place on Tues- day.
  • Mr. Tharoor said his relationship with France began during his UN stent and that he always "nurtured a sense of profound respect for French democracy" as the land where "the people" first replaced "the king" as the nucleus of the nation. "The conferral of this award to an Indian is also an acknowledgement of deepening of Franco-Indian relations," he said. 

19.Alex Dawson Captures The Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2024 Award 

  • Swedish photographer Alex Dawson has clinched the prestigious title of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024. 
  • His winning entry, ‘Whale Bones’, is a mesmerizing image that transports viewers beneath the icy expanse of the Greenland ice sheet, where a diver is seen exploring the skeletal remains of a minke whale. 
  • This striking composition not only showcases Dawson’s exceptional photographic skills but also highlights the haunting beauty of the underwater world. 

Science and technology News 

20.Reliance Industries Is Set To Launch ‘Hanooman’, A ChatGPT-Style AI Service 

  • Reliance Industries, led by Mukesh Ambani, in collaboration with some of the country’s premier engineering institutions, is poised to unveil its pioneering ChatGPT-style service named ‘Hanooman’ next month. 
  • The development of ‘Hanooman’ is a result of a concerted effort between Reliance Jio Infocomm, Centre, and several Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), including IIT Bombay. 
  • This endeavor, featuring a consortium of Reliance and eight affiliated universities, underscores the synergy between India’s leading corporate powerhouse and its academic institutions in pushing the frontiers of technology. 

Infrastructure and Energy News 

21.PM Modi Launches ₹43,875 Cr Educational And Infra Projects Including 3 IIMs, IITs, 20 KVs, 13 NVs, And AIIMS In Jammu 

  • On February 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a series of ambitious educational and infrastructure projects across India, totaling an investment of ₹13,375 crore. 
  • In addition to the educational projects, PM Modi launched a comprehensive ₹30,500 crore worth of projects in the fields of education, railway, aviation, and road sectors. 

22.'India to seek $26 bn private investment in nuclear power sector’ 

  • India will invite private companies to invest about $26 billion in its nuclear energy sector to increase the amount of electricity from sources that do not produce carbon dioxide emissions, two government officials said. 
  • This is the first time that New Delhi is pursuing private investment in nuclear power, a non-carbon-emitting energy source that contributes less than 2% of India's total electricity generation. The funding would help India achieve its target of having 50% of its installed electric genera- tion capacity use non-fossil fuels by 2030, up from 42% now. 
  • The government is in talks with at least five private firms, including Reliance Industries, Tata Power, Adani Power, and Vedanta Ltd., to invest around 440 billion ($5.3 billion) each, the two officials, who are directly involved in the matter, said on the condition of anonymity last week. 
  • With the investment, the government hopes to build 11,000 megawatts (MW) of new nuclear power generation capacity by 2040, said the officials, adding that the plan is still being finalized. 
  • The state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) owns and operates the country's fleet of nuclear power plants, with a capacity of 7,500 MW, and has committed investments for another 1.300 MW. 
  • The Department of Atomic Energy and NPCIL have held multiple rounds T of discussions with the private firms in the past year on the investment plan, the officials said.
  • The Department of Atomic Energy, NPCIL, Tata Power, Reliance Industries, Adani Power, and Vedanta did not respond to queries. 
  • The officials said under the funding plan, the private companies will make the investments in the nuclear plants, acquire land, water, and undertake construction in areas outside the reactor complex of the plants. But the rights to build and run the stations and their fuel management will rest with NPCIL as allowed under the law, they said. The private companies are expected to earn revenue from the power plant's electricity sales and NPCIL would operate the projects for a fee, the offi- cials said. 

Agreement News 

23.Japan Commits Rs 12,800 Crore For Diverse Projects In India 

  • To bolster India’s infrastructure and innovation landscape, the Japanese government has pledged a substantial loan of 232.209 billion yen (approximately Rs 12,800 crore) to fund nine distinct projects across various sectors in India. 
  • This financial assistance marks a notable step in enhancing the strategic and global partnership between India and Japan, a relationship that has been thriving since 1958. 
  • The agreement was formalized between Vikas Sheel, Additional Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs, and Suzuki Hiroshi, the Japanese Ambassador to India. 

Obituary News 

24.Ameen Sayani, Renowned Radio Presenter And Voice Of Geetmala, Passes Away 

  • Ameen Sayani, the legendary voice that defined radio for generations of Indians, passed away at the age of 91. 
  • Known for his iconic program Binaca Geetmala, Sayani’s voice was a staple in Indian households, bridging the gap between music and its lovers across the nation. 
  • He suffered a heart attack on the evening of February 20 and was rushed to H N Reliance Hospital in south Mumbai, where he breathed his last around 7 p.m., as confirmed by his son, Rajil Sayani.

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