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Daily Current Affairs 08.05.2022 (UNSC jointly backs peace bid in Ukraine, SC seeks govt. view on making sports a right, Is La Nina a fair weather friend of our country?, What are India’s plans to avert a wheat crisis?)

Daily Current Affairs 08.05.2022 (UNSC jointly backs peace bid in Ukraine, SC seeks govt. view on making sports a right, Is La Nina a fair weather friend of our country?, What are India’s plans to avert a wheat crisis?)

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1. UNSC jointly backs peace bid in Ukraine

This is its first statement since the Russian invasion

The UN Security Council has expressed “deep concern” over the “maintenance of peace and security” in Ukraine and backed efforts by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to find a peaceful solution, issuing a unanimous statement on the conflict for the first time since the February 24 invasion by Russia.

Friday’s statement does not use the terms “war” or “conflict” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, only recalling “that all member-states have undertaken, under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligation to settle their international disputes by peaceful means”.

Mr. Guterres briefed the 15-member Council on Thursday on his recent visit to Russia and Ukraine, where he met with President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky on April 26 and 28.

“Throughout my travels, I did not mince words. I said the same thing in Moscow as I did in Kyiv… namely that: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of its territorial integrity and of the Charter of the UN. It must end for the sake of the people of Ukraine, Russia, and the entire world,” Mr. Guterres had said.

He welcomed the unanimous adoption of the Presidential Statement, saying “today, for the first time, the Security Council spoke with one voice for peace in Ukraine. As I have often said, the world must come together to silence the guns and uphold the values of the UN Charter. I welcome this support and will continue to spare no effort to save lives, reduce suffering and find the path of peace”.

The Security Council requested the Secretary-General to brief the Security Council in due course after the adoption of the statement, which was initiated by Norway and Mexico.

India for dialogue

At a separate Security Council event hosted by Russia, India stressed on the path of diplomacy and dialogue for peace in Ukraine. “We believe that no solution can be arrived at by shedding blood and at the cost of innocent lives. We have emphasised right from the beginning of the conflict that the path of diplomacy and dialogue should be the only viable option,” Counsellor in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN Pratik Mathur said.

2. SC seeks govt. view on making sports a right

Report seeks physical literacy mission

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and States to respond to a report recommending sports to be expressly made a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

A report submitted by the amicus curiae, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, suggested that the “narrow” phrase “sport” be replaced by “physical literacy”, which is a term “firmly established as a right in the leading sporting nations of the world”.

A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao has directed the Centre to respond to the report’s view to establish a National Physical Literacy Mission to “give effect to the right by establishing and implementing a responsibilities matrix that includes curriculum design, compliance monitoring, and review, grievance redress and self-correction mechanisms”, which starts at the school level to groom children for various sports.

“All school boards, including CBSE, ICSE, State Boards, IB, IGCSE, should be directed to ensure that from the academic year , at least 90 minutes of every school day will be dedicated to free play and games,” Mr. Sankaranarayanan’s report in the apex court recommended.

Time given

The report suggested that State governments ought to ensure that from the current academic year, “all non-residential colleges and schools should compulsorily allow access during non-working hours to neighbourhood children to use sports facilities for free, subject to basic norms of identification, security and care”. The report opined that 180 days’ time should be given to educational institutions to publish a physical literacy policy.

The report was filed on a PIL plea moved by Kanishka Pandey to amend the Constitution to make sports a fundamental right.

3. Is La Nina a fair weather friend of our country?

In most years, meteorologists consider the La Nina to be a friend of India. The phenomenon associated with below normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, makes the summer monsoon wetter and the winter colder unlike its evil twin, the El Nino, or a warming phenomenon that frequently dries up monsoon rains over India.

This year, however, the La Nina is being blamed for worsening perhaps the longest spell of heatwaves from March to April in north, west and Central India.

Periodic pattern

Formally known as the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the La Nina-El Nino phenomenon follows a periodic pattern that roughly lasts three years.

During a La Nina winter, a north-south pressure pattern sets up over India and normally this influences the trade winds that bring rains to India. However, because the La Nina didn’t peak, the sea surface temperatures continued to be cold and this drove hot westerly winds and blasts of hot air from the Middle East into Pakistan and India.

“The north-south pressure pattern has been persisting over India, with La Nina extending its stay over the Pacific. This has definitely impacted the weather over India, which has been seen even during 1998-2000 when La Nina had persisted for three years,” Raghu Murtugudde, Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Maryland told Climate Trends, a communications firm that specialises in climate and environment.

While land temperatures over India begin rising in March, they are usually punctuated by western disturbances, or moisture from the Mediterranean region that fall as rain over north and western India. For these currents to make it as far as India, they need a significant difference in temperature between Europe and the latitudes over India. “Partly due to La Nina, this temperature difference was absent and so the western disturbances that came to India were weak with hardly any rain,” M. Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences and climate scientist, told The Hindu.

According to a 2021 report by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, ‘Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region’, all India averaged frequency of summer heatwaves is expected to rise to about 2.5 events per season by the mid-21st century, with a further slight rise to about 3.0 events by the end of 21st century under current trajectory of greenhouse gas emission.

4. What are India’s plans to avert a wheat crisis?

With procurement dipping, how will the government balance domestic supplies and rise in export demand?

The story so far: On May 4, the government lowered its wheat production estimates by 5.7% to 105 million tonnes (MT) from the projected 111.32 MT for the crop year ending June. The production is expected to fall on account of unusually warm weather conditions that persisted during March to April in most parts of the key grain-producing States of Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh as well as Uttar Pradesh. Till May 4, wheat procurement in the ongoing winter (rabi) marketing season too had seen a drop, with the Centre procuring 17.5 MT of wheat, which is likely to touch 19.5 MT when the season ends. In the last marketing year, the government had purchased 43.3 MT of wheat from farmers, and this year it had set a target of 44.4 MT. The announcement came around the same time as a report by the World Food Programme, which said the “unfolding war in Ukraine” was likely to “exacerbate the already severe 2022 acute food insecurity forecasts” in countries.

Why has wheat production dwindled?

India is the second largest producer of wheat in the world, with China being the top producer and Russia the third largest — Ukraine is the world’s eighth largest producer of wheat. After five straight years of a bumper wheat output, India has had to revise downwards its estimated production. Unprecedented heatwaves across the north, west and central parts of the country, and March and April being the hottest in over 100 years, have caused substantial loss to the yield at 6%, with 20% of the wheat grain shrivelling up. Some estimates have pegged the shrivelling as high as 80% of the crop purchased by the government. For instance, according to crop cutting experiments, conducted by the Punjab Agriculture Department every year, the State’s yield per hectare could have fallen 5-10% compared to last year’s yield. Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey attributed the lower estimates to “early summer” affecting the crop yields in States, especially Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

What about government procurement?

This year the government’s wheat purchase has seen a dip owing to several reasons from lower yield to higher market prices being offered by private traders. A large quantity of wheat was being bought by traders at a higher rate than the minimum support price (MSP). Private traders have been prompted to buy more wheat from farmers as the price of wheat at the international level has shot up and is expected to rise due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, farmers are selling to traders-exporters at prices (₹21-24 per kg), which is better than the MSP (rate of ₹20.15 per kg). Also, farmers are holding on to some quantity of wheat, expecting higher prices for their produce in the near future. Mr. Pandey admitted that the substantially low procurement was due to market prices of wheat being higher than the MSP being offered by the government. He gave two other reasons for the low procurement: stocks being held by farmers and traders in anticipation of further price rises, and lower production.

How will this impact the public distribution of grain?

Wheat procurement is undertaken by the state-owned Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other agencies at MSP to meet the requirements under the Public Distribution System (PDS) and other welfare schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) introduced during the pandemic. The government has revised the grain allocation under PMGKAY for May to September 2022. According to the new guidelines, the FCI will fill the gap left by wheat with an increased allocation of rice. An additional 5.5 MT rice is being allocated to the States to fill the gap in supplying wheat grain. Mr. Pandey said rice procurement last year was about 60 MT and this year a similar quantity is expected. Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), he said the annual requirement is roughly about 35 MT. Pointing out that from next year, fortified rice will be distributed to the entire Public Distribution System (PDS), he said with surplus rice stocks, the country is in a comfortable situation.

Will domestic wheat prices be hit?

As government wheat procurement has dipped, concerns are being raised about the stability of prices in the country and the availability of grain for internal consumption, which many agri-experts argue should be a priority. An agriculture domain expert and a former member of the Uttar Pradesh Planning Commission, Sudhir Panwar, points out that the government has to ensure that the market price for the domestic consumer is not determined by private players — “this can happen if one or two big business houses are buying chunk of the wheat crop.” The key question, according to Mr. Panwar, is in a scenario where private traders start dictating the price in the domestic market, will the buffer stock be used under the Open Market Sale Scheme to control the market price or will it be used for the NFSA and other welfare schemes. The government has dismissed concerns about both prices and stocks, asserting that India is in a comfortable situation with the overall availability of grains and stocks expected to be higher than the minimum requirement for the next one year. Mr. Pandey stated that after meeting the requirement of welfare schemes in the year ahead, on April 1, 2023, India would have stocks of 8 MT of wheat, well above the minimum requirement of 7.5 MT.

Will farmers benefit?

Farmers will certainly benefit from the scenario as they are being offered a price above the MSP. Amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis, new markets in countries like Israel, Egypt, Tanzania and Mozambique have opened up for India. However, on the other hand, if private traders continue to buy above MSP, eventually that could stoke inflation. Dr. M.J. Khan, Chairman of the Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture, an apex agribusiness services body, opines that more private buying of wheat will help India expand the agri-export basket to new countries, riding the current crisis situation. This trade relationship will stay even when the global crisis is over, which means farmers will get about 10%-15% extra price as market prices are ruling above MSP.

What about export plans?

Till now, 4 MT wheat has been contracted for export and about 1.1 MT has been exported in April 2022. After Egypt, Turkey has also given approval for the import of Indian wheat. India has been eyeing deals with new export markets in European Union countries too. Compared to record wheat exports of 7.85 MT in the fiscal year 2021-22, the Centre had estimated exports of 12 MT for 2022-23, to cash in on the market rally in global prices following the Ukraine crisis. Global wheat prices rose nearly 50% since the start of this year as supplies from Russia, the number one wheat exporter, and Ukraine, number six, were hit. Despite the crop loss and revision of the output estimate, the Centre maintained that no curbs would be placed on wheat exports and that it was facilitating traders. Market observers estimate exports will be lower than projected earlier at about 10 MT amid low or damaged output.

How is the global supply situation shaping up?

In order to meet the gap created by reduced Russian and Ukrainian exports, importers are turning to alternative markets, while wheat-producing countries like India are looking to increase exports. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the export estimates of Brazil, which is traditionally an importer of wheat, is pegged at 2.5 MT, nearly three times its total last year. The South American country has even found new markets, with its wheat exports to West Asian nations jumping over 400%, according to Reuters. Argentina, traditionally a big exporter of wheat, too saw a further rise in exports despite lower than usual production.

The USDA, however, says that these increased exports will not be enough to make up for the nearly 30% of global exports hit by the Ukraine crisis.

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