Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 24th October 2021

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1.  Why global fuel prices are up ?

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III –  Energy
Sub Theme:   Energy Crisis | UPSC

As the global recovery gains strength, the price of crude oil is nearing its highest level since 2018. The surge in prices has led to record high prices of petrol and diesel in India and the Petroleum Ministry has repeatedly stated that it is speaking to key oil exporting countries to increase the supply of crude and lowering the official selling price for Asia. We examine the causes of high crude oil prices and how India is attempting to tackle them.

Why are fuel prices rising?

The price of Brent Crude breached the $85 per barrel mark earlier this week reaching its highest level since 2018 on the back of a sharp increase in global demand as the world economy recovers from the pandemic. Key oil producing countries have kept crude oil supplies on a gradually increasing production schedule despite a sharp increase in global crude oil prices. The price of Brent crude has nearly doubled compared to the price of $42.5 per barrel a year ago.

In its latest round of meetings, the OPEC+ group of oil producing countries reaffirmed that they would increase total crude oil supply by only 400,000 barrels per day in November despite a sharp increase in prices. The output of the top oil-producing countries – Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, UAE and Kuwait — would still be about 14 per cent lower than reference levels of production post the increase in November.

OPEC+ had agreed to sharp cuts in supply in 2020 in response to Covid-19 global travel restrictions in 2020 but the cartel has been slow to boost production as demand has recovered. India and other oil importing nations have called on OPEC+ to boost oil supply faster, arguing that elevated crude oil prices could undermine the recovery of the global economy.

Low crude oil supply from the US has also played a key role in keeping crude oil prices elevated. Vivekanand Subbaraman, analyst at Ambit Capital said that crude oil producers that had cut production when crude oil prices were low may be waiting to see if high crude oil prices sustain before restarting production.

What is the price impact of increased taxes on fuels?

Elevated tax levels are also playing a major role in the current record high prices in India. The central government had last year increased levies on petrol by Rs 13 per litre and on diesel by Rs 16 per litre to shore up revenues as the pandemic forced a sharp slowdown in the economic activity. Central and state taxes currently account for about 53.5 per cent of the pump price of petrol and about 47.6 per cent of the pump price of diesel in Delhi.

Supply constraints

A host of reasons, from economic recovery to geopolitics, are attributed to the price rise. Global energy demand fell last year when economies slipped into COVID-induced lockdowns. When growth returned this year, especially to Asian economies, demand shot up and energy producers struggled to meet the growing demand, pushing up prices. Even in the U.S., the world’s largest natural gas producer, prices rose from $1.7 per million British thermal units on March 31 to $6.3 per mBtu on October 5. Europe, which is heavily dependent on imports to meet its energy demand, was particularly hit hard.

As part of Europe’s shift towards cleaner energy, many countries had moved away from coal to gas to produce electricity. This increased Europe’s reliance on gas. On the other side, the continent’s natural gas production has shrunk over the years, as many countries shut down production fields over environmental concerns. If Europe’s natural gas production (excluding Russia) was about 300 billion cubic metres in 2005, it fell to less than 200 bcm in 2021, according to Rystad Energy. Norway, Europe’s main producer of natural gas, has seen its production shrink from 117.6 bcm in 2015 to 105.3 bcm in 2021. This has left Europe largely dependent on Russia.

Energy geopolitics

As prices shot up amid growing worldwide demand and falling production in Europe, supplies from Russia via a pipeline that passes through Ukraine and Poland also shrank, which made the situation worse. Russia has built another gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, which will take Russian gas directly to Germany bypassing Ukraine and Poland, whose governments are critical of the Kremlin. But supplies to Europe through Nord Stream 2 are yet to start as the pipeline is awaiting approval from European authorities.

In the past when Europe’s energy demand shot up, Russia had stepped up supplies. But this year, Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy giant that supplies about 35% of Europe’s gas requirements, has booked less additional exports than the traders wanted, adding pressure on supplies. The International Energy Agency said this week Russian exports to Europe this year were lower than they were in 2019. This has fuelled speculation that Mr. Putin is using the energy crunch in Europe to get approval from the EU for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Several countries in Europe as well as the United States remain critical of the pipeline, which they say would help Russia enhance its leverage over the continent and would also allow Russia to economically punish Ukraine and Poland. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the BBC on Thursday any attempts by Russia to exploit the crisis would backfire.

Putin’s assurance

The Kremlin has dismissed such criticism, saying Russia has no role in the energy crunch. On Wednesday, Mr. Putin said the amount of gas flowing through the operational pipeline is set to exceed volumes agreed under Gazprom’s contract with Ukraine. He also said Russia could “reach another record of deliveries of our energy resources to Europe, including gas”. This temporarily calmed the markets.

But Mr. Putin didn’t say how Russia was going to step up supplies — through the existing pipeline or Nord Stream 2? Russian officials have already said Gazprom can send more gas to Europe if Nord Stream 2 comes online quickly. It is to be seen if additional supplies would be tied to a quick approval for the pipeline. Furthermore, the Russian domestic gas market also remains tight. Inventories are running low, and winter is coming, which would shoot up demand constraining Russia’s export capacity. And demand is rising not only in Europe and the Americas, but also in Asia. Coal shortages in India and China could drive up prices of natural gas further.

2.  Questions around the election of Deputy Speaker

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II –  Parliament proceedings
Sub Theme:  Deputy Speker  | UPSC

What does the Constitution say about the Deputy Speaker?

Article 93 says: “The House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker thereof and, so often as the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the House shall choose another member to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may be.”

Article 178 contains the corresponding position for Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of a state.

Is it mandatory under the Constitution to have a Deputy Speaker?

Constitutional experts point out that both Articles 93 and 178 use the words “shall” and “as soon as may be” — indicating that not only is the election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker mandatory, it must be held at the earliest.

What are the time-frame and rules for the election of the Deputy Speaker?

All that the Constitution says is the election must be held as soon as possible.

Generally speaking, the practice in both Lok Sabha and the state Legislative Assemblies has been to elect the Speaker during the (mostly short) first session of the new House — usually on the third day after oath-taking and affirmations take place over the first two days.

The election of the Deputy Speaker usually takes place in the second session, even though there is no bar on having this election too in the first session of the new Lok Sabha/Assembly. But the election of Deputy Speaker is generally not delayed beyond the second session without genuine and unavoidable constraints.

In Lok Sabha, the election of Deputy Speaker is governed by Rule 8 of The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. According to the Rule, the election “shall be held on such date as the Speaker may fix”, and the Deputy Speaker is elected once a motion proposing his name is carried.

Do the powers of the Speaker extend to the Deputy Speaker as well?

Article 95(1) says: “While the office of Speaker is vacant, the duties of the office shall be performed by the Deputy Speaker”. After the first Speaker, G V Mavalankar, died in harness, M Ananth Ayyangar officiated as Acting Speaker for the remaining tenure of the House (from March 7, 1956 till May 1957), and was then elected Speaker of the second Lok Sabha.

After the Speaker of the 13th Lok Sabha, G M C Balayogi, passed away in March 2002, Deputy Speaker P M Sayeed remained Acting Speaker until that May, when Manohar Joshi was elected Speaker.

In general, the Deputy Speaker has the same powers as the Speaker when presiding over a sitting of the House. All references to the Speaker in the Rules are deemed to be references to the Deputy Speaker when he presides.

It has been repeatedly held that no appeal lies to the Speaker against a ruling given by the Deputy Speaker or any person presiding over a sitting of the House in the absence of the Speaker. (Kaul and Shakdher, 7th edition, p. 137)

Does being Deputy Speaker protect an MP or MLA from the law of disqualification?

No — with one specific exemption.

Para 5 of the Tenth Schedule (commonly known as the anti-defection law) says that a person who has been elected Speaker/ Deputy Speaker shall not be disqualified if he, by reason of his election to that office, voluntarily gives up the membership of the political party to which he belonged immediately before such election — and does not, so long as he continues to hold such office thereafter, rejoin that political party or become a member of another political party.

This exemption applies to the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman, Chairman/ Deputy Chairman of a state Legislative Council, and Speaker/ Deputy Speaker of a state Legislative Assembly as well.

 

3.  Why Facebook wants to rebrand itself for the ‘Metaverse’ 

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: VR and AR
Sub Theme:  Virtual Reality | Augmented Reality  | UPSC

Facebook plans to rename itself. And the change could be announced at the company’s annual Connect Conference on October 28 or earlier, according to a report by The Verge. For Facebook, the ‘rebranding’ isn’t just about a switch in the company name but a reflection of the company’s growing ambitions and focus on a new area: metaverse.

There can be many complicated answers to this questions. But a simplistic way to look at the metaverse is as a parallel, virtual, world where users can have different identities, possessions and characters.

In the complex explanation, Metaverse is supposed to be the post-Internet world, a decentralised computing platform of sorts if you will, which is continuous, and live. It is an entirely digital economy, and the way most Silicon valley intellectuals see this, metaverse exists both in the digital and physical realm.

Virtual reality (VR), the use of computer modeling and simulation that enables a person to interact with an artificial three-dimensional (3-D) visual or other sensory environment. VR applications immerse the user in a computer-generated environment that simulates reality through the use of interactive devices, which send and receive information and are worn as goggles, headsets, gloves, or body suits. In a typical VR format, a user wearing a helmet with a stereoscopic screen views animated images of a simulated environment. The illusion of “being there” (telepresence) is effected by motion sensors that pick up the user’s movements and adjust the view on the screen accordingly, usually in real time (the instant the user’s movement takes place). Thus, a user can tour a simulated suite of rooms, experiencing changing viewpoints and perspectives that are convincingly related to his own head turnings and steps. Wearing data gloves equipped with force-feedback devices that provide the sensation of touch, the user can even pick up and manipulate objects that he sees in the virtual environment.

Augmented reality, in computer programming, a process of combining or “augmenting” video or photographic displays by overlaying the images with useful computer-generated data. The earliest applications of augmented reality were almost certainly the “heads-up-displays” (HUDs) used in military airplanes and tanks, in which instrument panel-type information is projected onto the same cockpit canopy or viewfinder through which a crew member sees the external surroundings. Faster computer processors have made it feasible to combine such data displays with real-time video. Among the earliest and most prominent examples of this type of augmented reality, as first shown on the Fox Broadcasting Company’s network in the mid-1990s, were the yellow first-down stripes superimposed on television images of American gridiron football fields and the virtual flight paths added to help television viewers track the paths of hockey pucks and golf balls.

The distinctions between VR and AR come down to the devices they require and the experience itself:

  • AR uses a real-world setting while VR is completely virtual
  • AR users can control their presence in the real world; VR users are controlled by the system
  • VR requires a headset device, but AR can be accessed with a smartphone
  • AR enhances both the virtual and real world while VR only enhances a fictional reality

4.  The Hindu Sabarimala Ayyappa temple opens, rain restricts pilgrims

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Art and Culture
Sub Theme:   Sabarimala Temple | UPSC

The Sabarimala Temple is a temple complex located at Sabarimala hill inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Perinad Village, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala, India.

It is one of the largest annual pilgrimage sites in the world with an estimate of over 40 to 50 million devotees visiting every year.

The temple is dedicated to a Hindu Brahmachari (Celibate) deity Ayyappan also known as Dharma Shasta, who according to belief is the son of Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Vishnu.

The traditions of Sabarimala are a confluence of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and other Śramaṇa traditions.

The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately 15 November to 26 December), Makaravilakku or “Makara Sankranti” (14 January) and Maha Thirumal Sankranti (14 April), and the first five days of each Malayalam month.

In response to a PIL filed in 1991, the Kerala High Court had judged that the restriction of entry of women ages 10–50 to the temple was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial, and it directed the Devaswom Board to uphold the customary traditions of the temple and also concluded that “since there is no restriction between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the

Hindus in the matter of entry to a temple (Sabarimalai) whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class.”

However, On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India, in a 4-1 majority decision (4 men and 1 woman judicial panel), overturned the ban on the entry of women.

But the lone woman judge, Indu Malhotra noted in her dissenting judgement that “what constitutes an essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide” and not a matter that should be decided by the courts. She added that “notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts”. The Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, stated that the selective ban on women was not an “essential part” of Hinduism, and instead a form of “religious patriarchy”. Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud stated that the ban “stigamatises” and “stereotypes” women, while “placing the burden of men’s celibacy” on them. After supreme court verdict, the southern state of Kerala had witnessed huge violent protest and mass rally’s by nearly the whole population of Kerala and women were also highly active participants in this movement. CP(I)M lead government fired ruthlessly against the protesters and several were killed or severely injured in the process. Devotees have filed around 65 review petition against 28 September 2018 order. Normally Supreme Court of India will never accept review petition against it own order. However considering the facts and circumstance of the matter, Supreme Court has accepted the review petition and decided to hear the proceeding in an open court. After Completion of the hearing in February 2019, the Court ordered under the new Chief Justice Mr. Ranjan Gagoi, to refer the matter to big bench comprising 7 judges to re-consider the decision of 28 September 2018.

5.  60 injured during Banni festival in Kurnool

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Art and Culture
Sub Theme:   Banni Festival | UPSC

Devaragutta Dasara festival is a festival celebrated during Hindu festival, Dasara in Devaragutta in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India. It is a violent form of celebration where people from three villages fight with long bamboo sticks. Many devotees who participate in the fight get injured

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