1. Strong Balance of Payments

Why in News

According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, India’s Balance of Payments (BoP) in 2020-21 is going to be very strong.

Key Points

  • Strong BoP: The BoP is going to be strong on the back of significant improvement in exports and a fall in imports.
  • The exports in July 2020 is at about 91% export level of July 2019 figures. Imports are still at about 70-71% level as of July 2019.
  • Trade Surplus in June 2020: India’s trade has turned surplus for the first time in 18 years as imports dropped by 47.59% in June 2020 as compared to June 2019.
  • The country posted a trade surplus of USD 0.79 billion in June 2020.
  • Domestic Manufacturing Being Boosted: The government is taking steps to support and promote domestic manufacturing and industry.
  • It has increased curbs on imports of products and parts, especially from China, as part of its ‘Atmanirbhar’ Initiative.
  • The government also reviewed all Free-Trade Agreements (FTA) done between 2009 and 2011 and found most of them to be
  • Change in Mode of Manufacturing: The government has also asked firms investing in the country to stop having an “assembly workshop” approach that has typically characterised Indian manufacturing.

Balance of Payment


  • Balance of Payment (BoP) of a country can be defined as a systematic statement of all economic transactions of a country with the rest of the world during a specific period usually one year.
  • It indicates whether the country has a surplus or a deficit on trade.
  • When exports exceed imports, there is a trade surplus and when imports exceed exports there is a trade deficit.

Purposes of calculation of BoP:

  • Reveals the financial and economic status of a country. Can be used as an indicator to determine whether the country’s currency value is appreciating or depreciating.
  • Helps the Government to decide on fiscal and trade policies. Provides important information to analyze and understand the economic dealings of a country with other countries.

Components of BoP:

  • For preparing BoP accounts, economic transactions between a country and rest of the world are grouped under – Current account, Capital account and Errors and Omissions. It also shows changes in Foreign Exchange
  • Current Account: It shows export and import of visibles (also called merchandise or goods – represent trade balance) and invisibles (also called non-merchandise).
  • Invisibles include services, transfers and income.
  • Errors and Omissions: Sometimes the balance of payment does not balance. This imbalance is shown in the BoP as errors and omissions. It reflects the country’s inability to record all international transactions accurately.
  • Changes in Foreign Exchange Reserves: Movements in the reserves comprises changes in the foreign currency assets held by the Reserve Bank of
  • India (RBI) and also in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) Overall the BoP account can be a surplus or a deficit. If there is a deficit then it can be bridged by taking money from the Foreign Exchange (Forex) Account.
  • If the reserves in the forex account are falling short then this scenario is referred to as BoP crisis.



  1. Blockchain Technology in Voting

Why in News

Election Commission (EC) officials are exploring the potential of using blockchain technology to enable remote voting. The aim is to overcome the geographical hurdles in voting.

  • Remote voting may take place in person somewhere other than an assigned polling station or at another time, or votes may be sent by post or cast by an appointed proxy.
  • There have been demands from various political parties that the EC should ensure that migrant workers who miss out on voting, as they cannot afford going home during elections to exercise their franchise, should be allowed to vote for their constituency from the city they are working in.

Key Points

Blockchain Technology:

  • Blockchain is a system in which the database of recordings (a ‘chain’) appears on multiple computers at the same time even as it is updated with any new digital information (‘a block’).
  • It offers a singular combination of permanent and tamper-evident record keeping, real-time transaction transparency and auditability.
  • The initial and primary use of blockchain technology was for monitoring cryptocurrency (e.g. bitcoin) transactions. However, other usage and applications have emerged in the last few years.
  • The government of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have put the land records on the blockchain technology owing to its easy traceability feature.


Blockchain Technology in Voting:

  • Growing concern over election security, voter registration integrity, poll accessibility, and voter turnout has led governments to consider blockchain-based voting platforms as a means to increase faith and participation in essential democratic processes.
  • Electronic voting has been used in varying forms since the 1970s with fundamental benefits over paper based systems such as increased efficiency and reduced errors. At present, the feasibility of blockchain is being explored for effective e-voting.
  • Even the EC had used a one-way electronic system for service electors (consisting of personnel belonging to the armed forces, central para military forces and central government officers deployed at Indian missions abroad) i.e. Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.
  • Blockchain’s decentralized, transparent, immutable, and encrypted qualities could potentially help minimize election tampering and maximize poll accessibility.

Possible Working:

  • A blockchain remote voting process would involve voter identification and authorisation using a multi-layered IT enabled system (with the help of biometrics and web cameras) at the venue.
  • After a voter’s identity is established by the system, a blockchain enabled personalised e-ballot paper (Smart Contract) will be generated.
  • When the vote is cast (Smart Contract executed), the ballot would be securely encrypted and a block chain hashtag (#) will be generated. This hashtag notification would be sent to various stakeholders i.e. the candidates and political parties.


  • Any new technology systems, including those based on blockchain technologies, are vulnerable to cyber-attacks and other security vulnerabilities.
  • These could cause vote manipulation, paper trail erasure, or electoral chaos.
  • Furthermore, a voter verification system that uses biometric software, such as facial recognition, could lead to false positives or negatives in voter identification, thus facilitating fraud or disenfranchising citizens.
  • Blockchain-based voting systems may also entail privacy risks and concerns.


  1. Sunspots

Why in News

A massive Sunspot group ‘AR2770’, which was detected recently, has emitted minor space flares.

These flares have not caused any major impact on the Earth. However, these have led to minor waves of ionization to ripple through the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Key Points


  • Sunspots (some as large as 50,000 km in diameter) are areas that appear dark on the surface of the Sun (photosphere). They appear dark because they are cooler than other parts of the Sun’s surface.
  • However, the temperature of a sunspot is still very hot —around 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Photosphere is a visible surface of the Sun, from which is emitted most of the Sun’s light that reaches Earth directly.
  • They are relatively cool because they form at areas where magnetic fields are particularly strong. These magnetic fields are so strong that they keep some of the heat within the Sun from reaching the surface.
  • Magnetic field in such areas is about 2,500 times stronger than Earth’s.
  • They typically consist of a dark region called the ‘umbra’, which is surrounded by a lighter region called the ‘penumbra’.
  • In every solar cycle, the number of Sunspots increases and decreases. The current solar cycle, which began in 2008, is in its ‘solar minimum’ phase, when the number of Sunspots and solar flares is at a routine low.

Solar Flares:

  • The magnetic field lines near sunspots often tangle, cross, and reorganize. This can cause a sudden explosion of energy called a solar flare.
  • The solar flare explosion’s energy can be equivalent to a trillion ‘Little boy’ atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
  • Solar flares release a lot of radiation into space. Solar flares, when powerful enough, can disrupt satellite and radio transmission on the Earth, and more severe ones can cause ‘geomagnetic storms’ that can damage transformers in power grids.
  • A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space surrounding Earth.
  • Magnetosphere is a region around the Earth dominated by the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • It protects the Earth from solar and cosmic radiation as well as erosion of the atmosphere by the solar wind – the constant flow of charged particles streaming off the Sun.
  • Solar flares are sometimes accompanied by a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).
  • CMEs are huge bubbles of radiation and particles from the Sun’s Corona (outermost region of the Sun’s atmosphere).
  • They explode into space at very high speed when the Sun’s magnetic field lines suddenly reorganize.
  • They can trigger intense light in the sky on Earth, called Some of the energy and small particles travel down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth’s atmosphere.
  • There, the particles interact with gases in the atmosphere resulting in beautiful displays of light in the sky. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple.
  • The aurora in Earth’s northern atmosphere is called an aurora borealis or northern lights. It’s southern counterpart is called an aurora australis or the southern lights.

Solar Cycle

  • The Sun is a huge ball of electrically-charged hot gas. This charged gas moves, generating a powerful magnetic field.
  • The Sun’s magnetic field goes through a cycle, called the solar cycle.
  • Every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips. This means that the Sun’s north and south poles switch places.
  • Then it takes about another 11 years for the Sun’s north and south poles to flip back again.
  • The solar cycle affects activity on the surface of the Sun, such as sunspots which are caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields.
  • As the magnetic fields change, so does the amount of activity on the Sun’s surface.
  • One way to track the solar cycle is by counting the number of sunspots.
  • The beginning of a solar cycle is a solar minimum, or when the Sun has the least sunspots.
  • Over time, solar activity—and the number of sunspots—increases.
  • The middle of the solar cycle is the solar maximum, or when the Sun has the most sunspots. As the cycle ends, it fades back to the solar minimum and then a new cycle begins.


  1. Biofuel Day

Why in News

World Biofuel Day is observed on 10 August every year.

Key Points

Theme for 2020: “Biofuels towards Atmanirbhar Bharat”.

  • Objective: To create awareness about the importance of non-fossil fuels as an alternative to conventional fossil fuels and to highlight the various efforts made by the Government in the Biofuel
  • Celebrated by: Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas since 2015. Biofuels programme is also in synergy with Government of India’s initiative of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Govt Initiatives to Promote Biofuels

  • Biofuel: Any hydrocarbon fuel that is produced from an organic matter (living or once living material) in a short period of time (days, weeks, or even months) is considered a biofuel.
  • Blending of biofuels: Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme, Administrative price mechanism for ethanol, Simplifying the procurement procedures by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs), amending the provisions of Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951 etc are some of the initiatives taken to promote blending of biofuels.
  • Researchers at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) are developing a method to use cyanobacterium for biofuel production.
  • Recently, the Central government has also allowed the conversion of surplus rice to ethanol.

Initiatives by Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology:

  • Development of 2G Ethanol and transfer of the technology to
  • Development of Indigenous Cellulolytic Enzyme for the production of biofuels. Strengthened the international collaboration to accelerate innovation in Sustainable Biofuel through multilateral programs like Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) and Biofuture Platform.
  • Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN Yojana, 2019: The objective of the scheme is to create an ecosystem for setting up commercial projects and to boost Research and Development in 2G Ethanol sector
  • GOBAR (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources) DHAN scheme, 2018: It focuses on managing and converting cattle dung and solid waste in farms to useful compost,biogas and bio-CNG, thus keeping villages clean and increasing the income of rural households. It was launched under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).
  • Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO): It was launched by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) aims for an ecosystem that will enable the collection and conversion of used cooking oil to biodiesel.

National Policy on Biofuels, 2018:

  • The Policy categorises biofuels as “Basic Biofuels” viz. First Generation (1G) bioethanol & biodiesel and “Advanced Biofuels”- Second Generation (2G) ethanol, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels, Third Generation (3G) biofuels, bio-CNG etc. to enable extension of appropriate financial and fiscal incentives under each category.
  • It expands the scope of raw material for ethanol production by allowing use of sugarcane juice, sugar containing materials like sugar beet, sweet sorghum, starch containing materials like corn, cassava, damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, rotten potatoes, unfit for human consumption for ethanol production.
  • The Policy allows use of surplus food grains for production of ethanol for blending with petrol with the approval of National Biofuel Coordination
  • With a thrust on Advanced Biofuels, the Policy indicates a viability gap funding scheme for 2G ethanol Bio refineries of Rs. 5000 crore in 6 years in addition to additional tax incentives, higher purchase price as compared to 1G biofuels.

Way Forward

  • Promotion of the use of biofuels in transportation in the countries like India will help in reducing the crude import bill.
  • the scope of producing Biofuels is immense in the country. Biofuels can help in rural and agricultural development in the form of new cash crops.
  • Efforts for producing sustainable biofuels should be made by ensuring use of wastelands and municipal wastes that get generated in cities. A properly designed and implemented biofuel solution can provide both food and energy.

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