Monthly Current Affairs for Prelims: July 2020

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Table of Contents

 

Art And Culture

Festivals:

Hul Divas

  • Hul Divas is observed annually on June 30 in memory of tribals — Sidho and Kanhu Murmu — who led the Santhal hul (rebellion) on June 30, 1855, at Bhognadih in Sahebganj district.
  • This was believed to be the first people’s action against the British.

Dhamma Chakra Day

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Culture in partnership with the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) will celebrate the Asadha Poornima on 4th July 2020 as Dharma Chakra Day.
  • Significance of the day:
    • It marks Buddha’s first teaching after attaining Enlightenment to the first five ascetic disciples (pañcavargika) on the full-moon day of Asadha at ‘Deer Park’, Rishipatana in modern-day Sarnath, near Varanasi.
    • This teaching of Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta (Pali) or Dharma Chakra Pravartana Sutra (Sanskrit) is also known as the First Turning of Wheels of Dharma and comprised the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
    • The day is also known as Esala Poya in Sri Lanka and Asanha Bucha in Thailand.
    • It is the second most sacred day for Buddhists after the Buddha Poornima or Vesak.
    • The day is also observed as Guru Poornima by both Buddhists and Hindus as a day to mark reverence to their Gurus.

Harikatha

  • Harikatha is a form of Hindu religious discourse in which the storyteller explores a religious theme.
  • It may be the life of a saint or a story from an Indian epic.
  • It is a composite art form composed of storytelling, poetry, music, drama, dance, and philosophy most prevalent in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • At its peak, Harikatha was a popular medium of entertainment, which helped transmit cultural, educational, and religious values to the masses.
  • Harikatha commences with an invocation and the singing of God's name. This introductory part of Katha also contains a brief statement of the underlying philosophy of the main story or of some general philosophical truth or truths.
  • The second part, which is the main body, is the story itself.
  • The main aim of Hari Katha is to imbue truth and righteousness in the minds of people and sow the seeds of devotion in them.
  • Another of the aims is to educate them about knowledge of self (atman) through stories and show them the path of liberation.

Bathukamma

  • Bathukamma is a floral festival celebrated predominantly by the Hindu women of Telangana.
  • It is the festival for feminine felicitation. On this special occasion, women dress up in the traditional sari combining it with jewels and other accessories.
  • In Telugu, ‘Bathukamma' means ‘Mother Goddess come Alive’ and in this respect, Goddess Maha Gauri (Life Giver) is worshipped in the form of Bathukamma, the patron goddess of womanhood.
  • Bathukamma refers to a beautiful flower stack, arranged with different unique seasonal flowers most of them with medicinal values, in seven concentric layers in the shape of temple gopuram.

Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:

Mongolian Kanjur Manuscripts

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Culture had taken up the project of reprinting of 108 volumes of Mongolian Kanjur under the National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM).
    • Now, the first set of five volumes of Mongolian Kanjur has been released.
  • What is Mongolian Kanjur?
    • It is a Buddhist canonical text in 108 volumes and is considered to be the most important religious text in Mongolia. It is a source of providing a cultural identity to Mongolia.
    • In the Mongolian language ‘Kanjur’ means ‘Concise Orders’- the words of Lord Buddha in particular.
    • It has been translated from Tibetan and is written in classical Mongolian.
  • The historical connection between India and Mongolia:
    •  
    • Buddhism was carried to Mongolia by Indian cultural and religious ambassadors during the early Christian era. As a result, today, Buddhists form the single largest religious denomination in Mongolia.
    • India established formal diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1955. The publication of Mongolian Kanjur by the Government of India for the Government of Mongolia will act as a symbol of cultural harmony between India and Mongolia and will contribute to the furtherance of bilateral relations during the coming years.
  • About the National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM):
    • NMM was launched in February 2003 by the Government of India, under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
    • It has the mandate of documenting, conserving and disseminating the knowledge preserved in manuscripts.
  • Background:
    • India possesses an estimate of ten million manuscripts, probably the largest collection in the world. These cover a variety of themes, textures and aesthetics, scripts, languages, calligraphies, illuminations, and illustrations.

Madhubani Paintings

  • Context:
    • Face masks adorned with Madhubani paintings in demand.
  • About Madhubani paintings:
    • Madhubani means ‘forest of honey’.
    • They are produced by village women who make three-dimensional images. These pictures tell stories especially about Sita’s exile, Ram-Laxman’s forest life, or depict the images of Lakshmi, Ganesha, Hanuman, and others from Hindu mythology.
    • Apart from these, women also paint celestial subjects like the sun and moon. Tulsi, the holy plant also is to be found in these paintings.
    • They also show court scenes, weddings and social happenings.
    • Drawings in Madhubani paintings are very conceptual.
    • First, the painter thinks and then “draws their thought”.
    • There is no pretence to describe the figures accurately.
    • Visually, they are images that speak in lines and colours and are drawn for some rituals or festivals on household and village walls to mark the seasonal festivals or special events of the life cycle.
    • Madhubani painting has a geographical indication(G.I.) status because it has remained confined to a compact geographical area where the skills have been passed on through centuries and the content and style have largely remained the same.

Pratihara style of architecture

  • Context:
    • A rare late ninth century stone statue of Lord Shiva, which was stolen from a temple in Rajasthan and smuggled to the UK, will be returned to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
  • Key facts:
    • The stone Nataraj/Natesha murti, in “chatura pose with jatamakuta and trinetra” and almost four-feet-tall, is a rare depiction of Lord Shiva in the Prathihara style.
    • It is a rare sandstone idol.
    • It is originally from the Ghateswara Temple at Baroli, Rajasthan.
  • Pratihara empire:
    • Natesa is a rare sandstone idol from the Pratihara Style of architecture in Rajasthan.
    • It is originally from the Ghateswar Temple at Baroli, Rajasthan.
    • The sandstone Natesa figure stands tall at almost 4 ft in a rare and brilliant depiction of Shiva.
    • A depiction of Nandi (sacred bull calf) is shown behind the right leg of the Natesa icon.
    • Pratihara Style of architecture is associated with the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty around 800-900 AD.
  • Architecture:
    • Gurjara-Pratihara is known for its sculptures, carved panels, and open pavilion-style temples.
    • The greatest development of their style of temple building was at Khajuraho, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Zardozi art

  • Zari work or Zardozi, an art which is considered quite popular amongst embroiders and designers, survives in the narrow alleys of the Old Town of Bhopal.
  • Zardozi prospered in India during the 17th century during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It came to India from Persia.
  • Its literal translation, ‘Zar’ means gold and ‘dozi’ meaning embroidery. Thus, Zardozi comes from the Persian term meaning ’embroidering with gold threads.’
  • In this embroidery, gold coils and beads are tucked onto fabric using a needle and thread.
  • Metals like gold and silver are transformed into a zari (thin thread) that is used to adorn motifs onto rich fabrics like silk, velvet, organza, chiffon, etc. In 2013 the Geographical Indication Registry (GIR) accorded the Geographical Indication (GI) registration to the Lucknow Zardozi.

Tangams

  • Recently, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister released a book titled “Tangams: an Ethnolinguistic study of the critically endangered group of Arunachal Pradesh”.
  • Tangams are a little-known community within the larger Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Tangams are now concentrated in only one village (Kugging), with 253 reported speakers.
  • As per the UNESCO World Atlas of Endangered Languages (2009), Tangam — an oral language that belongs to the Tani group, under the greater Tibeto-Burman language family — is marked ‘critically endangered’.

History

Famous Personalities:

Jyotirao Phule

  • Context:
    • The Maharashtra government has claimed it has waived off loans of 83% out of total eligible farmers under the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule crop loan waiver scheme amounting to ₹17,646 crores.
  • Key features of the scheme:
    • Announced in December 2019, it aims to write off crop loans up to Rs 2 lakh (taken between April 1, 2015, and March 31, 2019) which has not been repaid till September 30, 2019.
  • About Jyotirao Phule:
    • Born in 1827 in the Satara district of Maharashtra.
    • Phule was given the title of Mahatma on May 11, 1888, by Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar, a Maharashtrian social activist.
  • Social reforms and key contributions:
    1. Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (1827 – 1890), also known as Jyotiba Phule, was an Indian social activist, thinker, anti-caste social reformer and writer from Maharashtra.
    2. He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women education in India. Phule started his first school for girls in 1848 in Pune at Tatyasaheb Bhide's residence or Bhidewada.
    3. In 1873 he formed the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) to attain equal rights for people from lower castes. People from all religions and castes could become a part of this association which worked for the upliftment of the oppressed classes
    4. He is credited with introducing the Marathi word Dalit (broken, crushed) as a descriptor for those people who were outside the traditional varna system. The terminology was later popularised in the 1970s by the Dalit Panthers. 
  • His famous works:
    • Tritiya Ratna (1855), Gulamgiri (1873), Shetkarayacha Aasud, or Cultivator’s Whipcord (1881), Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi (1887)
  • Satya Shodhak Samaj (Truth Seekers Society)
    • It was founded by Jyotirao Phule in 1873 in Pune.
    • Satya shodhak samaj was founded with a purpose to give education to the lower castes, scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and made them aware of the exploiting tradition of the society.

Chandra Shekhar Azad

  • Context:
    • 23rd July- Birth Anniversary.
  • What do you need to know about Chandra Shekhar Azad?
    • Born on July 23, 1906, at Bhavra, Alirajpur District in present-day Madhya Pradesh.
    • He took part in the non-cooperation movement when he was 15.
    • After the suspension of the non-cooperation movement in 1922 by Gandhi, Azad joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA).
    • HRA was later reorganised as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA) in 1928.
    • Azad was involved in the 1925 Kakori Conspiracy.
    • He died at Azad Park in Allahabad on 27th February 1931.
    • Other cases Azad was involved in include the 1926 attempt to blow up the viceroy’s train, and the shooting of J P Saunders in 1928. Saunders was assassinated to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai.
  • Why he is called “Azad”?
    • He was arrested because of his participation in the non-cooperation movement. When produced by the magistrate, he proudly announced his name as ‘Azad’, his father’s name as ‘Swatantrata’ and his place of dwelling as ‘Jail’. It was from then on that the name ‘Azad’ stuck to him.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

  • Context:
    • 23rd July- Birth Anniversary.
  • About:
    • His famous declaration “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it” served as an inspiration for future revolutionaries during India’s struggle for freedom.
    • The British Government termed him as the “Father of Indian Unrest” and his followers bequeathed upon him the title of ‘Lokmanya’ meaning he who is revered by the people.
  • Ideology:
    • He was a devout Hindu and used Hindu scriptures to rouse people to fight oppression.
    • Stressed the need for self-rule and believed that without self-rule or swarajya, no progress was possible.
    • Slogan: “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!”
    • A book ‘Indian Unrest’ written by Valentine Chirol, an English journalist, stated Tilak the ‘father of Indian unrest’.
    • Emphasized the importance of a cultural and religious revival to go with the political movements.
    • Popularised the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in the Maharashtra region.
    • Propounded the celebration of Shiv Jayanti on the birth anniversary of the monarch Chhatrapati Shivaji.
  • Protests and Imprisonment:
    • Tilak protested against the oppressive nature of the British efforts and wrote provocative articles on it in his newspapers on the epidemic of Plague in Pune and adjacent regions.
    • His article inspired the Chapekar brothers and they carried out the assassination of Commissioner Rand and Lt. Ayerst on June 22, 1897. As a result of this, Tilak was imprisoned for 18 months on Sedition charges for inciting murder.
    • He openly supported the revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki’s efforts to assassinate Chief Presidency Magistrate in 1908. He continued to write during his years of imprisonment and the most prominent of which is Gita Rahasya.
  • Tilak and All India Home Rule League:
    • Deciding to reunite with his fellow nationalists, Tilak founded the All India Home Rule League in 1916 with Joseph Baptista, Annie Besant, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
    • He rejoined the INC but could not bring about reconciliation between the two opposite-minded factions.
  • Newspapers:
    • Towards his nationalistic goals, Bal Gangadhar Tilak published two newspapers –‘Mahratta’ (English) and ‘Kesari’ (Marathi).
    • Tilak fearlessly published reports about the havoc caused by famine and plague and the government’s utter irresponsibility and indifference about the ‘Famine Relief fund’.
  • Education:
    • As a founding father of the Deccan Education Society created in 1884.
    • The Society established the Fergusson College in 1885 for post-secondary studies. Tilak taught mathematics at Fergusson College.

Tatya Tope

  • Context:
    • Maharashtra government recently informed the Bombay High Court that more than ₹2.5 crores had already been spent on the construction of a national monument of the general Tatya Tope at Yeola in Nashik district.
    • The Central government has sanctioned funds to the extent of 75% of the estimated cost while the rest will be borne by the State.
  • Background:
    • A PIL was filed in the court seeking a direction to authorities to change the place sanctioned for the monument from Yeola taluka to a plot in Angangaon village in Yevla tehsil of the same district, which belongs to the Irrigation department.
    • However, the Court has declined to provide an interim relief on the belated approach and said 50% of the construction work of the monument had already been completed.
  • About Tatya Tope:
    • Tatya Tope adopted the surname ‘Tope’ which means commanding officer. It is derived from the Hindi word for canon.
    • Despite having no formal training in fighting skills, Tope was a brilliant fighter and a master in the art of guerrilla warfare.
    • He played an active part in the rebellion at Kanpur and then at Gwalior, where he came to the aid of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi.
    • His guerrilla tactics left the British amazed at his soldiery.
    • He had captured Kanpur in 1857 with remarkable skill and established Nana Saheb’s authority there. However, at the Second Battle of Cawnpore, the British managed to recapture the city forcing Tope to retreat.
    • After this, he went to Gwalior to join the rebels there. He operated from Narmada, Sagar, etc. and dodged the British for a while.
    • He forced General Windham to retreat from the city of Gwalior.
    • He collaborated with Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi to seize Gwalior.
    • Tatya Tope was defeated by Sir Colin Campbell (later Baron Clyde) on December 6, 1857. He was hanged on April 18, 1859, in General Meade's camp at Shivpuri.

Battles And Organization:

US’ Trinity Test

  • Context:
    • On 16th July, exactly 75 years ago, scientists tested Gadget — the world’s first atomic bomb — in what was dubbed as the ‘Trinity Test’.
    • Less than a month later, an identical nuclear bomb called ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of people.
  • What do you need to know?
    • In December 1942 facilities were established in remote locations across the US, as well as in Canada. However, the superbomb was finally designed and conceptualised by a team of scientists at a top-secret laboratory in Los Alamos.
    • The team at Los Alamos was headed by J Robert Oppenheimer who later came to be known as the “father of the atomic bomb” developed two types of bombs, one was uranium-based, which was later code-named ‘the Little Boy’ before it was dropped on Hiroshima and the other had a plutonium core. 
  • What were the repercussions of the Trinity Test?
    • Residents of New Mexico were not warned about the test.
    • And the adverse impact of radiation caused by the detonation was ignored for years after the test.
      1. There was a sudden rise in infant mortality.
      2. Several residents also complained that the number of cancer patients went up after the Trinity Test.
      3. The dust outfall from the explosion was expected to have travelled nearly 100 miles from the test site, posing a serious threat to residents in the area.
      4. Many families complained that their livestock suffered skin burns, bleeding, and loss of hair.
    • It was only in 1990, when the federal government passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), that residents of North Mexico who contracted Cancer and other illnesses due to radiation exposure received compensation.
  • How many countries worldwide now have nuclear weapons?
    • Seventy-five years after the Trinity Test, as many as nine countries around the world are currently in possession of nuclear weapons.
    • These include the US, the UK, Russia, France, India, China, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea.
    • At least eight countries have detonated over 2,000 nuclear test explosions since 1945.
    • The most recent instance of nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India was the series of five explosions done as part of the Pokhran-II tests in May 1998. The first test, code-named Smiling Buddha, took place in May 1974.

Geography

Mizoram quake zone

  • Context:
    • Mizoram experienced at least eight moderate earthquakes between June 21 and July 9. The tremors ranged from 4.2 to 5.5 on the Richter scale
    • The epicenter of most of these quakes was beneath the Champhai district bordering Myanmar.
  • Recent findings:
    • A recent study has indicated that Mizoram is caught between two subterranean faults- Churachandpur Mao Fault and Mat Fault.
      1. Churachandpur Mao Fault runs north-south into Myanmar along the border of Champhai.
      2. Mat Fault runs northwest-southeast across Mizoram, beneath the river Mat near Serchhip.
    • There are several shallower transverse or minor faults in between these two major faults that are deeper.
  • What are Earthquake swarms?
    • They occur in a localised region and over a period of time ranging from days, weeks to even months, without a clear sequence of foreshocks, main quakes, and aftershocks.
    • It is a series of many (sometimes thousands) low magnitude earthquakes without a discernible mainshock.
    • When seismic energy piles up inside the Earth and is released in small amounts from certain points, such a series of earthquakes can occur.
  • What is a fault?
    • A fault is a thin zone of crushed rock separating blocks of the earth's crust. When an earthquake occurs on one of these faults, the rock on one side of the fault slips with respect to the other.
    • Faults can be centimeters to thousands of kilometers long.
    • The fault surface can be vertical, horizontal, or at some angle to the surface of the earth.
    • Faults can extend deep into the earth and may or may not extend up to the earth's surface.

Previously Unknown faults at the foot of the Himalaya discovered

  • Context:
    • An oil and gas exploration company has helped geologists discover a series of faults at the foot of the Himalaya.
    • This fault system lies in the southeastern region of Nepal and has the potential to cause earthquakes in the densely populated country.
  • Method of analysis:
    • The study team looked at seismic reflection data, which are routinely collected by exploration companies looking for oil and gas.
    • In this particular method, seismic waves are produced by small explosions at multiple sources, and many recorders called geophones to record the sound echoing off layers beneath the surface.
  • Key findings
    • It has been noted that this fault system in the southeastern region of Nepal has the potential to cause earthquakes in the densely populated country.
    • This network of faults shows that the Himalayan deformation reaches further [about 40 kilometers further south] than we previously thought.
  • Will this fault system affect India?
    • The newly discovered system doesn’t appear to extend into India, but seismic waves from an earthquake occurring on them might affect regions of India near the border.
    • However, other similar faults might be present elsewhere along the southern edge of the Himalaya and might extend beneath northern India.
  • Prelims Concepts:
    • What is a fault?
      • A fault is a fracture or zone of fractures between two blocks of rock.
      • Faults allow the blocks to move relative to each other.
      • This movement may occur rapidly, in the form of an earthquake – or may occur slowly, in the form of creep.
      • Previously unknown faults at the foot of the Himalaya discovered.
      • Faults are related to the movement of Earth's tectonic plates. The biggest faults mark the boundary between two plates.
    • There are three kinds of faults:
      • 1. Strike-slip:
        • Indicate rocks are sliding past each other horizontally, with little to no vertical movement. Both the San Andreas and Anatolian Faults are strike-slip.
      • 2. Normal fault:
        • It creates space. Two blocks of crust pull apart, stretching the crust into a valley. The Basin and Range Province in North America and the East African Rift Zone are two well-known regions where normal faults are spreading apart Earth's crust.
      • 3. Thrust (reverse) faults:
        • Slide one block of crust on top of another. These faults are commonly found in collisions zones, where tectonic plates push up mountain ranges such as the Himalayas and the Rocky Mountains.
        • Strike-slip faults are usually vertical, while normal and reverse faults are often at an angle to the surface of the Earth.

Hurricane Hanna hits Texas

  • Context:
    • Hurricane Hanna has made landfall recently near Texas.
    • It is expected to produce heavy rains across portions of southern Texas and northeastern Mexico.
  • What Are Hurricanes?
    • Hurricanes are large, swirling storms. They produce winds of 119 kilometers per hour (74 mph) or higher. They form over warm ocean waters.
  • Mechanism:
    • After this, the air from the surrounding areas, which has higher pressure, enters this space, eventually rising when it becomes warm and moist too.
    • When the warm, moist air rises upward from the surface of the ocean, it creates an area of low air pressure below. 
    • As the warm and moist air continues to rise, the surrounding air will keep entering the area of low air pressure. 
    • Ultimately, when the warm air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms clouds.
    • And this corresponding system of clouds and winds continues to grow and spin, fuelled by the ocean’s heat and the water that evaporates from its surface.
    • As such storm systems rotate faster and faster, an eye form in the center.
  • What Are the Parts of a Hurricane?
    • Eye:
      • The eye is the “hole” at the center of the storm. Winds are light in this area. Skies are partly cloudy, and sometimes even clear.
    • Eyewall:
      • The eyewall is a ring of thunderstorms. These storms swirl around the eye. The wall is where winds are strongest and rain is heaviest.
    • Rain bands:
      • Bands of clouds and rain go far out from a hurricane's eyewall. These bands stretch for hundreds of miles. They contain thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.
  • How Does a Storm Become a Hurricane?
    • A hurricane starts out as a tropical disturbance. This is an area over warm ocean waters where rain clouds are building.
      1. A tropical disturbance sometimes grows into a tropical depression. This is an area of rotating thunderstorms with winds of 62 km/hr (38 mph) or less.
      2. A tropical depression becomes a tropical storm if its winds reach 63 km/hr (39 mph).
      3. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane if its winds reach 119 km/hr (74 mph).
  • What Makes Hurricanes Form?
    1. Warm ocean waters provide the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Usually, the surface water temperature must be 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher for a hurricane to form.
    2. Winds that don't change much in speed or direction as they go up in the sky. Winds that change a lot with height can rip storms apart.

Assam Floods

  • Context:
    • Assam continues to be on the edge because of its flood disaster and this has become an annual calamity.
    • Assam sees major floods every year and every time lives are lost, millions of people get displaced, villages, crops, infrastructure gets destroyed.
    • This year, almost 85 percent area of the Kaziranga National Park has submerged.
  • How bad is the current flood compared to previous ones?
    • While floods are a regular annual feature in Assam, some years witness more destruction than others. In terms of impact on human lives, the floods of 1988, 1998, and 2004 were the worst; the 2004 floods alone affected 12.4 million people and claimed 251 lives. The current wave of floods has affected 57 lakh people. But experts say that the worst is yet to come.
  • Why floods are common in Assam?
    • The Brahmaputra is braided and unstable in its entire reach in Assam except for a few places. The main reasons behind the instability of the river are high sedimentation and steep slopes.
    • A high percentage of the flood-prone regions:
      • 31.05 lakh hectares of the total 78.523 lakh hectares area of the state are prone to frequent floods. And the reasons behind this high flood-prone area percentage are both man-made and natural.
    • EARTHQUAKES/LANDSLIDES:
      • Assam and some other parts of the northeastern region are prone to frequent earthquakes, which causes landslides. The landslides and earthquakes send in a lot of debris in the rivers, causing the river bed to rise.
    • BANK EROSION:
      • Assam has also faced bank erosion around the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers as well as their tributaries.
      • It is estimated that annually nearly 8000 hectares of land is lost to erosion. Bank erosion has also affected the width of the Brahmaputra river, which has increased up to 15 km.
    • DAMS:
      • Among the man-made reasons, the key cause of floods in the Assam region is releasing of water from dams situated uphill. Unregulated release of water floods the Assam plains, leaving thousands of people homeless every year.
    • Guwahati’s topography :
      • It’s shaped like a bowl — does make it susceptible to waterlogging.
      • Unplanned expansion of the urban areas has led to severe encroachments in the wetlands, low lying areas, hills, and shrinkage of forest cover.
      • The river also changes course frequently and it’s virtually impossible to contain it within embankments. The pressure of the surging water takes a toll on these walls.
  • How governments have tried to handle the situation? Where have they failed?
    • Floods are a recurrent feature during the monsoons in Assam. In fact, ecologists point out that floodwaters have historically rejuvenated croplands and fertilised soil in the state’s alluvial areas.
    • But it’s also a fact that for more than 60 years, the Centre and state governments have not found ways to contain the toll taken by the raging waters.
    • The state has primarily relied on embankments to control floods. This flood control measure was introduced in Assam in the early 1950s when the hydrology of most Indian rivers, including the Brahmaputra, was poorly understood.
    • But, several of the state’s embankments were reportedly breached by the floods this year.
  • What needs to be done now?
    1. Studying the river and the impact of climate change is a must to understand why the state gets flooded every year.
    2. Water flow information shared by China on the Brahmaputra with India, for which India pays a certain amount, should also be shared with the public, as this will help in understanding the river better and therefore help people better prepare for floods.
    3. More accurate and decentralised forecasts of rain can help in improving preparedness. Weather reports should be made available on the district level and should be accessible to the public.
  • Need for these measures:
    • As the economy of Assam is largely dependent on natural resources, what happens with agriculture and forests has direct effects on the livelihood of its people.
    • During floods, water becomes contaminated, and climate change has a direct impact on the water resources sector by increasing the scarcity of freshwater, which is a constant problem in summer.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/annual-floods-in-bihar-and-measures-to-mitigate/

National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO)

  • Context:
    • NATMO publishes 4th updated version of its COVID-19 Dashboard.
  • About NATMO:
    • Established in 1956 as the National Atlas Organisation.
    • Professor S.P. Chatterjee, the doyen of Indian Geography was the Founder-Director of this institute.
    • It was renamed in 1978 to give it a broad-based responsibility in the field of thematic cartography and geographical research.
    • It is under the administrative control of the Department of Science &Technology of the Government of India.
    • It is headquartered in Kolkata.
  • Important functions:
    1. Compilation of the National Atlas of India.
    2. Preparation of the National Atlas maps in regional languages.
    3. Preparation of thematic maps based on research studies on environmental and associated aspects and their impact on social and economic development.

Tuting-Tidding Suture Zone (TTSZ)

  • TTSZ is a major part of the Eastern Himalaya, where the Himalaya takes a sharp southward bend and connects with the Indo-Burma Range.
  • According to a recent study, TTSZ is generating moderate earthquakes at two different depths in Arunachal Pradesh.

Society

Health:

World Population trends

  • Context:
    • A study was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
    • It analysed population trends in 195 countries.
    • A new analysis published in The Lancet has projected that the world population will peak in 2064
  • Key findings:
    • The world population will peak in 2064, at 9.73 billion. This is 36 years earlier than the 11 billion peaks projected for 2100 by last year’s UN report World Population Prospects.
    • For 2100, the report projects a decline to 8.79 billion from the 2064 peak.
  • What about TFR?
    • The global total fertility rate (TFR) is predicted to steadily decline from 2.37 in 2017 to 1.66 in 2100.
    • It is projected to fall below 2.1 in 183 countries.
    • In 23 countries including Japan, Thailand, Italy, and Spain, it is projected to shrink by more than 50%.
    • For a generation to exactly replace itself, the replacement-level total fertility rate (TFR) is taken to be 2.1.
  • India related findings:
    1. It projects a peak population of 1.6 billion in 2048, up from 1.38 billion in 2017.
    2. By 2100, the population is projected to decline by 32% to 1.09 billion.
    3. India’s TFR is already below 2.1 in 2019. It will reach 1.29 in 2100.
    4. The number of working-age adults (20–64 years) in India is projected to fall from around 748 million in 2017 to around 578 million in 2100. However, this will be the largest working-age population in the world by 2100.
    5. In the mid-2020s, India is expected to surpass China’s workforce population (950 million in 2017, and 357 million in 2100).
    6. From 2017 to 2100, India is projected to rise up the list of countries with the largest GDP, from 7th to 3rd.
    7. India is projected to have the second-largest net immigration in 2100, with an estimated half a million more people immigrating to India in 2100 than emigrating out.
    8. Among the 10 countries with the largest populations in 2017 or 2100, India is projected to have one of the lowest life expectancies (79.3 years in 2100, up from 69.1 in 2017).
  • Challenges ahead:
    • Forecasts highlight huge challenges to the economic growth of a shrinking workforce, the high burden on health and social support systems of an aging population.
    • It forecasts continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Harnessing the Demographic dividend:
      • Developing human resources through appropriate education and skill development.
      • Occupational health and environmental health programme to ensure that working population remains healthy and productive.
      • Diplomatic efforts for negotiating favorable policies on migration in the global arena.
    • Striving towards gender parity:
      • Improved access to higher education for women
      • Ensuring equal pay and a safe workplace
      • Overcoming social barriers such as Son Meta-Preference
    • Strengthening social infrastructure for the elderly population:
      • The requirement of greater spending on pensions and geriatric healthcare with a focus on the management of non-communicable diseases.
      • Developing opportunities for elderly people to participate in economic and social activities and contribute to national development, such as increasing the age of retirement.
      • Meeting needs of the widowed women, since life expectancy in women is higher than in men.

National Doctor’s Day 2020

  • Context:
    • Celebrated on July 1 every year to honour eminent physician Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. Doctor’s Day was established by the Government of India in 1991.
    • It is traditionally organised in the country by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).
    • The theme this year is “lessen the mortality of COVID-19”.
    • Globally, the First Doctor’s Day was observed on March 28, 1933, in Winder, Georgia.
  • About Dr. Roy:
    1. He was the second chief minister of West Bengal.
    2. He was also Mahatma Gandhi’s friend and doctor.
    3. He was honoured with Bharat Ratna on February 4, 1961.

Women:

Permanent commission to all women officers in Army

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has allowed a one-month extension to the government to implement its February 17 judgment to grant permanent commission/command posts to eligible women officers in the armed forces.
  • What’s the issue?
    • A petition was filed in the Supreme Court which said the government was creating hurdles in the implementation of the judgment.
    • However, the government has clarified that it is in the process of implementation of the judgment was at an “advanced state” and a circular would be issued soon.
  • Why such an order?
    • Following this, Army Chief had said it was an enabling one and gives a lot of clarity on how to move forward.
    • The order follows a Supreme Court verdict in February that directed the government that women Army officers be granted PC and command postings in all services other than combat.
    • He had stated that the same procedure for male SSC officers will be followed for women to give PC.
  • SC’s February order and its implications:
    1. Women officers are eligible to the tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them.
    2. The court dismissed the government's stand that only women officers with less than 14 years of service ought to be considered for permanent commission, and those with over 20 years of service should be pensioned immediately.
    3. The court has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers.
  • Observations made by the Court in its judgment:
    • It rejected arguments against a greater role for women officers, saying this violated equality under the law (Article 14).
    • The biological argument was also rejected as disturbing.
    • The court had rejected the government’s arguments, saying they are based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women (Article 16).
    • It had also said that it only shows the need “to emphasise the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army”.
  • What were the arguments put forth by the government in its defence?
    • Motherhood, childcare, psychological limitations have a bearing on the employment of women officers in the Army.
    • Family separation, career prospects of spouses, education of children, prolonged absence due to pregnancy, motherhood were a greater challenge for women to meet the exigencies of service.
  • Physical limitations:
    • Soldiers will be asked to work in difficult terrains, isolated posts, and adverse climate conditions.
    • Officers have to lead from the front.
    • They should be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks.
    • The Govt. said women were not fit to serve in ground combat roles. 
  • Challenges:
    • Army units were a “unique all-male environment”. The presence of women officers would require “moderated behaviour”.
    • The male troop predominantly comes from a rural background and may not be in a position to accept commands from a female leader.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/women-in-indian-armed-forces-prospects-challenges-and-issues/

Govt sanctions Permanent commission to women officers in the Indian Army

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Defence has issued the formal government sanction letter for grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to Women Officers in the Indian Army.
    • The order specifies a grant of permanent commission to Short Service Commissioned (SSC) Women Officers in all ten streams of the Indian Army.
    • The 10 streams are Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), and Intelligence Corps in addition to the existing streams of Judge and Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC).
  • Background:
    • Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had granted one more month to the Centre to implement its verdict directing that permanent commission be given to all serving SSC women officers in the Army. The top court’s direction came on an application filed by the Centre seeking six months' time for implementation of the verdict citing the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Significance of the move:
    • This paves the way for empowering Women Officers to shoulder larger roles in the organisation.

Istanbul Convention

  • Context:
    • Poland is to withdraw from Istanbul Convention- a treaty aimed at preventing violence against women.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The reason behind withdrawal is that Poland thinks the Convention is harmful because it required schools to teach children about gender.
    • Also, it says, the treaty tries to construct a “socio-cultural gender against the biological gender”.
    • For example, some items of the convention foresee educating children and young people about forming homosexual families.
  • What is the Istanbul Convention?
    • The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe against violence against women and domestic violence. 
    • The convention aims at the prevention of violence, victim protection, and “to end with the impunity of perpetrators”. 
    • The Convention sets minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women.
    • When a government ratifies the Convention, it is legally bound to follow it. As of March 2019, it has been signed by 45 countries and the European Union.
    • The convention was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 7 April 2011.

Society and Education:

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

  • Context:
    • Celebrated on July 30.
    • Designated by the UN in 2013.
    • This year’s theme focuses on first responders to human trafficking.
  • Who are the first responders?
    • These are the people who work in different sectors – identifying, supporting, counselling, and seeking justice for victims of trafficking, and challenging the impunity of the traffickers.
    • During the COVID-19 crisis, the essential role of first responders has become even more important, particularly as the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have made their work even more difficult.
    • Still, their contribution is often overlooked and unrecognized.
  • Key facts:
    1. People are trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced begging, forced marriage; for selling children and as child soldiers, as well as for the removal of organs;
    2. Women make up 49% and girls 23% of all victims of trafficking;
    3. Sexual exploitation is the most common form of exploitation (59% share) followed by forced labour (34% share);
    4. Most victims are trafficked within their countries’ borders – those trafficked abroad are moved to the richest countries.

Prerak Dauur Samman

  • Context:
    • It is a new category of awards announced as part of Swachh Survekshan 2021.
    • It has a total of five additional subcategories – Divya (Platinum), Anupam (Gold), Ujjwal (Silver), Udit (Bronze), Aarohi (Aspiring) – with the top three cities being recognized in each.
  • Implications:
    • In a departure from the present criteria of evaluating cities on ‘population category’, this new category will categorize cities on the basis of six select indicator-wise performance criteria which are as follows:
      1. Segregation of waste into Wet, Dry and Hazard categories
      2. Processing capacity against wet waste generated
      3. Processing and recycling of wet and dry waste
      4. Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste processing
      5. Percentage of waste going to landfills
      6. Sanitation status of cities

Blue Heart Campaign of UN

  • Context:
    • It has been initiated by the UN to raise global awareness to fight human trafficking and its impact on society.
    • It aims to encourage the involvement of the governments, civil society, the corporate sector, and individuals to inspire action and help prevent this heinous crime.
    • It allows people to show their solidarity with the victims of human trafficking and increasing their visibility by wearing the Blue Heart.
  • What are the constitutional & legislative provisions related to Trafficking in India?
    1. Trafficking in Human Beings or Persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1).
    2. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the premier legislation for prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
    3. Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 has come into force wherein Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code has been substituted with Section 370 and 370A IPC which provide comprehensive measures to counter the menace of human trafficking.
    4. Protection of Children from Sexual offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 is a special law to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

New Education Policy

  • Context:
    • The first new education policy in 34 years has been brought out. The Union Cabinet gave its nod to the new policy recently.
    • The aim of the National Education Policy 2020 is to create an education system that is deeply rooted in Indian ethos and can rebuild India as a global knowledge superpower, by providing high-quality education to all.
  • Background:
    • A panel headed by former ISRO chief K. Kasturirangan submitted a draft in December 2018, which was made public and opened for feedback after the Lok Sabha election in May 2019.
  • Highlights of the policy:
    1. Public spending on education by states, Centre to be raised to 6% of the GDP.
    2. Ministry of Human Resource Development to be renamed Minister of Education.
  • Digital Education- related:
    1. An autonomous body, the national educational technology forum, will be created for the exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, and administration.
    2. Separate technology unit to develop digital education resources. The new unit will coordinate digital infrastructure, content, and capacity building.
  • Teacher Education- related:
    1. By 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a four year integrated B.Ed. degree.
    2. Teachers will also be given training in online educational methods relevant to the Indian situation in order to help bridge the digital divide.
  • School Education- related:
    1. Universalise the pre-primary education (age range of 3-6 years) by 2025.
    2. Universalization of Education from pre-school to secondary level with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030.
    3. A new school curriculum with coding and vocational studies from class 6 will be introduced.
    4. A child’s mother tongue will be used as the medium of instruction till class 5.
    5. A new curricular framework is to be introduced, including the preschool and Anganwadi years.
    6. A National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy will ensure basic skills at the class 3 level by 2025.
    7. Board exams to be easier, redesigned. Exams will test core competencies rather than memorising facts, with all students allowed to take the exam twice.
    8. School governance is set to change, with a new accreditation framework and an independent authority to regulate both public and private schools.
  • Higher Education- related:
    1. Four-year undergraduate degrees with multiple entries and exit options will be introduced.
    2. The M.Phil degree will be abolished.
    3. New umbrella regulator for all higher education except medical, legal courses.
    4. An Academic Bank of Credit will be set up to make it easier to transfer between institutions.
    5. College affiliation system to be phased out in 15 years, so that every college develops into either an autonomous degree-granting institution or a constituent college of a university.
    6. It also aims to double the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education, including vocational education, from 26.3% in 2018 to 50% by 2035, with an additional 3.5 crore new seats.
  • Traditional knowledge- related:
    1. Indian knowledge systems, including tribal and indigenous knowledge, will be incorporated into the curriculum in an accurate and scientific manner.
  • Special focus:
    1. Regions such as aspirational districts, which have a large number of students facing economic, social, or caste barriers will be designated as ‘Special Educational Zones’.
    2. The Centre will also set up a Gender Inclusion Fund to build the country’s capacity to provide equitable quality education to all girls and transgender students.
  • Financial support:
    • Meritorious students belonging to SC, ST, OBC, and other socially and economically disadvantaged groups will be given incentives.
  • New Curricular and Pedagogical Structure:
    • The NEP proposes changing the existing 10+2 Curricular and Pedagogical Structure with 5+3+3+4 design covering the children in the age group 3-18 years. Under this :
      1. Five years of the Foundational Stage: 3 years of pre-primary school and Grades 1, 2;
      2. Three years of the Preparatory (or Latter Primary) Stage: Grades 3, 4, 5;
      3. Three years of the Middle (or Upper Primary) Stage: Grades 6, 7, 8;
      4. Four years of the High (or Secondary) Stage: Grades 9, 10, 11, 12.
  • Challenges ahead:
    • Since education is a concurrent subject most states have their own school boards. Therefore, state governments would have to be brought on board for the actual implementation of this decision.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/national-education-policy-2020-explained/

Rajasthan’s education guidelines irk NCPCR

  • Context:
    • National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has pulled up the Rajasthan government for its new guidelines on elementary education.
  • What’s the issue?
    • NCPCR said the new guidelines “violate” the Right to Education Act of 2009 and deny children from economically weaker sections the right to free education in nursery classes.
    • The guidelines state that admissions to private schools under the RTE Act, 2009, for the 2020-21 academic year will take place only from class 1 or above, and that the law’s provisions will not be applicable for preschoolers.
    • This is in contravention of the RTE Act 2009, which states that private schools will have to admit, “to the extent of at least twenty-five percent of the strength of that class, children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory education till its completion.”
    • The guidelines also violate the RTE Act insofar as they recommend the age of admission to be “5 years or above but less than 7 years as of 31st March 2020.”
    • However, under Central law, there is no such restriction and a “male or female child of the age of six to fourteen years” can seek admission.
  • Powers of NCPCR to inquire into such complaints:
    • Under the RTE Act, 2009, the NCPCR can:
      1. inquire into complaints about violation of the law.
      2. summon an individual and demand evidence.
      3. seek a magisterial inquiry.
      4. file a writ petition in the High Court or Supreme Court.
      5. approach the government concerned for the prosecution of the offender.
      6. recommend interim relief to those affected.
  • About NCPCR:
    • Set up in March 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005.
    • It works under the administrative control of the Ministry of Women & Child Development.
    • The Commission’s Mandate is to ensure that all Laws, Policies, Programmes, and Administrative Mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Composition:
    • This commission has a chairperson and six members of which at least two should be women.
    • All of them are appointed by the Central Government for three years.
    • The maximum age to serve in commission is 65 years for Chairman and 60 years for members.

Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019

  • Context:
    • After facing flak from the transgender community, the Centre has done away with the requirement of a medical examination for trans persons applying for a certificate of identity in its latest draft rules framed under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019.
  • Overview of the draft ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020’:
    1. All educational institutions are to have a committee that transgender persons can approach in case of any harassment or discrimination.
    2. The “appropriate government” is also required to take adequate steps to “prohibit discrimination in any government or private organisation or establishment.”
    3. States will be responsible for the “timely prosecution of individuals” charged under Section 18 of the Act which proscribes offences against the transgender community and penalties therein.
    4. The offences would be punishable with imprisonment for six months up to two years, with a fine.
    5. State governments will have to set up a Transgender Protection Cell under the District Magistrate and DGP to monitor cases of offences against transgender persons and implement Section 18.
  • Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019:
    • Definition of a transgender person:
      • It defines a transgender person as one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth.
      • It includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers, and persons with socio-cultural identities, such as kinnar and hijra.
      • Intersex variations are defined to mean a person who at birth shows the variation in his or her primary sexual characteristics, external genitalia, chromosomes, or hormones from the normative standard of the male or female body.
  • Prohibition against discrimination:
    • Any person who is found to be compelling a transgender person into bonded labour denying the right of public passage to a transgender person, evicting a transgender from his/her place of residence, causing physical, sexual, verbal, economic and emotional abuse, can be penalised with imprisonment of not less than six months, that can extend up to two years.
    • The bill has a provision that provides transgender the right of residence with parents and immediate family members.
  • Background:
    • The law was a consequence of the directions of the Supreme Court of India in the National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India case judgment, mandating the Central and State governments to ensure legal recognition of all transgender persons and proactive measures instituted for their welfare.
    • It calls for establishing a National Council for Transgender persons (NCT).
  • The NCT will consist of:
    1. Union Minister for Social Justice (Chairperson)
    2. Minister of State for Social Justice (Vice-Chairperson)
    3. Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice
    4. One representative from ministries including Health, Home Affairs, and Human Resources Development.
    5. Other members include representatives of the NITI Aayog and the National Human Rights Commission. State governments will also be represented. The Council will also consist of five members from the transgender community and five experts from non-governmental organizations.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/transgender-rights-bill-2019/

Survey On Animals In Circuses

  • Context:
    • The Delhi High Court has directed the Animal Welfare Board (AWB) to forthwith carry out a nationwide survey to find out the number of animals in circuses, which are unable to perform due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and consider rehabilitating them to the nearest zoos.
    • The court has also issued notices to other relevant stakeholders and directed them to file replies within two weeks.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The court was hearing a plea stating that the condition of animals is vulnerable due to the bankruptcy of circuses due to the pandemic.
    • The petition was filed by the Federation of Indian Animals Protection (FIAPO), which is a collection of 100 organisations working towards the protection of animal rights for over a decade.
    • It challenged the constitutional validity of Sections 21 to 27 of the prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act so far as they permit exhibition and training of animals in relation to circus acts.
    • The petitioners also sought to declare the Performing Animal Rules, 1973 and Performing Animal (Registration) Rules, 2001 to the extent that they allow registration of animals as ‘performing animals’ for circuses as against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Constitution of India.
  • Present challenges:
    • Circuses with animals performing tricks often use wild animals, including elephants, hippos, and exotic birds.
    • These animals are very often used without requisite paperwork certifying their fitness.
    • Investigations show animals being chained and tied up for several hours each day, made to perform several shows without proper rest, trained using negative reinforcement with instruments like metal rods, wooden sticks, whips and outdated and barbaric tools like hooks and spiked belts.
    • These are in direct violations of animal protection laws, animal rights and welfare.
  • Need of the hour:
    • On account of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports of animals being stranded as part of these circuses all over the country and being abandoned by their owners.
    • Therefore, authorities should formulate an appropriate scheme for the rescue, rehabilitation and relocation of all animals rescued from circuses.
    • There is also an urgent need to ban animals from circuses initiating their rehabilitation.
    • As an interim relief, the authorities should take custody of all animals from all circuses operating in India and make appropriate arrangements for their transfer and well-being.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • Established in 1962 under Section 4 of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960, the Animal Welfare Board of India is a statutory advisory body advising the Government of India on animal welfare laws, and promotes animal welfare in the country of India.
    • It was started under the stewardship of Late Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale, well known humanitarian.

Pragyata guidelines

  • Context:
    • PRAGYATA guidelines on digital education released.
  • About:
    • The guidelines include eight steps of digital learning that is, Plan- Review- Arrange- Guide- Yak (talk)- Assign- Track- Appreciate.
    • These steps guide the planning and implementation of digital education step by step with examples.
    • These are only advisory in nature and state governments can formulate their own rules, based on local needs.
  • The guidelines outline suggestions for administrators, school heads, teachers, parents, and students in the following areas:
    1. Need Assessment.
    2. Concerns while planning online and digital education like duration, screen time, inclusiveness, Balanced online, and off-line activities.
    3. Modalities of intervention including resource curation, level-wise delivery, etc.
    4. Physical, mental health, and well-being during digital education.
    5. Cyber safety and ethical practices including precautions and measures maintaining cyber safety.
  • Need for guidelines on online education:
    • To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, schools will not only have to remodel and reimagine the way teaching and learning have happened so far but will also need to introduce a suitable method of delivering quality education through a healthy mix of schooling at home and schooling at school.

NISHTHA– National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers Holistic Advancement

  • Context:
    • Union HRD Minister launched the first on-line NISHTHA programme for 1,200 Key Resources Persons of Andhra Pradesh.
    • These resource persons will help in the mentoring of teachers of Andhra Pradesh, who will take online NISHTHA training on DIKSHA later on.
  • About NISHTHA:
    • The initiative is an Integrated Teacher Training Programme of the Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of HRD as part of its National Mission to improve learning outcomes at the Elementary level under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Samagra Shiksha.
    • In 2019, NISHTHA was launched in face-to-face mode. Thereafter, 33 states/UTs have launched this programme in their states/UTs.
    • Around 23,000 Key Resource Persons and 17.5 lakh teachers and school heads have been covered under this NISHTHA face to face mode to date.
  • Features:
    • It has activity-based modules including educational games and quizzes, Social-emotional learning, motivational interactions, team building, preparation for the school-based assessment, in-built continuous feedback mechanism, online monitoring and support system, training need and impact analysis (Pre and Post training).

Manodarpan

  • Manodarpan initiative has been launched under Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.
  • This initiative will provide psycho-social support to students, teachers, and parents and address their issues related to mental health and emotional well being.
  • It was launched recently by the Union HRD Minister

Indian Scholastic Assessment (Ind-SAT) Test

  • Union HRD Ministry holds the first-ever INDSAT exam under ‘Study in India’ Programme.
  • Ind-SAT is an exam for grant of scholarships and admissions to foreign students for studying in select indian universities under the Study in India programme.

Polity

Executive:

Merger Under Tenth Schedule

  • Context:
    • The Rajasthan High Court has issued notices to the speaker and secretary of the state legislative assembly and six MLAs, who contested elections on BSP tickets and then defected to the Congress.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The BSP won six seats in Rajasthan but all its MLAs joined the Congress in September last year.
    • But, now at the national level, BSP is arguing that a state unit of a national party cannot be merged without the party being merged at the national level.
    • Besides, BSP national secretary has also issued a whip to 6 MLAs telling them to vote against the Congress in case there is a floor test.
  • On what grounds is BSP’s case-based?
    • BSP’s contention is that the merger is illegal and unconstitutional because, for a national party, such a merger has to take place at the national level.
  • Supporting Supreme Court judgments:
    • 1. 2006 ruling in Jagjit Singh v State of Haryana:
      • In this case, four legislators from single-member parties in the Haryana Assembly, who said their parties had split and later joined the Congress. The court upheld the Speaker’s decisions disqualifying them.
    • 2. 2007 ruling in Rajendra Singh Rana And Ors vs Swami Prasad Maurya:
      •  
      • In the 2002 Uttar Pradesh elections, 37 MLAs — one-third of the BSP strength — “split” from the party after its government fell, to support Samajwadi Party. The SC ruled that the split cannot be recognised primarily because not all these MLAs split at once.
  • But, why these judgments cannot be relevant today?
    • The key aspect is that these cases deal with splits where when one-third of the members of a legislative party splits; they could not attract disqualification as per Paragraph 3 of the Tenth Schedule.
    • However, in 2003, through the 91st Constitutional Amendment, Paragraph 3 was deleted from the Tenth Schedule.
    • The amendment was made as the one-third split rule was grossly misused by parties to engineer divisions and indulge in horse-trading.
    • One-third was regarded as an easy target to achieve and the law now exempts defection only when it is at two-thirds (in a merger).
  • Firstly, is “merger” allowed under the constitution?
    • The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution prohibits defection to protect the stability of governments but does not prohibit mergers.
    • Paragraph 4(2) of the Tenth Schedule, dealing with mergers, says that only when two-thirds of the members agree to “merge” the party would they be exempt from disqualification.
    • The “merger” referred to in Paragraph 4(2) is seen as a legal fiction, where members are deemed to have merged for the purposes of being exempt from disqualification, rather than a merger in the true sense.
  • Can a state unit of a national party be merged without the party being merged at the national level?
    • The tenth Schedule identifies this dichotomy between state units and national units.
    • As per Paragraph 4(2), the “merger” of a party means the merger of a legislative party of that House.
    • In Rajasthan’s case, it would be the Rajasthan Legislative unit of the BSP and not the BSP at the national level.
  • What about the whip?
    • The whip issued by BSP national general secretary to the six MLAs would have no impact because such a direction has to necessarily be issued for voting on the floor of the House.
    • A national leader’s direction cannot be considered a whip in the context of the anti-defection law.
  • Prelims Concept:
    • Anti-defection law lists situations for disqualification on the ground of defection:
      1. If an MP or an MLA “has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party” [clause 2(1)(a)], or
      2. If he/she votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by his party, that is if he violates the party whip in the house [clause 2(1)(b)].
      3. If an independent candidate joins a political party after the election.
      4. If a nominated member joins a party six months after he becomes a member of the legislature.

Criminal law reforms

  • Context:
    • A group of retired judges, former bureaucrats, and others have written to the newly constituted Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws, questioning the lack of diversity in the committee and asking for more transparency in its functioning.
  • Cause of Contention?
    • The line-up of the Committee’s members “lacks diversity, both in terms of the social identity of the members, as well as their professional background and experience.”
    • Unlike previous committees that had been assigned reforms of such magnitude, this one did not even have fulltime members.
  • Brief:
    • This committee was first announced by home minister Amit Shah in parliament in December 2019.
    • The panel would look into required amendments to the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure to deal with the issue of mob lynching.
    • The Committee was constituted through a Ministry of Home Affairs notification on May 4, 2020. The chairperson is Ranbir Singh (vice-chancellor, National Law University Delhi).
  • What needs to be done?
    • Include more expertise and diversity. Create sub-committees with outside experts and other consultants with established track records in the field of criminal justice who can redress the lack of diversity and experience in the Committee’s current composition.
    • The committee should include “eminent women, Dalit, Adivasi, and various religious minorities, LGBT, differently-abled criminal law practitioners and grassroots workers from different parts of India”.
    • The committee should make public the MHA notification constituting it. It should also upload on its website the terms of reference. The committee should clarify whether or not it is working independently of the MHA.
    • The committee should engage with a wide range of stakeholders in the criminal justice system in a meaningful, substantive, and transparent manner.
  • Background:
    • The Criminal law in India is contained in a number of sources – The Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
    • The Criminal Justice System can impose penalties on those who violate the established laws.
    • The criminal law and criminal procedure are in the concurrent list of the seventh schedule of the constitution.
    • Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay is said to be the chief architect of codifications of criminal laws in India.
  • Need for reforms:
    • Colonial-era laws.
    • Ineffectiveness.
    • Pendency of cases.
    • Huge undertrials.
  • Previous committees:
    • Madhav Menon Committee:
      • It submitted its report in 2007, suggesting various recommendations on reforms in the Criminal Justice System of India (CJSI).
    • Malimath Committee Report:
      • It submitted its report in 2003 on the Criminal Justice System of India (CJSI).

One Nation One Voter ID

  • Context:
    • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made it possible for senior citizens above the age of 65 to vote by postal ballot, given that they are at greater risk from exposure to the novel coronavirus.
    • Hitherto, this option was available only to disabled citizens and those above 80 years.
  • Why migrant workers?
    • Internal migrant workers constitute about 13.9 crores as in the Economic Survey of 2017, which is nearly a third of India’s labour force.
    • They are often unable to exercise their voting rights. Therefore, Migrant workers become quasi disenfranchised, forgotten voters because they cannot afford to return home on election day to choose their representatives.
    • Internal migrant workers do not enroll as voters in their place of employment since they find proof of residence hard to provide.
    • This group also does not constitute a vote bank worthy of attention.
    • Many are seasonal migrants who would rather vote in their villages if they could afford to return home.
  • What needs to be done now?
    • Ensuring that every Indian who is eligible to vote can do so must be a central mission for the ECI.
    • ECI has said that it is testing an Aadhaar-linked voter-ID based solution to enable electors to cast their votes digitally from anywhere in the country.
    • To facilitate voting by migrant workers, the ECI could undertake substantial outreach measures using the network of District Collectorates.
    • Migrants should be able to physically vote in their city of work based on the address on their existing voter IDs and the duration of their temporary stay.
  • Conclusion:
    • A ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ is being ushered in to enable migrant workers and their family members to access Public Distribution System benefits from any fair price shop in the country.
    • Similarly, voting must be viewed not just as a civic duty but as a civic right. We must demonstrate the political will to usher in ‘One Nation One Voter ID,’ to ensure native ballot portability and empower the forgotten migrant voter.

Criminalization of Politics

  • Context:
    • A February 2020 Supreme Court judgment on Criminalisation in politics may have far-reaching consequences for Indian democracy.
    • It will first be implemented in the coming Bihar elections in October 2020.
  • What was the case all about?
    • The judgment was passed in contempt of court case filed against the Chief Election Commissioner of India.
    • The petition claimed the ECI had failed to take any steps to ensure the implementation of a 2018 judgment of the bench, which had made it mandatory for political parties to declare and publish all criminal cases pending against their candidates.
    • The petitioners argued that parties were “circumventing” the 2018 judgment by publishing the details of their candidates’ criminal background in “obscure and limited circulation newspapers” and “making the webpages on their websites difficult to access”.
  • The judgment:
    • The court had asked the particle parties to state “The reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.”
    • If a political party fails to comply, it would be in contempt of this court’s orders/ directions.
  • Directions issued by the Court:
    1. It is mandatory for all political parties to publish all details regarding pending criminal cases against their chosen candidates, not only in local newspapers but also on party websites and social media handles.
    2. Along with the details of pending cases, the parties will also have to publish “the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates”.
    3. The “reasons” given for the selection of the candidates have to be “with reference to the qualifications, achievements, and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere ‘winnability’ at the polls”.
  • What does the RPA say on this?
    • Currently, under the Representation of the Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
    • Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections.
  • Main reasons for Criminalization:
    1. Corruption
    2. Vote bank.
    3. Lack of governance.
  • What is the way out?
    1. Political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
    2. The RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
    3. Fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.
    4. Bring greater transparency in campaign financing.
    5. The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties.
  • Need for reforms:
    • In 2004, 24% of the members of Parliament had criminal cases against them.
      • In 2009, that went up to 30%.
      • In 2014, it went up to 34%.
      • In 2019, as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases.

24% of Rajya Sabha members face criminal cases

  • Context:
    • Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has analysed self-sworn affidavits of Rajya Sabha MPs and released a report.
  • Key findings:
    • An analysis of 229 of the 233 Rajya Sabha seats that represent the States and Union Territories showed that 54 MPs or 24% had declared criminal cases.
    • Out of the 229 MPs, 28 or 12% had declared serious criminal cases.
    • 203 of the 229 MPs or 89% of those analysed had declared assets over ₹1crore.
  • Efforts by Supreme Court in this regard:
    1. Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India(2018): mandatory for political parties to declare and publish all criminal cases pending against their candidates.
    2. Association for Democratic Reforms(ADR) v. Union of Indian (2002): Obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
    3. PUCL v. Union of India (2013): Upheld the constitutional right of citizens to cast a negative vote in elections.
    4. Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013): Struck down as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act that allowed convicted lawmakers a three-month period for filing appeals to the higher court and to get a stay on the conviction and sentence.
    5. Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v Union of India (2014): Directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.
    6. In February 2020, the court had asked the particle parties to state “The reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.” If a political party fails to comply, it would be in contempt of this court’s orders.
  • What does the RPA say on this?
    • Currently, under the Representation of the Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
    • Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections.
  • What is the way out?
    • Political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
    • The RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
    • Fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.
    • Bring greater transparency in campaign financing.
    • The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties.

Governors of States in India

  • Context:
    • President of India has appointed Anandiben Patel, Governor of Uttar Pradesh to discharge the functions of the Governor of Madhya Pradesh, in addition to her own duties.
  • Governors of States in India:
    • A governor is a nominal head of a state, unlike the Chief Minister who is the real head of a state in India.
    • According to the 7th Constitutional Amendment Act 1956, the same person can be the Governor of two or more states.
  • Appointment:
    • The governors and lieutenant-governors are appointed by the president.
  • Removal:
    • The term of governor’s office is normally 5 years but it can be terminated earlier by Dismissal by the president (usually on the advice of the prime minister of the country), at whose pleasure the governor holds office or Resignation by the governor. Thus, the term is subject to the pleasure of the president.
    • There is no provision of impeachment, as it happens for the president.
  • Some discretionary powers are as follows:
    • Can dissolve the legislative assembly if the chief minister advices him to do following a vote of no confidence. Following this, it is up to the Governor what he/ she would like to do.
    • Can recommend the president about the failure of the constitutional machinery in the state.
    • Can reserve a bill passed by the state legislature for president’s assent.
    • Can appoint anybody as chief minister If there is no political party with a clear-cut majority in the assembly.
    • Determines the amount payable by the Government of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram to an autonomous Tribal District Council as royalty accruing from licenses for mineral exploration.
    • Can seek information from the chief minister with regard to the administrative and legislative matters of the state.
    • Can refuse to sign to an ordinary bill passed by the state legislature.
  • Problem with constitutional design:
    • The governor is merely appointed by the president on the advice of the Central government.
    • Unlike the president, a governor does not have a fixed term. He/she holds office at the pleasure of the ruling party in the centre.
    • Both the manner of the appointment and the uncertainty of tenure conspire to make the incumbent and the object of the Central government in politically charged circumstances.

Rajasthan crisis puts governors’ powers in the spotlight

  • Context:
    • A governor’s powers and role in the state legislature’s affairs are back in focus amid the political crisis in Rajasthan.
    • Congress legislators backing Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot have accused the Governor of acting under pressure.
    • But, Is the Governor bound by the advice of the chief minister-led council of ministers when it comes to convening the assembly session and to what extent can the governor exercise his discretion?
  • What does the Constitution say?
    • The Constitution’s Articles 163 and 174 are relevant in the context of the governor’s powers to convene the state assembly.
      1. Article 163 says there shall be a CM-led council of ministers to aid and advise the governor except when he is required, under the Constitution, to exercise functions in his/her discretion.
      2. Article 174 says the governor “shall from time to time summon the House of the state…as he thinks fit but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for first sitting in the next session”.
  • What has the Supreme Court said in this regard?
    • The 2016 Supreme Court judgment in the Nabam Rebia v Deputy Speaker held that the governor’s power to summon, prorogue and dissolve the House should be only on the advice of the council of ministers. And not on his own.
    • The judgment, however, also held that if the governor has reasons to believe the council of ministers has lost the confidence of the House, he can ask the chief minister to prove the majority.
  • Conclusion:
    • The Governor has no discretionary powers in summoning a session of the Assembly, and he or she is bound to act according to the aid and advice of the CM and the Council of Ministers.
    • But, the Governor can require the CM and the Council of Ministers to seek a trust vote if he or she has reasons to believe that they have lost the confidence of the Assembly.

Appointment of Government Servants as Gram Panchayat Administrator

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Bombay High Court passed an interim order directing that a government servant of the local authority be appointed as an administrator of gram panchayats in Maharashtra.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The High Court passed an interim order after two petitions were filed on the Maharashtra Village Panchayat (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, and the government resolutions (GRs) issued by the State Rural Development Department.
    • The GRs and ordinance were challenged on various grounds and relate to the appointment of private individuals as administrators of gram panchayats.
    • A group of petitions also challenged an ordinance, which amended Section 151 of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act by allowing the appointment of administrators in case the State Election Commission (SEC) could not hold elections due to a natural calamity, pandemic emergency, financial emergency or administrative emergency.
  • Petitioners’ arguments:
    • The appointments of private administrators is not warranted in law and such mass appointments will have a lasting adverse impact on the local governance.
    • There are enough officers from different departments of the State and local authorities to be appointed as administrators, and this excuse is only to achieve certain political ends.
  • State government’s arguments:
    • There is an urgent need for administrators to run the panchayats as pandemic has halted the election process.
    • There are a large number of gram panchayats in the State and the government servants are already overburdened. So, it is difficult to appoint them as administrators.
  • What has the Court ruled?
    • As an interim measure, the administrator to be appointed under the ordinance and resolutions, should be a government servant or an officer from the local authority.
    • If not available and the appointment of a private individual is to be made, then each such order shall record the reasons because of which such officer was not available.
    • The criteria that administrators have to be “a resident of the village and on the voters’ list'' is directory, not mandatory in nature.
    • Local authority offices should be the first choice for appointment as an administrator.

Police reform and the crucial judicial actor

  • Context:
    • The death of a father and son due to alleged custodial torture in Sathankulam town near Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu has brought into focus the topic “Police reforms and the role of Judiciary “.
  • Such recurring incidents also raise one significant question:
    • How many more times must powerless citizens suffer the blows of a lathi or a baton, the kicks of patent leather boots, be violated by the “wooden rollers” around their private areas, not to mention spending hours inside a police lockup, all as a part of an “investigation” by police searching for “truth”.
  • Role of judiciary:
    • As always, when the conversation veers in this direction it becomes natural to look towards the judiciary as the source of hope and action.
    • In this case, the Madurai High Court has taken notice on its own and is “closely” monitoring the situation.
  • How has the Supreme Court handled this topic in the past?
    • Supreme Court has intervened multiple times in the 1990s through cases such as Joginder Kumar v. State of UP [AIR 1994 SC 1349] and D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal [(1997) 1 SCC 416], where guidelines were passed to try and secure two rights in the context of any state action:
      1. A right to life.
      2. A right to know.
    • Through the guidelines, the Court sought to curb the power of arrest, as well as ensure that an accused person is made aware of all critical information regarding her arrest and also convey this to friends and family immediately in the event of being taken in custody.
    • The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008 gave statutory backing to these judicial guidelines; it remains part of the law today.
    • Finally, in Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006) case, the Court pushed through new legislation for governing police forces to be passed by States across India.
    • A key component of the new legislation was a robust setup for accountability that contemplated a grievance redress mechanism.
  • What else has been advised by the judiciary to reduce police violence?
    1. Support for “scientific” investigations.
    2. Fascination for techniques such as narcoanalysis, ensuring video recording of investigations.
    3. Passing orders for installing closed-circuit television cameras inside police stations.
  • Why judicial interventions have failed to curb the violence?
    • Judiciary’s approach of simply passing directions and guidelines, has proven to be a failure.
    • For it is the ordinary magistrate, and not the constitutional court, who is the judicial actor wielding real power to realise substantial change in police practices.
    • The gap between the highest court and the lowly police officer in India has been demonstrated through studies that show how despite criminal laws being struck down as unconstitutional, they continue to be enforced in various parts of the country by local police.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Rather than expend energies in only passing more guidelines, constitutional courts must seriously contend with the concrete cases that come their way and expose how hard it is for a common man to get justice against police violence, either through compensation claims or prosecutions.
    • They must shed the institutional baggage which often leads to them protecting the supposedly vulnerable morale of the police.
    • It is time to consider sanctions at a larger scale and impose monetary penalties at the district level, to drive home the message that the erring actions of one officer must be seen as a failure of the force itself.
    • They could strike an inspired move by reorienting their guidelines to try and change the practices of magistrates, over whom they exercise powers of superintendence, as opposed to other non-judicial actors.

Kanpur Encounter case and policing issues

  • Context:
    • All the staff of a police station in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh — where 8 policemen were shot down by Vikas Dubey and his gang on Friday — are suspected of leaking information to the notorious criminal.
    • This incident bears the violent signature of a dysfunctional society and alarming emaciation of governance in India’s most populous state.
  • What does this incident expose?
    • Gangster Vikas Dubey is the symbol of the nexus between politics, crime, and policing in many parts of the country.
    • The circumstances that went into the making of this incident and the response of the administration all point to the same morbid affliction that can be fatal to any democratic society — the collapse of the rule of law.
    • Criminal gangs shielded by politics and police forces that bend to caste, communal and political vested interests form a malevolent circuit that perpetuates itself and rewards its patrons.
  • Reasons for the present crisis in policing:
    • The police force is the coercive arm of the state often in direct contact with ordinary citizens. The quality of policing therefore has an outsized impact on the overall quality of governance.
    • But, Poor training, an alienating and dehumanising work environment, corruption, and a lack of resources add to the crisis in policing.
    • Politicians in power often use the police the same way politicians out of power use gangsters.
    • Not surprisingly, there are times when the police mirror in character the criminal gangs they chase down.
    • Questionable coercive measures such as collective punishment and criminalisation of political protest and suppression of freedom of expression have also been mainstreamed as regular policing tools.
  • Need of the hour- Smart policing:
    • ‘SMART’ police force is Strict and Sensitive, Modern and Mobile, Alert and Accountable, Reliable and Responsive; Techno-savvy, and Trained.
    • There is an urgent need to strengthen our Criminal Justice System and our grassroots level policing institutions; to prepare our police to deal with the present and emerging challenges and Strengthen its investigative capabilities and emergency response infrastructure.
    • Considering the multiple causes and their complex interdependencies associated with today’s policing issues, there is a realization that these challenges require broader, more collaborative and innovative approaches and would involve a range of coordinated and interrelated responses.
  • Directions of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh vs Union of India:
    1. Constitute a State Security Commission in every state that will lay down policy for police functioning, evaluate police performance, and ensure that state governments do not exercise unwarranted influence on the police.
    2. Constitute a Police Establishment Board in every state that will decide postings, transfers, and promotions for officers below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, and make recommendations to the state government for officers of higher ranks.
    3. Constitute Police Complaints Authorities at the state and district levels to inquire into allegations of serious misconduct and abuse of power by police personnel.
    4. Provide a minimum tenure of at least two years for the DGP and other key police officers within the state forces.
    5. Ensure that the DGP of state police is appointed from amongst three senior-most officers who have been empanelled for the promotion by the Union Public Service Commission on the basis of length of service, good record and experience.
    6. Separate the investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.
    7. Constitute a National Security Commission to shortlist the candidates for appointment as Chiefs of the central armed police forces.
  • Besides, Various expert bodies have examined issues with police organisation and functioning over the last few decades. Its chronology as follows:
    1. National Police commission 1977-81
    2. Rubeiro Committee 1998
    3. Padmanabhaiah committee 2000
    4. Malimath committee 2002-03
    5. Police Act drafting committee 2005
    6. Second ARC 2007
    7. Police Act drafting committee-II 2015

Extra-judicial Killings

  • Context:
    • Recent killing of Vikas Dubey by the Uttar Pradesh Police in an encounter has brought back the focus on extrajudicial killings and issues associated.
    • The government has formed a one-member judicial commission to probe this saga. The commission is headed by Justice (retd), Shashi Kant.
  • Laws Dealing with Encounters:
    • At the outset, there is no provision in the Indian law which directly authorizes an official to encounter a criminal irrespective of the grievousness of the crime committed by him/her.
    • However, there are some enabling provisions that may be construed so as to vest officials with the power to deal with criminals including the power to use force against a criminal.
  • 1. Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860:
    • It authorizes any person to exercise his right of private defense which may extend to causing death if there is reasonable apprehension in the mind of the person that there exists a threat to life or limb.
  • 2. Section 46 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973:
    • It permits a police officer to use all means necessary to effect the arrest of the person.
  • 3. Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code:
    • It provides that culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, being a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice exceeds the power given to him by law and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the discharge of his duty and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused.
  • View of the Supreme Court:
    • The Apex Court has held in:
      1. Om Prakash v. State of Jharkhand that “it is not the duty of the police to kill the accused merely because he is a criminal.” It was further stated that ‘encounters’ amounted to “state-sponsored terrorism.”
      2. Sathyavani Ponrai v. Samuel Raj that a fair investigation is mandatory under Articles 14, 21, and 39 of the Constitution of India and that it is not only a constitutional right but a natural right as well.
      3. Nirmal Singh Kahlon v. State of Punjab that the right to investigation and fair trial is applicable to both, the accused and the victim under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
      4. Prakash Kadam v. Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta that a fake encounter by a police official falls under the category of ‘rarest of rare case’ as laid down in Bachan Singh v. the State of Punjab and therefore, the death penalty would be attracted to the concerned police official.
      5. Public Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India that not even State can violate the right to life and obligation to follow the procedure established by law under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Court opined that encounter killings by the police must be investigated independently as it “affects the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of the criminal justice system.”
  • View of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC):
    • NHRC has stated that under the laws of India, the police officials have no right to take away the life of another person.
    • If by his act, the police official kills a person, he will be booked for culpable homicide unless it is proved to the contrary that such an act did not constitute an offence.
    • Further, in 2010, the NHRC has laid down guidelines/procedures to be followed in cases of deaths caused in police action.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/extra-judicial-killings/

Legislature:

Strength of M.P. Ministry exceeds Constitutional limit

  • Context:
    • Congress is planning to move the court as the strength of the Council of Ministers in Madhya Pradesh reportedly exceeds the prescribed limit.
  • Background:
    • Recently, 20 Cabinet Ministers and eight Ministers of State were included in the Council of Ministers, expanding it to 34.
    • This is more than 15% of the effective strength of the legislators at 206. The strength of the Council of Ministers shouldn’t have exceeded 30.
    • The Assembly strength of 228 dropped in March when 22 rebel Congress MLAs resigned and later switched over to the BJP. Two seats fell vacant earlier owing to deaths.
  • What does the Constitution say?
    • Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution prescribed that the total number of Ministers, including the Chief Minister, in the Council of Ministers in a State shall not exceed 15% of the total number of members of the Legislative Assembly of that State.
    • This provision was introduced through the 91st Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2003.
  • Exceptions:
    • Provided that the number of Ministers, including the Chief Minister in a State, shall not be less than twelve.
  • Article 163: Council of Ministers to aid and advise Governor
    1. There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions, except in so far as he is by or under this Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.
    2. If any question arises whether any matter is or is not a matter as respects which the Governor is by or under this Constitution required to act in his discretion, the decision of the Governor in his discretion shall be final, and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in his discretion.
    3. The question whether any and if so what, the advice was tendered by Ministers to the Governor shall not be inquired into in any court.
      • Article 164 (2) provides that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the State Legislative Assembly.
      • Article 164 (4) provides that a person can remain as Minister without being a member of the state legislature for a period of six consecutive months.

Fiscal council

  • What is a fiscal council?
    • Fiscal councils are independent public institutions aimed at strengthening commitments to sustainable public finances through various functions, including public assessments of fiscal plans and performance, and the evaluation or provision of macroeconomic and budgetary forecasts.
    • Fiscal councils are now part of the institutional fiscal apparatus of over 50 countries, including several emerging and developing economies.
  • Composition and How should they function? (Recommendations by 14th FC)
    • The 14th Finance Commission recommended that an independent Fiscal Council should be established through an amendment to the FRBM Act, by inserting a new Section mandating the establishment of an independent
    • Fiscal Council to undertake an ex-ante assessment of budget proposals and to ensure their consistency with fiscal policy and Rules.
    • The council is supposed to be appointed by, and report to, Parliament and should have its own budget.
    • The functions of the council include ex-ante evaluation of the fiscal implications of the budget proposals which includes evaluation of how real the forecasts are and their consistency with the fiscal rules and estimating the cost of various proposals made in the budget.
    • The ex-post evaluation and monitoring of the budget were left to the CAG.
  • Why India needs a fiscal council?
    1. Various cesses and surcharges are becoming a disproportionate proportion of overall divisible revenue.
    2. There should be some mechanism to ensure that the basic spirit of the devolution process should not be undercut by clever financial engineering or taking recourse to traditions.
    3. There is a need for coordination between the finance committee as well as the GST Council.
    4. GST Council has no clue what the Finance Commission is doing and the Finance Commission has an even lesser clue of what the GST Council is doing.
    5. Also, for state government liabilities, Article 293 (3) provides a constitutional check over borrowings. But there is no such restriction on the Centre.
      • Therefore, it is time to have an alternative institutional mechanism like the Fiscal Council to enforce fiscal rules and keep a check on Centre’s fiscal consolidation.
  • How COVID 19 pandemic has made it more relevant?
    • The government needs to borrow and spend more now in order to support vulnerable households and engineer an economic recovery.
    • But that will mean a steep rise in debt Which will jeopardise medium-term growth prospects, an issue prominently flagged by all the rating agencies in the recent evaluations.
  • Expert committee recommendations on the fiscal council:
    • In India, two expert committees have advocated the institution of such a council in recent years.
    • In 2017, the N.K. Singh committee on the review of fiscal rules set up by the finance ministry suggested the creation of an independent fiscal council that would provide forecasts and advises the government on whether conditions exist for deviation from the mandated fiscal rules.
    • In 2018, the D.K. Srivastava committee on fiscal statistics established by the National Statistical Commission (NSC) also suggested the establishment of a fiscal council that could co-ordinate with all levels of government to provide harmonized fiscal statistics across governmental levels and provide an annual assessment of overall public sector borrowing requirements.
    • These recommendations follow similar recommendations from the 13th and 14th finance commissions, which also advocated the establishment of independent fiscal agencies to review the government’s adherence to fiscal rules and to provide independent assessments of budget proposals.

Judiciary:

Padmanabhaswamy temple case

  • Context:
    • Reversing the 2011 Kerala High Court decision, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of the Travancore royal family to manage the property of deity at Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
    • The Temple has been in the news since 2011 after the discovery of treasure worth over Rs. 1 lakh crore in its underground vaults.
  • What was the case?
    • The central legal question was whether Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the younger brother of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last Ruler of Travancore, could claim to be the “Ruler of Travancore” after the death of the ruler in 1991.
    • The court examined this claim within the limited meaning of that term according to the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 to claim ownership, control, and management of the ancient Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple.
  • The judgment:
    • The Supreme Court (SC) has reversed the 2011 Kerala High Court decision, which had directed the Kerala government to set up a trust to control the management and assets of the temple.
    • The court said that, as per customary law, the shebait rights (right to manage the financial affairs of the deity) survive with the members of the family even after the death of the last ruler.
    • The court defined ‘shebait’ as the “custodian of the idol, its earthly spokesman, its authorised representative entitled to deal with all its temporal affairs and to manage its property”.
  • Directions:
    • Accepting the royals’ submission that the temple is a “public temple”, the court issued a slew of directions for its transparent administration in the future.
    • It directed the setting up of an administrative committee with the Thiruvananthapuram District Judge as its chairperson.
    • The other members would be a nominee of the trustee (royal family), the chief thanthri of the temple, a nominee of the State, and a member nominated by the Union Ministry of Culture. This committee would take care of the daily administration of the temple.
    • It also ordered a second committee to be constituted to advise the administrative committee on policy matters.
    • This would be chaired by a retired High Court judge nominated by the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court.
  • Who had the ownership, control, and management of the Padmanabhaswamy temple before 1991? (Have a brief overview of the events):
    • All the temples which were under the control and management of the erstwhile Princely States of Travancore and Cochin were under the control of the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards before 1947.
      1. However, as per the Instrument of Accession signed between the princely states and the Government of India, since 1949, the administration of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was “vested in trust” in the Ruler of Travancore.
      2. The state of Kerala was carved out in 1956 but the temple continued to be managed by the erstwhile royals.
      3. In 1971, privy purses to the former royals were abolished through a constitutional amendment stripping their entitlements and privileges.
      4. In 1991, when the last ruler’s brother took over the temple management, it created a furor among devotees who moved the courts leading to a long-drawn legal battle. The government joined in; supporting the claims of the petitioner that Marthanda Varma had no legal right to claim the control or management of the temple.
  • Why Article 366 is in News?
    • The High Court (HC) had ruled that the successor to the erstwhile royals could not claim to be in control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple after the amendment of definition of ‘Ruler’ in Article 366 (22) of the Constitution of India.
    • The definition of Ruler was amended by the Twenty-Sixth (Constitutional) Amendment Act, 1971, which abolished the privy purses.
    • Article 366 (22) reads, “Ruler” means the Prince, Chief or other person who, at any time before the commencement of the Twenty-Sixth (Constitutional) Amendment Act, 1971, was recognised as the Ruler of an Indian State or was recognised as the successor of such Ruler.

Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act of 1968.
  • What’s the issue?
    • An appeal is filed in the Supreme Court by people who are Shakthi worshippers, and for whom, animal sacrifice is an integral part of the worship.
    • In their appeal, they said the animal sacrifice was an “essential religious practice”.
    • But, the 1968 State law bans the killing of animals and birds for religious sacrifices. However, the act does not ban killing for personal consumption.
    • This amounted to arbitrary classification and is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
    • It also violates the right to practice religion and manage religious affairs under articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
    • The appellants said if the killing of animals and birds was to be prohibited, let it be so for all purposes – religious or otherwise.
    • Besides, Section 28 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960 does not make the killing of animals for religious purposes an offence.
  • What had the High Court said?
    • Recently, the Kerala High Court had dismissed the PIL on the ground that no material was brought on record to establish that the practice was essential to the religion.
    • The High Court had observed that the Prevention of Cruelty Act does not have the word “sacrifice” for the purpose of religion.

Separate anti-torture law

  • Context:
    • The alleged torture of a father-son duo in Sattankulam town in Tamil Nadu has once again given rise to the demand for a separate law against torture.
    • It is therefore essential to examine whether the existing law is inadequate to deter incidents of custodial torture.
  • What constitutes torture?
    • Torture is not defined in the Indian Penal Code, but the definitions of ‘hurt’ and ‘grievous hurt’ are clearly laid down.
    • Though the definition of ‘hurt’ does not include mental torture, Indian courts have included psychic torture, environmental coercion, tiring interrogative prolixity, and overbearing and intimidatory methods, among others, in the ambit of torture.
    • Voluntarily causing hurt and grievous hurt to extort confession are also provided in the Code with enhanced punishment.
  • How the Supreme Court has dealt with custodial torture cases?
    • DK Basu v. State of West Bengal case: The Court has issued guidelines that the police must follow in all cases of arrest and detention.
    • Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa case: The Court made sure that the state could no longer escape liability in public law and had to be compelled to pay compensation.
    • Similarly, the Court has held in many cases that policemen found guilty of custodial death should be given the death penalty.
  • Observations by law commissions:
    • 262nd Law Commission Report recommended that the death penalty be abolished except in cases of ‘terrorism-related offences’.
    • 273rd Report of the Law Commission recommended ratification of the U.N. Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment (CAT).
    • CAT was signed by India but is yet to be ratified.
  • Other safeguards:
    1. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, a judicial magistrate inquires into every custodial death.
    2. The National Human Rights Commission has laid down specific guidelines for conducting autopsy under the eyes of the camera.
  • What needs to be done?
    • We first need to implement the law as we have it.
    • Then, the investigations, the prosecutions are not fair; these must be rectified first.
    • The police need to be trained better. The temptation to use third-degree methods must be replaced with scientific skills.
    • Thus, the need of the hour is to strike at the root cause of the problem and implement recommendations of various commissions to bring in necessary reforms.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • About UNCAT and key provisions:
      • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture(UNCAT)) aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
      • The Convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction and forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
      • The Convention was adopted on 10 December 1984 and came into force on 26 June 1987. 26 June is now recognized as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in honor of the Convention.
    • About the Committee against Torture (CAT):
      • It is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the Convention by State parties.
      • The Committee is one of eight UN-linked human rights treaty bodies.
      • All state parties are obliged under the Convention to submit regular reports to the CAT on how rights are being implemented.
      • Upon ratifying the Convention, states must submit a report within one year, after which they are obliged to report every four years.

Judicial review can’t be available prior to Speaker’s decision

  • Context:
    • Rajasthan Speaker CP Joshi has served notices to 19 Congress MLAs including Sachin Pilot asking them why they cannot be disqualified. The MLAs have time until July 17 to reply.
    • Congress in its complaint to the Speaker has accused the rebel MLAs of attempting to jump parties.
  • Why has the Speaker served notice to the 19 Congress MLAs?
    • The notice has been served under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, popularly known as the anti-defection law.
  • Can the MLAs go to court at any time before the July 17 deadline to reply?
    • Courts have been extremely reluctant to interfere with the powers of the Speaker under the Tenth Schedule.
    • While deciding on the disqualification, the Speaker exercises powers that have been conferred to him under the Constitution.
    • Even when challenged, as it was in the case of Karnataka in 2019, the court gave time to the Speaker to decide on the pleas.
  • Supreme Court’s ruling in ‘Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu And Others’ (1992) case:
    • The court upheld the sweeping discretion available to the Speaker in deciding cases of disqualification of MLAs.
    • While the Speaker’s decisions can be challenged subsequently, the court cannot stay or prevent the process.
    • Hence, judicial review cannot be available at a stage prior to the making of a decision by the Speaker/Chairman and a quia time action would not be permissible. Nor would interference be permissible at an interlocutory stage of the proceedings.
    • Besides, the Court can review only infirmities based on violation of constitutional mandate, mala fides, non-compliance with rules of natural justice, and perversity.
  • Fundamental Rights in question:
    • Ousted Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and other 18 MLAs have approached the Rajasthan High Court challenging the constitutionality of Paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule which makes “voluntarily giving up membership of a political party” liable for disqualification.
    • The MLAs have said the provision infringes into their right to express dissent and is a violation of their fundamental right to free speech as a legislator.

Disabled are entitled to the same benefits of SC/ST quota: SC

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court, in a significant decision, has confirmed that persons suffering from disabilities are also socially backward and entitled to the same benefits of relaxation as Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe candidates in public employment and education.
    • The Court has upheld a 2012 judgment of the Delhi High Court in Anamol Bhandari (minor) through his father/Natural Guardian v. Delhi Technological University in a significant decision.
  • What was the case?
    • A petition was filed Aryan Raj, a special needs person, against the Government College of Arts, Chandigarh.
    • The college denied Mr. Raj relaxation in minimum qualifying marks in the Painting and Applied Art course.
    • The college insisted that disabled persons to need to meet the general qualifying standard of 40% in the aptitude test, whereas SC/ST candidates were given relaxation to 35%.
  • Need for reservations:
    • Intellectually/mentally challenged persons have certain limitations, which are not there in physically challenged persons.
  • What needs to be done?
    1. New academic courses should be crafted to specifically cater to the needs of intellectually disabled persons.
    2. The subject experts should examine the feasibility of creating a course that caters to the specific needs of such persons.
    3. They may also examine increasing the number of seats in the discipline of Painting and Applied Art with a view to accommodating such students.

Plea bargaining

  • Context:
    • Many members of the Tablighi Jamaat belonging to different countries have obtained release from court cases in recent days by means of plea bargaining.
  • What is Plea Bargaining?
    • It refers to a person charged with a criminal offence negotiating with the prosecution for a lesser punishment than what is provided in law by pleading guilty to a less serious offence.
    • It primarily involves pre-trial negotiations between the accused and the prosecutor. It may involve bargaining on the charge or in the quantum of sentence.
  • When was it introduced in India?
    • Plea bargaining was introduced in 2006 as part of a set of amendments to the CrPC as Chapter XXI-A, containing Sections 265A to 265L.
  • In what circumstances is it allowed? How does it work?
    • In India, a plea bargaining process can be initiated only by the accused;
    • The accused will have to apply to the court for invoking the benefit of bargaining.
    • The applicant should state that it is a voluntary preference and that he has understood the nature and extent of punishment provided in law for the offence.
    • The court would then issue a notice to the prosecutor and the complainant or victim, if any, for a hearing.
    • The voluntary nature of the application must be ascertained by the judge in an in-camera hearing at which the other side should not be present.
    • Thereafter, the court may permit the prosecutor, the investigating officer, and the victim to hold a meeting for a “satisfactory disposition of the case”.
    • The outcome may involve payment of compensation and other expenses to the victim by the accused.
    • Once mutual satisfaction is reached, the court shall formalise the arrangement by way of a report signed by all the parties and the presiding officer.
    • The accused may be sentenced to a prison term that is half the minimum period fixed for the offence.
    • If there is no minimum term prescribed, the sentence should run up to one-fourth of the maximum sentence stipulated in the law.
  • Cases for which the practice is allowed are limited:
    • Only someone who has been charge-sheeted for an offence that does not attract the death sentence, life sentence or a prison term above seven years can make use of the scheme under Chapter XXI-A.
    • It is also applicable to private complaints of which a criminal court has taken cognisance.
    • It is not available for those that involve offences affecting the “socio-economic conditions” of the country or committed against a woman or a child below the age of 14.
  • What is the rationale for the scheme?
    • The Justice Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system endorsed the various recommendations of the Law Commission with regard to plea bargaining.
  • Advantages:
    1. Ensure speedy trial.
    2. End uncertainty over the outcome of criminal cases.
    3. Save litigation costs and relieve the parties of anxiety.
    4. Impact on conviction rates.
    5. Help offenders make a fresh start in life.

Contempt of Court: Prashant Bhushan Case

  • Context: 
    • The Supreme Court has initiated suo motu  proceedings for criminal contempt against Advocate Prashant Bhushan for two of his tweets on Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde as well as former CJIs
  • What were the tweets about?
    • In one of his tweets, Bhushan had written about the “role of the Supreme Court” in the “destruction” of democracy during the last 6 years, and had also mentioned the “role of the last 4 CJIs” in it. 
    • In another tweet, Bhushan had commented on Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde astride a Harley Davidson bike. He had questioned the CJI for riding a bike without a helmet and a face mask, while “he keeps the SC in lockdown mode”. 
  • Contempt of court
    • Contempt of court is an act of disrespect or disobedience towards a judge or court’s officers or interference with its orderly process. 
    • The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 categorises contempt of courts as:
      • Civil contempt:  
        • It is willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ, or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court. 
      • Criminal contempt:
        • Anything that “scandalises or tends to scandalise” the judiciary or “lowers the court’s authority” 
      • Safeguards:
        • However, innocent publication and distribution of some matter, fair and reasonable criticism of judicial acts and comment on the administrative side of the judiciary do not amount to contempt of court. 
      • Punishments:
        • The supreme court and high courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both. 
      • Amendment in 2006:
        • Truth and good faith were recognised as valid defences against charges of contempt of court.
  • Constitutional Provisions:
    • Article 129:
      • Grants Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
    • Article 142(2):
      • Enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.
    • Article 215:
      • Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
      • However, the expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution.
  • Contempt of Courts:
    • As per the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, contempt refers to the offence of showing disrespect to the dignity or authority of a court. The Act divides contempt into civil and criminal contempt.
      • Civil contempt:
        • It is willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ, or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court.
      • Criminal contempt:
        • It is an act which may result in:
          • Scandalising the court by lowering its authority.
          • Interference in the due course of a judicial proceeding.
          • An obstruction in the administration of justice.
  • Amendment:
    • The Contempt of Courts Act 1971 was amended in 2006 to include the defence of truth under Section 13 of the original legislation.
    • Implying that the court must permit justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest.
    • Further, innocent publication and distribution of some matter, fair and reasonable criticism of judicial acts and comment on the administrative side of the judiciary do not amount to contempt of court.
  • Punishment for Contempt of Court:
    • The Supreme Court and High Courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to Rs. 2,000 or with both.
    • In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that it has the power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts, and tribunals functioning in the entire country.
    • On the other hand, High Courts have been given special powers to punish contempt of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.
  • Need for Contempt Law:
    • To insulate the judiciary from unfair attacks and prevent a sudden fall in the judiciary’s reputation in the public eye.
    • It helps judges to do their duties of deciding cases without fear, favour, affection, or ill will.
  • Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006:
    • The statute of 1971 has been amended by the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006 to include the defence of truth under Section 13 of the original legislation.
      • Section 13:
        • Restrict the powers of the court in that they were not to hold anyone in contempt unless it would substantially interfere with the due process of justice. 
        • The amendment further states that the court must permit ‘justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest and the request for invoking the said defence is bona fide.’
    • Already, contempt has practically become obsolete in foreign democracies, with jurisdictions recognising that it is an archaic law, designed for use in a bygone era, whose utility and necessity has long vanished.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/contempt-of-court-prashant-bhushan-case-analysis/

International Relations

Dialogues And Talks:

Reviving SAARC to deal with China

  • Context:
    • Amid India- China border tensions, as part of its global expansionism, China is chipping away at India’s interests in South Asia.
      1. China’s proximity to Pakistan is well known.
      2. Nepal is moving closer to China for ideational and material reasons.
      3. China is wooing Bangladesh by offering tariff exemption to 97% of Bangladeshi products.
      4. It has also intensified its ties with Sri Lanka through massive investments.
    • So, most South Asian nations are now largely dependent on China for imports despite geographical proximity to India.
    • This should be a major cause for concern for New Delhi.
  • Why SAARC is relevant now?
    • Several foreign policy experts argue that India’s strategic dealing with China has to begin with South Asia.
    • In this regard, it is important to reinvigorate SAARC, which has been in the doldrums since 2014.
    • In the last few years, due to increasing animosity with Pakistan, India’s political interest in SAARC dipped significantly.
    • India started investing in other regional instruments, such as BIMSTEC, as an alternative to SAARC.
    • However, BIMSTEC cannot replace SAARC for reasons such as lack of a common identity and history among all BIMSTEC members. Moreover, BIMSTEC’s focus is on the Bay of Bengal region, thus making it an inappropriate forum to engage all South Asian nations.
  • What needs to be done now?
    • To revive the process of South Asian economic integration.
    • South Asia is one of the least integrated regions in the world with intra-regional trade teetering at barely 5% of total South Asian trade, compared to 25% of intra-regional trade in the ASEAN region.
    • While South Asian countries have signed trade treaties, the lack of political will and trust deficit has prevented any meaningful movement.
    • According to the World Bank, trade-in South Asia stands at $23 billion of an estimated value of $67 billion.
    • India should take the lead and work with its neighbours to slash the tariff and non-tariff barriers.
    • There’s a need to resuscitate the negotiations on a SAARC investment treaty, pending since 2007.
  • Challenges ahead:
    • There has been anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobia on the Indian soil. There’s also a recurrent use of the ‘Bangladeshi migrant’ rhetoric.
    • Such majoritarian politics influence foreign policy in undesirable ways. It dents India’s soft power of being a liberal and secular democracy, which gives moral legitimacy to India’s leadership in the region.
    • Next, the economic vision of the government remains convoluted. It’s unclear what the slogans of atma nirbharta (self-reliance) and ‘vocal for local’ mean.
    • Many are stating that India needs to cut down its dependence on imports, thus signalling a return to the obsolete economic philosophy of import substitution.
    • If this marks sliding back to protectionism, one is unsure if India will be interested in deepening South Asian economic integration.
  • Conclusion:
    • Deeper regional economic integration will create greater interdependence with India acquiring the central role, which, in turn, would serve India’s strategic interests too.

Bhutan demarches China on its claim to Sakteng Sanctuary

  • Context:
    • Bhutan’s foreign ministry has issued a demarche to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi for the claims made by Beijing over Sakteng Wildlife sanctuary, situated in eastern Bhutan.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Bhutan's western and middle sectors have been in dispute with China (Jakarlung, Pasamlung, and Chumbi Valley). However, the eastern sector has not been part of the boundary talks and China had not claimed rights over Sakteng wildlife sanctuary earlier.
    • The recent claim was made at the 58th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council where China tried to “oppose” funding to a project for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary situated in Bhutan saying that it was “disputed” territory.
    • While Thimphu and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic relations, the two sides have been in talks to resolve the border issues between the two countries and demarcate the boundary.
  • Where is Sakteng wildlife sanctuary?
    • Sakteng is based in Eastern Bhutan or Trashigang Dzongkhag (district) that borders Arunachal Pradesh.
    • It protects several endemic species including the eastern blue pine and the black-rumped magpie.
    • It was created in part to protect the migoi, a yetilike cryptid whose existence has not been scientifically confirmed, but in which the local population strongly believes.
  • About GEF:
    • Established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems.
    • It is an international partnership of countries, international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector that addresses global environmental issues.
    • GEF funds are available to developing countries and countries with economies in transition to meet the objectives of the international environmental conventions and agreements.
    • The World Bank serves as the GEF Trustee, administering the GEF Trust Fund.

Lesson from Doklam: No de-escalation until the full return of status quo

  • Context:
    • First signs have emerged that India and China are disengaging — even if partially — on the ground in Ladakh.
    • Both sides have pulled back their troops from the site of the June 15 clash in Galwan Valley.
    • However, Pointing out to the outcome of the Doklam stand-off in 2017 as a marker, Experts have said;
    • The government must not agree to de-escalate the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh without an agreement on returning to “status quo ante” or the situation before the stand-off began.
  • Why so?
    • It is because the lesson for us in Doklam is that disengagement is not enough in order to declare an end to tensions at the LAC. It is necessary that we define endpoints up to where the troops must withdraw to and no understanding should be reached without the restoration of status quo ante.
  • How the Doklam issue ended?
    • It has been more than two years since the Doklam standoff took place.
    • According to experts, however, while the disengagement brought an end to hostilities between India and China over China’s attempt to build a road near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction area, transgressing into Bhutanese territory, it did not stop the PLA’s construction work right across the Doklam plateau.
    • Thus, the conclusion is that if the military only agrees on disengagement and de-escalation, it may end up at a disadvantage.
  • What happened at Doklam?
    • In Doklam, the faceoff had taken place over territory belonging to Bhutan, which has a border security agreement with India.
    • The Chinese wanted to take control of the territory, called Doklam, to come closer to what is known as the chicken's neck or the Silliguri Corridor of India that connects the Northeast with the rest of the country.
    • It was practically an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff which ended in the view of China hosting BRICS and India refusing to back down, and a possible boycott of the summit. The standoff ended with diplomatic interference.

Indian trawlers in Sri Lanka and issues associated

  • Context:
    • Sri Lanka’s Fishermen along the northern coast of Jaffna Peninsula, especially Point Pedro, have complained to northern Fisheries authorities about their nets being found damaged in the sea, after being caught under the large Indian trawlers that were reportedly in Sri Lanka's territorial waters.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The Indo-Lanka fisheries conflict became a strain on the countries’ bilateral ties, with talks at the highest levels and among fisher leaders on both sides proving futile for years.
    • Main Arguments put forth by Sri Lankan fishermen are that Indian trawlers hamper their fish production and the marine habitat – scooping out marine organisms, including fishes and prawns.
    • Furthermore, their livelihoods, now under strain due to the coronavirus pandemic that has impaired exports, would be further hit by the Indian trawlers.
  • How the Sri Lankan government is handling the situation?
    • In the last couple of years, Sri Lanka introduced tougher laws banning bottom-trawling, and heavy fines for trespassing foreign vessels.
    • The Sri Lankan Navy arrested over 450 Indian fishermen in 2017 and 156 in 2018 on charges of poaching.
    • A total of 210 arrests were made in 2019, while 34 have been made so far in 2020.
  • What is bottom trawling?
    • Bottom trawling is a destructive fishing practice that affects the marine ecosystem. The practice, which involves trawlers dragging weighted nets along the seafloor, is known to cause great depletion of fishery resources, and curbing it is in the interest of sustainable fishing.
  • India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary agreements:
    • Both countries signed four maritime boundary agreements between 1974 and 1976 to define the international maritime boundary between them.
    • This was done to facilitate law enforcement and resource management in the waters since both countries are located closely in the Indian Ocean, particularly in Palk Strait.
      1. The first agreement was regarding the maritime boundary between Adam's Bridge and the Palk Strait. It came into force on July 8, 1974.
      2. The second agreement came into force on May 10, 1976, and it defined the maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal.
      3. India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives signed an agreement for the determination of the tri-junction point in the Gulf of Mannar in July 1976.
      4. In November 1976, India and Sri Lanka signed another agreement to extend the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mannar.

Afghan exports to India through Wagah border

  • Context:
    • Pakistan will allow Afghanistan to send goods to India using the Wagah border from July 15. The decision is part of Islamabad’s commitment under the Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement.
    • However, Islamabad is silent about allowing the same facility to India for exports to Afghanistan.
  • About APTTA:
    • Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (also known as APTTA) is a bilateral trade agreement signed in 2010 by Pakistan and Afghanistan that calls for greater facilitation in the movement of goods amongst the two countries.
  • What are the problems with APTTA?
    1. Pakistan has lately closed its borders with Afghanistan multiple times, where it has used blockades for arm-twisting political circles in Afghanistan.
    2. This usually causes priced to spiral in Afghan markets as costlier or smuggled imports are what satiates demand.

Iran drops India from Chabahar rail project

  • Context:
    • Iran has decided to move ahead with the construction of a railway line from Chabahar port to Zahedan without any assistance from India due to a delay in funding.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The railway line project was part of India’s commitment to the trilateral agreement with Afghanistan and Iran to build an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
    • The deal was finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran in 2016.
    • Indian Railways Construction Ltd (IRCON) had promised assistance to the railway line project besides financing worth $1.6 billion. However, the work was never started as the United States imposed sanctions on Iran.
    • While there was a waiver on US sanctions for the specific railway line project, India found it hard to pick equipment suppliers who were worried about possible action from the US.
  • Concerns for India:
    • The development comes at a time when Iran is seeking to finalise a 25-year economic and security partnership with China. The deal is worth $400 billion.
    • The deal between Iran and China — if finalised — could result in a vast expansion of Chinese presence in various sectors of Iran including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, and numerous other projects.
    • Considering that Iran has been an important strategic ally for New Delhi, the deal could hurt India’s prospects in the region, especially at a time when its relations with China have soured further in the aftermath of the recent border standoff.
  • Where is Chabahar Port?
    • Located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • Why Chabahar port is important for India?
    1. With this, India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
    2. It will also boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail, and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe, and Central Asia.
    3. It also helps India counter Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea which China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
    4. From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

Geopolitical Events:

Australia and the Malabar Exercise

  • Context:
    • India to shortly take a call on Australia's inclusion in Malabar.
  • Why Australia should be included in the group?
    • Australia’s inclusion would be seen as a possible first step towards the militarisation of the Quad coalition, something Beijing has opposed in the past.
    • Besides, even Japan and the U.S. have been keen on Canberra’s inclusion for some time now and have been pushing India to consider it.
  • Procedure to be followed:
    • Once the government takes a decision to include Australia, as per procedure, the other partner nations — Japan and the U.S. — have to be informed to secure their consent, after which a formal invitation would be extended to Australia.
  • About Malabar exercise:
    • Malabar began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
    • It has been delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • What is Quad grouping?
    • The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States, and Australia.
    • All four nations find a common ground of being the democratic nations and common interests of unhindered maritime trade and security.
    • The idea was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it.
  • Significance of the grouping:
    1. Quad is an opportunity for like-minded countries to share notes and collaborate on projects of mutual interest.
    2. Members share a vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific.
    3. It is one of the many avenues for interaction among India, Australia, Japan, and the US and should not be seen in an exclusive context.

Russia, India, and China (RIC) grouping

  • Context:
    • Amid the tensions on the Line of Actual Control, the dominant calls were for a more decisive westward shift in India’s foreign policy.
    • However, last month, India decided to attend a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India, and China (RIC). This meeting seemed incongruous in this setting.
  • What is RIC?
    • Conceived by the then Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov in 1998.
    • The group was founded on the basis of “ending its subservient foreign policy guided by the U.S.,” and “renewing old ties with India and fostering the newly discovered friendship with China.”
  • Why was it formed?
    1. In the early 2000s, the three countries were positioning themselves for a transition from a unipolar to multipolar world order.
    2. The RIC shared some non-West (as distinct from anti-West) perspectives on the global order, such as an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, impatience with homilies on social policies, and opposition to regime change from abroad.
    3. Their support for democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture moved to the agenda of BRIC (with the addition of Brazil).
  • Significance and potential of the grouping:
    1. Together, the RIC countries occupy over 19 percent of the global landmass and contribute to over 33 percent of global GDP.
    2. All three are nuclear powers and two, Russia and China, are permanent members of the UN Security Council, while India aspires to be one.
    3. The trio could also contribute to creating a new economic structure for the world.
    4. They could work together on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
  • Present situation:
    • A lot has changed in recent times;
    • India’s relations with the U.S. surged, encompassing trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal, and a burgeoning defence relationship that met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
    • China went back on the 2005 agreement, launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, worked to undermine India’s influence in its neighbourhood, and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
    • As U.S.-Russia relations imploded in 2014 (after the annexation/accession of Crimea), Russia’s pushback against the U.S. included cultivating the Taliban in Afghanistan and enlisting Pakistan’s support for it.
  • Importance of RIC for India:
    • RIC still has significance.
      1. India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China and includes four Central Asian countries.
      2. Central Asia is strategically located, bordering our turbulent neighbourhood.
      3. A sliver of land separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan (as member states) heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • What needs to be done?
    1. It is important for India to shape the Russia-China dynamics in this region, to the extent possible. The Central Asian countries have signalled they would welcome such a dilution of the Russia-China duopoly.
    2. The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
    3. The defence and energy pillars of India’s partnership with Russia remain strong. Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance the security of our materials — the importance of which has been highlighted by COVID-19.
    4. With China too, we have to work bilaterally and multilaterally on a range of issues, even while firmly protecting our interests on the border, in technology and the economy.
    5. The Indo-Pacific is a geographic space of economic and security importance, in which a cooperative order should prevent the dominance of any external power.
  • Conclusion:
    • The current India-China stand-off has intensified calls for India to fast-track partnership with the U.S. This is an unexceptionable objective but is not a silver bullet. National security cannot be fully outsourced. India’s quest for the autonomy of action is based on its geographical realities, historical legacies, and global ambitions — not a residual Cold War mindset.

UAE keen on open-sky policy with India

  • Context:
    • The United Arab Emirates has said that it is keen to have an open-sky agreement with India.
    • It asked India to look at the Open-sky policy separately from fifth and sixth freedoms (of air).
    • The issue of fifth and sixth freedoms of air has been a sore point between airlines in India and the UAE.
  • What is the Open Sky policy?
    • The agreement will not only encourage connectivity and passenger travel between the two countries but will also result in a reduction in airfares on these routes.
    • The National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016, allows the government to enter into an 'open sky' air services agreement on a reciprocal basis with SAARC nations as well as countries beyond a 5,000-kilometer radius from New Delhi.
    • It implies that nations within this distance need to enter into a bilateral agreement and mutually determine the number of flights that their airlines can operate between the two countries.
    • India has already signed open sky agreements with Greece, Jamaica, Guyana, Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Sri Lanka.
  • Freedoms of air:
    • International air travel is governed by various freedoms of air.
    • The degree of “sky openness” depends on the freedoms of the air in the country granted to foreign airlines.
    • There are 9 such freedoms according to the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation.
    • Importantly,
      1. First freedom of air allows a carrier to take off from its home state.
      2. Second freedom of air allows it to land in a second country.
      3. Third and fourth freedoms of air allow the airline to take off from the country it has landed in and come back to land at its home base.
      4. The fifth and sixth freedoms allow airlines to carry passengers picked from one country and fly them to a third country rather than the country from which the airline originated.

Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA)

  • Context:
    • At the upcoming Virtual “EU- India Summit”, Leaders expected to give a kickstart to negotiations on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) as the EU-India FTA is known, which have failed to be resumed despite several commitments by the leaders, including at the last E.U.-India summit in 2017.
  • Challenges ahead:
    • Negotiators are still “quite far apart” due to what Europe perceives as India’s “protectionist stance”.
    • Besides, Make in India programme has been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis and recent pronouncements that India wants to go ‘Self-reliant’ have added to the situation.
  • India- EU trade:
    • Trade with India formed under 3% of the E.U.’s global trade, which is “far below” what was expected of the relationship.
    • Conversely, the E.U. is India’s largest trading partner and investor and accounts for 11% of India’s global trade.
  • About BTIA:
    • In June 2007, India and the EU began negotiations on a broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) in Brussels, Belgium.
    • These negotiations are pursuant to the commitment made by political leaders at the 7th India-EU Summit held in Helsinki on 13th October 2006 to move towards negotiations for a broad-based trade and investment agreement on the basis of the report of India-EU High-Level Technical Group.
  • Significance:
    • India and the EU expect to promote bilateral trade by removing barriers to trade in goods and services and investment across all sectors of the economy.
    • Both parties believe that a comprehensive and ambitious agreement that is consistent with WTO rules and principles would open new markets and would expand opportunities for Indian and EU businesses.
  • The negotiations cover:
    • Trade-in Goods, Trade in Services, Investment, Sanitary, and Phytosanitary Measures, Technical Barriers to Trade, Trade Remedies, Rules of Origin, Customs and Trade Facilitation, Competition, Trade Defence, Government Procurement, Dispute Settlement, Intellectual Property Rights & Geographical  Indications, Sustainable Development.
  • What’s the issue now?
    • Negotiations have been languishing since 2013 when the talks collapsed over certain demands from the EU such as greater market access for automobiles, wine and spirits, and further opening up of the financial services sector such as banking, insurance, and e-commerce.
    • The EU also wanted labour, environment, and government procurement to be included in the talks.
    • India’s demand for an easier work visa and study visa norms as well as data secure status, which would make it easier for European companies to outsource business to India, was also not received enthusiastically by the EU countries.

Make the right call on ‘Malabar’ going Quad

  • Context:
    • India’s Ministry of Defence recently discussed the issue of adding Australia to the trilateral Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the United States in the Bay of Bengal later this year.
    • While no decision was reached, it appears a green signal to Australia could soon be given, making it the first time since 2007 that all members of Quad will participate in a joint military drill, aimed ostensibly in China.
  • Why is China concerned about these developments?
    • Beijing has long opposed a coalition of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.
    • It sees the maritime Quadrilateral as an Asian-NATO that seeks only to contain China’s rise.
    • Also, at a time of strained bilateral ties with China, India’s intention to involve Australia in the Malabar drill could only be construed as a move directed against Beijing.
  • Challenges for India:
    • Following the stand-off in Ladakh, many Indian analysts believe the time is right for India to shed its traditional defensiveness in the maritime domain.
    • The realists advocate an alliance with the U.S., Japan, and Australia to counter Chinese moves in the Indian Ocean.
    • However, by “putting more pressure on China” and moving to expand its “sphere of influence into the entire Indian Ocean and the South Pacific”, India may be risking harsh consequences.
      1. At a time when India and China are negotiating a truce on the border in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi’s invitation to Australia to participate in the Malabar exercise sends contrary signals to Beijing.
      2. If China responded churlishly through aggressive posturing in the Eastern Indian Ocean, it could needlessly open up a new front in the India-China conflict.
      3. Besides, cooperation with the U.S. and Japan without attendant benefits of strategic technology transfers will not improve the Indian Navy’s deterrence potential in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
      4. In operational terms also, it might be premature for Delhi to initiate multilateral engagement with Quad partners. With the strategic contest between the U.S. and China in East Asia and Southeast Asia hotting up, there is every possibility that the military-Quad will be used to draw India into the security dynamics of the Asia-Pacific.
  • Conclusion:
    • New Delhi should not sign up for quadrilateral engagement without a cost-benefit exercise and commensurate gains in the strategic-operational realm. What might appear politically sensible could be operationally imprudent.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States, and Australia.
    • The Malabar exercise started as a naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.

Italian Marines case

  • Context:
    • In a setback to India, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague has ruled that India does not have jurisdiction to try the marines, who were held in Kerala fishermen shootout case.
  • What’s the issue?
    • In 2012, two Italian marines fired shots while on-board an Italian vessel, Enrica Lexie killing two Indian fishermen aboard an Indian vessel, St. Anthony.
    • But, the fishing vessel was within the country’s Contiguous Zone and it was quite clear that the offence warranted arrest and prosecution under domestic law.
    • Eventually, the marines were arrested. But, further, the marines were released from India and sent to Italy.
    • At that time, India had set up a specially designated court, as ordered by Indian Supreme Court, to determine the applicability of jurisdiction.
    • Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency invoked the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002.
    • The dispute between the two countries as regards which country will try the two marines was before the PCA.
  • What has the PCA said?
    • The marines were entitled to immunity as they were acting on behalf of a state. Italy would have jurisdiction to decide on the question of immunity for the marines.
    • Thus, India is precluded from exercising its jurisdiction. While India’s conduct has not been in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Italy breached provisions of the Convention by intercepting the navigation of India’s vessel.
    • Italy is, as a result, liable to pay compensation to India. PCA also rejected a key argument by Italy that India, by leading the Italian vessel into its territory and arresting the marines, violated its obligation to cooperate with measures to suppress piracy under Article 100 of UNCLOS.
  • What next?
    • Both nations are required to hold consultations in order to arrive at the amount of compensation to be paid to India.
  • Conclusion:
    • The PCA’s award, which is final and has been accepted by India, is a huge setback for the expectation that the two marines would face a criminal trial in India.
    • In the end, Italy succeeded in taking the matter out of India’s hands. It should now make good on its commitment to have the marines tried under its domestic laws. The takeaway for India should be the lessons, in the legal and diplomatic domains, that can be drawn from the experience.
  • About PCA:
    • Established in 1899.
    • Headquartered at the Hague in the Netherlands.
    • It has a Financial Assistance Fund which aims at helping developing countries meet part of the costs involved in international arbitration or other means of dispute settlement offered by the PCA.
    • All decisions, called “awards” are binding on all the parties in the dispute and have to be carried out without delay.
  • Functions and jurisdiction:
    • It provides services of arbitral tribunal to resolve disputes that arise out of international agreements between member states, international organizations or private parties.
    • The cases span a range of legal issues involving territorial and maritime boundaries, sovereignty, human rights, international investment, and international and regional trade.
    • The organization is not a United Nations agency, but the PCA is an official United Nations Observer.

Constitutional amendments in Russia

  • Context:
    • As per preliminary reports, Russia’s new constitutional amendments have been passed with 77.92 percent of votes in favour and 22.27 percent against.
    • The national referendum Had asked voters to decide whether to approve 206 constitutional amendments.
    • Both turnout and popular support for the amendments was higher than when Russians voted to adopt the current Constitution itself in 1993 (when support was 58.4 percent with 54.8 percent turnout).
  • What will change with the constitutional reforms?
    1. The amendments would allow Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030. The Russian Constitution bars more than two consecutive presidential terms. The new Constitution doesn’t change the two-term limit in theory, but in practice, it resets Mr. Putin's terms so that it will be the first election under the new Constitution for him, to be held in 2024.
    2. Other amendments strengthen presidential and parliamentary powers, enshrine traditional values including an effective ban on gay marriage and guarantee better minimum wages and pensions.
    3. The other changes to the constitution include measures to respect the country's heritage and the orthodox church as well as strengthen the Kremlin over local and municipal authorities.
    4. The amendments also place strict limitations on Russians who hold foreign citizenship or residency from serving public office. Most notably, these constitutional restrictions block any individual who has ever held foreign residency or citizenship from ever running for President.
    5. Finally, the amendments also declare the importance of a belief in God, that Russia will defend the historical “truth” about WWII, and that Russia is the successor state to the Soviet Union.
  • Challenges ahead for Russia:
    • According to the IMF, the economy hasn’t expanded in dollar terms for a decade.
    • The Fund estimates the GDP to shrink by 6.6% this year. With the pandemic affecting local businesses and the oil price fall eating into export revenue, the Kremlin finds it difficult to fix the economy in the near term.
    • In foreign policy, Russia’s relationship with the West remains troublesome.
    • The sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 are still in place.
    • Russia also faces allegations of interference in the elections of other countries.
    • Domestically, opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his supporters continue to protest against the Kremlin despite state crackdowns.

New US visa rule puts students in a corner

  • Context:
    • The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a new directive barring international students from continuing their higher education in the country unless they meet specific quotas of in-person classes.
  • Who will be affected?
    • Students participating in university programmes that rely entirely on online courses now risk deportation if they do not leave the country, or transfer to schools with “in-person instruction.”
    • The order directly relates to those students on F-1 and M-1 visas.
      1. F-1 visa holders are those pursuing undergraduate, post-graduate or doctoral studies at tertiary education institutions.
      2. M-1 holders are those engaged in vocational courses.
  • Overall impact:
    • Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a fully online course load and remain in the United States.
    • Those whose colleges and universities were moving to an online-only model would, therefore, have to leave the country or find another way to stay in status.
    • Other measures include such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.
  • How will this order affect Indian students?
    • International students, reportedly, make up 5.5 percent of the US' higher education population, numbering just short of 1.1 million.
    • The Indian student cohort is second only to the Chinese, representing 18 percent of all foreign students in the US, according to 2017-2018 ICE data.
    • The announcement comes weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump suspended H1-B highly skilled worker visas through the end of the year. Most of these visas go to Indian citizens each year.

U.S. withdrawal from WHO

  • Context:
    • On July 6, when the number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. reached over 2.8 million and nearly 0.13 million, respectively, the U.S. officially notified the United Nations of its intention to withdraw membership from the World Health Organization.
    • This comes after President Donald Trump announced on May 29 his decision to halt funding and pull out of the global health body.
  • Why this decision?
    • Trump said the body had “called it wrong” on COVID-19 and that it was very “China-centric” in its approach, suggesting that the WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to under-represent the severity of the outbreak.
  • Implications:
    • The capricious decision to withdraw from WHO will have dire consequences for global public health.
    • The departure of the U.S. will be a significant blow to the WHO in terms of loss of technical expertise and annual funding of about $450 million.
    • The WHO now will have to suspend the country’s voting rights and deny access to its services, as per Article 7 of its Constitution.
  • About WHO:
    • WHO came into existence on 7 April 1948 – a date which is now celebrated every year as World Health Day.
    • The organisation has more than 7,000 people working in 150 country offices, six regional offices, and at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • How WHO is governed?
    1. The World Health Assembly (delegations from all member countries) determines the policies of the organisation.
    2. The executive board is composed of members technically qualified in health and gives effect to the decisions and policies of the health assembly.
    3. Its core function is to direct and coordinate international health work through collaboration.
  • How is the WHO funded?
    • There are four kinds of contributions that make up funding for the WHO. These are:
      • Assessed contributions are the dues countries pay in order to be a member of the Organization.
      • The amount each Member State must pay is calculated relative to the country’s wealth and population.
      • Voluntary contributions come from Member States (in addition to their assessed contribution) or from other partners. They can range from flexible to highly earmarked.
      • Core voluntary contributions allow less well-funded activities to benefit from a better flow of resources and ease implementation bottlenecks that arise when immediate financing is lacking.
      • Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Contributions were started in 2011 to improve and strengthen the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential, and to increase the access of developing countries to vaccines and other pandemic related supplies.
  • Largest contributions:
    1. The United States is currently the WHO’s biggest contributor, making up 14.67 percent of total funding by providing $553.1 million.
    2. The US is followed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation forming 9.76 percent or $367.7 million.
    3. The third biggest contributor is the GAVI Vaccine Alliance at 8.39 percent, with the UK (7.79 percent) and Germany (5.68 percent) coming fourth and fifth respectively.
    4. The four next biggest donors are international bodies: the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (5.09 percent), World Bank (3.42 percent), Rotary International (3.3 percent), and the European Commission (3.3 percent). India makes up 0.48 percent of total contributions, and China at 0.21 percent.

China, the US in new spat over Uighur crackdown

  • Context:
    • China has said it will impose tit-for-tat measures after the United States slapped sanctions on Chinese officials for their involvement in a crackdown on Muslim minorities, raising tensions between the superpowers.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The latest Chinese response followed a US announcement of visa bans and an assets freeze on three officials, including Chen Quanquo, the Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, and the architect of Beijing's hardline policies against restive minorities.
    • Witnesses and human rights groups say that China has rounded up more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in a vast brainwashing campaign aimed at forcibly homogenising minorities into the country's Han majority.
    • But, China counters that it is providing education and vocational training in a bid to reduce the allure of Islamic radicalism following a spate of deadly violence.
  • Background:
    • The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps in the Xinjiang region. The U.S. State Department has accused Chinese officials of subjecting Muslims to torture, abuse “and trying to basically erase their culture and their religion.”
  • Who are Uighurs?
    • Uighurs are a Muslim minority community concentrated in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang province.
    • They claim closer ethnic ties to Turkey and other central Asian countries than to China, by brute — and brutal — force.
  • Why is China targeting the Uighurs?
    • Xinjiang is technically an autonomous region within China — its largest region, rich in minerals, and sharing borders with eight countries, including India, Pakistan, Russia, and Afghanistan.
    • Over the past few decades, as economic prosperity has come to Xinjiang, it has brought with it in large numbers the majority Han Chinese, who have cornered the better jobs, and left the Uighurs feeling their livelihoods and identity were under threat.
    • This led to sporadic violence, in 2009 culminating in a riot that killed 200 people, mostly Han Chinese, in the region’s capital Urumqi. And many other violent incidents have taken place since then.
    • Beijing also says Uighur groups want to establish an independent state and, because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to their neighbours, leaders fear that elements in places like Pakistan may back a separatist movement in Xinjiang.
    • Therefore, the Chinese policy seems to have been one of treating the entire community as the suspect, and launching a systematic project to chip away at every marker of a distinct Uighur identity.

India Energy Modeling Forum

  • Context:
    • In the recent joint working group meeting of the Sustainable Growth Pillar, an India Energy Modeling Forum was launched.
  • Composition:
    • The forum would include knowledge partners, data agencies, and concerned government ministries.
    • NITI Aayog will initially coordinate the activities of the forum and finalizing its governing structure.
  • Background:
    • Sustainable Growth Pillar is an important pillar of India-US Strategic Energy Partnership co-chaired by NITI Aayog and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
    • The SG pillar entails energy data management, energy modelling, and collaboration on low carbon technologies as three key activities.
  • The Forum aims to:
    1. Provide a platform to examine important energy and environmental-related issues;
    2. Inform decision-making process to the Indian government;
    3. Improve cooperation between modelling teams, government, and knowledge partners, funders;
    4. Facilitate the exchange of ideas, ensure production of high-quality studies;
    5. Identify knowledge gaps at different levels and across different areas;
    6. Build the capacity of Indian institutions.
  • What is Energy Modelling?
    • Energy modeling or energy system modeling is the process of building computer models of energy systems in order to analyze them.
    • Such models often employ scenario analysis to investigate different assumptions about the technical and economic conditions at play.
    • Outputs may include the system feasibility, greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative financial costs, natural resource use, and energy efficiency of the system under investigation.
  • What is Energy Modelling Forums (EMF)?
    • The Energy Modelling Forum (EMF) in the USA was established in 1976 at Stanford University to connect leading modeling experts and decision-makers from government, industry, universities, and other research organizations.
    • The forum provides an unbiased platform to discuss the contemporary issues revolving around energy and the environment.

The U.S. Relaxes Rules on Sales of Armed Drones

  • Context:
    • The US administration has relaxed export restrictions on specific types of unmanned aerial systems, commonly known as drones, enabling U.S. defense contractors to sell more of their wares abroad.
  • Changes introduced:
    • Under a new policy, unmanned aerial systems that fly at speeds below 800 kph will no longer be subject to the “presumption of denial” that, in effect, blocked most international sales of drones such as the MQ-9
    • Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
  • Implications:
    • So far, the U.S. government’s interpretation of the export controls under the Missile Technology Control the regime, or MTCR had led to a blanket denial of most countries’ requests to buy “category-1” systems capable of carrying 500-kilogram payloads for more than 300 kilometers.
    • Instead of having a “presumption of denial” for those drones, where export officials needed special circumstances to allow the sale of the drones, the new guidance would mean those officials would now consider proposed sales using the same criteria as they do for other military exports.
  • About MTCR:
    • It is an informal and voluntary partnership among 35 countries.
  • Objective:
    • To prevent the proliferation of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle technology capable of carrying greater than 500 kg payload for more than 300 km.
    • The regime was formed in 1987 by the G-7 industrialized countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the United States).
    • It is not a legally binding treaty on the members.
  • What is the purpose of the MTCR?
    • The MTCR was initiated by like-minded countries to address the increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons by addressing the most destabilizing delivery system for such weapons.
    • In 1992, the MTCR’s original focus on missiles for nuclear weapons delivery was extended to a focus on the proliferation of missiles for the delivery of all types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Such proliferation has been identified as a threat to international peace and security.
  • India and the MTCR:
    • India was inducted into the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016 as the 35thmember. China is not a member of this regime but it had verbally pledged to adhere to its original guidelines but not to the subsequent additions.

Organizations And Conventions:

Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)

  • Context:
    • The US has urged all its allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
    • This indicates that despite a change in the ground realities following the deadly clash between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last month, the U.S’s message to countries, including India, on sanctions for the purchase of Russian arms, has not changed.
  • What is CAATSA?
    • Enacted in 2017, it is a US federal law that imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
    • Includes sanctions against countries that engage in significant transactions with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors.
    • The Act empowers the US President to impose at least five of the 12 listed sanctions on persons engaged in a “significant transaction” with Russian defence and intelligence sectors.
  • What sanctions will be imposed?
    1. Prohibition on loans to the sanctioned person.
    2. Prohibition of Export-Import bank assistance for exports to sanctioned persons.
    3. Prohibition on procurement by the United States Government to procure goods or services from the sanctioned person.
    4. Denial of visas to persons closely associated with the sanctioned person.
  • Implications on India:
    • Although the sanctions are not directly imposed on India, it affects India nevertheless. The major reason for this is the nature of the relationship India has with Iran and Russia. India happens to have strong trade ties with both these nation-states.
    • No, as per the provisions of the bill, the US imposes sanctions on all its adversaries, as well as all countries and firms dealing with these adversaries.
    • So, if India does not remove ties with Russia and Iran, the US may invoke sanctions against India. India cannot afford to lose the growing diplomatic relations with the US, but neither can it afford to forego supplies of defence and oil from Russia and Iran.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

  • Context:
    • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has appointed Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa as its vice-president (V-P) for private sector operations and public-private partnerships.
  • About ADB:
    • It is a regional development bank established on 19 December 1966. headquartered — Manila, Philippines.
    • Official United Nations Observer.
  • Membership:
    • The bank admits the members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP, formerly the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East or ECAFE) and nonregional developed countries.
    • Currently, it has 68 members.
  • Voting rights:
    • It is modeled closely on the World Bank and has a similar weighted voting system where votes are distributed in proportion with members’ capital subscriptions.
  • Roles and functions:
    1. ADB defines itself as a social development organization that is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration.
    2. This is carried out through investments – in the form of loans, grants and information sharing – in infrastructure, health care services, financial and public administration systems, helping nations prepare for the impact of climate change or better manage their natural resources, as well as other areas.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister to address the High-Level Segment of ECOSOC.
    • The annual High-level Segment convenes a diverse group of high-level representatives from the Government, the private sector, civil society and academia.
  • Theme:
    • “Multilateralism after COVID19: What kind of UN do we need at the 75th anniversary”.
  • About ECOSOC:
    • The UN Charter established ECOSOC in 1945 as one of the six main organs of the United Nations.
    • It is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social, and environmental issues, as well as the implementation of internationally agreed development goals.
    • It has 54 Members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms. India is the member of ECOSOC (From 1 January 2018 – 31 December 2020)
    • It coordinates the work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, ten functional commissions, and five regional commissions, receives reports from nine UN funds and programmes, and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to the Member States.

Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFTAM)

  • Context:
    • Deprived of sources of livelihood during the pandemic, sex workers, transpersons, gay and bisexual men, drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS have petitioned the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM) protesting against being ignored by the government and multilateral agencies in coronavirus (COVID-19) related emergency relief efforts.
    • The petitioners urge the GFATM to issue guidance to governments to channelise their COVID-19 relief funds to the emergency survival needs of KPs.
  • About GFTAM:
    • Popularly known as the Global Fund, it aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to support attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations.”
    • Founded in 2002, the Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector, and people affected by the diseases.
    • Secretariat is in Geneva, Switzerland.
    • The G8 formally endorsed the call for the creation of the Global Fund at its summit in July 2001 in Genoa, Italy
  • How is it administered?
    • The Global Fund was formed as an independent, non-profit foundation under Swiss law and hosted by the World Health Organization in January 2002.
    • In January 2009, the organization became an administratively autonomous organization, terminating its administrative services agreement with the World Health Organization.
  • Role of GFTAM:
    • The Global Fund is a financing mechanism rather than an implementing agency.
    • Programs are implemented by in-country partners such as ministries of health, while the Global Fund secretariat monitors the programs.
    • Implementation is overseen by Country Coordinating Mechanisms, country-level committees consisting of in-country stakeholders that need to include, according to Global Fund requirements, a broad spectrum of representatives from government, NGOs, faith-based organizations, the private sector, and people living with the diseases.
  • Fundraising:
    • Since the Global Fund was created in 2002, public sector contributions have constituted 95 percent of all financing raised; the remaining 5 percent comes from the private sector or other financing initiatives such as Product Red.

International Union of Railways (UIC):

  • Context:
    • DG RPF Arun Kumar nominated as Vice-Chairman of International Union of Railways.
  • About UIC:
    • The UIC is the global platform for railway systems working on interoperability, developing common technical standards for railways across the world, and strengthening what is called “rail diplomacy”.
      • Formation: October 17, 1922; 97 years ago.
      • Purpose:
        • Promote rail transport at the world level.
        • Meet the challenges of mobility and sustainable development.
      • Headquarters: Paris, France.
      • Members: 144 including India.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

  • Context:
    • The independent experts on the Human Rights Committee have published a fresh interpretation of the right of peaceful assembly, offering comprehensive legal guidance about where and how it applies and also outlining governments’ obligations.
  • Background:
    • The committee is tasked with monitoring how countries implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which under Article 21 guarantees the right to peaceful assembly.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Authorities worldwide are grappling with swelling demonstrations over issues like political rights and racial justice. In some places, coercive forces are being used to suppress the voices of protesters.
    • Therefore, the right to peaceful assembly has come into the spotlight.
    • Supporters believe that protesting peacefully, online or in person, is a fundamental human right.
  • Important observations made by the Human Rights Committee:
    1. It is a “fundamental human right” for people to gather to celebrate or to air grievances, “in public and in private spaces, outdoors, indoors and online.”
    2. Everyone, including children, foreign nationals, women, migrant workers, asylum seekers, and refugees, can exercise the right of peaceful assembly.
    3. Governments could not prohibit protests by making “generalised references to public order or public safety, or an unspecified risk of potential violence”.
    4. In addition, Governments “cannot block internet networks or close down any website because of their roles in organising or soliciting a peaceful assembly”.
    5. It also stressed the right of journalists and human rights observers to monitor and document any assembly, including violent and unlawful ones.
  • Implications:
    • The Committee’s interpretation will be important guidance for judges in national and regional courts around the world, as it now forms part of what is known as ‘soft law’.
  • About ICCPR:
    1. It is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
    2. Monitored by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
    3. The covenant commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial.
    4. The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
    5. It became effective in 1976.

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

  • Context:
    • A report on slavery was recently released by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and an international anti-slavery organisation Walks Free on the occasion of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
  • Key findings:
    1. Commonwealth countries account for about 40% of people living in conditions of modern slavery in the world.
    2. Commonwealth nations are lacking in actions to eradicate modern slavery by 2030.
    3. There is an estimated one in every 150 people in the Commonwealth living in conditions of modern slavery.
    4. One-third of the Commonwealth countries had criminalised forced marriage, while 23 had not criminalised commercial sexual exploitation of children.
    5. Out of 54 countries, only four engage with businesses to investigate supply chains, and all countries report gaps in victim assistance programs.
  • India- specific findings:
    1. India has fared the worst in terms of coordination, “with no national coordinating body or National Action Plan in place”.
    2. India had not ratified the International Labour Organisation’s 2011 Domestic Workers Convention or the 2014 Forced Labour Protocol.
    3. India accounted for one-third of all child brides in the world.
    4. Despite being the largest country in the region, India has the weakest response on national coordination, with no national coordinating body or National Action Plan in place.
  • About the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI):
    • It is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, international non-governmental organisation working in the area of human rights.
    • In 1987, several Commonwealth professional associations founded CHRI, since there was little focus on human rights within the association of 53 nations although the Commonwealth provided member countries the basis of a shared common legal system.
  • Roles and functions:
    • CHRI promotes adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Commonwealth Harare Principles, and other internationally recognised human rights instruments, including domestic legislation supporting human rights in Commonwealth countries.
    • It is headquartered in New Delhi, India.

Milk tea alliance

  • It is a term used to describe an online democratic solidarity movement made up of netizens from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
  • It arose in response to the increased presence of Chinese trolls and nationalist commentators on social media.
  • The ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ is an informal term coined by social media users because, in the region, tea is consumed in many nations with milk, with the exception of China.

Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI)

  • It is a multilateral currency swap arrangement among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast
  • Asian Nations (ASEAN), the People’s Republic of China (including Hong Kong), Japan, and South Korea.
  • Launched in 2010 to manage regional short-term liquidity problems and to avoid relying on the IMF.

Economy

Banking And Finance:

National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA)

  • Context:
    • The audit regulator, the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA), has constituted a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) under the Chairmanship of R Narayanaswamy, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru.
  • Composition:
    • Seven members, including the Chairman.
  • Functions:
    • Aid and advise the Executive Body of the NFRA on issues related to the drafts of accounting standards and auditing standards.
    • Provide inputs from the perspectives of users, preparers, and auditors of financial statements.
  • About NFRA:
    • National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) was constituted on 1st October 2018 under section 132 (1) of the Companies Act, 2013.
  • Why was it needed?
    • In the wake of accounting scams, a need was felt to establish an independent regulator for enforcement of auditing standards and ensuring the quality of audits so as to enhance investor and public confidence in financial disclosures of companies.
  • Composition:
    • The Companies Act requires the NFRA to have a chairperson who will be appointed by the Central Government and a maximum of 15 members.
  • Functions and Duties:
    1. Recommend accounting and auditing policies and standards to be adopted by companies for approval by the Central Government;
    2. Monitor and enforce compliance with accounting standards and auditing standards;
    3. Oversee the quality of service of the professions associated with ensuring compliance with such standards and suggest measures for improvement in the quality of service;
    4. Perform such other functions and duties as may be necessary or incidental to the aforesaid functions and duties.
  • Powers:
    • It can probe listed companies and those unlisted public companies having paid-up capital of no less than Rs 500 crore or annual turnover of no less than Rs 1,000 crore.
    • It can investigate professional misconduct committed by members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) for the prescribed class of body corporate or persons.

Currency Swap Arrangement (CSA)

  • Context:
    • The Reserve Bank of India has agreed to a $400 million currency swap facility for Sri Lanka till November 2022.
  • What is this Currency Swap Arrangement (CSA)?
    • An arrangement between two friendly countries to involve in trading in their own local currencies.
    • As per the arrangements, both countries pay for import and export trade at the pre-determined rates of exchange, without bringing in a third-country currency like the US Dollar.
    • In such arrangements, no third country currency is involved, thereby eliminating the need to worry about exchange variations.
  • Significance of the agreement:
    • Improves confidence in the Indian market.
    • Enables the agreed amount of capital being available to India.
    • Bring down the cost of capital for Indian entities while accessing the foreign capital market.
    • Aids in bringing greater stability to foreign exchange and capital markets in India.

Special Liquidity Scheme for NBFCs and HFCs

  • Context:
    • RBI announces a special liquidity scheme for NBFCs and HFCs through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to avoid any potential systemic risks to the financial sector.
  • Background:
    • Finance Minister had announced on 13th March 2020, the launch of a Special Liquidity Scheme of Rs. 30,000 crore.
  • Key features of the scheme:
    • RBI will provide funds for the Scheme by subscribing to government-guaranteed special securities issued by the Trust.
    • The total amount of such securities issued outstanding shall not exceed Rs. 30,000 crores at any point in time.
    • The government of India will provide an unconditional and irrevocable guarantee to the special securities issued by the Trust.
  • Who is eligible?
    • NBFCs, including Microfinance Institutions that are registered with the RBI, under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, excluding those registered as Core Investment Companies.
    • Housing Finance Companies that are registered under the National Housing Bank Act, 1987.
  • Other eligibility criteria:
    • CRAR/CAR of NBFCs/HFCs should not be below the regulatory minimum, i.e., 15% and 12% respectively as on March 31, 2019.
    • The net non-performing assets should not be more than 6% as of March 31, 2019.
    • They should have made a net profit in at least one of the last two preceding financial years (i.e. 2017-18 and 2018-19)
    • They should be rated investment grade by a SEBI registered rating agency.
  • Implementation:
    1. SBICAP which is a subsidiary of the State Bank of India has set up an SPV (SLS Trust) to manage this operation.
    2. The SPV will purchase the short-term papers from eligible NBFCs/HFCs, who shall utilise the proceeds under this scheme solely for the purpose of extinguishing existing liabilities.
    3. The instruments will be CPs and NCDs with a residual maturity of not more than three months and rated as investment grade.
  • Way ahead:
    • The Scheme will remain open for 3 months for making subscriptions by the Trust.
    • The period of lending (CPs/NCDs of NBFCs/HFCs for a short duration of up to 90 days) by the Trust shall be for a period of up to 90 days.
    • The financing would be used by the NFBCs/HFCs only to repay existing liabilities and not to expand assets.

Equalisation levy on foreign e-com firms

  • Context:
    • The government has said that it is not considering extending the deadline for payment of Equalisation Levy by non-resident e-commerce players.
  • What is Equalisation levy?
    • Equalisation levy at 6% has been in force since 2016 on payment exceeding Rs 1 lakh a year to a non-resident service provider for online advertisements.
    • The amendments to the Finance Act, 2020 had expanded the ambit of the equalisation levy for nonresident e-commerce operators involved in the supply of services, including the online sale of goods and provision of services, with the levy at the rate of 2% effective April 1, 2020.
    • The tax applies to e-commerce transactions on websites such as Amazon.com.
  • What was the need for equalisation levy?
    • The levy is seen aimed at taxing foreign companies which have a significant local client base in India but were billing them through their offshore units, effectively escaping the country’s tax system.
  • Penalty:
    • As per law, late-payment would attract interest at the rate of 1% per month or part of the month.
    • Non-payment could result in a penalty equal to the amount of equalisation levy, along with interest.
  • What are the issues now?
    • Tax experts point out that there are practical difficulties in getting PAN and many companies are not paying the equalisation levy as there is still considerable confusion and lack of clarity on the applicability of the same.
    • It is believed that the requirement of having a PAN and an Indian bank account could cause administrative delays in remittance by non-residents.
    • The levy has several issues that primarily include wide coverage (even non-e-commerce companies could be covered), lack of clarity on how consideration needs to be determined especially in cases where the income is minuscule compared to the transactions facilitated by the non-resident e-commerce operators.
    • Even transactions between non-residents are covered and this according to tax experts would be an extraterritorial overreach along with practical difficulty in implementation.

E-commerce sites must state ‘country of origin,’

  • Context:
    • The Centre told the Delhi High Court that all e-commerce entities, including Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal, have to ensure the mandatory declaration of country of origin of imported products sold on their site.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The affidavit came in response to a petition which argued that the economy of the nation would suffer in the event the e-commerce websites continuing to not mention the manufacturing country or country of origin of products on their websites.
  • Legal provisions in this regard:
    • The laws relating to the issue have been enacted under the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, and the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011.
    • Enforcement of the provisions of the Act and Rules rested with the States and UTs governments.
    • Whenever violations are observed, the action is taken by the legal metrology officials of the States/ UTs governments in accordance with the law.
    • The Consumer Protection Act 2019 also mandates to display the ‘country of origin’ by the e-commerce entities.
  • What are the issues present?
    • Many e-commerce sites say, they function as a ‘marketplace-based’ e-commerce model in which they only act as an ‘intermediary’.
    • They have ensured that a data field pertaining to ‘country of origin’ is available on their system, which may be filled in by a seller when creating a new product listing.
    • However, they have not made it mandatory, because the law does not mandate a disclosure of the ‘country of origin/manufacture/assembly’, in the case of India-manufactured goods.
    • In many cases, finished goods sourced from different countries are packed together or assembled in a third country, prior to their shipment to India.
    • Therefore, It could not be simply presumed that the Rules intended that the last country of export alone be declared as the “country of origin”, unless the law was amended or clarified to expressly state so.

General Financial Rules

  • Context:
    • The government has amended the General Financial Rules, 2017, imposing restrictions on public procurement from bidders of countries that share a land border with India, citing grounds of defence and national security.
    • The central government has also directed state governments to implement this order for all public procurement.
  • As per the amendments:
    • Bidders from these countries will be eligible only if they are registered with the Registration Committee constituted by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT).
    • They will also be required to take mandatory political and security clearance from the ministries of External Affairs and Home.
  • Exceptions:
    • Relaxation will be provided for the procurement of COVID medical supplies until December 31.
    • Also, the order for prior registration will not apply for countries to which the government extends lines of credit or provides development assistance, even if they share a land border with India.
  • Background:
    • These measures follow a series of steps that have been taken in recent months to prevent the influx of Chinese products and investments into India.
    • On June 23, the government made it mandatory for sellers on the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) portal to clarify the country of origin of goods when registering new products.
    • In April, the government amended FDI rules mandating prior approval for investment by entities in countries that share land borders with India.
  • What are GFRs?
    • They are set of rules that deal with matters that involve public finances.
    • They were first issued in 1947 bringing together all the existing orders.
    • They are instructions that pertain to financial matters.
    • They lay down the general rules applicable to Ministries / Departments, and detailed instructions relating to the procurement of goods are issued by the procuring departments broadly in conformity with the general rules while maintaining the flexibility to deal with varied situations.

Labour Ministry notifies draft on minimum wages

  • Context:
    • The Union Labour and Employment Ministry has published the draft rules framed for the implementation of the Code on Wages Act, 2019.
  • Highlights:
    • The latest draft rules are similar to the preliminary draft published in November 2019 with one major change. The Ministry has changed the work requirement for eligibility for minimum wages and other benefits from nine hours to eight.
    • The latest draft clarified the issue as the nine hours mentioned earlier included one hour of rest, which has now been mentioned separately from the eight working hours.
  • Criteria for determination of minimum wages:
    • A net intake of 2,700 calories per day per consumption unit, 66 metre of cloth per year per standard working-class family, which includes a spouse and two children apart from the earning worker – an equivalent to three adult consumption units.
    • Housing rent expenditure to constitute 10% of the food and clothing expenditure; fuel, electricity, and other miscellaneous items of expenditure to constitute 20% minimum wage and expenditure for children education, medical requirement, recreation, and expenditure on contingencies to constitute 25% of minimum wage.
    • When the rate of wages for a day is fixed, then such amount shall be divided by eight for fixing the rate of wages for an hour and multiplied by twenty-six for fixing the rate of wages for a month and in such division and multiplication the factors of one-half and more than one-half shall be rounded as next figure and the factors less than one-half shall be ignored.
  • About the Code on Wages Act:
    • The code will amalgamate the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
      1. The wage code universalises the provisions of minimum wages and timely payment of wages to all employees, irrespective of the sector, and wage ceiling.
      2. It ensures the “right to sustenance” for every worker and intends to increase the legislative protection of minimum wage from existing about 40% to 100% workforce.
      3. It also introduces the concept of statutory floor wage which will be computed based on minimum living conditions and extended qualitative living conditions across the country for all workers.
      4. While fixing the minimum rate of wages, the central government shall divide the concerned geographical area into three categories – metropolitan area, non-metropolitan area, and the rural area.
      5. Wages include salary, allowance, or any other component expressed in monetary terms. This does not include bonus payable to employees or any travelling allowance, among others.
      6. The minimum wages decided by the central or state governments must be higher than the floor wage.
      7. Payment of wages: Wages will be paid in (i) coins, (ii) currency notes, (iii) by cheque, (iv) by crediting to the bank account, or (v) through electronic mode. The wage period will be fixed by the employer as either: (i) daily, (ii) weekly, (iii) fortnightly, or (iv) monthly.
  • Advisory boards:
    • The central and state governments will constitute advisory boards.
      1. The Central Advisory Board will consist of: (i) employers, (ii) employees (in equal number as employers), (iii) independent persons, and (iv) five representatives of state governments.
      2. State Advisory Boards will consist of employers, employees, and independent persons. Further, one-third of the total members on both the central and state Boards will be women.
      3. The Boards will advise the respective governments on various issues including (i) fixation of minimum wages, and (ii) increasing employment opportunities for women.

Consumer Protection Act, 2019

  • Context:
    • The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has come into effect from July 20, replacing the earlier Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
    • The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 got the President's nod on August 2019.
  • Highlights of the legislation:
    • 1. Definition of consumer:
      • A consumer is defined as a person who buys any goods or avails a service for consideration.
      • It does not include a person who obtains a good for resale or a good or service for commercial purposes.
      • It covers transactions through all modes including offline, and online through electronic means, teleshopping, multi-level marketing, or direct selling.
    • 2. Six consumer rights have been defined in the act, including the right to:
      • Right to Safety.
      • Right to be Informed.
      • Right to Choose.
      • The right to be heard.
      • Right to seek Redressal.
      • Right to Consumer Education.
    • 3. Central Consumer Protection Authority:
      • The central government will set up CCPA to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers.
      • It will regulate matters related to violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and misleading advertisements.
      • The CCPA will have an investigation wing, headed by a Director-General, which may conduct inquiry or investigation into such violations.
    • 4. Increased compensation:
      • The CCPA may impose a penalty on a manufacturer or an endorser of up to Rs 10 lakh and imprisonment for up to two years for a false or misleading advertisement.
      • In case of a subsequent offence, the fine may extend to Rs 50 lakh and imprisonment of up to five years.
    • 5. Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission:
      • CDRCs will be set up at the district, state, and national levels. A consumer can file a complaint with CDRCs in relation to:
        • Unfair or restrictive trade practices;
        • Defective goods or services;
        • Overcharging or deceptive charging; and
        • The offering of goods or services for sale which may be hazardous to life and safety.
    • 6. Appeals:
      • Complaints against an unfair contract can be filed only at the State and National levels.
      • Appeals from a District CDRC will be heard by the State CDRC. Appeals from the State CDRC will be heard by the National CDRC.
      • The final appeal will lie before the Supreme Court.
    • 7. Jurisdiction of CDRCs:
      • The District CDRC will entertain complaints where the value of goods and services does not exceed Rs one crore.
      • The State CDRC will entertain complaints when the value is more than Rs one crore but does not exceed Rs 10 crore.
      • Complaints with the value of goods and services over Rs 10 crore will be entertained by the National CDRC.
    • 8. Mediation:
      • The act provides for reference to mediation by Consumer Commissions wherever scope for early settlement exists and parties agree for it.
      • Mediation Cells to be attached to Consumer Commissions. Mediation to be held in consumer mediation cells.
      • A panel of mediators to be selected by a selection committee consisting of the President and a member of the Consumer Commission.
      • No appeal against settlement through mediation.
    • 9. Impact of Consumer Protection Act, 2019 on e-commerce platforms:
      • The e-commerce portals will have to set up a robust consumer redressal mechanism as part of the rules under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
      • They will also have to mention the country of origin which is necessary for enabling the consumer to make an informed decision at the pre-purchase stage on its platform.
      • The e-commerce platforms also have to acknowledge the receipt of any consumer complaint within forty-eight hours and redress the complaint within one month from the date of receipt under this Act.
    • 10. Product Liability:
      • A manufacturer or product service provider or product seller will be held responsible to compensate for injury or damage caused by defective product or deficiency in services
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/consumer-protection-act-2019/

Pre-packs under the present insolvency regime

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has set up a committee to look into the possibility of including what is called “pre-packs” under the current insolvency regime to offer faster insolvency resolution under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
  • So, what is a pre-pack?
    • Also called as pre-packaged insolvency, It is an agreement for the resolution of the debt of a distressed company.
    • It is done through an agreement between secured creditors and investors instead of a public bidding process.
    • The process needs to be completed within 90 days so that all stakeholders retain faith in the system.
  • Benefits of a pre-pack:
    1. Faster: This process would likely be completed much faster than the traditional Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) which requires that the creditors of the distressed company allow for an open auction for qualified investors to bid for the distressed company.
    2. It would act as an important alternative resolution mechanism to the CIRP and would help lower the burden on the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
    3. In the case of pre-packs, the incumbent management retains control of the company until a final agreement is reached. This is necessary because Transfer of control from the incumbent management to an insolvency professional as is the case in the CIRP leads to disruptions in the business and loss of some high-quality human resources and asset value.
    4. Also, a financially distressed company can continue its operations during the period leading to a formal default, and even thereafter, without the resultant reputational risks, business disruptions, or value erosion.
  • What are some of the drawbacks of pre-pack?
    • Reduced transparency compared to the CIRP as financial creditors would reach an agreement with potential investors privately and not through an open bidding process.
    • This could lead to stakeholders such as operational creditors raising issues of fair treatment when financial creditors reach agreements to reduce the liabilities of the distressed company.
    • Unlike in the case of a full-fledged CIRP which allows for price discovery, in the case of a pre-pack, the NCLT would only be able to evaluate a resolution plan based on submissions by the creditors and the investor.
  • Do we need pre-packs?
    • Yes. It is because slow progress in the resolution of distressed companies has been one of the key issues raised by creditors regarding the CIRP under the IBC.
    • 738 of 2,170 ongoing insolvency resolution processes have already taken more than 270 days at the end of March.
    • Under the IBC, stakeholders are required to complete the CIRP within 330 days of the initiation of insolvency proceedings.

Agriculture:

ICAR and NICRA

  • Indian Council of agricultural research (ICAR) is an autonomous body Responsible for coordinating agricultural education and research in India.
  • It reports to the Department of agricultural research and education, Ministry of agriculture.
  • The union minister of agriculture serves as its president.
  • It is the largest network of agricultural research and education institutes in the world.
  • National innovations of climate-resilient agriculture (NICRA) has been launched by ICAR in 2011.

Krishi Vigyan Kendra

  • The name means “farm Science Centre”.
  • The Centre serves as the ultimate link between the Indian Council of agricultural research and farmers.
  • The Centre is usually associated with a local agricultural University.
  • It aims to apply agricultural research and practical localised setting.
  • As of January 2020, there were approximately 716 KVKs throughout India.

Karan- 4

  • It is a sugar cane variety that has enhanced sugar recovery and has replaced traditionally grown varieties in Uttar Pradesh.

Kisanrath

  • It is an app launched by the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers Welfare.
  • Developed by the National Informatics Centre.
  • It will facilitate farmers and traders to identify suitable transport facilities for the movement of farm produce during coronavirus lockdown.
  • The App will allow transportation of farm produce from farm gate to mandi and from one to another mandi.
  • It will ensure seamless supply linkages between farmers, FPOs, APMC mandis and intra-state and interstate buyers.

Stevioside

  • It is a natural plant-based glycoside found in leaves of Honey yerba.
  • It is widely used as the non-caloric natural sweeteners.
  • Why in News?
  • Researchers recently found that Stevioside when coated on nanoparticles can increase the efficiency of Magnetic hyperthermia-mediated cancer therapy (MHCT).

FAO locust warning

  • Context:
    • India should remain on high alert against locust attack for the next four weeks, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned amid the country facing the worst locust attack in 26 years.
    • Spring-bred locust swarms, which migrated to the Indo-Pakistan border and travelled east to northern states, are expected to return back to Rajasthan with the start of the monsoon in the coming days.
    • The current locust attack (2019-2020) has been categorised as an upsurge.
  • Difference between a locust plague, upsurge, and outbreak:
    • 1. Outbreak:
      • If good rains fall and green vegetation develop, Desert Locust can rapidly increase in number and within a month or two, start to concentrate, gregarize which, unless checked, can lead to the formation of small groups or bands of wingless hoppers and small groups or swarms winged adults.
      • This is called an OUTBREAK and usually occurs with an area of about 5,000 sq. km (100 km by 50 km) in one part of a country.
    • 2. Upsurge:
      • If an outbreak or contemporaneous outbreaks are not controlled and if widespread or unusually heavy rains fall in adjacent areas, several successive seasons of breeding can occur that causes further hopper band and adult swarm formation.
      • This is called an UPSURGE and generally affects an entire region.
    • 3. Plague:
      • If an upsurge is not controlled and ecological conditions remain favorable for breeding, locust populations continue to increase in number and size, and the majority of the infestations occur as bands and swarms, then a PLAGUE can develop.
      • A major plague exists when two or more regions are affected simultaneously.
    • Outbreaks are common, but only a few results in upsurges. Similarly, few upsurges lead to plagues. The last major plague was in 1987-89 and the last major upsurge was in 2003-05.
    • Upsurges and plagues do not occur overnight; instead, they take many months to develop.
  • What are ‘desert locusts’?
    • Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria), which belong to the family of grasshoppers, normally live and breed in semi-arid or desert regions. For laying eggs, they require bare ground, which is rarely found in areas with dense vegetation.
  • How they form swarms?
    • As individuals, or in small isolated groups, locusts are not very dangerous. But when they grow into large populations their behaviour changes, they transform from ‘solitary phase’ into ‘gregarious phase’, and start forming ‘swarms’. A single swarm can contain 40 to 80 million adults in one square km, and these can travel up to 150 km a day.

Mega Food Park

  • Context:
    • Zoram Mega food park launched in Mizoram, to benefit 25,000 farmers and create 5,000 jobs.
    • This is the first Mega Food Park operationalized in the state of Mizoram.
  • About Mega Food Parks scheme:
    • Ministry of Food Processing Industries is implementing the Mega Food Park Scheme in the country since 2008.
    • It aims at providing a mechanism to link agricultural production to the market by bringing together farmers, processors, and retailers.
    • These food parks give a major boost to the food processing sector by adding value and reducing food wastage at each stage of the supply chain with a particular focus on perishables.
  • Funding:
    • A maximum grant of Rs 50 crore is given for setting up an MFP, in minimum 50 acres of contiguous land with only 50% contribution to the total project cost.
  • Mode of operation:
    • The Scheme has a cluster-based approach based on a hub and spokesmodel.
    • It includes the creation of infrastructure for primary processing and storage near the farm in the form of Primary Processing Centres (PPCs) and Collection Centres (CCs) and common facilities and enabling infrastructure at Central Processing Centre (CPC).
  • Implementation:
    • Implemented by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which is a Body Corporate registered under the Companies Act.
    • State Government, State Government entities, and Cooperatives are not required to form a separate SPV for implementation of the Mega Food Park project.
    • Subject to the fulfillment of the conditions of the Scheme Guidelines, the funds are released to the SPVs.

Agriculture Infrastructure Fund

  • Context:
    • It is a new pan India Central Sector Scheme.
    • The scheme shall provide a medium – long term debt financing facility for investment in viable projects for post-harvest management Infrastructure and community farming assets through interest subvention and financial support.
    • The duration of the Scheme shall be from FY2020 to FY2029 (10 years).
  • Eligibility:
    • Under the scheme, Rs. One Lakh Crore will be provided by banks and financial institutions as loans to Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS), Marketing Cooperative Societies, FPOs, SHGs, Farmers, Joint Liability Groups (JLG), Multipurpose Cooperative Societies, Startups, etc.
  • Interest subvention:
    • All loans under this financing facility will have an interest subvention of 3% per annum up to a limit of Rs. 2 crores.
    • This subvention will be available for a maximum period of seven years.
  • Credit guarantee:
    • Credit guarantee coverage will be available for eligible borrowers from this financing facility under the Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) scheme for a loan up to Rs. 2 crores.
    • The fee for this coverage will be paid by the Government.
    • In the case of FPOs, the credit guarantee may be availed from the facility created under the FPO promotion scheme of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DACFW).
  • Management of the fund:
    • It will be managed and monitored through an online Management Information System (MIS) platform.
    • The National, State, and District level Monitoring Committees will be set up to ensure real-time monitoring and effective feedback.

State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 (SOFI 2020)

  • About:
    • The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is an annual flagship report jointly prepared by:
      1. Food and Agriculture Organization.
      2. International Fund for Agricultural Development.
      3. United Nations Children's Fund.
      4. World Food Programme.
      5. World Health Organization.
  • The objective of the report:
    • To inform on progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition, and to provide in-depth analysis of key challenges for achieving this goal in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Context:
    • The latest edition (SOFI 2020) was released on July 13th.
    • A new feature of SOFI 2020 is a detailed analysis of the “cost and affordability of healthy diets around the world”.
  • India-specific observations:
    1. Hundreds of millions of people in India above the international poverty line of $1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP) per person per day cannot afford a healthy or nutritious diet.
    2. This analysis confirms the fact that the problem of poor nutrition in India is largely on account of the unaffordability of good diets, and not on account of lack of information on nutrition or tastes or cultural preferences.
    3. Those we officially count as poor in India – with a cut-off that is lower than the international norm of $1.9 a day – cannot afford a nutrient-adequate diet let alone a healthy diet.
    4. Overall, the report estimates that 18% of South Asians (numbering 586 million people) cannot afford the nutrient-adequate diet and 58% of South Asians (1,337 million people) cannot afford a healthy diet.
  • Concerns for India:
    • The number of people who cannot afford a healthy diet has risen in the last three months, as employment and incomes collapsed for the majority of workers in the informal sector.
  • Need of the hour:
    1. Redefine poverty line: The Indian poverty line of 2011-12, as defined by the Tendulkar Committee, amounted to ₹33 per day in urban areas and ₹27 per day in rural areas, and corresponded roughly to $1 a day at international PPP prices.
    2. Affordability: If we want to reduce malnutrition and food insecurity, we have to address the problem of the affordability of healthy diets.
  • Prelims Concepts:
    • Three types of diet are defined:
      1. “Basic energy sufficient” diet: In which the required calorie intake is met by consuming only the cheapest starchy cereal available (say, rice or wheat). A requirement of 2,329 Kcal for a healthy young woman of 30 years is taken as the standard reference.
      2. “Nutrient adequate” diet: One where the required calorie norms and the stipulated requirement of 23 macro- and micro-nutrients are met. This diet includes the least-cost items from different food groups.
      3. “Healthy diet”: This is one which meets the calorie norm and the macro- and micro-nutrient norm and also allows for consumption of a diverse diet, from several food groups.
  • Cost of these diets:
    1. Energy-sufficient diet- $1.9 a day.
    2. Nutrient-adequate diet costs $2.12 a day.
    3. A healthy diet costs $4.07 a day.
  • What constitutes a healthy diet?
    • It includes 30 gm of cereal, 30 gm of pulses, 50 gm of meat/chicken/fish and 50 gm of eggs, 100 gm of milk, 100 gm of vegetables and fruit each, and 5 gm of oil a day. In short, a balanced and healthy meal but not excessive in any way.
    • The Indian recommendation for a healthy diet includes consumption of items from six groups: starchy staples, a protein-rich food (legumes, meat, and eggs), dairy, vegetables, fruits, and fats.

Swarna Sub1

  • Farmers in flood-prone areas of Assam have been harvesting the water-resistant Swarna Sub1 rice variety, developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute, since 2009.

Infrastructure:

Privatisation of Railways

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Railways has kick-started the process to allow private players to operate certain trains on its network by inviting Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the operation of passenger train services on over 100 routes with 150 modern trains.
    • The project will bring private sector investment of about Rs. 30,000 crore.
  • How does it work?
    1. Train sets have to be brought by private operators and maintained by them.
    2. Fares in private trains will be competitive and prices on other modes of transport like airlines, buses have to be kept in mind while fixing the fares
    3. Private participation in passenger train operations will only be 5% of the total operations of Railways. 95% of trains will still be run by Indian Railways.
  • Objectives of the initiative:
    1. To introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance.
    2. Reduce transit time.
    3. Boost job creation.
    4. Provide enhanced safety.
    5. Provide world-class travel experience to passengers.
    6. Reduce the demand-supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector.
  • Recommendations by Bibek Debroy Committee:
    • The Bibek Debroy Committee, which was set up to suggest ways to mobilize resources for the Indian Railways and restructure the Railway Board, had favored privatization of rolling stock: wagons and coaches.
  • Pros:
    • Improved Infrastructure – It will lead to better infrastructure which in turn would lead to improved amenities for travelers.
    • Balancing Quality of Service with High Fares – The move would foster competition and hence lead to overall betterment in the quality of services.
    • Lesser Accidents – Because private ownership is synonymous with better maintenance, supporters of privatization feel that it will reduce the number of accidents, thus resulting in safe travel and higher monetary savings in the long run.
  • Cons:
    • Coverage Limited to Lucrative Sectors – An advantage of Indian Railways being government-owned is that it provides nation-wide connectivity irrespective of profit. This would not be possible with privatization since routes which are less popular will be eliminated, thus having a negative impact on connectivity. It will also render some parts of the country virtually inaccessible and omit them from the process of development.
    • Fares – Given that a private enterprise runs on profit, it is but natural to assume that the easiest way of accruing profits in Indian Railways would be to hike fares, thus rendering the service out of reach for lower-income groups. This will defeat the entire purpose of the system which is meant to serve the entire population of the country irrespective of the level of income.
    • Accountability – Private companies are unpredictable in their dealings and do not share their governance secrets with the world at large. In such a scenario it would be difficult to pin the accountability on a particular entity, should there be a discrepancy.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/privatisation-of-indian-railways/

NHAI to Rank Roads for Quality Service

  • Context:
    • NHAI has decided to undertake performance assessment and ranking of the highways in the country.
    • They are aimed to take corrective recourse, wherever needed, to improve the quality and provide a higher level of service to highway commuters.
  • How will it be undertaken?
    • The criteria for the assessment have been broadly categorised in three main heads:
      1. Highway efficiency (45%)
      2. Highway safety (35%)
      3. User services (20%)
  • Other parameters:
    • Additionally, important parameters like operating speed, access control, time are taken at the toll plaza, road signages, road markings, accident rate, incident response time, crash barriers, illumination, availability of
    • Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMs), the functionality of structures, provision for grade-separated intersections, cleanliness, plantation, wayside amenities, and customer satisfaction will also be considered while conducting the assessment.
  • Significance:
    • The score obtained by each Corridor in each of the parameters will provide feedback and corrective recourse for higher standards of operation, better safety, and user experience to improve existing highways.
    • This will also help in identifying and filling gaps of design, standards, practices, guidelines and contract agreements for other NHAI projects.
  • Separate ranking for BOT, HAM, and EPC projects will also be done:
    • 1. Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) Annuity model:
      • Under this, a developer builds a highway, operates it for a specified duration, and transfers it back to the government.
      • The government starts payment to the developer after the launch of the commercial operation of the project.
    • 2. Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) Model:
      • Under this model, the cost is completely borne by the government.
      • The government invites bids for engineering knowledge from the private players. Procurement of raw materials and construction costs are met by the government.
    • 3. The Hybrid Annuity Model (HAM):
      • In India, the new HAM is a mix of BOT Annuity and EPC models.
      • As per the design, the government will contribute to 40% of the project cost in the first five years through annual payments (annuity).
      • The remaining payment will be made on the basis of the assets created and the performance of the developer.
      • Here, the developer has to raise the remaining 60% in the form of equity or loans. There is no toll right for the developer.
      • Revenue collection would be the responsibility of NHAI.

Rewa solar project

  • Context:
    • Inaugurated recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is Asia's largest 750 MW solar power project.
    • It is located at Rewa in Madhya Pradesh.
    • The Solar Park was developed by the Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Limited (RUMSL), a Joint Venture Company of Madhya Pradesh UrjaVikas Nigam Limited (MPUVN), and Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI), a Central Public Sector Undertaking.
  • Significance:
    • The Rewa project has been acknowledged in India and abroad for its robust project structuring and innovations.
      1. Its payment security mechanism for reducing risks to power developers has been recommended as a model to other States by MNRE.
      2. It has also received World Bank Group President’s Award for innovation and excellence and was included in the book “A Book of Innovation: New Beginnings” released by Prime Minister.
      3. The project is also the first renewable energy project to supply to an institutional customer outside the State, i.e. Delhi Metro, which will get 24% of energy from the project with the remaining 76% being supplied to the State DISCOMs of Madhya Pradesh.
      4. The Project also exemplifies India’s commitment to attaining the target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by the year 2022, including 100 GW of solar installed capacity.

Winter grade diesel for Ladakh

  • Context:
    • Winter diesel is a specialised fuel that was introduced by IOCL last year specifically for high altitude regions and low-temperature regions such as Ladakh, where ordinary diesel can become unusable.
  • About:
    • It contains additives to maintain lower viscosity. It has a higher cetane rating — an indicator is the combustion speed of diesel and compression needed for ignition— and lower sulphur content, which would lead to lower deposits in engines and better performance.
  • Significance:
    • The new fuel has a pour point of – 33oC and does not lose its fluidity function even in the extreme winter weather of the region unlike the normal grade of diesel which becomes exceedingly difficult to utilise.
  • Need:
    • Using the normal grade of diesel fuel becomes an arduous task for the people in the winter months where temperatures fall to sub-zero temperatures of nearly –30 degrees Celsius.

Web Portal And App:

ASEEM portal

  • The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has launched ‘Aatmanirbhar Skilled Employee Employer Mapping’ (ASEEM) portal to help skilled people find sustainable livelihood opportunities.
  • The Artificial Intelligence-based ASEEM will provide employers a platform to assess the availability of a skilled workforce and formulate their hiring plans.

India Cycles4Change Challenge

  • About:
    • It is an initiative of the Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Housing, and Urban Affairs to inspire and support Indian cities to quickly implement cycling-friendly initiatives in response to COVID-19.
    • The Challenge aims to help cities connect with their citizens as well as experts to develop a unified vision to promote cycling.
  • Who can apply?
    • Cities with a population of more than 5 lakh.
    • Capital cities of states/UTs.
    • Cities under the Smart Cities Mission.

ATL App Development Module

  • NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) has launched the ‘ATL App Development Module ’for school children all across the country.
  • Launched in collaboration with Indian homegrown startup Plezmo.
  • It is an online course and is completely Free.

Mobile App “Mausam”

  • Ministry of Earth Sciences launches Mobile App “Mausam” for Indian Meteorological Department.
  • Users can access observed weather, forecasts, radar images and be proactively warned of impending weather events.
  • The mobile app has been designed and developed jointly by ICRISAT’s Digital Agriculture & Youth (DAY) team, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, and India Meteorological Department.

Environment

Species in news:

Name Of Species: Information:

Globba andersonii

  • Context:
    • Researchers have “rediscovered” this plant species from the Sikkim Himalayas near the Teesta river valley region after a gap of nearly 136 years.
    • It was thought to have been extinct until its “re-collection”, for the first time since 1875.
  • About:
    • It is a rare and critically endangered plant species.
    • It is commonly as ‘dancing ladies’ or ‘swan flowers’.
    • They are characterised by white flowers, non-appendaged anthers (the part of a stamen that contains the pollen), and a “yellowish lip”.
    • The species is restricted mainly to the Teesta River Valley region which includes the Sikkim Himalayas and Darjeeling hill ranges.
    • The plant usually grows in a dense colony as a lithophyte (plant growing on bare rock or stone).

Striped Hairstreak 

  • Context:
    • Lepidopterists have discovered two species of butterflies in Arunachal Pradesh. They are:
  • About:
    1. The Striped Hairstreak (Yamamotozephyrus kwangtugenesis) was located in Vijaynagar bordering Myanmar. It was first recorded by Japanese entomologists in Hainan province of China.
    2. The Elusive Prince (Rohana tonkiniana) was found in Miao on the periphery of the Namdapha National Park. It has a Vietnamese connection and was thought to be the more familiar Black Prince found in the Eastern Himalayas.

Tiger Orchids

  • Tiger orchids (Grammatophyllum speciosum) are called so for their large and resplendent flowers that resemble the tiger skin.
  • They flower in alternate years.
  • These epiphytic plants are not native to India. They, in fact, are endemic to southeast Asia.
  • The tiger orchid has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records due to its massive size. Mature plant in its natural habitat weighs up to 2 tonnes.

Ground Orchid

  • Eulophia obtusa, a rare orchid species, also known as 'ground orchid', has been rediscovered after 118 years in the forests of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.
  • In India, this species was last sighted in Pilibhit in 1902 and there is a documented record in Kew Herbarium in England.
  • It is listed as “critically endangered” as per the IUCN Red List of endangered species.
  • CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora) has also included this plan as a rare species and kept it in Tier-2 list and its trade is prohibited.

Bathynomus raksasa

  • Context:
    • It is a “supergiant” Bathynomus, and is being described as the “cockroach of the sea”.
    • It is the first 'supergiant' isopod species discovered recently by the researchers in the eastern Indian Ocean (Bantan, off the southern coast of West Java in Indonesia).
  • About:
    • It has 14 legs but uses these only to crawl along the bed of oceans in search of food.
    • It measures around 50 centimetres (1.6 feet) in length, which is big for isopods, which normally do not grow beyond 33 cm (just over a foot).
    • Isopods that reach 50 cm are referred to as supergiants.
    • The giant isopods are distantly related to crabs, lobsters, and shrimps (which belong to the order of decapods), and are found in the cold depths of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
    • The only member of the isopod species that exceeds the raksasa in size is the Bathynomus giganteus, which is commonly found in the deep waters of the western Atlantic Ocean.

Indian Bullfrog

  • Scientific name:
    • Hoplobatrachus tigerinus.
  • IUCN status:
    • Least Concern category.
  • Habitats:
    • South and South-East Asia.
  • About:
    • It is the largest frog found in the Indian Subcontinent.
    • They often engage in cannibalism by feeding on smaller individuals of their own kind and on other frogs.
    • Its loud croaking call attracts the opposite sex, but also predators.
    • It is protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 1971.

Ophiocordyceps sinensis

  • Context:
    • Also known as Himalayan Viagra, it is the world’s costliest fungus.
    • It has entered the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
    • IUCN has placed the fungus, known for its aphrodisiac and rejuvenation properties, in the ‘vulnerable’ category.
    • The fungus, also known as keeda Jadi in Uttarakhand because of its caterpillar-like appearance is endemic to the Himalayan and Tibetan plateau and is found in China, Bhutan, Nepal, and India.
  • About:
    • In India, it is primarily found in Uttarakhand in the higher reaches of districts like Pithoragarh and Chamoli.
  • What is the name of the butterfly recently recorded as the largest in India?
    • A Himalayan butterfly named Golden Birdwing is now India’s largest.
    • While the female Golden Birdwing was recorded from Didihat in Uttarakhand, the largest male was from the Wankhar Butterfly Museum in Meghalaya capital Shillong.
    • So far, the record was held by the Southern Birdwing, recorded in 1932. The only measurement used in the study of Lepidoptera is wingspan — a simple concept with various interpretations of the term.
    • The wingspan of female Golden Birdwing is 194 mm, marginally larger than the Southern Birdwing (190 mm).
    • The smallest is the Quaker (Neopithecops zalmora) with a wingspan of 18 mm and a forewing length of 8 mm.


Pollution And Conservation:

Clean Energy Can Support India’s Economic Recovery post-COVID-19

  • Context:
    • NITI Aayog and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) have released Towards a Clean Energy Economy: Post-COVID- 19 Opportunities for India’s Energy and Mobility Sectors report.
  • What is the report all about?
    • The report advocates for stimulus and recovery efforts that work towards building a clean, resilient, and least-cost energy future for India.
    • These efforts include electric vehicle, energy storage, and renewable energy programs.
  • Challenges posed by COVID- 19:
    • Covid-19 has presented significant demand- and supply-side challenges for India’s transport and power sectors, from liquidity constraints and supply shortages to shifts in consumer demand and preferences.
    • The report lays out four principles as a framework for policymakers and other key decision-makers considering programmes to support India’s clean energy future:
      1. Invest in least-cost-energy solutions.
      2. Support resilient and secure energy systems.
      3. Prioritize efficiency and competitiveness.
      4. Promote social and environmental equity.
  • What needs to be done now?
    • India needs to identify strategic opportunities for economic recovery in the short, medium, and long terms that can translate challenges posed by the pandemic into clean energy transition opportunities.
    • Opportunities in the transport sector include making public transport safe, enhancing and expanding non-motorized transport infrastructure, reducing vehicle kilometres travelled through work-from-home where possible, supporting national strategies to adopt electric vehicles in the freight and passenger segments, and making India an automotive export hub.
    • In the power sector, opportunities include improving the electricity distribution business and its operations, enabling renewables and distributed energy resources, and promoting energy resilience and local manufacturing of renewable energy and energy storage technologies.
  • Potential:
    • The report states that India’s transport sector can save 1.7 gigatonnes of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions.
    • It can also avoid about 600 million tonnes of oil equivalent in fuel demand by 2030.

Namami Gange

  • Context:
    • The World Bank and the Government of India have signed a loan agreement to enhance support for the Namami Gange programme that seeks to rejuvenate the Ganga river.
    • World Bank provides $400 million to enhance support for rejuvenating the Ganga.
  • About Namami Gange Programme:
    • It is an umbrella programme that integrates previous and currently ongoing initiatives by enhancing efficiency, extracting synergies, and supplementing them with more comprehensive & better-coordinated interventions.
    • Implemented by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), and its state counterparts—State Programme Management Groups.
  • National Ganga Council (NGC):
    • Created in October 2016 under the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection, and Management) Authorities Order, 2016, dissolving the National Ganga River Basin Authority.
    • Headed by the Prime Minister.
    • It replaced the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).
    • NGC would have onboard the chief ministers of five Ganga basin states—Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal—besides several Union ministers and it was supposed to meet once every year.
  • Main Pillars of the Namami Gange Programme are:
    1. Sewerage Treatment Infrastructure
    2. River-Surface Cleaning
    3. Afforestation
    4. Industrial Effluent Monitoring
    5. River-Front Development
    6. Bio-Diversity
    7. Public Awareness
    8. Ganga Gram
  • Why we need “Namami Gange” programme?
    1. River Ganga has significant economic, environmental and cultural value in India.
    2. Rising in the Himalayas and flowing to the Bay of Bengal, the river traverses a course of more than 2,500 km through the plains of north and eastern India.
    3. The Ganga basin – which also extends into parts of Nepal, China and Bangladesh – accounts for 26 percent of India’s landmass.
    4. The Ganga also serves as one of India’s holiest rivers whose cultural and spiritual significance transcends the boundaries of the basin.
    5. If we are able to clean it, it will be a huge help for the 40 percent population of the country.
  • What are the pollution threats to Ganga?
    1. Rapidly increasing population, rising standards of living and exponential growth of industrialization and urbanization have exposed water resources to various forms of degradation.
    2. The deterioration in the water quality of Ganga impacts the people immediately.
    3. Ganga has become unfit even for bathing during lean seasons.
    4. The impacts of infrastructural projects in the upper reaches of the river Ganga raise issues.
  • Challenges ahead:
    1. Sewage treatment.
    2. Restoring the flow.
    3. Sludge control.
    4. Cost overruns.
    5. Governance glitches.

High levels of ammonia in Yamuna water

  • Context:
    • High levels of ammonia (3 ppm) were recently detected in the Yamuna river.
    • Because of this, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) had to reduce water production capacity by 25 percent.
  • What is the acceptable limit?
    • The acceptable maximum limit of ammonia in drinking water, as per the Bureau of Indian Standards, is 0.5 ppm.
  • What is ammonia and what are its effects?
    • Ammonia is a colourless gas and is used as an industrial chemical in the production of fertilisers, plastics, synthetic fibres, dyes and other products.
    • It consists of hydrogen and nitrogen. In its aqueous form, it is called ammonium hydroxide.
    • This inorganic compound has a pungent smell.
  • Occurrence:
    • Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment from the breakdown of organic waste matter.
    • It is lighter than air.
  • Contamination:
    • It may find its way to ground and surface water sources through industrial effluents or through contamination by sewage.
    • If the concentration of ammonia in water is above 1 ppm it is toxic to fishes.
    • In humans, long term ingestion of water having ammonia levels of 1 ppm or above may cause damage to internal organs.
  • How does it enter the Yamuna?
    • The most likely source is believed to be effluents from dye units, distilleries and other factories in Panipat and Sonepat districts in Haryana, and also sewage from some unsewered colonies in this stretch of the river.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Stringent implementation of guidelines against dumping harmful waste into the river.
    • Making sure untreated sewage does not enter the water.
    • Maintain a sustainable minimum flow, called the ecological flow. This is the minimum amount of water that should flow throughout the river at all times to sustain underwater and estuarine ecosystems and human livelihoods, and for self-regulation.
  • Challenges ahead:
    1. Delhi is dependent on Haryana for up to 70 percent of its water needs.
    2. Haryana, with a large number of people involved in agriculture, has water paucity issues of its own.
    3. Both states have argued over maintaining 10 cumecs (cubic meter per second) flow in the Yamuna at all times.
    4. Both states have approached the courts several times over the past decade to get what they call an equitable share of water.
    5. The lack of a minimum ecological flow also means the accumulation of other pollutants. After the water is extracted from the river for treatment in North East Delhi, what flows is mostly untreated sewage and refuse from homes, runoff from stormwater drains, and effluents from the unregulated industry.
    6. These challenges need to be addressed at the earliest.

Environment:

Financial and technological commitments under UNFCCC

  • Context:
    • The fourth edition of the virtual Ministerial on Climate Action was recently held.
    • The meeting was co-chaired by the European Union, China, and Canada.
  • Outcomes of the meet:
    • Developed country parties were called upon to do their part as envisaged under UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, for extending financial and technological support to developing countries.
  • What was announced under the Paris Agreement?
    • At the Paris Conference in 2015 where the Agreement was negotiated, the developed countries reaffirmed the commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 and agreed to continue mobilizing finance at the level of $100 billion a year until 2025.
  • What is the Paris Agreement?
    • It is a historic international accord that brings almost 200 countries together in setting a common target to reduce global greenhouse emissions in an effort to fight climate change.
      1. The pact seeks to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels and to try and limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
      2. To this end, each country has pledged to implement targeted action plans that will limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
      3. The Agreement asks rich and developed countries to provide financial and technological support to the developing world in its quest to fight and adapt to climate change.
  • About UNFCCC:
    • The UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, which marked the beginning of the international community’s first concerted effort to confront the problem of climate change.
    • Known also as the Rio Convention, the UNFCCC established a framework for action to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.
    • The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994.

Green – Ag Project

  • Context:
    • The Union government on July 28, 2020, launched the Green-Ag Project in Mizoram, to reduce emissions from agriculture and ensure sustainable agricultural practices.
    • Mizoram is one of the five states where the project will be implemented. Other states include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttarakhand.
  • About the Project:
    • The Green-Ag Project is funded by the Global Environment Facility, while the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers’ Welfare (DAC&FW) is the national executing agency.
    • Other key players involved in its implementation are the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
    • The project seeks to integrate biodiversity, climate change, and sustainable land management objectives and practices into Indian agriculture.
  • Pilot project:
    • The pilot project is supposed to end on March 31, 2026, in all states.
    • It aims to cover 35 villages and includes two protected areas — the Dampa Tiger Reserve and the Thorangtlang Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Targets:
    1. Achieve multiple global environmental benefits in at least 1.8 million hectares (ha) of land in five landscapes, with mixed land-use systems.
    2. Bring at least 104,070 ha of farms under sustainable land and water management.
    3. Ensure 49 million Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) sequestered or reduced through sustainable land use and agricultural practices.

Global Tiger Day

  • Context:
    • Observed on 29 July. It was created in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit.
    • On this occasion, the Union Environment Ministry has released an updated report on India’s Tiger Survey from 2018.
  • Highlights:
    1. Country’s tiger population: 2,967 — unchanged from the government’s estimate last year
    2. India has nearly 70% of the world’s tigers.
    3. Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of tigers at 526, closely followed by Karnataka (524) and Uttarakhand (442).
    4. Chhattisgarh and Mizoram saw a decline in the tiger population and all other States saw a “positive” increase.
    5. While Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of tigers, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu registered the “maximum improvement” since 2014.
  • Guinness Record:
    • The fourth cycle of the All India Tiger Estimation 2018 recently entered the Guinness World Record for being the world’s largest camera trap wildlife survey.
    • Camera traps were placed in 26,838 locations across 141 different sites and surveyed an effective area of 121,337 square kilometers.
  • All India Tiger estimation:
    • The All India Tiger Estimation done quadrennially is steered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority with technical backstopping from the Wildlife Institute of India and implemented by State Forest Departments and partners.
  • Conservation efforts- National and Global:
    1. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has launched the M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status), a mobile monitoring system for forest guards.
    2. At the Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010, leaders of 13 tiger range countries resolved to do more for the tiger and embarked on efforts to double its number in the wild, with a popular slogan ‘T X 2’.
    3. The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) program of the World Bank, using its presence and convening ability, brought global partners together to strengthen the tiger agenda.
    4. Over the years, the initiative has institutionalised itself as a separate entity in the form of the Global Tiger Initiative Council (GTIC), with its two arms – the Global Tiger Forum and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program.
    5. The Project Tiger, launched way back in 1973, has grown to more than 50 reserves amounting to almost 2.2% of the country’s geographical area.
  • Prelims Fact:
    • What are the different species of tigers?
      • There are different species of tigers – Siberian tigers, Bengal tigers, Indochinese tigers, Malayan tigers, and South China.
      • The Bengal tiger is found primarily in India with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. It is the most numerous of all tiger subspecies with more than 2,500 left in the wild.

Central Zoo Authority (CZA)

  • Context:
    • The Environment Ministry has reconstituted the Central Zoo Authority (CZA).
    • The CZA would now include an expert from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, and a molecular biologist.
  • About CZA:
    • CZA is a statutory body chaired by the Environment Minister.
    • It is tasked with regulating zoos across the country.
    • Every zoo in the country must obtain recognition from CZA for its operation.
    • The authority lays down guidelines and prescribes rules under which animals may be transferred among zoos nationally and internationally.
  • Composition:
    • Apart from the chairman, it consists of 10 members and a member-secretary.
    • Almost all of them are officials in the Environment Ministry and non-government experts are those who are wildlife conservationists or retired forest officers.

Aerial seeding

  • Context:
    • The Haryana Forest Department has started aerial seeding across the state on a pilot basis.
    • This technique will allow plantation in sections of the Aravallis that are either difficult to access or inaccessible altogether.
    • The pilot project will help determine the effectiveness of the technology and the dispersal mechanism.
  • What is aerial seeding?
    • It is a technique of plantation wherein seed balls – seeds covered with a mixture of clay, compost, char, and other components – are sprayed on the ground using aerial devices, including planes, helicopters or drones.
  • How does this technique work?
    1. Seeds balls or seed pellets are dispersed in a targeted area by the low-flying drones.
    2. They fall to the ground with the help of the coating of clay, compost, char, and other material, that provides the required weight for seeds to drop on a predetermined location rather than disperse in the wind.
    3. These pellets will then sprout when there is enough rain, with the nutrients present within them helping in the initial growth.
  • What are the advantages of this technique?
    • Areas that are inaccessible, have steep slopes, are fragmented or disconnected with no forest routes, making conventional plantation difficult, can be targeted with aerial seeding.
    • The process of the seed’s germination and growth is such that it requires no attention after it is dispersed – the reason why seed pellets are known as the “fire and forget” way of the plantation.
    • They eliminate the need for ploughing and digging holes in the soil and the seeds do not need to be planted, since they are already surrounded by soil, nutrients, and microorganisms.
    • The clay shell of these pellets along with the other items in the mixture also protects them from birds, ants, and rats.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/aerial-seeding/

Snakebites in India

  • Context:
    • Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR) at the University of Toronto, Canada, had recently conducted a study on snakebites with Indian and U.K. partners.
    • The report has been made public now.
    • The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises snakebite as a top-priority neglected tropical disease (NTD).
  • About:
    1. Total deaths caused by snakebites in the 20-year period from 2000 to 2019: 1.2 million.
    2. Annual Average: 58,000.
    3. 70% of these deaths occurred in limited, low altitude, rural areas of eight States — Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana), Rajasthan and Gujarat.
    4. Half of all the snakebite deaths occurred during the monsoon period from June to September.
    5. Most of the envenomation (the process by which venom is injected by the bite or sting of a venomous animal) was by Russell’s vipers followed by kraits and cobras.
    6. Snakebite deaths occurred mostly in rural areas (97%), were more common in males (59%) than females (41%), and peaked at ages 15-29 years (25%).
    7. The numbers for annual snakebite deaths were highest in the States of Uttar Pradesh (8,700), Andhra Pradesh (5,200) and Bihar (4,500), it further added.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Since deaths are restricted mainly to lower altitude, intensely agricultural areas, during a single season of each year, this should make the annual epidemics easier to manage.
      1. Primary victims of snakebites are rural farmers and their families.
      2. Experts suggest that targeting certain areas and educating people with simple methods such as ‘snake-safe’ harvest practices — using rubber boots and gloves, mosquito nets, and rechargeable torches (or mobile phone flashlights) — could reduce the risk of snakebites.
      3. Improved knowledge of the distribution of venomous snake species as well as the human consequences of bites.
      4. India has sufficient capacity to manufacture large volumes of anti-venom. Better understanding of the distribution of India’s many venomous snake species could help in the design and development of more appropriate anti-venoms.

India’s Tiger Census sets a New Guinness Record

  • Context:
    • The fourth cycle of the All India Tiger Estimation 2018, results of which were declared on Global Tiger Day last year has entered the Guinness World Record for being the world’s largest camera trap wildlife survey.
    • Camera traps were placed in 26,838 locations across 141 different sites and surveyed an effective area of 121,337 square kilometres.
  • Tigers in India:
    • The country now has an estimated 2967 tigers as per the latest census.
    • With this number, India is home to nearly 75% of the global tiger population.
    • It has already fulfilled its resolve of doubling tiger numbers, made at St. Petersburg in 2010, much before the target year of 2022.
  • 4th cycle of all India Tiger Estimation- highlights:
    1. The highest number of tigers have found in Madhya Pradesh (526), after that Karnataka has 524 and Uttarakhand is accommodating 442 tigers.
    2. In five years, the number of protected areas increased from 692 to over 860, community reserves from 43 to over 100.
    3. While the 2014 census pegged the total number of striped big cats in the country at 2,226, 2010 census put the figure at 1,706 and the 2006 version at 1,411, indicating that tiger numbers have been on the up.
    4. While Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of tigers, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu registered the “maximum improvement” since 2014.
    5. Chhattisgarh and Mizoram saw a decline in their tiger numbers while tiger numbers in Odisha remained constant. All other states witnessed a positive trend.
  • All India Tiger estimation:
    • The All India Tiger Estimation done quadrennially is steered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority with technical backstopping from the Wildlife Institute of India and implemented by State Forest Departments and partners.
  • Conservation efforts- National and Global:
    1. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has launched the M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status), a mobile monitoring system for forest guards.
    2. At the Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010, leaders of 13 tiger range countries resolved to do more for the tiger and embarked on efforts to double its number in the wild, with a popular slogan ‘T X 2’.
    3. The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) program of the World Bank, using its presence and convening ability, brought global partners together to strengthen the tiger agenda.
    4. Over the years, the initiative has institutionalised itself as a separate entity in the form of the Global Tiger Initiative Council (GTIC), with its two arms –the Global Tiger Forum and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program.
    5. The Project Tiger, launched way back in 1973, has grown to more than 50 reserves amounting to almost 2.2% of the country’s geographical area.

Assam’s Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary

  • Context:
    • Assam government has decided to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary into a national park.
  • About Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary:
    • Also known as the Jeypore Rainforest is a part of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.
    • Located in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, the 111.19 sq km Dehing Patkai has declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2004.
    • It is home to 47 mammal, 47 reptiles, and 310 butterfly species.
    • It forms the largest stretch of lowland rainforest in the country.
    • Dehing is the name of the river that flows through this forest and Patkai is the hill at the foot of which the sanctuary lies.
  • What is a National Park?
    • According to the Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests, a national park is “[a]n area, whether within a sanctuary or not, [that] can be notified by the state government to be constituted as a National Park, by reason of its ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, or zoological association or importance, needed to for the purpose of protecting & propagating or developing wildlife therein or its environment.
    • National parks in India are IUCN category II protected areas.
    • India's first national park was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park, now known as Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand.

UN’s High-Level Political Forum

  • Context:
    • NITI Aayog presents India’s second Voluntary National Review at the UN’s High-Level Political Forum.
    • The India VNR 2020 report is titled “Decade of Action: Taking SDGs from Global to Local”.
  • Background:
    • NITI Aayog has the mandate of overseeing the adoption and monitoring of SDGs at the national and subnational levels.
  • Details:
    • The report is a comprehensive account of the adoption and implementation of the 2030 Agenda in India.
    • Apart from presenting a review of progress on the 17 SDGs, the report discusses the policy and enabling environment, India’s approach to localising SDGs and strengthening means of implementation.
  • About the United Nations HLPF:
    • The establishment of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was mandated in 2012 by the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), “The Future We Want”.
    • The HLPF meets annually in July for eight days under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.
    • It replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development, which had met annually since 1993.
  • Functions:
    • The HLPF is the main United Nations platform on sustainable development.
    • It has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global level.
  • What is the Voluntary National Review (VNR)?
    • VNR is a process through which countries assess and present progress made in achieving the global goals and the pledge to leave no one behind.
    • The purpose is to present a snapshot of where the country stands in SDG implementation, with a view to helping accelerate progress through experience sharing, peer-learning, identifying gaps and good practices, and mobilizing partnerships.
    • The reviews are voluntary and state-led and are aimed at facilitating the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges, and lessons learned.
    • The process of preparation of a country’s VNR provides a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of various relevant stakeholders.

Dolphin number dips in Chambal river

  • Context:
    • Madhya Pradesh forest department has released the latest Dolphin census report.
  • Key findings:
    • There are just 68 dolphins left in 435-kilometer-long Chambal river sanctuary which passes through three states (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan).
    • Dolphins’ number in the Chambal river has been reduced by 13 percent in four years.
    • The decreasing trend is continuing from 2016 when there were 78 dolphins.
  • Reasons for the decline:
    1. Illegal sand mining.
    2. Overuse of river water.
    3. Changing the River course.
    4. Inland waterways / Movement of large cargo vessels.
    5. Various anthropogenic/religious activities.
    6. Accidental killing – bycatch/ fisheries-related entanglements.
  • Key facts- Gangetic dolphin:
    1. Platanista gangetica has been declared endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
    2. It has rudimentary eyes. From preying to surfing, dolphins do it through ultrasonic sound.
    3. It is India's national aquatic animal and is popularly known as ‘Susu’
    4. They are distributed across seven states in India: Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.

Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone

  • Context:
    • The union environment ministry has approved the zonal master plan for the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification that stretches from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi covering an area of 4179.59 sqm.
    • This move will help expedite the chaardhaam road project.
  • What is there in the zonal master plan?
    • The ZMP is based on the watershed approach and includes governance in the area of forest and wildlife, watershed management, irrigation, energy, tourism, public health and sanitation, road infrastructure, etc.
  • Background:
    • The Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification was first issued by the environment ministry on December 18, 2012.
    • After years of protests by local environmentalists, the notification sought to protect the entire fragile Himalayan region by restricting hydropower projects of over 2 MW, riverbed mining, and change of land use.
    • The notification was however amended on April 16, 2018, following Uttarakhand government’s objections that the notification was ‘anti-development.’
    • The amendments approved a land-use change to meet the local needs including civic amenities and other infrastructure development in the larger public interest and national security with the prior approval of State Government with the due study of Environmental Impacts.
  • What are the Concerns now?
    • This approval could make the entire Bhagirathi region extremely vulnerable to natural disasters.
  • Pointing at the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy, experts put forth the following arguments:
    1. The Himalayas are extremely fragile mountains. The rocks still haven’t consolidated completely. Hill cutting will definitely destabilise hills.
    2. If there is forest loss, debris would flow into the river affecting the river and making the entire region extremely vulnerable to landslides.
    3. Beyond 1800 to 2000 metres altitude it's mostly moraines (unconsolidated glacial debris). If there is a cloudburst these will add to landslides.
    4. The Himalayas are also in seismic zone V- a major earthquake can happen anytime.
  • Where is Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone?
    • Located in the upper Himalayas, the notified area of the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone is an interwoven, interdependent fragile Ganga- Himalayan Basin.
    • Geographically the area falls under the Garhwal lesser Himalayas and Higher Himalayas.

RAISE initiative

  • Context:
    • “Retrofit of Air-conditioning to improve Indoor Air Quality for Safety and Efficiency” (RAISE) national programme has been launched.
    • It is a joint initiative of Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) MAITREE Program.
  • Need for and significance of the programme:
    • Poor air quality has been a concern in India for quite some time and has become more important in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • As people return to their offices and public spaces, maintaining good indoor air quality is essential for occupant comfort, well-being, productivity, and overall public health.
    • RAISE initiative can potentially alleviate the issue of bad air quality in workspaces across the nation and pioneer ways to make them healthier and greener.

Market Integration and Transformation Program for Energy Efficiency (MAITREE) program

  • It is a part of the US-India bilateral Partnership between the Ministry of Power and USAID and is aimed at accelerating the adoption of cost-effective energy efficiency as a standard practice within buildings, and specifically focuses on cooling.

Lonar Lake turned pink

  • Context:
    • Maharashtra’s Lonar Lake had turned Pink in June this year. Lakhs of people including the scientists were curious about this color-change.
  • What’s the reason behind colour change?
    • It was due to a salt-loving bacteria (red-coloured archaeal strains classified as halophilic archaea or haloarchaea). It is associated with high salinity and alkalinity (pH).
    • Pink colour of the water was not permanent- Once the biomass of the microbes settled at the bottom, the water became transparent during one such experiment at the labs.
    • These findings are based on a report by Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) in Pune, an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology.
  • Other Factors:
    • The absence of rain, less human interference and high temperature resulted in the evaporation of water which increased its salinity and pH.
    • The increased salinity and pH facilitated the growth of halophilic microbes, mainly Haloarchae.
  • Finding related to flamingos:
    • During the investigation, researchers also came across an interesting incidental finding related to flamingos that visit the lake.
    • The plumage of the bird is pink or reddish in colour because of the ingestion of carotenoids-rich food.
    • This bacteria, which produces a pink pigment, is ingested by these birds and they get carotenoid-rich food, because of that their plumage is pink in colour.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • Lonar crater lake was identified as a unique geographical site by a British officer named CJE Alexander in 1823.
    • It is an ancient circular lake created by a meteorite strike in Maharashtra.
    • Lonar crater became a geo-heritage site in 1979.
    • Lonar Lake lies within the only known extraterrestrial impact crater found within the great Deccan Traps, a huge basaltic formation in India.

Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA)

  • Context:
    • Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2020 was recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
  • About FRA:
    • FAO has brought out this comprehensive assessment every five years since 1990.
    • This report assesses the state of forests, their conditions and management for all member countries.
  • According to FRA 2020, the top 10 countries that have recorded the maximum average annual net gains in a forest area during 2010-2020 are:
    1. China
    2. Australia
    3. India
    4. Chile
    5. Vietnam
    6. Turkey
    7. United States
    8. France
    9. Italy
    10. Romania
  • Key findings:
    • The Asian continent reported the highest net gain in a forest area in 2010-2020. It recorded 1.17 million hectares (ha) per year net increase in forests in the last decade. South Asia sub-region reported net forest losses during 1990-2020.
  • India-related findings:
    • During the decade under assessment, India reported 0.38 percent annual gain in the forest, or 266,000 ha of forest increase every year at an average.
    • The FRA 2020 has credited the government’s Joint Forest Management programme for the significant increase in community-managed forest areas in the Asian continent.
    • The forest area managed by local, tribal, and indigenous communities in India increased from zero in 1990 to about 25 million ha in 2015.
    • However, the naturally regenerating forest rate is disappointing, according to the assessment. During 2010-20, the rate of increase in naturally regenerating forests was just 0.38 percent.
    • India reported maximum employment in the forestry sector in the world. Globally, 12.5 million people were employed in the forestry sector. Out of this, India accounted for 6.23 million, or nearly 50 percent.

Science And Technology

Space:

Moon is more metallic 

  • Context:
    • NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has found evidence that the Moon’s subsurface might have greater quantities of metals such as iron and titanium than thought before.
    • The metallic distribution was observed by the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument aboard the LRO.
    • The Mini-RF findings were backed by metal oxide maps from the LRO Wide-Angle Camera, Japan’s Kaguya mission, and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft, which showed that larger craters with their increased dielectric material were also richer in metals.
  • How was it discovered?
    • LRO’s Mini-RF instrument was measuring an electrical property within lunar soil in crater floors in the Moon’s northern hemisphere.
    • The property, known as the dielectric constant, is the ratio of the electric permeability of a material to the electric permeability of a vacuum.
    • Dielectric properties are directly linked to the concentration of these metal minerals.
    • The level of this property increased as they surveyed larger craters, and kept rising in crater sizes up to 5 km in diameter. Beyond that size, the value of the dielectric constant leveled off.
    • The findings raise the possibility that the dielectric constant increased in larger craters because the meteors that created them dug up dust containing iron and titanium oxides from beneath the Moon’s surface.
  • How was the moon created?
    • The most popular theory about the Moon’s creation is that a Mars-sized protoplanet collided with newly formed Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, breaking off a piece of our planet that went on to become its satellite.
    • The hypothesis is also backed by substantial evidence, such as the close resemblance between the Moon’s bulk chemical composition with that of Earth.
  • Implications of the latest findings:
    • It is known that Earth’s crust has lesser amounts of iron oxide than the Moon– a finding that scientists have been trying to explain.
    • Now, the new discovery of even greater quantities of metal on the Moon makes their job even more difficult. It really raises the question of what this means for our previous formation hypotheses.
    • A possible reason could be that the Moon was created from a material much deeper beneath Earth’s surface than was believed before, or that the newly found metal presence could be the result of the molten lunar surface cooling down gradually.
  • About Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):
    • It is a NASA mission to the moon within the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program (LPRP) in preparation for future manned missions to the moon and beyond (Mars).
    • LRO is the first mission of NASA’s `New Vision for Space Exploration’.
      • The objectives of LRO are to:
        1. Identify potential lunar resources.
        2. Gather detailed maps of the lunar surface.
        3. Collect data on the moon’s radiation levels.
        4. Study the moons polar regions for resources that could be used in future manned missions or robotic sample return missions.

Production of lithium in stars

  • Context:
    • A forty-year-old puzzle regarding the production of lithium in stars has been solved by Indian researchers.
  • What was the puzzle all about?
    • Stars, as per known mechanisms of evolution, actually destroy lithium as they evolve into red giants. Planets were known to have more lithium than their stars — as is the case with the Earth-Sun pair.
    • However, leading to a contradiction, some stars were found that were lithium-rich.
  • This posed a puzzle — if stars do not produce lithium, how do some stars develop to become lithium-rich?
    • So far, the planet engulfment theory was quite popular. For example, Earth-like planets may increase the star’s lithium content when they plunge into their star’s atmosphere when the latter become Red Giants.
  • Latest findings:
    • When stars grow beyond their Red Giant stage into what is known as the Red Clump stage, they produce lithium in what is known as a Helium Flash and this is what enriches them with lithium.
    • The study also challenges the present understanding of nucleosynthesis in stars.
  • What is the big bang nucleosynthesis (BBN)?
    • The Big Bang Nucleosynthesis theory predicts that roughly 25% of the mass of the Universe consists of Helium. It also predicts about 0.01% deuterium and even smaller quantities of lithium.
    • It is the production of nuclei other than those of the lightest isotope of hydrogen during the early phases of the Universe. Primordial nucleosynthesis is believed by most cosmologists to have taken place in the interval from roughly 10 seconds to 20 minutes after the Big Bang.
  • Origin of Lithium:
    • It was first produced in the Big Bang, around 13.7 billion years ago when the universe came into being, along with other elements.
    • While the abundance of other elements grew millions of times, the present abundance of lithium in the universe is only four times the original [Big Bang] value.
    • It is actually destroyed in the stars.
    • The Sun, for instance, has about a factor of 100 lower amount of lithium than the Earth.

NEOWISE- a comet

  • Context:
    • The recently discovered comet called C/2020 F3, also known as NEOWISE after the NASA telescope that discovered it, will make its closest approach to the Earth on July 22.
    • On the day, the comet, which takes 6,800 years to complete one lap around its orbit, will be at a distance of 64 million miles or 103 million kilometers while crossing Earth’s outside orbit.
  • What is Coma?
    • On July 3, the comet was closest to the sun at 43 million km. On this day, the comet cruised inside Mercury’s orbit and, due to its proximity to the sun, its outer layer was released creating an atmosphere – referred to a coma – of gas and dust from its icy surface.
    • This atmosphere sometimes leads to the formation of a bright tail of debris that can extend for thousands or millions of kilometres.
  • What Are The Differences Between An Asteroid, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteor, and Meteorite?
    • 1. Asteroid:
      • A relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun.
    • 2. Comet:
      • A relatively small, at times active, an object whose ices can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas.
    • 3. Meteoroid:
      • A small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun.
    • 4. Meteor:
      • The light phenomena which result when a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes; a shooting star.
    • 5. Meteorite:
      • A meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands upon the Earth’s surface.
  • NASA’s NEOWISE:
    • Launched in December 2009 as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, the space telescope was originally designed to survey the sky in infrared, detecting asteroids, stars, and some of the faintest galaxies in space.
    • It did so successfully until completing its primary mission in February 2011.
    • In December 2013, it was re-purposed for the NEOWISE project as an instrument to study near-Earth objects, or NEOs, as well as more distant asteroids and comets.

Hope: UAE’s first mission to Mars

  • Context:
    • The launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first mission to Mars is scheduled for the July 16 launch. It will take off from its launch site, Tanegashima Space Center, in Japan.
  • Why July launch matter?
    • The spacecraft must blast off from the Earth during a brief launch window in July since Earth and Mars orbit the Sun at different rates and are aligned at their closest points only once every two years.
  • About the Hope mission:
    • Announced in 2015 with the aim of creating mankind’s first integrated model of the Red planet’s atmosphere.
    • The Hope mission is a Mars orbiter spacecraft, which will study the thin atmosphere of Mars.
    • The mission is officially named the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) and the orbiter has been named Hope or 'Al Amal'.
    • If successful, the Hope orbiter will join six others in studying Mars, from the US, Europe, and India.
  • The Hope orbiter:
    • The Hope probe has a mission life of one Martian year, which is almost two Earth years.
  • The three main objectives of the Hope probe are:
    1. to understand the climate dynamics and global weather map of Mars by studying the lower the atmosphere of Mars.
    2. to explain how the weather of Mars affects the escape of hydrogen and oxygen, by correlating conditions in the lower and upper atmosphere.
    3. to understand the presence and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, and why Mars is losing these gases to space.
  • Significance of the mission:
    • It is a known fact that the Red Planet was once habitable, from signatures of flowing water and organic material that point to a past that could have supported living things.
    • An understanding of Mars' past could help scientists understand the future of Earth.

Solar Orbiter

  • Context:
    • The European Space Agency has released the closest pictures ever taken of the Sun captured by the Solar orbiter that was launched in February this year.
    • The spacecraft completed its first close pass of the Sun in mid-June when it flew within 48 million miles of the Sun with 10 instruments turned on to snap the closest pictures of the giant star to date.
  • Observations made from these images:
    1. There are mini-flares on the sun that the scientists are calling “campfires”.
    2. Size: These campfires are millionths of the size of the Sun’s massive flares that are routinely observed by Earth telescopes.
    3. These small flares could have something to do with the healing process that makes the corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, far hotter than its surface.
  • Prelims Concepts:
    • What are Solar Flares?
      • It is a large explosion of magnetic energy in the Sun’s atmosphere which causes an intense burst of increased brightness.
      • Flares occur in active regions around sunspots.
      • During solar flares, the Sun releases bursts of energetic particles that enhance the solar wind that constantly emanates from the star into the surrounding space.
      • When these particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, they can cause magnetic storms that can disrupt telecommunication networks and power grids on the ground.
    • What is Corona?
      • The solar corona is the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere that extends millions of kilometers into outer space.
      • Its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius, which is orders of magnitude hotter than the surface of the Sun, a ‘cool’ 5500 °C.
      • After many decades of studies, the physical mechanisms that heat the corona are still not fully understood, but identifying them is considered the ‘holy grail’ of solar physics.
  • About Solar Orbiter Mission:
    • Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA.
    • The spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in February 2020.
    • It was selected as the first medium-class mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Programme.
    • This is the first mission that will provide images of the sun’s north and south poles using a suite of six instruments on board that will capture the spacecraft’s view.
    • It is a seven-year mission and will come within 26 million miles of the sun.
    • It will be able to brave the heat of the sun because it has a custom titanium heat shield coated in calcium phosphate so that it can endure temperatures up to 970 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Nineteen ESA Member States are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
    • Solar Orbiter follows the Ulysses spacecraft, another collaboration between ESA and NASA that launched in 1990.
  • Solar Orbiter will set about answering four top-level science questions:
    1. What drives the solar wind and where does the coronal magnetic field originate from?
    2. How do solar transients drive heliospheric variability?
    3. How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere?
    4. How do the solar dynamo work and drive connections between the Sun and the heliosphere?

Tianwen-1

  • Context:
    • On July 22, China launched its Mars mission.
    • Known as Tianwen-1, the mission name is loosely translated to “questions to Heaven.”
  • Key points you should know:
    • China’s first Mars probe is called Tianwen-1 (formerly Huoxing 1).
    • The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.
    • Launched on a Long March 5 rocket from Xichang, China.
  • Landing site:
    • Somewhere in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in Mars' northern latitudes and the same place NASA's Viking 2 mission landed in the 1970s.
    • Tianwen-1 will reach the Red Planet’s orbit in February 2021. The rover will land on Mars in May.
    • If the mission is successful, China will become the third country to achieve a Mars landing after the USSR and the United States.
  • There are five core science objectives:
    1. Create a geological map of Mars.
    2. Explore the characteristics of the Martian soil and potentially locate water ice deposits.
    3. Analyze the surface material composition.
    4. Investigate the Martian atmosphere and climate at the surface.
    5. Understand the electromagnetic and gravitational fields of the planet.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • This is a busy week for Mars missions, with the UAE having launched the HOPE mission on 19th July and NASA to launch its own rover on July 30- ‘Perseverance’.
    • This is a period that offers a window for such launches, with the alignment of Earth and Mars allowing a short journey.

Perseverance- NASA’s mission to Mars

  • Context:
    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V.
    • The launch took place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
    • This is the third launch to Mars this month, following the UAE’s Hope and China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft.
  • Key facts:
    1. The rover's Mars arrival is set for Feb. 18, 2021.
    2. The mission is planned to last for at least one Mars year, which works out to about 687 days on Earth (it takes longer for Mars to go around the sun).
    3. Landing site: Jezero crater.
    4. Perseverance is loaded with seven instruments chosen to help it achieve its mission objectives.
  • Why is this mission significant?
    1. Perseverance will carry a unique instrument, MOXIE or Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment: Which for the first time will manufacture molecular oxygen on Mars using carbon dioxide from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere (ISRU means In Situ Resource
    2. Utilization: or the use of local resources to meet human needs or requirements of the spacecraft).
    3. It will carry Ingenuity, the first-ever helicopter to fly on Mars. This is the first time NASA will fly a helicopter on another planet or satellite.
    4. It is the planned first step to bring back rock samples from Mars for analysis in sophisticated laboratories on Earth: with the goal of looking for biosignatures: or signatures of present or past life.
  • These are some of the key mission objectives:
    1. Look for signs of ancient microbial life.
    2. Collect Martian rock and dust samples for later return to Earth.
    3. Deliver an experimental helicopter.
    4. Study the climate and geology of Mars.
    5. Demonstrate technology for future Mars missions.
  • What is the reason for the near-term interest in Mars?
    • Mars is located in the very near backyard (about 200 million km away).
    • It is a planet that humans can aspire to visit or to stay for a longer duration.
    • Mars had flowing water and an atmosphere in the distant past: and perhaps conditions to support life.
    • In the near term, the increase in interest related to Mars is because of Elon Musk’s plans for commercial travel.
  • Background:
    • NASA has been sending rovers on Mars since 1997 when the Mars Pathfinder Mission was initiated.
    • As the mission turned out to be successful, NASA decided to continue going to Mars to find evidence.
    • The second time, the space organization sent twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity to Mars in 2003.
    • The third attempt was by sending Curiosity in 2012.

Health:

G4 Virus

  • Context:
    • Researchers in China have discovered a new form of swine flu that can infect humans, and they believe it has the potential to cause a future pandemic.
    • This swine flu has been dubbed the G4 virus and it’s related to the H1N1 flu that caused widespread illness in 2009.
  • What is the G4 virus, exactly?
    • The G4 virus is a newly discovered strain of the H1N1 flu virus.
    • It’s basically a virus that’s found in pigs but has combined the swine flu virus with the H1N1 virus that circulates in humans.
    • G4 viruses bind to receptor molecules in human cells and can replicate in the outer layer of the respiratory system.
  • Transmission and symptoms:
    • The newly identified virus can efficiently infect ferrets via aerosol transmission, causing severe clinical symptoms in them like sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and a mean maximum weight loss ranging from 7.3 to 9.8 percent of the mammals' body mass.
  • Concern:
    • It has the potential to become a human virus.
    • Of concern is that swine workers show elevated seroprevalence for G4 virus.
    • Moreover, low antigenic cross-reactivity of human influenza vaccine strains with G4 reassortant EA H1N1 virus indicates that preexisting population immunity does not provide protection against G4 viruses.
  • What is H1N1 influenza?
    • Swine flu (H1N1) is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a type of Influenza A viruses in humans.
    • It has been named so as people who worked near pigs (or in close contact with them) were seen getting infected by this disease. It was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in the year 2009 as it was spreading aggressively back then.

Drug Discovery Hackathon 2020 (DDH2020)

  • About:
    • It is the first of its kind National initiative for supporting the drug discovery process.
    • It will see participation from professionals, faculty, researchers, and students from varied fields like Computer Science, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Medical Sciences, Basic Sciences, and Biotechnology.
  • It is a joint initiative and the participants are:
    1. MHRD’s Innovation Cell (MIC).
    2. All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
    3. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
    4. Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC).
    5. MyGov as well as private players.
  • Details:
    • The Hackathon consists of challenges that are posted as problem statements and, are based on specific drug discovery topics which, are open to the participants to solve.
    • It will have three Tracks.
      1. Track 1 will primarily deal with drug design for anti-COVID-19 hit/lead generation.
      2. Track 2 will deal with designing/optimizing new tools and algorithms which will have an immense impact on expediting the process of in silico drug discovery.
      3. Track 3 is called “Moon shot” which allows for working on problems that are ‘out of the box’ nature.
  • What is in silico drug design?
    • In silico drug design is a term that means ‘computer-aided molecular design’.
    • In other words, it is the rational design or discovery of drugs using a wide variety of computational methods.
    • It is thus the identification of the drug target molecule by employing bioinformatics tools.

PCR testing is a double-edged sword

  • How RT-PCR is used for detecting Covid-19?
    • The causative agent for Covid19 is the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is an RNA virus, which means it infiltrates a healthy cell to multiply and survive.
    • Thus, the RT-PCR test is for the identification of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. In this, the RNA is converted to DNA through a process called 'reverse transcription' for detecting viruses.
  • How it is carried out?
    • The SARS-CoV-2 RNA is generally detectable in respiratory specimens during the acute phase of infection.
      1. For that upper and lower respiratory specimens (such as nasal, nasopharyngeal) are collected.
      2. This sample is treated with several chemical solutions that remove substances, such as proteins and fats, and extracts only the RNA present in the sample.
      3. Real-time RT-PCR setup usually goes through 35 cycles, which means that by the end of the process, around 35 billion new copies of the sections of viral DNA are created from each strand of the virus present in the sample.
      4. As new copies of the viral DNA sections are built, the marker labels attach to the DNA strands and then release a fluorescent dye, which is measured by the machine's computer and presented in real-time on the screen. The computer tracks the amount of fluorescence in the sample after each cycle. When the amount goes over a certain level of fluorescence, this confirms that the virus is present.
  • Why it is compared to a double-edged sword?
    • The boon and bane of PCR testing are in its capacity to amplify even one viral gene segment in the sample to generate a detectable signal — a positive test.
      1. It is a boon because it accurately detects the presence of the virus.
      2. It is a bane because it is prone to false-negative and false-positive results.
  • How it generates false reports?
    • During sample preparation for testing, if even one gene segment falls into the tube from the laboratory environment, it will be amplified and the test will be positive — but, false positive.
    • A false negative PCR means that a person with infection was missed by the test, but that is in the very nature of PCR. The viral load is lower in the throat than in the nasopharynx.
    • Hence throat swabs are falsely negative in 60% of tests and nasopharyngeal swabs in 30%, according to published studies.
    • An incorrectly taken nasal swab may miss the virus altogether and lead to a false-negative test.
  • Concerns:
    • The relatively high frequency of false-negative results leads to gross underestimation of the epidemic’s magnitude. Moreover, traced contacts with false-negative tests will not be quarantined but allowed to spread the virus, augmenting the epidemic.
  • Need of the hour:
    • When a laboratory handles several samples, cross-contamination must be avoided.
    • For reliability, only laboratories under quality assurance should do testing.
    • In January there was one laboratory (National Institute of Virology, Pune) but today there are 1,000. When a false positive result is suspected, the doctor should alert the authorities, who in turn should get the subject re-tested in an accredited laboratory.
    • In case of discrepancy, the laboratory concerned must be closed and checked for compliance with protocols and record-keeping.
    • In order to avoid blind reliance on the PCR test result, clinical diagnosis by specific criteria, which is the only way to diagnose COVID, (D for disease), should be popularised among doctors.

Bubonic Plague

  • Context:
    • Bayannur, a city in northern China, is on high alert after a suspected case of Bubonic plague was reported Recently.
    • Authorities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region announced a level III warning of plague prevention and control.
    • Local authorities announced that the warning period will continue until the end of 2020 since the plague ran the risk of spreading.
  • What is the plague?
    • The plague is a disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which is found in animals, particularly rodents.
    • It can be transmitted to humans through infected animals and fleas.
    • In the Middle Ages (5th- 15th century), the plague was also known as the ‘Black Death’ as it was responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Europe.
  • There are three types of plague:
    • Bubonic plague:
      • This infects a person’s lymphatic system (which is a part of their immune system), causing inflammation in the lymph nodes. If left untreated, the bubonic plague can also convert into either pneumonic of septicemic plague. Its symptoms include fever, chills, weakness and headaches.
    • Pneumonic plague:
      • According to WHO, pneumonic plague is the ‘most virulent form of plague’ and can be fatal within 24 to 72 hours. It occurs when the bacteria infects the lungs. It is the only type of plague that can be transmitted from human to human. Symptoms are chest pain, fever and cough. It is highly contagious and transmissible merely by coughing.
    • Septicemic plague:
      • This is when the bacteria enters the bloodstream and multiplies there.
      • If left untreated, pneumonic and bubonic plague can lead to septicemic plague. A person infected by septicemic plague may also notice their skin turning black.
  • How to treat and control plague?
    • The plague is a life-threatening disease but if caught early, can be treated with antibiotics. However, without prompt treatment, the disease can lead to serious illnesses and even death.
    • At times, antibiotics alone are not enough —additionally intravenous fluids and extra oxygen are required to treat a person.
    • Since it is highly contagious, those who are infected with pneumonic plague are kept in isolation.
    • And people in close contact with the person infected are given a dose of antibiotics as a preventive measure.
    • Other preventive measures to curb a plague outbreak are to keep the rodent population in control with pest control measures, ensuring that surrounding areas are clear of stacks of wood that rodents feed on among others.
  • India chapter:
    • The Bubonic plague severely impacted India too.
    • The first official case was reported on 23 September 1896 in what was then Bombay. It was a part of the third plague pandemic, which originated in China in 1855.
    • The disease was spread in India through trading ships, hitting the port cities of Calcutta, Karachi, Punjab, and United Provinces among others.
    • Over 12 million Indians were estimated to have succumbed to this disease.
    • The situation went so out of hand that it led to the Epidemic Disease Act of 1897 being ‘hastily’ drafted. The law has the “power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease”.

WHO Declares Sri Lanka, Maldives Measles-Free

  • Context:
    • The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that measles and rubella have been eradicated from Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
    • This makes them the first two countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region to achieve measles and rubella elimination ahead of the 2023 target.
  • When is a country declared so?
    • A country is verified as having eliminated measles and rubella when there is no evidence of endemic transmission of the measles and rubella viruses for over three years in the presence of a well-performing surveillance system.
    • The Maldives reported the last endemic case of measles in 2009 and of rubella in October 2015, while Sri Lanka reported the last endemic case of measles in May 2016 and of rubella in March 2017.
  • Background:
    • Member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region had in September last year set 2023 as a target for elimination of measles and rubella, revising the goal of the flagship programme that since 2014 had focused on measles elimination and rubella control.
    • Bhutan, North Korea and East Timor were also declared to be measles-free.
  • The need for elimination:
    • Eliminating measles will prevent 500,000 deaths a year in the region, while eliminating rubella/ CRS would avert about 55,000 cases of rubella and promote health and wellbeing of pregnant women and infants.
  • About Measles:
    • What Is It?
      • Measles is a highly contagious viral disease.
    • Spread:
      • Measles is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons.
      • Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10–12 days after infection, include high fever, a runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading downwards.
    • Vulnerability:
      • Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.
      • The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, and severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
    • Prevention:
      • Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with low routine coverage, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths.
    • Preventive efforts:
      • Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020.
      • WHO is the lead technical agency responsible for the coordination of immunization and surveillance activities supporting all countries to achieve this goal.
  • Rubella:
    • It is generally a mild infection but has serious consequences if infection occurs in pregnant women, causing congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which is a cause of public health concern.
    • CRS is characterized by congenital anomalies in the fetus and newborns affecting the eyes (glaucoma, cataract), ears (hearing loss), brain (microcephaly, mental retardation), and heart defects, causing a huge socio-economic burden on the families in particular and society in general.

Report on ‘Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients

  • Context:
    • The report titled ‘Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients- Status, Issues, Technology Readiness, and Challenges’ was brought out recently by Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), an autonomous organization under the Department of Science & Technology.
  • Major recommendations are given in the report:
    1. Focus on engineering and scale aspects of technology development.
    2. Need for Mission mode Chemical Engineering with defined targets for uninterrupted synthesis of molecules.
    3. Create mega drug manufacturing clusters with common infrastructure in India.
    4. Technology platform to be developed for biocatalysis towards reducing process steps for cost optimization.
    5. Scale supporting techno-economic feasibility.
    6. Attention to technologies like hazardous reactions, flow chemistry, cryogenic reactions, and membrane technology.
  • What is an API?
    • Every medicine is made up of two main ingredients — the chemically active APIs and chemically inactive, excipients, which is a substance that delivers the effect of APIs to one’s system.
    • API is a chemical compound that is the most important raw material to produce a finished medicine.
    • In medicine, API produces the intended effects to cure the disease. For instance, Paracetamol is the API for Crocin and it is the API paracetamol that gives relief from body ache and fever.
    • Fixed-dose combination drugs use multiple APIs, while single-dose drugs like Crocin use just one API.
  • How an API is manufactured?
    • API is not made by only one reaction from the raw materials but rather it becomes an API via several chemical compounds.
    • The chemical compound which is in the process of becoming an API from raw material is called an intermediate.
    • There are some APIs that pass “through over ten kinds of intermediates in a process when it changes from being a raw material into an API”.
    • The long manufacturing process is continued until it is purified and reaches a very high degree of purity.
  • What’s the concern for India now? How COVID 19 induced pandemic has affected?
    • Despite being a leading supplier of high-quality medicines to several countries, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is highly dependent on China for APIs.
    • In the 2018-19 fiscal, the government had informed the Lok Sabha that the country’s drug-makers had imported bulk drugs and intermediates worth $ 2.4 billion from China.
    • But with frequent lockdowns due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, supplies of raw materials from China to produce drugs for treating HIV, cancer, epilepsy, malaria, and also commonly-used antibiotics and vitamin pills, are likely to be hit.
  • How India lost its API market to China?
    • During the early 90s, India was self-reliant in manufacturing APIs.
    • However, with the rise of China as a producer of API, it captured the Indian market with cheaper products and it eventually led to high economies of scale for China.
    • China created a low-cost API manufacturing industry. The industry was backed by the low cost of capital followed by aggressive government funding models, tax incentives.
    • Their cost of operation is one-fourth of India’s cost. Even the cost of finance in China is 6-7 percent against India’s 13-14 percent.
    • So, due to low-profit margins and non-lucrative industry, Indian pharma companies over the years stopped manufacturing APIs.

First indigenous vaccine for infant pneumonia approved

  • Context:
    • The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved the first fully indigenously developed conjugate vaccine for pneumonia- Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine.
    • It has been developed by the Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd, Pune.
    • This vaccine is used for active immunisation against invasive disease and pneumonia caused by “streptococcus pneumonia” in infants.
  • How is Pneumonia spread?
    • Infectious agents may include bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
    • Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. The respiratory syncytial virus is the most common viral cause of pneumonia.
    • Air sacs in an infected individual’s lungs (alveoli) become inflamed due to deposits of fluid and pus, making it painful and difficult for them to breathe.
  • What are the symptoms of infection?
    • Symptoms include high fever and chills, cough with phlegm, physical weakness and a feeling of being unwell, shortness of breath and rapid breathing, and a racing pulse.
  • How can it be prevented and treated?
    • Preventive measures include maintaining hygiene and getting vaccinations against certain pneumonia-causing bacteria.
    • Saving a child from pneumonia requires urgent treatment, which usually involves the administration of antibiotics, which typically do not cost much. On average, treatment lasts for about five to seven days.

Vitamin- D and it’s the Significance

  • Context:
    • There have been considerable discussions in scientific circles on the importance of vitamin D in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • How is Vitamin D produced?
    • It is produced when sunlight (or artificial light, particularly in the ultraviolet region of 190-400 nm wavelength) falls on the skin and triggers a chemical reaction to a cholesterol-based molecule, and converts it into calcidiol in the liver and into calcitriol in the kidney.
    • Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it dissolves in fats and oils and can be stored in your body for a long time.
  • Its role:
    • It is known to help in having the right amount of calcium in the bones, catalyse the process of protecting cell membranes from damage, preventing the inflammation of tissues, and helping stop tissues from forming fibers and weakening bones from becoming brittle, leading to osteoporosis.
  • Concerns now:
    • Vitamin D deficiency can affect COVID-19 high-risk patients, particularly those who are diabetic, have heart conditions, pneumonia, obesity, and those who smoke.
    • It is also associated with infections in the respiratory tract and lung injury.
  • Need for supplementation:
    • According to a study, India, a nation of abundant sunshine, is surprisingly found to have a massive burden of vitamin D deficiency among the public irrespective of their location (urban or rural), age, or gender, or whether they are poor or even rich.
    • Hence, it is clear that vitamin D supplementation is necessary for most Indians to treat their deficiency.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Given the deficit in vitamin D, it is highly desirable for the governments to:
      • Consult nutrition experts and institutions to advise and suggest the type of nutritive items that can be added to the current ‘ration’ food given to the poor and the meals given to school children.
      • In any case, supply free of charge, vitamin D, other vitamins and calcium, in consultation with medical and public health experts regarding the dosage, frequency, and other details.
      • With these steps, India will have armed its poor against not just the current, but future pandemics as well.

Delhi’s serological survey

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has declared the results of a serological survey carried out in Delhi between June 27 and July 10.
    • A total of 21,387 samples were collected to look for the presence of antibodies.
    • This study has been done by the National Centre for Disease Control [NCDC] in collaboration with Govt of National Capital Territory of Delhi, following a rigorous multi-stage sampling study design.
  • What is a serological survey? How is it performed?
    • A serological survey seeks to assess the prevalence of disease in a population by detecting the presence of specific antibodies against the virus.
    • The survey included the IgG Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test which estimates the proportion of the population exposed to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
    • The IgG test is not useful for detecting acute infections, but it indicates episodes of infections that may have occurred in the past.
    • The test has been approved by ICMR for its high sensitivity and specificity.
  • Benefits of serological studies:
    • Since it is not possible to test everyone in the population, serological studies are used as a tool to make an estimate of the extent of disease spread in the community.
  • Key findings:
    • 22.86% of the people surveyed had developed IgG antibodies, indicating they had been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
    • This shows that the proactive efforts by the government to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including prompt lockdown, effective containment, and surveillance measures, contact tracing, and tracking, as well as citizens’ compliance, had yielded benefits.
  • So what happens now?
    • The government has said that results show that a significant proportion of the population is still vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus infection.
    • Therefore, Containment measures need to continue with the same rigour. Non-pharmacological interventions such as physical distancing, use of face mask/cover, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and avoidance of crowded places, etc. must be followed strictly.

African Swine Fever (ASF)

  • Context:
    • The porcine industry in Assam suffered major losses during the COVID-19 lockdown, which was followed by an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) that has killed more than 17,000 pigs in Assam and over 4,500 in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • The current outbreak of ASF in India is the first time that the disease has been reported in the country.
  • Affected countries:
    • As per the latest update issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the current outbreak of ASF has affected China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Indonesia among others.
  • About African Swine Fever (ASF):
    • ASF is a highly contagious and fatal animal disease that infects domestic and wild pigs, typically resulting in an acute form of hemorrhagic fever.
    • It was first detected in Africa in the 1920s.
    • The mortality is close to 100 percent, and since the fever has no cure, the only way to stop it spreading is by culling the animals.
    • ASF is not a threat to human beings since it only spreads from animals to other animals.
    • According to the FAO, “it's an extremely high potential for transboundary spread has placed all the countries in the region in danger and has raised the specter of ASF once more escaping from Africa. It is a disease of growing strategic importance for global food security and household income”.

India’s first plasma bank

  • Context:
    • Established at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS), Delhi.
  • Aim:
    • To ease access to plasma that is being used as a trial to treat Covid-19 patients.
  • How does it function?
    • The plasma bank functions as a blood bank and has been created specifically for those who are suffering from Covid-19 and have been advised the therapy by doctors.
    • The bank will coordinate with patients who have recovered from Covid-19, and are eligible to donate plasma.
  • Who can donate plasma?
    • Those who had the disease, but have recovered at least 14 days before the donation can be considered.
    • People between the ages of 18 and 60, and weighing not less than 50 kg are eligible.
    • Women who have given birth are not eligible, like the antibodies, they produce during pregnancy (after being exposed to the blood of the foetus) can interfere with lung function.
  • How is plasma donation different from blood donation?
    • In plasma donation, as opposed to blood donation, only plasma is extracted and the other components of blood are returned to the body.
    • Blood contains several components, including red blood cells, platelets, white blood cells, and plasma.
    • 500 ml of plasma can be donated every two weeks, while blood can be donated once in three months.
  • How does plasma therapy work?
    1. Blood is drawn from a person who has recovered from COVID-19 sickness.
    2. The serum is separated and screened for virus-neutralizing antibodies.
    3. Convalescent serum, which is the blood serum obtained from one who has recovered from an infectious disease and especially rich in antibodies for that pathogen, is then administered to a COVID-19 patient.
    4. The sick acquire passive immunization.
  • How long the antibodies will remain in the recipient?
    • After the antibody serum is given, it will stay on the recipient for at least three to four days. During this period, the sick person will recover. Various studies have confirmed this

Eosinophil count

  • Context:
    • Researchers have flagged this test for early recognition of Covid-19 in patients.
  • About:
    • It is a blood test that measures the number of one type of white blood cells called eosinophils.
    • Eosinophils become active when you have certain allergic diseases, infections, and other medical conditions.

Case Fatality Rate (CFR)

  • It is the proportion of people who die from a specified disease among all individuals diagnosed with the disease over a certain period of time.

Itolizumab

  • Itolizumab (rDNA origin), a monoclonal antibody that was already approved for severe chronic plaque psoriasis, has now been granted Restricted Emergency Use authorisation for COVID 19 patients by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) based on clinical trials data.

National Biopharma Mission (NBM)

  • Context:
    • BIRAC has announced that ZyCoV-D, the plasmid DNA vaccine designed and developed by Zydus and partially funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has initiated Phase I/Phase II clinical trials in healthy subjects, making it the first indigenously developed vaccine for COVID-19 to be administered in humans in India.
    • DBT has partnered with Zydus to address the rapid development of an indigenous vaccine for COVID-19 under the National Biopharma Mission.
  • About National Biopharma Mission (NBM):
    • It is an industry-academia collaborative mission for accelerating biopharmaceutical development in the country.
    • It was launched in 2017 at a total cost of Rs 1500 crore and is 50% co-funded by the World Bank loan.
    • It is being implemented by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).
    • Under this Mission, the Government has launched Innovate in India (i3) programme to create an enabling ecosystem to promote entrepreneurship and indigenous manufacturing in the biopharma sector.
  • It has a focus on the following four verticals:
    1. Development of product leads for Vaccines, Biosimilars, and Medical Devices that are relevant to the public health need by focussing on managed partnerships.
    2. Upgradation of shared infrastructure facilities and establishing them as centres of product discovery/discovery validations and manufacturing.
    3. Developing human capital by providing specific training.
    4. Developing technology transfer offices to help enhance industry-academia inter-linkages.

Oxford university’s ChAdOx1 Covid-19 vaccine

  • Context:
    • ChAdOx1 COVID-9 was jointly developed by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
    • It has been found to be safe and induced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials.
  • About the Vaccine and how was it developed?
    • The vaccine belongs to a category called non-replicating viral vector vaccines.
    • This vaccine is made from a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees.
    • Scientists did this by transferring the genetic instructions of the coronavirus’ “spike protein” – the crucial tool it uses to invade human cells – to the vaccine. This was done so that the vaccine resembles the coronavirus and the immune system can learn how to attack it.
  • How does it work?
    • The adenovirus, genetically modified so that it cannot replicate in humans, will enter the cell and release the code to make only the spike protein.
    • The body’s immune system is expected to recognise the spike protein as a potentially harmful foreign substance, and starts building antibodies against it.
    • Once immunity is built, the antibodies will attack the real virus if it tries to infect the body.
  • Prelims Concepts:
    • When someone is infected with the Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2), the reason it spreads in the body easily is because of the spikes on its surface.
    • These spikes, known as the ‘spike protein’, allow the virus to penetrate cells and, thereafter, multiply.
  • What happens next?
    • Globally, Oxford and AstraZeneca have already begun phase III trials in Brazil, targeting 5,000 volunteers. A similar trial in South Africa is also expected to be underway.
  • Type of vaccines:
    • Inactivated:
      • These are vaccines made by using particles of the Covid-19 virus that were killed, making them unable to infect or replicate. Injecting particular doses of these particles serves to build immunity by helping the body create antibodies against the deadly virus.
    • Non-replicating viral vector:
      • It uses a weakened, genetically modified version of a different virus to carry the Covid-19 spike protein.
    • Protein subunit:
      • This vaccine uses a part of the virus to build an immune response in a targeted fashion. In this case, the part of the virus being targeted would be the spike protein.
    • RNA:
      • Such vaccines use the messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that tell cells what proteins to build. The mRNA, in this case, is coded to tell the cells to recreate the spike protein. Once it is injected, the cells will use the mRNA’s instructions, creating copies of the spike protein, which in turn is expected to prompt the immune cells to create antibodies to fight it.
    • DNA:
      • These vaccines use genetically engineered DNA molecules that, again, are coded with the antigen against which the immune response is to be built.

New Technology:

Same Language Subtitling (SLS) project

  • Context:
    • The Same Language Subtitling (SLS) project at IIM-Ahmedabad has researched and implemented SLS pilots on TV in eight major Indian languages.
    • The project has completed a 23 years journey. And yet, the most critical policy step remains unaccomplished — quality implementation of the policy on TV channels.
  • About SLS project:
    • In 1996 the Same Language Subtitling (SLS) programme was launched as a research project.
    • Its aim was to examine whether the subtitling of mainstream TV content could help people, especially those who were hard to reach through traditional literacy programmes, to improve their reading and writing skills.
    • In 1999, SLS was officially put into practice as a literacy intervention programme by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), and not-for-profit organization PlanetRead.
    • SLS has the proven power to transform much of TV and OTT content consumption into routine reading a practice that is inescapable, subconscious, sustainable, scalable, and extremely cost-effective.
    • The ‘Accessibility Standards’ of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), framed in September 2019 under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, requires 50% of all entertainment content on TV to carry captions in the same language, or SLS, by 2025.
    • The main approach of SLS is quite simple: to subtitle audiovisual content in the language of the audio track so
    • the on-screen text and audio match perfectly. While watching TV, viewers can match the words on the screen to the sounds they are hearing simultaneously.
  • Significance and potential of the project:
    • India is globally the first country where the mainstreaming of SLS on TV and streaming content is being advanced for mass reading literacy.
    • When SLS is implemented on TV in all Indian languages, as broadcast policy now stipulates, it will automatically give daily reading practice to an estimated 600 million weak readers who currently cannot read and understand simple text, like a newspaper.
    • Within three to five years of regular exposure to SLS on entertainment content already watched, many of them will become functional and some even fluent readers.
  • Background:
    • Close to a billion viewers in India watch on average 3 hours and 46 minutes of TV every day (FICCI-EY, 2019). No other activity, nationally, comes close to commanding four billion person-hours every day.
  • COVID 19 pandemic situation:
    • COVID-19 has further highlighted the potential of the SLS solution for upping the nation’s mass reading skills.
    • Globally, 1.4 billion children, and in India 300 million, have been locked out of schools. Intermittent school openings and closures are to be expected going forward.
  • Way ahead:
    • National implementation of SLS on existing general entertainment content (GEC) on TV and streaming platforms, also known as Over-The-Top (OTT), would revolutionise reading literacy in India.
    • This is in addition to having a massive national impact in two other domains, that of media access among Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) people and of language learning.

Metamaterials

  • They are artificially crafted materials with unique internal microstructures that give them properties not found in nature. The constituent artificial units of the metamaterial can be tailored in shape, size, and interatomic interaction, to exhibit unusual properties.

SATAT Initiative

  • Context:
    • Indian Oil, NTPC and SDMC have signed an MoU to develop a waste-to-energy facility at Delhi's Okhla landfill a site using gasification technology.
    • This plant will process 17,500 tons per annum of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) produced from combustible components of municipal waste to generate syngas which shall in turn be used to generate electricity.
    • The venture would succeed as there is an existing model of providing offtake guarantee, under the SATAT scheme for compressed biogas production plants.
  • About SATAT initiative:
    • The initiative is aimed at providing a Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) as a developmental effort that would benefit both vehicle-users as well as farmers and entrepreneurs.
    • Compressed Bio-Gas plants are proposed to be set up mainly through independent entrepreneurs.
  • How does it work?
    1. CBG produced at these plants will be transported through cascades of cylinders to the fuel station networks of OMCs for marketing as a green transport fuel alternative.
    2. The entrepreneurs would be able to separately market the other by-products from these plants, including bio-manure, carbon-dioxide, etc., to enhance returns on investment.
    3. This initiative is expected to generate direct employment for 75,000 people and produce 50 million tonnes of bio-manure for crops.
  • There are multiple benefits from converting municipal solid waste into CBG on a commercial scale:
    1. Responsible waste management, reduction in carbon emissions, and pollution.
    2. The additional revenue source for farmers.
    3. Boost to entrepreneurship, rural economy, and employment.
    4. Support to national commitments in achieving climate change goals.
    5. Reduction in import of natural gas and crude oil.
    6. Buffer against crude oil/gas price fluctuations.
  • What is Bio- Gas?
    • Biogas is produced naturally through a process of anaerobic decomposition from waste / bio-mass sources like agriculture residue, cattle dung, sugarcane press mud, municipal solid waste, sewage treatment plant waste, etc. After purification, it is compressed and called CBG, which has a pure methane content of over 95%.
  • What is CBG?
    • Compressed Bio-Gas is exactly similar to the commercially available natural gas in its composition and energy potential. With calorific value (~52,000 KJ/kg) and other properties similar to CNG, Compressed Bio-Gas can be used as an alternative, renewable automotive fuel.
  • Way ahead:
    • The potential for Compressed Bio-Gas production from various sources in India is estimated at about 62 million tonnes per annum.
    • Going forward, Compressed Bio-Gas networks can be integrated with city gas distribution (CGD) networks to boost supplies to domestic and retail users in existing and upcoming markets.
    • Besides retailing from OMC fuel stations, Compressed Bio-Gas can at a later date be injected into CGD pipelines too for efficient distribution and optimised access of a cleaner and more affordable fuel.

‘Dare to Dream 2.0’ contest

  • Context:
    • Launched by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
    • On the 5th death anniversary of former President and noted scientist Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
  • About:
    • It is an open challenge to promote the innovators and startups of the country.
    • The winners will be decided after due evaluation by an expert committee.
    • Award money, up to Rs 10 lakh for startup and Rs five lakh to an individual category, will be given to the winners.

Biofuels

  • Context:
    • Researchers of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad have started using computational methods to understand the factors and impediments in incorporating biofuels into the fuel sector in India.
    • A unique feature of this work is that the framework considers revenue generation not only as an outcome of sales of the biofuel but also in terms of carbon credits via greenhouse gas emission savings throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Outcomes:
    • The model has shown that if bioethanol is integrated with mainstream fuel, the costs associated with it follow: production cost 43 percent, import 25 percent, transport 17 percent, infrastructure 15 percent, and inventory 0.43 percent.
    • The model has also shown that the feed available to the tune of at least 40 percent of the capacity is needed to meet the projected demands.
  • Significance of Biofuels:
    • Globally, biofuels have caught the attention in last decade and it is imperative to keep up with the pace of developments in the field of biofuels.
    • Biofuels in India are of strategic importance as it augers well with the ongoing initiatives of the Government such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Skill Development and offers great opportunity to integrate with the ambitious targets of doubling of Farmers Income, Import Reduction, Employment Generation, Waste to Wealth Creation.
  • What are Biofuels?
    • 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.
    • Biofuels may be solid, liquid, or gaseous in nature.
      1. Solid: Wood, dried plant material, and manure
      2. Liquid: Bioethanol and Biodiesel
      3. Gaseous: Biogas
  • Classification of Biofuels:
    • 1st generation biofuels are also called conventional biofuels. They are made from things like sugar, starch, or vegetable oil. Note that these are all food products. Any biofuel made from a feedstock that can also be consumed as human food is considered a first-generation biofuel.
    • 2nd generation biofuels are produced from sustainable feedstock. The sustainability of a feedstock is defined by its availability, its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, its impact on land use, and its potential to threaten the food supply. No second-generation biofuel is also a food crop, though certain food products can become second-generation fuels when they are no longer useful for consumption. Second-generation biofuels are often called “advanced biofuels.”
    • 3rd generation biofuels are biofuel derived from algae. These biofuels are given their own separate class because of their unique production mechanism and their potential to mitigate most of the drawbacks of 1st and 2nd generation biofuels.
    • 4th generation biofuels: In the production of these fuels, crops that are genetically engineered to take in high amounts of carbon are grown and harvested as biomass. The crops are then converted into fuel using second-generation techniques.
  • Government of India initiatives to promote the use of Biofuels:
    • Since 2014, the Government of India has taken a number of initiatives to increase the blending of biofuels.
      1. The major interventions include administrative price mechanism for ethanol, simplifying the procurement procedures of OMCs, amending the provisions of Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951, and enabling the lignocellulosic route for ethanol procurement.
      2. The Government approved the National Policy on Biofuels-2018 in June 2018. The policy has the objective of reaching 20% ethanol-blending and 5% biodiesel-blending by the year 2030.
      3. Among other things, the policy expands the scope of feedstock for ethanol production and has provided for incentives for the production of advanced biofuels.
      4. The Government has also increased the price of C-heavy molasses-based ethanol.

Raman Spectroscopy

  • Context:
    • Researchers have turned to Raman Spectroscopy to detect RNA viruses present in saliva samples.
    • It has been reported that novel coronavirus is found insufficient numbers in human saliva.
  • About:
    • Raman Spectroscopy is a non-destructive chemical analysis technique that provides detailed information about chemical structure, phase and polymorphy, crystallinity, and molecular interactions.
    • It is based upon the interaction of light with the chemical bonds within a material.
  • Raman Scatter:
    • It is a light scattering technique, whereby a molecule scatters incident light from a high-intensity laser light source.
    • Most of the scattered light is at the same wavelength (or color) as the laser source and does not provide useful information – this is called Rayleigh Scatter.
    • However, a small amount of light (typically 0.0000001%) is scattered at different wavelengths (or colors), which depend on the chemical structure of the analyte – this is called Raman Scatter.
  • How was it carried out?
    • For the study, the researchers spiked saliva samples with non-infectious RNA viruses and analysed it with Raman Spectroscopy.
    • They analysed the raw Raman Spectroscopy data and compared the signals with both viral positive and negative samples.
    • Statistical analysis of all the 1,400 spectra obtained for each sample, showed a set of 65 Raman spectral features was adequate to identify the viral positive signal.
  • Significance:
    • This conceptual framework to detect RNA viruses in saliva could form the basis for field application of Raman Spectroscopy in managing viral outbreaks, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
    • However, in the case of the COVID 19 pandemic, it can be used only for screening. Because the RNA virus detected could be a common cold virus as well or any other RNA virus such as HIV. It doesn't look for COVID- 19 viral-specific signature.
    • But, the main benefit here is that this whole process of data acquisition and analysis can be performed within a minute. Since no additional reagent is needed there is no recurring cost.
    • A portable (benchtop or handheld) Raman spectrophotometer installed at the port of entry such as airports or any point of care (in the field) can quickly screen passengers within minutes.

Kakrapar Atomic Plant achieves Criticality

  • Context:
    • The third unit at Kakrapar Atomic Power Plant in Gujarat achieves criticality.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • The first Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) of 220 MWe was commissioned on May 6, 1993, while the second unit of similar capacity was commissioned on September 1, 1995. These two units were based on Canadian technology.
    • The third reactor at Kakrapar is the front runner in a series of 16 indigenous 700 MWe PHWRs which are under various stages of development.
    • Four units of the 700MWe reactor are currently being built at Kakrapar (KAPP-3 and 4) and Rawatbhata (RAPS-7 and 8).
    • Currently, nuclear power capacity constitutes less than 2% of the total installed capacity of 3,68,690 MW (end-January 2020).
  • What is criticality or when a rector is said to be critical?
    • A reactor is said to be critical when the nuclear fuel inside a reactor sustains a fission chain reaction, where each fission event releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain a series of reactions. Criticality is first a step towards power production.
    • In simple terms, the power plant reached the normal operating condition of a reactor. It indicates that the plant is now set to generate power.
  • Why is this achievement significant?
    • This is a landmark event in India’s domestic civilian nuclear programme given that KAPP-3 is the country’s first 700 MWe (megawatt electric) unit, and the biggest indigenously developed variant of the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR).
  • Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor:
    • A PHWR is a nuclear power reactor, commonly using unenriched natural uranium as its fuel, that uses heavy water (deuterium oxide D2O) as its coolant and moderator.
    • The heavy water coolant is kept under pressure, allowing it to be heated to higher temperatures without boiling, much as in a typical pressurized water reactor.
    • While heavy water is significantly more expensive than ordinary light water, it yields greatly enhanced neutron economy, allowing the reactor to operate without fuel enrichment facilities (mitigating the additional capital cost of the heavy water) and generally enhancing the ability of the reactor to efficiently make use of alternate fuel cycles.

Technology Information, Forecasting, and Assessment Council (TIFAC)

  • TIFAC is an autonomous organization set up in 1988 under the Department of Science & Technology.
  • Its mandate is to look ahead in the technology domain, assess the technology trajectories, and support innovation by networked actions in select areas of national importance.
  • It was conferred with Rani Lakshmibai Award (Nari Shakti Puraskar 2015) for its scheme KIRAN-IPR that is empowering women in R&D through training on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

Compulsory Licensing

  • Context:
    • Issue compulsory licences for manufacture of an affordable generic version of Remdesivir, CPI(M) tells govt.
    • It said the government should invoke Clause 92 of the Patent Act that allows it to issue compulsory licences so that Indian manufacturers can produce a more affordable generic version.
  • About:
    • A compulsory licence is a licence or authorisation issued by the government to an applicant for making, using, and selling a patented product or employing a patented process without the consent of the patentee.
    • Chapter XVI of the Indian Patents Act 1970 and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights discuss compulsory licensing.
    • The application for the compulsory license can be made any time after 3 years from the date of the sealing of a patent.
  • The following conditions should be fulfilled by the applicant:
    1. Reasonable requirements of the public with respect to the patented invention have not been satisfied;
    2. Patented invention is not available to the public at a reasonably affordable price.
    3. Patented invention is not used in India.
    4. Additionally, according to Section 92 of the Act, compulsory licenses can also be issued suo motu by the Controller of Patents pursuant to a notification issued by the Central Government if there is either a “national emergency” or “extreme urgency” or in cases of “public non-commercial use”.
  • When was the first license issued?
    • India’s first ever compulsory license was granted by the Patent Office on March 9, 2012, to Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma for the production of generic version of Bayer’s Nexavar, an anti-cancer agent used in the treatment of liver and kidney cancer.
  • Global Perspective on Compulsory Licensing:
    • This phenomenon of compulsory licensing is a hugely debated issue. Many developing countries are giving importance to the compulsory licensing because of the unavailability and unaffordability of the medicines, and they are continuously granting more and more compulsory licenses.
    • The developed countries of Europe, USA are opposing this view as it would make innovation difficult for the pharmaceutical companies.
  • Need for:
    • Gilead Sciences’ anti-viral drug Remdesivir has shown efficacy in treating COVID-19 patients.
    • Media reports indicate that the U.S., which is hoarding all drugs found to be useful in combating the pandemic, has bought the entire stock of Remdesivir from Gilead for the next three months.
    • It will therefore not be available for the rest of the world.
    • Besides, while the cost of manufacturing Remdesivir for a full course — as worked out by experts — is less than $10 or ₹750 in the U.S. And about ₹100 in India. Gilead, by virtue of its patent monopoly, is holding the world to ransom by asking a price that is hundreds of times its cost.
  • Present scenario:
    • Given the uncertainty over access to treatments for COVID-19, several countries have been laying the legislative groundwork to issue compulsory licenses for products that patent holders refuse to make accessible.

Human Growth Hormone

  • Context:
    • In a first-of-its-kind case, a 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medallist and reigning national champion weightlifter- Pradeep Singh has tested positive for Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
    • He has been handed a provisional four-year suspension after his blood sample tested positive for HGH, which is prohibited in and out of the competition by the World Anti- Doping Agency.
  • What is HGH?
    • It is known to increase muscle mass, strength as well as tissue- repairing effects, which has been used as a doping agent in power and endurance sports
    • It is produced in the body and secreted by the pituitary gland near the base of the brain.
    • When the gland releases the growth hormone, it results in the secretion of a protein called IGF-1 from the liver. This protein is what ultimately stimulates the growth of bones, muscles, and other tissues.
  • About WADA:
    • The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is a foundation initiated by the International Olympic Committee based in Canada to promote, coordinate, and monitor the fight against drugs in sports.
    • It was established in 1999 as an international independent agency composed and funded equally by the sport movement and governments of the world.
    • Headquartered in Montreal, Canada.
    • The agency’s key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code, whose provisions are enforced by the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

  • Context:
    • The truly massive International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) has entered its years-long assembly phase.
    • After 35 years of brainstorming, planning, and preproduction, ITER says the assembly will take five years, starting now.
  • What is ITER?
    • It is international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which will be the world's largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment.
    • It is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor that is being built in southern France.
    • The goal of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful use.
  • Significance of ITER:
    1. ITER will be the first fusion device to produce net energy.
    2. ITER will be the first fusion device to maintain fusion for long periods of time.
    3. ITER will be the first fusion device to test the integrated technologies, materials, and physics regimes necessary for the commercial production of fusion-based electricity.
  • The project is funded and run by seven member entities:
    • The European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
  • What will ITER do?
    1. Produce 500 MW of fusion power
    2. Demonstrate the integrated operation of technologies for a fusion power plant
    3. Achieve a deuterium-tritium plasma in which the reaction is sustained through internal heating
    4. Test tritium breeding
    5. Demonstrate the safety characteristics of a fusion device.
  • What is Fusion?
    • Fusion is the energy source of the Sun and stars. In the tremendous heat and gravity at the core of these stellar bodies, hydrogen nuclei collide, fuse into heavier helium atoms and release tremendous amounts of energy in the process.
  • How is it achieved in the laboratory?
    • The most efficient fusion reaction in the laboratory setting is the reaction between two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium (D) and tritium (T).
    • The DT fusion reaction produces the highest energy gain at the “lowest” temperatures.
  • Three conditions must be fulfilled to achieve fusion in a laboratory:
    1. Very high temperature (on the order of 150,000,000° Celsius).
    2. Sufficient plasma particle density (to increase the likelihood that collisions do occur).
    3. Sufficient confinement time (to hold the plasma, which has a propensity to expand, within a defined volume).
  • What is Tokamak?
    • A tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion.
    • Inside a tokamak, the energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel.
    • Just like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators.
    • First developed by Soviet research in the late 1960s, the tokamak has been adopted around the world as the most promising configuration of magnetic fusion devices. ITER will be the world's largest tokamak—twice the size of the largest machine currently in operation, with ten times the plasma chamber volume.

Miscellaneous

NATGRID

  • Context:
    • The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to access the centralised online database on FIRs and stolen vehicles.
  • What is NATGRID?
    • First conceptualised in 2009, NATGRID seeks to become the one-stop destination for security and intelligence agencies to access databases related to immigration entry and exit, banking, and telephone details of a suspect on a “secured platform”.
    • The project aims to go live by December 31.
  • Who can access the data?
    • It will be a medium for at least 10 Central agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) to access data on a secured platform. The data will be procured by NATGRID from 21 providing organisations such as telecom, tax records, bank, immigration, etc.
  • Criticisms:
    • NATGRID is facing opposition on charges of possible violations of privacy and leakage of confidential personal information.
    • Its efficacy in preventing terror has also been questioned given that no state agency or police force has access to its database thus reducing chances of immediate, effective action.
    • According to a few experts, digital databases such as NATGRID can be misused. Over the last two decades, the very digital tools that terrorists use have also become great weapons to fight the ideologies of violence.
    • Intelligence agencies have also opposed amid fears that it would impinge on their territory and possibly result in leaks on the leads they were working on to other agencies.
  • But, Why do we need NATGRID?
    1. The danger of not having a sophisticated tool like the NATGRID is that it forces the police to rely on harsh and coercive means to extract information in a crude and degrading fashion.
    2. After every terrorist incident, it goes about rounding up suspects—many of who are innocent. If instead, a pattern search and recognition system were in place, these violations of human rights would be much fewer.
    3. Natgrid would also help the Intelligence Bureau keep a tab on persons with suspicious backgrounds.
    4. The police would have access to all his data and any movement by this person would also be tracked with the help of this database.

Lax on safety: On Nevveli and Vizag disasters

  • Context:
    • Second Fatal Boiler Blast In Two Months At Plant In Tamil Nadu.
    • The blast took place at a power plant of the central government-owned NLC India Limited (formerly known as Neyveli Lignite Corporation Limited) in Cuddalore, about 180 km from the state capital Chennai.
    • This once again underscores the value of safety protocols, particularly the Indian Boilers Act.
  • About the Indian Boilers Act, 1923:
    • Enacted with the objective to provide mainly for the safety of life and property of persons from the danger of explosions of steam boilers and for achieving uniformity in registration and inspection during operation and maintenance of boilers in India.
  • Definitions:
    • Boiler: Under Section2(b) of the Act, Boiler is any closed vessel exceeding 22.75 liters in capacity which is used expressly for generating steam under pressure and includes any mounting or other fitting attached to such the vessel, which is wholly or partly under pressure when is shut off.
    • Accident means an explosion of a boiler or steam- pipe or any damage to a boiler or steam- pipe which is calculated to weaken the strength thereof so as to render it liable to explode.
  • Conclusion:
    • Such accidents are mostly preventable, and occur rarely in the industrialised world, because of impeccable attention to safety. India’s aspirations to industrialise should be founded on safety.

Control, not delete: On China apps ban

  • Context:
    • Citing concerns to both data security and national sovereignty, the Indian government on June 29 announced it would block 59 widely used apps, most linked to Chinese companies.
  • How the government defends its move?
    • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology cited “the emergent nature of threats” posed by the apps and “information available” that they are engaged in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of
    • India, defence of India, the security of the state and public order”.
    • The apps, according to the Ministry, had been reported for “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India”, which “impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
  • Data localisation:
    • The government said the move protects the digital data of Indian users from the Chinese government and addresses data localisation concerns.
  • What does Data Localization mean?
    • Data localization is the act of storing data on any device that is physically present within the borders of a specific country where the data was generated.
  • Why data localization is necessary for India?
    1. For securing citizen’s data, data privacy, data sovereignty, national security, and economic development of the country.
    2. Recommendations by the RBI, the committee of experts led by Justice BN Srikrishna, the draft e-commerce policy, and the draft report of the cloud policy panel show signs of data localisation.
    3. The extensive data collection by technology companies has allowed them to process and monetize Indian users’ data outside the country. Therefore, to curtail the perils of unregulated and arbitrary use of personal data, data localization is necessary.
    4. Digital technologies like machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) can generate tremendous value out of various data. It can turn disastrous if not contained within certain boundaries.
    5. With the advent of cloud computing, Indian users’ data is outside the country’s boundaries, leading to conflict of jurisdiction in case of any dispute.
    6. Data localization is an opportunity for Indian technology companies to evolve an outlook from services to products.
  • Recommendations:
    • The Srikrishna Committee wants to localise data for law enforcement to have easy access to data, to prevent foreign surveillance, to build an artificial intelligence ecosystem in India, and because undersea cables through which data transfers take place are vulnerable to attacks.
    • Reserve Bank of India has also imposed a hard data localisation mandate on payment systems providers to store payment systems data only in India.
    • The government has also been working on a draft data protection policy since 2018, which is currently under discussion in a joint parliamentary committee.

Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has constituted an inter-ministerial committee to coordinate investigations into violation of various legal provisions of PMLA, Income Tax Act, FCRA, etc. by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust & Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.
  • What’s the issue?
    • As per the MHA website, both the RGF and the RGCT have registered FCRA associations, a pre-requisite for NGOs and other associations to receive foreign donations. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust is not an FCRA registered association.
    • All these NGOs have been receiving donations.
  • What to learn from this article?
    • Political statements are not important. But, it’s important to know the key provisions of FCRA and how NGOs in India are registered, administered, and become eligible to receive foreign donations.
  • Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010:
    • Foreign funding of voluntary organizations in India is regulated under the FCRA act and is implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
    • Under the Act, organisations require to register themselves every five years.
    • As per the amended FCRA rules, all NGOs registered or granted prior permission under FCRA are now required to upload details of foreign contributions received and utilized by them every three months on their website or the FCRA website.
    • NGOs now need to file their annual returns online, with the hard copy version dispensed with. The annual returns must be placed quarterly on the NGO’s website or the FCRA website maintained by the home ministry.
  • Who can accept Foreign Contribution?
    • A person having a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme can accept foreign contribution after getting registration or prior permission from the Central Government.
  • Who cannot accept Foreign Contribution?
    1. Election candidate
    2. Member of any legislature (MP and MLAs)
    3. A political party or office bearer thereof
    4. Organization of a political nature
    5. Correspondent, columnist, cartoonist, editor, owner, printer, or publishers of a registered Newspaper.
    6. Judge, government servant or employee of any corporation or any other body controlled on owned by the Government.
    7. Association or company engaged in the production or broadcast of audio news, audiovisual news or current affairs programmes through any electronic mode
    8. Any other individuals or associations who have been specifically prohibited by the Central Government
  • What are the eligibility criteria for the grant of registration?
    • The Association:
      • Must be registered (under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 or Indian Trusts Act 1882 or section 8 of Companies Act, 2013, etc.)
      • Normally be in existence for at least 3 years.
      • Has undertaken reasonable activity in its field for the benefit of society.
      • Has spent at least Rs.10,00,000/- (Rs. ten lakh) over the last three years on its activities.
  • What is ‘public interest’?
    • The FCRA regulates the receipt of funding from sources outside of India to NGOs working in India.
    • It prohibits the receipt of foreign contribution “for any activities detrimental to the national interest”.
    • The Act specifies that NGOs require the government’s permission to receive funding from abroad.
    • The government can refuse permission if it believes that the donation to the NGO will adversely affect “public interest” or the “economic interest of the state”.
    • This condition is manifestly overbroad. There is no clear guidance on what constitutes “public interest”.
  • Definition of foreign contribution:
    • It defines the term ‘foreign contribution’ to include currency, article other than a gift for personal use and securities received from foreign sources. While foreign hospitality refers to any offer from a foreign source to provide foreign travel, boarding, lodging, transportation, or medical treatment cost.
  • Background:
    • In 2019 alone, more than 1,800 NGOs lost their license to receive foreign funding.
  • What needs to be done now?
    1. A National Accreditation Council consisting of academicians, activists, retired bureaucrats should be made to ensure compliance by NGOs.
    2. There should be better coordination between the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance in terms of monitoring and regulating illicit and unaccounted funds.
    3. A regulatory mechanism to keep a watch on the financial activities of NGOs and voluntary organizations is the need of the hour.
    4. Citizens today are keen to play an active role in processes that shape their lives and it is important that their participation in democracy goes beyond the ritual of voting and should include the promotion of social justice, gender equity, inclusion, etc.

Non- Personal Data

  • Context:
    • Committee of Experts on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework has released a draft.
    • This government committee (formed in 2019) headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan has suggested that non-personal data generated in the country be allowed to be harnessed by various domestic companies and entities.
  • What is non-personal data?
    • Any set of data that does not contain personally identifiable information. This means that no individual or a living person can be identified by looking at such data.
    • For example, while order details collected by a food delivery service will have the name, age, gender, and other contact information of an individual, it will become non-personal data if the identifiers such as name and contact information are taken out.
  • Classification:
    • The government committee has classified non-personal data into three main categories, namely:
      1. Public non-personal data: All the data collected by government and its agencies such as census, data collected by municipal corporations on the total tax receipts in a particular period, or any information collected during execution of all publicly funded works.
      2. Community non-personal data: Any data identifiers about a set of people who have either the same geographic location, religion, job, or other common social interests will form the community's nonpersonal data.
      3. Private non-personal data: Those which are produced by individuals can be derived from the application of proprietary software or knowledge.
  • Suggestions made:
    1. Formulate separate legislation to govern non-personal data.
    2. Setup a new regulatory body- Non-Personal Data Authority (NPDA).
    3. The report identifies and defines new stakeholders in the non-personal data ecosystem, including data principal, data custodian, data trustee, and data trust, and contours their obligations and mechanisms to enable data sharing.
    4. It has also set circumstances under which a private organisation, that collects non-personal data, needs to be remunerated.
  • Need for regulation:
    • Digital transformations all over the world have meant that data is treated as an asset, which is monetised, either directly by trading it, or indirectly by developing a service on top of that data.
    • In a data economy, companies with “largest data pools have outsized and seized unbeatable techno-economic advantages.”
    • These companies, having leveraged their “first-mover advantage” to create large pools of data, mean that smaller startups are often squeezed out of the competition, or there are significant barriers to their entry.
    • India, being the second-most populous country in the world, also with the second-largest smartphone userbase is by extension, one of the largest data markets in the world.
  • What are the global standards of non-personal data?
    • In May 2019, the European Union came out with a regulatory framework for the free flow of non-personal data in the European Union, in which it suggested that member states of the union would cooperate with each other when it came to data sharing.
    • In several other countries across the world, there are no nationwide data protection laws, whether for personal or non-personal data.
  • What should the final draft include?
    • The final draft of the non-personal data governance framework must clearly:
      1. Define the roles for all participants, such as the data principal, the data custodian, and data trustees.
      2. Regulation must be clear, and concise to provide certainty to its market participants.
      3. Demarcate the roles and responsibilities of participants in the regulatory framework.

Spyware, stalkerware gaining traction during the pandemic

  • Context:
    • There was a 51 percent increase in the use of spyware and stalkerware during the lockdown period from March to June.
  • What are the spy and stalkerware apps?
    • Spy and stalkerware apps, like viruses and other malware, infect devices that are connected to the internet.
    • While viruses and malware can be detected by anti-virus software, spyware and stalkerware apps disguise themselves as useful and send out stolen data to central servers without the knowledge of the users.
  • How are they installed?
    1. A spyware app can be installed remotely.
    2. A stalkerware app can be installed only when someone has physical access to the digitally connected device.
  • What do they do?
    • A spyware app accesses the data usage pattern of the device, gains access to photos and videos as well as other personal information of the user, and then passes it off to a central server.
    • A stalkerware app works in a manner similar to spyware apps. It also gives out the location of the device to a master device which controls the stalkerware app.
    • Most stalkerWare apps work in stealth mode with no trace of the app having ever been installed.
    • Once installed, such apps can allow the master device to control, intercept, and even change your emails, text messages, and your communication on social media platforms.
  • Why has the usage of such apps increased during a lockdown?
    • Increased usage of the internet by everyone due to various lockdown measures in place. This provides enough opportunities for cybercriminals.

Turkey approves social media law

  • Context:
    • Turkey’s parliament has approved a new social media law that gives authorities greater power to regulate social media despite concerns of growing censorship.
  • Key provisions:
    1. The law requires major social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to keep representative offices in Turkey to deal with complaints against content on their platforms.
    2. If a social media company refuses to designate an official representative, the legislation mandates steep fines, advertising bans, and bandwidth reductions.
    3. With a court ruling, bandwidth would be halved, and then cut further. Bandwidth reductions mean social media networks would be too slow to use.
    4. The representative will be tasked with responding to individual requests to take down content violating privacy and personal rights within 48 hours or to provide grounds for rejection.
    5. The company would be held liable for damages if the content is not removed or blocked within 24 hours.
    6. It also would require social media providers to store user data in Turkey.
  • Need for this law- govt’s arguments:
    • The government says the legislation was needed to combat cybercrime and protect users.
    • The law was necessary to contain cyberbullying and insults against women.
  • Concerns:
    • The new law is being called the “censorship law.” It is because the law would further limit freedom of expression in a country where the media is already under tight government control and dozens of journalists are in jail.
    • The law would be used to remove content critical of the government rather than to protect users. This is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression online and contravenes international human rights law and standards.
  • Background:
    • In recent times, hundreds of people have been investigated and some arrested over social media posts on the COVID-19 pandemic, opposition to Turkish military offensives abroad, or insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials.
    • Turkey leads the world in removal requests to Twitter, with more than 6,000 demands in the first half of 2019. More than 408,000 websites are blocked in Turkey.
    • Online encyclopedia Wikipedia was blocked for nearly three years before Turkey’s top court ruled that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression.

Atmanirbhar Bharat app innovation challenge

  • Context:
    • This initiative is created by MeitY in partnership with Atal Innovation Mission – Niti Aayog.
    • The challenge is for techies around India and the start-up community for creating world-class ‘Made in India’ apps.
  • The challenge will run in two tracks:
    1. Promotion of existing apps.
    2. Development of new apps.
  • About:
    • The outcome of this challenge will be to give better visibility and clarity to existing apps to achieve their goals and to create tech products to find solutions to tech conundrums with the help of mentorship, tech support, and guidance during the entire life-cycle.
    • To recognise good apps, there will be “various cash awards and incentives”.
    • The prize money for apps is between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 2 lakh depending on the category. The app will be evaluated on the basis of ease of use, robustness, security features, and scalability.

Places in News

 

Place in News Why In News, And Some Information About the Place

Nimu/Nimoo

  • Context:
    • Recently Prime Minister travelled to Nimu in Ladakh to interact with Indian troops.
    • Nimu is the reserve brigade headquarter of the Indian Army.
    • Its significance can also be ascertained from the fact that the Border Road Organisation (BRO) is constructing a road from Padum in the Zanskar Valley to Nimu.
  • About:
    • Nimu is a village located in the south-eastern part of the Ladakh region.
    • It is surrounded by the Zanskar range.
    • It is famous for offering view of the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers.
    • Magnet Hill is a gravity-defying road 7.5 km southeast of Nimoo.
    • Due to the surrounding geographical features, it has an optical illusion where vehicles seem to roll uphill in defiance of gravity when they are, in fact, rolling downhill.

Botswana

  • Context:
    • Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The cause is yet to be established.
  • About:
    • Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa.
    • Botswana is topographically flat, with up to 70 percent of its territory being the Kalahari Desert.
    • Botswana is currently home to more elephants than any other African country, and southern Africa remains a stronghold for 293,000, or 70%, of the estimated remaining African elephants.
    • The Okavango Delta is a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014.
  • Neighbours:
    • It is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, Zimbabwe to the northeast, and Zambia to the north.

Chattogram Port

  • Context:
    • First trial container ship flagged off from Kolkata to Agartala through Chattogram Port of Bangladesh.
  • About:
    • The ship has been launched under the Agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for the movement of India’s transit cargo through Bangladesh.

Maguri Motapung Wetland

  • Context:
    • This wetland is 500m away from the oil well that exploded on June 9.
  • About:
    • Maguri Motapung Beel is less than 10 km south of the more famous Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and part of the Dibru-Saikhowa Biosphere Reserve.
    • The wetland derives its name from ‘Magur’, the local word for the catfish Clarius batrachus, once found here in abundance. Motapung is a village nearby, and Beel is the Assamese word for the wetland.
  • Significance:
    • It was declared an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) in 1996.
    • Important species: Golden Mahaseer, vulnerable species (like the Swamp Francolin and the Marsh Babbler), two endangered (Greater Adjutant and Pallas’s Fish-eagle), and six critically endangered (like Baer’s Pochard, Red-headed Vulture and White-bellied Heron).
  • Location:
    • This reserve connects the national park in Assam to Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh, creating a big wildlife corridor of immense importance in the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot.
    • The reserve is located within the Brahmaputra’s floodplains and is limited by the Lohit river in the north and the Dibru in the south.

Nag river

  • Context:
    • Industrialisation has reduced Nag river to a cursed lady, Bombay High Court said recently
  • About:
    • The Nag River is a river flowing through the city of Nagpur in Maharashtra, India.
    • It is known for providing the etymology for the name Nagpur.
    • Forming a part of the Kanhan-Pench river system, the Nag River originates in Lava hills near wadi.

Natanz

  • Recently, a fire broke out at Natanz, an Underground Nuclear Facility of Iran used for enriching uranium.
  • Located in Iran’s central Isfahan province in Tehran, Natanz hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. It is known as the first Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant of Iran.
  • It is among the sites monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.

Melghat tiger reserve

  • Located in the Amaravati district of Maharashtra.
  • It is on the southern offshoot of the Satpura Hill Range in Central India, called Gavilgarh Hill.
  • The Tapti River and the Gawilgadh ridge of the Satpura Range form the boundaries of the reserve.
  • It was declared a tiger reserve in 1974. It was among the first nine tiger reserves notified in 1973-74 under Project Tiger.
  • It was the first tiger reserve of Maharashtra.
  • The name 'Melghat' means the confluence of various 'ghats' or valleys as is typical from the landscape of this Tiger Reserve.
  • Other prominent animals are Sloth Bear, Indian Gaur, Sambar deer, Leopard, Nilgais, etc. The endangered and 'back from extinction' Forest Owlet is also found in various areas of Melghat.

Mont Blanc

  • Context:
    • A melting glacier at Europe’s Mont Blanc mountain range recently disentombed Indian newspapers buried there for 54 years –- some of them carrying headlines such as “India’s First Woman Prime Minister”, referring to Indira Gandhi’s election win in 1966.
    • The newspapers are among the remains of Air India Flight 101, a Boeing 707 plane that on January 24, 1966, crashed into Mont Blanc.
    • Among the 177 dead was Homi Bhabha, the founding leader of India’s nuclear programme.
  • Location:
    1. Mont Blanc is the second-highest mountain in Europe after Mount Elbrus.
    2. It is the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe.
    3. The mountain stands in a range called the Graian Alps, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Savoie and Haute-Savoie, France.
    4. Its epithet the “Roof of Europe”.
    5. It is also known as White Mountain in French.
    6. The border between Italy and France passes through the summit of Mont Blanc, making it both French and Italian.

Azad Pattan hydel power project

  • Context:
    • Pakistan and China have signed an agreement on this under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
  • Location:
    • The 700MW power project is on the Jhelum river in Sudhoti district of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
  • Other projects in the region:
    • 1,100 MW Kohala project- on Jhelum near Muzaffarabad.
    • Karot Hydropower station- on the Jhelum is on the boundaries of Kotli district in PoK and Rawalpindi district in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
    • Two hydel projects are planned in Gilgit Baltistan – Phandar Hydro Power, and Gilgit KIU. 59. 

Kaziranga National Park

  • Located in the State of Assam.
  • It is the single largest undisturbed and representative area in the Brahmaputra Valley floodplain.
  • It was declared as a National Park in 1974. It has been declared a tiger reserve since 2007.
  • It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
  • It is recognized as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
  • Much of the focus of conservation efforts in Kaziranga is focused on the 'big four' species— rhino, elephant, Royal Bengal tiger and Asiatic water buffalo.
  • Kaziranga is also home to 9 of the 14 species of primates found in the Indian subcontinent.

Dal lake

  • It is the second largest in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It is named the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir” or “Srinagar’s Jewel”.
  • The lake is part of a natural wetland, including its floating gardens. The floating gardens, known as “Rad” in Kashmiri, blossom with lotus flowers during July and August.
  • The lake is located in the Zabarwan mountain valley, in the foothills of the Shankracharya hills, which surrounds it on three sides.

Nagorno-Karabakh region

  • Context:
    • The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia.
  • About:
    • Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, within the mountainous range of Karabakh.
    • It is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Hagia Sophia

  • Context:
    • Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared Istanbul's
    • Hagia Sophia opens to Muslim worship after a top court ruled that the building's conversion to a museum by modern Turkey's founding statesman was illegal.
  • About:
    • It was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
    • It is a historic house of worship located in Istanbul.
    • It is revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
    • In 1935, in the early days of the modern secular Turkish stateunder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it became a museum.
    • It is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Bhashan Char island

  • Context:
    • Rohingya refugees on this island will not be allowed to leave unless they agree to return home, Bangladesh authorities said recently.
  • About:
    • It is also known as Char Piya.
    • It is an island in Bangladesh.
    • It is located in the Bay of Bengal.
    • The island was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006.
    • It spans 40 km².

Chushul

  • Context:
    • India and China are scheduled to hold the fourth round of Corps Commanders talks at Chushul.
  • About:
    • It is a village in the Leh district of Ladakh, India.
    • It is located in the Durbuk tehsil, in the area known as “Chushul valley”.
    • It is close to Rezang La and Panggong Lake at a height of 4,360 metres.
    • Chushul is one of the five officially agreed Border Personnel Meeting points between the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army of China for regular consultations and interactions between the two armies to improve relations.
    • This place is famous for the Indian Army who fought to the 'last man, last round' at Rezang La (Chushul) on November 18, 1962. Without this crucial victory, the territory might have been captured by China.

Idlib

  • Context:
    • Syrian and Russian planes have carried out deadly aerial strikes on schools, hospitals and markets in Idlib province. UN investigators have termed these attacks as war crimes.
  • About:
    • Idlib is a city in northwestern Syria, 59 kilometers southwest of Aleppo, which is the capital of the Idlib Governorate. It has an elevation of nearly 500 meters above sea level.

Pampa river

  • Pampa is the third-longest river in Kerala after Periyar and Bharathappuzha. Sabarimala temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is located on the banks of the river. The river is also known as ‘Dakshina Bhageerathi’ and ‘River Baris’.

Port Louis

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Mauritius counterpart Pravind Jugnauth jointly inaugurated the new Supreme Court built in Port Louis with Indian grant assistance.
  • About:
    • It is the capital city of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. It's known for its French colonial architecture

 

Index in News

 

International Index
World Drug Report
  • Context:
    • The fourth highest opium seizure in 2018 reported from India.
  • Released by:
    • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
  • Findings of the latest World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):
    • The fourth highest seizure of opium in 2018 was reported from India, after Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
    • The maximum of 644 tonnes of opium was seized in Iran, followed by 27 tonnes in Afghanistan and 19 tonnes in Pakistan.
    • In terms of heroin seizure (1.3 tonnes), India was at the 12th position in the world.
    • The global area under opium poppy cultivation declined for the second year in a row in 2019. It went down by 17% in 2018 and by 30% in 2019.
    • The main opiate trafficking flows originate from three key production areas: Afghanistan, Myanmar-Laos, and Mexico-Colombia-Guatemala.

 

Schemes in News

 

Scheme Concerned Ministry Features
Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution
  • Context:
    • In his sixth address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana till November-end and said the Central government will spend Rs 90,000 crore more on providing free food to the poor.
  • What is Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana?
    1. Considered as the world’s largest food security scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana aims at ensuring sufficient food for the poor and needy during the coronavirus crisis.
    2. It was announced as part of the first relief package during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    3. Part of the scheme, the food needs to be provided to all the beneficiaries under the public distribution system (TPDS) for Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and priority household (PHH) ration cardholders.
    4. As per updates, the eligible beneficiaries will receive 5kg of foodgrains and 1 kg Gram per month.
Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana- Gramin (PMAY-G) Ministry of Rural Development
  • Context:
    • 1.10 crore houses completed under Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin.
  • About PMAY- G:
    • The erstwhile rural housing scheme Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) has been restructured into Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana –Gramin (PMAY-G) from 01.04.2016.
    • PMAY-G aims at providing a pucca house, with basic amenities, to all houseless householder and those households living in kutcha and dilapidated house, by 2022.
  •  Ministry:
    • Ministry of Rural Development.
  • Target:
    • Construction of 2.95 crore houses with all basic amenities by the year 2022.
  • Cost-sharing:
    • The cost of unit assistance in this scheme is shared between Central and State Governments in the ratio 60:40 in plain areas and 90: 10 for North Eastern and the Himalayan States.
    • The scheme envisages training of Rural Masons with the objective of improving workmanship and quality of construction of houses while at the same time, increasing availability of skilled masons and enhancing employability of such masons.
  • Selection of beneficiaries:
    • Based on housing deprivation parameters of Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011, subject to 13 point exclusion criteria, followed by Gram Sabha verification.
  • Context:
    • 1.10 crore houses completed under Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin.
  • About PMAY- G:
    • The erstwhile rural housing scheme Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) has been restructured into Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana –Gramin (PMAY-G) from 01.04.2016.
    • PMAY-G aims at providing a pucca house, with basic amenities, to all houseless householder and those households living in kutcha and dilapidated house, by 2022.
  •  Ministry:
    • Ministry of Rural Development.
  • Target:
    • Construction of 2.95 crore houses with all basic amenities by the year 2022.
  • Cost-sharing:
    • The cost of unit assistance in this scheme is shared between Central and State Governments in the ratio 60:40 in plain areas and 90: 10 for North Eastern and the Himalayan States.
    • The scheme envisages training of Rural Masons with the objective of improving workmanship and quality of construction of houses while at the same time, increasing availability of skilled masons and enhancing employability of such masons.
  • Selection of beneficiaries:
    • Based on housing deprivation parameters of Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011, subject to 13 point exclusion criteria, followed by Gram Sabha verification.
Special Window for Affordable and Mid-Income Housing (SWAMIH) Ministry of Finance
  • Context:
    • 81 projects have been approved so far under the Special Window for Affordable and Mid-Income Housing (SWAMIH) fund.
    • The approval, under the SWAMIH Investment Fund I, will enable the completion of nearly 60,000 homes across India.
  • About SWAMIH:
    • In November 2019, the Union Cabinet cleared a proposal to set it up.
    • SWAMIH Investment Fund has been formed to complete construction of stalled, RERA-registered affordable and mid-income category housing projects which are stuck due to the paucity of funds.
    • The fund was set up as a Category-II AIF (Alternate Investment Fund) debt fund registered with SEBI.
    • The Investment Manager of the Fund is SBICAP Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SBI Capital Markets, which in turn is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the State Bank of India.
    • The Sponsor of the Fund is the Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India on behalf of the Government of India.
  • Who will be the investors of the fund?
    • AIFs created/funded under the Special Window would solicit investment into the fund from the Government and other private investors including cash-rich financial institutions, sovereign wealth funds, public and private banks, domestic pension and provident funds, global pension funds, and other institutional investors.
Scheme for promotion of Bulk Drug Parks
Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers 
  • About:
    • Launched by the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers in line with the vision and clarion call for making India Atma Nirbhar in the pharma sector.
  • Scheme for promotion of Bulk Drug Parks:
    • The scheme envisages the creation of 3 bulk drug parks in the country.
    • The grant-in-aid will be 90% of the project cost in case of North-East and hilly States and 70% in the case of other States.
  • Funding:
    • Maximum grant-in-aid for one bulk drug park is limited to Rs.1000 crore.
  • Need of the Scheme:
    • Despite being 3rd largest in the world by volume the Indian pharmaceutical industry is significantly dependent on the import of basic raw materials, viz., Bulk Drugs that are used to produce medicines. In some specific bulk drugs, the import dependence is 80 to 100%.
    • The scheme is expected to reduce the manufacturing cost of bulk drugs in the country and dependency on other countries for bulk drugs.
    • The scheme will also help in providing a continuous supply of drugs and ensure the delivery of affordable healthcare to the citizens.
Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA)
Ministry for Human Resource Development (MHRD)
  • Context:
    • TRIFED has entered into a partnership with IIT Delhi for the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA).
    • Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) functions under the Tribal Affairs Ministry.
  • Significance of the move:
    • With the partnership with IIT Delhi and ‘Unnat Bharat Abhiyan’, the tribal forest dwellers engaged in Minor Forest Produce will get exposure to newer processing technologies, product innovation, mentorship, transformational digital systems, and handholding.
  • About UBA:
    • It is a flagship program of the Ministry for Human Resource Development (MHRD).
    • It aims to link the Higher Education Institutions with a set of at least (5) villages so that these institutions can contribute to the economic and social betterment of these village communities using their knowledge base.
    • Unnat Bharat Abhiyan 2.0 (UBA 2.0) is the upgraded version of Unnat Bharat Abhiyan 1.0. UBA 2.0 was launched in 2018.
    • The scheme is extended to all educational institutes; however, under Unnat Bharat Abhiyan 2.0 participating institutes are selected based on the fulfillment of certain criteria.
‘Accelerate Vigyan’ Scheme
Ministry of Science & Technology
  • About:
    • Launched by Scientific and Engineering Research Board (SERB).
    • It seeks to provide a single platform for capacity building programs, research internships, and workshops across the country.
    • The primary objective of this scheme is to give more thrust on encouraging high-end scientific research and preparing scientific manpower, which can lead to research careers and knowledge-based economy.
  • Components:
    • ABHYAAS: To boost research and development in the country by enabling and grooming potential PG/Ph.D. students by means of developing their research skills in selected areas across different disciplines or fields.
    • It has two components: High-End Workshops (‘KARYASHALA’) and Research Internships (‘VRITIKA’).
Mission SAMOOHAN: Marks the beginning of Accelerate Vigyan
Ministry of Human Resource Development
  • About:
    • It aims to encourage, aggregate, and consolidate all scientific interactions in the country under one common roof.
  • It has been sub-divided into:
    1. SAYONJIKA is an open-ended program to catalogue the capacity building activities in science and technology supported by all government funding agencies in the country.
    2. SANGOSHTI is a pre-existing program of SERB.
Samadhan se Vikas
Haryana government
  • It is a one-time settlement scheme introduced by the Haryana government for the recovery of long-pending dues on account of External Development Charges (EDC)and Infrastructural Development Charges (IDC).
  • The scheme is modeled on the central scheme of ‘Vivad se Vishwas-2020’.

 



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