Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 29-05-2021

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Useful compilation of Civil Services oriented - Daily Current Affairs - Civil Services - 29-05-2021

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    • SECTION 1 - TEN NEWS HEADLINES
  1. Governance and Institutions - Launch of SeHAT OPD portal - ‘Services e-Health Assistance & Tele-consultation (SeHAT) OPD portal was launched in May 2021. The portal provides tele-medicine services to the serving Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families. This final version of the SeHAT OPD portal with advanced safety features supersedes the trial version that was made functional in August 2020. It is developed by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS), Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and Centre for Development of Artificial Computing (C-DAC) Mohali. The portal will help reduce the load on hospitals and patients will be able to get contactless consultations in an easy and effective manner.
  2. Healthcare and Medicine - Launch of Ayush facilities - The Ayush Clinical Case Repository (ACCR) portal and the third version of Ayush Sanjivani App was launched.  It will serve as a platform to support both Ayush practitioners and general public. Aim: To aggregate information about clinical outcomes achieved by Ayush practitioners on a large scale. It is expected to document the strengths of Ayush systems for treatment of various disease conditions. It has dedicated section for reporting and publishing details of Covid 19 cases treated through Ayush Systems.
  3. Indian Economy - GST Council's 43rd meeting - The 43rd GST Council meeting under the Chairmanship of Union Finance Minister was conducted on 28th May, 2021, after a long gap of more than six months. As a COVID-19 relief measure, a number of specified COVID-19 related goods such as medical oxygen, oxygen concentrators and other oxygen storage and transportation equipment, certain diagnostic markers test kits and COVID-19 vaccines, etc., have been recommended for full exemption from IGST. In view of rising Black Fungus cases, the above exemption from IGST has been extended also to Amphotericin B. To support the LympahticFilarisis (an endemic) elimination programme being conducted in collaboration with WHO, the GST rate on Diethylcarbamazine (DEC) tablets has been recommended for reduction to 5% (from 12%). GST on MRO services in respect of ships/vessels shall be reduced to 5% (from 18%). The Finance Minister also announced an amnesty scheme for small GST taxpayers, allowing filing of returns with reduced late fees. the GST Council will hold a special session to discuss extending paying compensation to states beyond 2022. Annual return filing has also been simplified. The Council has recommended amending the CGST Act to allow for self-certification of reconciliation statements, instead of getting it certified by Chartered Accountants.
  4. Energy - Srinagar Leh Transmission system - The Ministry of Power, Government of India transferred the prestigious 220 kV Srinagar-Drass-Kargil-Khaltsi-Leh Transmission System to Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID), a Maharatna CPSU of Government of India. The transmission system was dedicated to the nation by PM in February 2019, and it connects the Ladakh region to the national grid, ensuring quality and reliable power supply. Built at a height of around 3000-4000 meters, this 335-km long transmission line traverses snow-bound difficult hilly terrain. It comprises of four new state-of-the-art 220/66 kV Gas Insulated Sub-stations and 66 kV interconnection systems at Drass, Kargil, Khaltsi and Leh. The project was executed by POWERGRID on consultancy basis under Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan (PMRP) Scheme. Subsequent to reorganisation of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into UTs of J&K and Ladakh, the 220 kV Srinagar-Leh Transmission System has been re-designated as Inter State Transmission System (ISTS) and transferred to POWERGRID with effect from 31.10.2019, the date of formation of the two UTs of J&K and Ladakh.
  5. Environment and Ecology - Cricket species "Jayanti" - Jayanti has become the twelfth subgenus, or species, of cricket identified under the genus Arachnomimus Saussure, 1897. Found in the Kurra caves of Chhattisgarh in April 2021, the new subgenus was named Jayanti after Professor Jayant Biswas, one of the leading cave explorers in India. Arachnomimus is the genus name given by Swiss Entomologist Henri Louis Frédéric de Saussure in 1878 to crickets that resembled spiders. This is apt because crickets of this group are commonly called spider crickets because of their smaller body size and long legs. The newly discovered subgenus, Indimimus, is different from the two subgenera, Arachnomimus and Euarachnomimus, because of the male genitalia structure.
  6. Education - Pandemic and Mid Day Meals in schools - The Union Minister for Education has approved the proposal to provide monetary assistance to 11.8 crore students through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of the cooking cost component of the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme, to all eligible children, as a special welfare measure. This will give a fillip to the Midday Meal programme, when schools are shut. This is in addition to the Government of India’s announcement of distribution of free-of-cost food grains @ 5 Kg per person per month to 80 crore beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY). With a view to enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) in 1995. In 2001 the MDMS became a cooked Mid Day Meal Scheme. The MDMS covers children of classes I-VIII studying in government, government-aided schools, special training centres (STC) and madarsas/ maqtabs supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). It is the largest school feeding programme in the world. The Midday Meal Scheme is covered by the National Food Security Act, 2013.
  7. Science and Technology - National A.I. portal INDIAai - The ‘National AI Portal (https://indiaai.gov.in)’, celebrated its first anniversary on May 28, 2021. The National AI Portal is a joint initiative by Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), National e-Governance Division (NeGD) and NASSCOM and serves as a central hub for AI related news, learning, articles, events and activities etc., in India and beyond. The portal was launched by the Union Minister for Electronics and IT, Law and Justice and Communications, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad on May 30, 2020. The event also witnessed the monthly ‘AI Pe Charcha’ based on the theme ‘Implementing Trustworthy AI Solutions’. The AI based operational excellence framework and Live Enterprise Application Platform (LEAP) and several implemented use cases were also demonstrated, especially the use of AI in GST Network for fraud detection.
  8. Defence and Military - Near Isothermal Forging Technology - The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has established the near isothermal forging technology to produce all the five stages of high-pressure compressors (HPC) discs out of difficult-to-deform titanium alloy using its unique 2000 MT isothermal forge press. The technology has been developed by Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL), a premier metallurgical laboratory of DRDO at Hyderabad. This is a crucial technology for establishing self-reliance in aeroengine technology. With this development, India has joined the league of limited global engine developers to have the manufacturing capabilities of such critical aero engine components. To meet the bulk production requirements, DMRL technology was transferred to M/s MIDHANI through a licensing agreement for technology transfer (LAToT). [Isothermal forging is a hot working process that attempts to maintain the work piece at its maximum elevated temperature throughout the entire operation. This is achieved by heating the die to the temperature of, or slightly below the temperature of the starting work piece. As forces exerted by the die form the work, cooling of the work piece between the mold work interface is eliminated, and thus flow characteristics of the metal are greatly improved.]
  9. World Economy - Crypto updates - (a) HDFC Bank has inquired about its customers' cryptocurrency transactions and cautioned them against such transactions, citing RBI's 2018 circular barring regulated entities from providing services to individuals dealing in cryptocurrencies. SBI Card has also sent similar emails to their customers. (b) Police discovered a cryptocurrency operation using stolen electricity to mine bitcoin in UK's West Midlands. Around 100 machines were found at the facility. (c) Tesla CEO Elon Musk has now come forward to help form a Bitcoin Mining Council that will promote energy usage transparency" and "accelerate sustainability initiatives worldwide." But bitcoiners around the world aren’t convinced that Elon Musk is the right person to lead the debate around “cleaner Bitcoin mining.” (d) JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has said that people should avoid putting money into Bitcoin.
  10. Indian Politics - Covid Update - (a) India recorded its lowest daily COVID-19 cases in 45 days as 1.73 lakh tested positive. India also reported 2,84,601 coronavirus recoveries in the 24 hours as daily recoveries outnumbered the daily new cases for the 16th straight day. It recorded 3,617 coronavirus deaths in the 24 hours. (b) As a follow-up of the decision of the GST Council at its 43rd meeting, a group of ministers (GoM) has been constituted to examine the issue of GST concession/exemption to Covid relief material. The finance ministry said the GoM will submit its report by June 8. (c) Delhi's CM Kejriwal said that "People need vaccines. The Centre should tell where should we get the vaccines from. The Centre has to procure the vaccines and give those to us... This is not the time for petty politics or to play the blame game". (d) A 59-year-old Covid-19 patient of Ghaziabad, who was also detected with black, white and yellow fungus, has passed away. (e) NUMBERS - INDIA - Total cases: 27,719,431; New cases: 171,726; Total deaths: 322,384; New deaths: 3,563; Total recovered: 25,170,952; Active cases: 2,226,095.
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    • SECTION 2 - DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS
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    • 1. ECONOMY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)
Indian stock markets and real economy seemingly disconnected 
  • Real versus Financial: In the real world, Indians are locked down in their homes, with little mobility, and struggling to get vaccinated against Covid-19 disease. In the financial world the stock indices refuse to slow down. The Nifty 50, one of India’s two premier stock market indices, ended at a record 15,436 points on 28th May, 2021, ignoring all health concerns.
  • Covid and economy: This stock market rise is at a time the Indian economy is struggling through the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic, with the slowdown expected to last through much of this year. The economy is likely to be in slow-burn rather than experiencing the quick contraction seen in 2020.
  1. The daily rate of vaccination, something which could help the country achieve herd immunity and get the economy back on feet quickly, has fallen dramatically after peaking in early April 2021. On 28th May, 30 lakh doses were administered, while the need is at least three times that if the target of "all adults vaccinated by 31st December 2021" is to be met.
  2. Many families have spent heavily in covid-related expenses. Those who haven’t, are scared about what will happen as and when the third wave strikes.
  • So what's up: As is known, a stock market doesn’t wait for things to happen, but discounts for possibilities. In an environment where the economy is expected to slow down, stock prices should have been adjusting for that possibility. That logic works if the stock market and the overall state of the economy are actually linked.
  1. While corporates profits (of listed firms) were down for many years in recent past, CMIE and other data shows a sharp rise in recent quarters (due to cost cutting).
  2. Profit after tax as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), a useful ratio, peaked at 5.84% in 2007-08, and then was down to 3.46% of the GDP in 2013-14, before plunging to a two-decade low of 1.07% in 2019-20. Then, it rose in 2020-21, in the midst of a pandemic, to 2.42% of the GDP. In absolute terms, the profit made by listed corporates in 2020-21 has been at an all-time high.
  3. The bulk of the profit came from driving down costs. Large companies do that by cutting employee costs first, and then the cost structure of suppliers, and contractors.
  4. These suppliers and contractors then do the same down the line, with their own staff. People start earning lower incomes and must cut down their own expenses to survive.
  • Listed firms and stock markets: The RBI Annual Report for 2020-21 pointed out that the central bank was puzzled at the rise of the indices, even after factoring into account the rising earnings growth of the corporates. Stock prices have been rising faster than company earnings for close to eight years now, and price to earnings ratios (P/E) of stocks have been at all-time high levels for a while now. So clearly cost-cutting (and higher profits) cannot be the main explanation for the continued rise in stock prices.
  • The real driver: RBI points out that money supply and FPI (foreign portfolio investors) investments are driving Indian markets. The year-on-year money supply (as measured by M3) as of March 2021, had grown by 11.74%, after having steadily grown by over 12% through much of 2020 and in January-February of 2021. This happened because the RBI printed money and pumped it into the financial system, to drive down interest rates. With tax revenues collapsing, the government’s gross borrowing in 2020-21 was expected to jump to Rs.12.8 trillion. As the government’s debt manager, it is the RBI’s job to ensure that the government can borrow at low interest rates, and it did that by printeing a lot of money in 2020-21.
  • Two outcomes: First, that money printing drove down interest rates on fixed deposits to very low levels. Once adjusted for inflation and income tax, the rate of return from fixed deposits is in negative territory. So more people started looking for a higher return and investing their savings in the stock market. This pushed up stock prices to higher levels, disconnected from the overall state of the economy. The number of demat accounts, at 39.3 million as of December 2019, jumped by 40% to 55.1 million by March 2021. Second, it shows there is no free lunch, as the government being able to borrow at a low rate of interest has come at the cost of savers receiving a lower rate of interest as well.
  • Summary: The foreign portfolio investors bought stocks worth a record $37 billion in 2020-21, pushed by liquidity pumped by various central banks. At lower interest rates, the hope was that corporates would borrow and expand, and people will borrow and spend, and help increase economic activity. But this also led to individuals and institutions searching for higher returns and in the process, investing money in stock markets across the world.
The 43rd GST Council meet - Indecisive
 

  • The story: The GST Council met on 28th May, 2021, after more than six months, though it must meet once a quarter at least. It left taxes on COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies unchanged but exempted duty on import of a medicine used for treatment of black fungus. A group of ministers will now deliberate on tax structure on the vaccine and medical supplies, said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressing the press. 
  • Issues taken up:
  1. Council decided to exempt export of relief items and is being extended till August 31, 2021
  2. Import of medicine for black fungus, that is Amphotericin B, has also been included in the exempted category
  3. Import of Covid-related relief items, even if purchased or meant for donating to government or to any relief agency upon recommendation of state authority, to be exempted from IGST till August 31, 2021
  4. FM Sitharaman announced Amnesty Scheme to reduced late fee returns. Small taxpayers can file pending returns under this scheme
  5. A Group of Ministers will be quickly formed who will submit their report within 10 days - on or before June 8, so that if there are any further reductions which need to be done will be done, in the sense, that rates will be decided by them
  • Contentious issue of compensation cess: The FM Sitharaman said she assured members there will be a special session only on compensation cess matter beyond July 2022. States are demanding that they want it to continue beyond the 2017-2022 period too. She said that "Rs 1.58 lakh crore worth of compensation numbers worked out. We will give the money as back-to-back loans to states".
  • Inverted tax structure: The council talked on the inverted tax structure, which refers to tax rates on inputs being higher than those levied on finished products. Several states said that a course correction is required particularly in sectors such as fertiliser, steel utensils, solar panels, tractors, tyres, electrical transformers, pharma, textile, cloth and railway locomotives. No decision was taken.
  • GST on medical essentials: The FM had clarified that doing away with the 5 percent GST on the vaccines will negatively impact the prices as "manufacturers would be denied input tax credit who will, in turn, pass on this to the consumers as a cost". Decision is pending.
  • Summary: The GST Council is the apex body for the most important indirect tax in India. It needs to be far more decisive now, given that States are suffering due to the Covid infections, and reduced fiscal leverage.

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    • 2. ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper
High-elevation forests threatened by climate change 


  • The story: Nature has had its predictable patterns and cycles, now disrupted due to rapid rise in average global temparatures. Wildfires in the western United States are increasingly happening at high elevations, in mountainous areas that were previously too wet to burn.
  • Drying them out: Global warming and ongoing drought conditions in the western U.S. are drying out such forests, making them particularly susceptible to blazes. With many Western states in US plunging deeper into a megadrought, and experts predicting a hot and dry summer, the research findings make for sombre reading.
  • Learning from fires: Researchers examined records from 1984 to 2017 of all fires in the western U.S. that were larger than 1,000 acres, and found that the amount of scorched land increased across all elevations during that period, but observed that the biggest increase was at elevations above 8,200 feet.
  1. The shift to higher-elevation fires was noticeable beginning in the year 2000. From 2001 to 2017, the area of land burned above 8,200 feet more than tripled compared to in the previous 16-year period, according to the study. For context, Aspen, Colorado, sits at an elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level.
  2. Typically, at such high elevations, snow lingers through the summer, leaving little time for vegetation in these mountainous forests to dry out before rain and snow fall anew in the autumn and winter.
  3. Now, global warming is melting mountain snowpack earlier in the year and disrupting that natural cycle.
  4. There used to be a flammability barrier, where the forest was too wet to burn. With earlier snowmelt, vegetation has time to dry and so that flammability barrier is not there anymore for much of the western U.S.
  • Data: More than 31,000 square miles of high-elevation forests — or roughly 11 percent of forest cover in the western U.S. — could be at risk this year and in future wildfire seasons. The new research focused on a 34-year period ending in 2017, the most recent year with reliable data available from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity program. During 2020's record-breaking fire season, for instance, several blazes in Colorado and California burned at high elevations.
  • Deep impact: Scientists are concerned that wildfires in high-elevation forests could have worrisome consequences for the ecosystem. Climate change combined with longer and more intense wildfire seasons could alter the rate of snowmelt in these mountainous regions, which subsequently affects water that normally flows into reservoirs and rivers. Tree canopies that are lost in fires can also expose land and streams to more sunlight, which increases temperatures across elevations and could have negative implications for fish and other animals that live in these regions.
  • Summary: The time to reverse emissions rapidly is now. The ecosystems are slowly edging towards a precipice.

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    • 3. FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Prelims, GS Paper 3, Essay paper)

Foreign affairs update
 


    • The 2020 (2021) Olympics: The EU and Japan have officially endorsed Tokyo hosting the Olympic Games, set to begin on July 23, citing the EU’s export of 100 million vaccine doses to Japan. Currently, just 5 percent of Japan’s population has received one shot. As a result, the Olympics face significant public opposition in Japan, with one of the country’s major newspapers—and a sponsor of the Games—joining the call for the event to be canceled. The chairman of the Japan Doctors Union warned Thursday that a “Tokyo Olympic strain” of the coronavirus could emerge if the Games go ahead.
    • Assad, the popular President: Bashar al-Assad won his fourth President term! As expected, Syria’s head of parliament announced he was reelected with 95 percent of the votes in an election Western critics called fraudulent. The victory gives Assad another seven years in power. Syria’s opposition leader said the vote would only further entrench Syria’s plight after a decade of civil war.
    • Covid down in West: Perhaps anticipating a wild summer, Airbnb extended its global ban on house parties until at least the end of the season, limiting occupancy to 16 people at its rental properties in the interest of public health. And in the United States, Canada, France, and Britain, guests under the age of 25 remain banned entirely from renting local homes. The precautions don’t seem to be getting in the way of reservations: The company has already seen a 52 percent jump in booking values as coronavirus lockdowns ease.
    • Investigation into May Gaza conflict: U.N. launched an investigation into the May 2021 Gaza conflict. The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to begin the international investigation into whether Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and other abuses during the latest 11-day conflict, which ended in a cease-fire on May 21. Israeli PM Netanyahu condemned the decision as one-sided. The commission appointed to investigate possible crimes differs from previous ones in that it is classified as “ongoing,” allowing it to conduct an indefinite inquiry with a wide scope, as with investigations in Syria and Myanmar. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet earlier told the council that her office had confirmed the 270 Palestinians were killed, including 68 children, during the violence. Hamas rockets killed 10 Israeli residents.
    • Russia blocks some European flights: Russia responded to European airlines avoiding transiting over Belarus by refusing to allow some carriers to land in Russia, an apparent escalation on behalf of its problematic ally. Following the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to Minsk to arrest opposition journalist Roman Protasevich on Sunday, the EU air safety agency recommended bypassing Belarusian airspace. But Moscow has applied its own denials unevenly.

    India's Act East policy - What next

     


    • The story: Covid related issues emerged between Singapore and India, over a CM's remarks on "new strains". The External Affairs ministry quickly disowned the critical comments, but Indian policymakers understood the larger challenge to India’s standing in Southeast Asia as a whole.
    • Three issues: Three developments over the past five years have tested Indian diplomacy.
    1. First, China's rising profile combined with growing China-India tensions
    2. Second, disappointment in the region with India’s economic under-performance
    3. Third, rising concern in the region with India’s approach towards its minorities (especially Muslims and Christians)
    • Act East Policy: It was in 1992 that then PM PV Narasimha Rao enunciated the “Look East Policy” reaching out to Southeast Asia. Ever since, India has engaged the region on all fronts — diplomatic and security, economic and people-to-people. Later, PMs Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh built on Narasimha Rao’s foundation and constructed a robust relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), so much so that in 2007 Singapore’s founder-mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, an India sceptic, named China and India as the two engines of Asian economic growth. Then, PM Modi changed the Look East into an "Act East policy".
    • Challenges to Act East Policy: First problem is the consistent underperformance of India’s economy. China’s accelerated rise since the trans-Atlantic financial crisis 2008-09 and the growing assertiveness initially generated a strong pro-India sentiment in the region with many ASEAN countries wanting India to balance China’s enhanced power. India’s economic slowdown and inward orientation, expressed through the decision to stay out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, disappointed regional businesses. Then comes the concerns about visible Hindu majoritarianism, as in most ASEAN countries, Islam, Buddhism or Christianity is practised. The growing concern has impacted civil society attitudes in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Realising this, India deployed the soft power of “Buddhist diplomacy” but that didn't gain much traction as inter-religious tensions in the region grow.
    • Covid shock: China handled the challenge efficiently while India was caught badly in the second wave. This generated a pro-China sentiment among the region’s ethnic Chinese communities and development of ASEAN’s increasingly accommodative approach towards China.
    • Overall impact: All these developments have weakened the business-to-business (B2B) and people-to-people (P2P) connection between India and ASEAN despite the best efforts of hard-pressed diplomats to maintain good government-to-government (G2G) relations.
    • Summary: The RCEP members have left the door open for India to invite it to be an observer member. It may be in India’s interest to dispassionately review its position on RCEP and carry out structural reforms. Cultural and civilizational linkages are India’s niche advantage while pursuing Act East Policy. Policymakers should refrain from such policies that apprears to be majoritarian in nature. Then, like China is assertive in the Indian Ocean, India must increase its engagement in the South China Sea. So, India's engagement with Quad and ASEAN countries is a step in the right direction. Indian diplomacy must take a fresh look at its Act East policy.

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      • 4. GOVERNMENT SCHEMES (Prelims, GS Paper 2, Essay paper)

    Covid patients more susceptible to secondary infection
     


    • The story: Poor infection control practices in hospitals and irrational antibiotic prescription practices are triggering secondary infections in Covid-19 patients in India. That is leading to a higher mortality. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) found this in its research.
    • Data from study: The ICMR study found that out of 17,534 Covid-19 patients admitted in 10 hospitals, 3.6 per cent developed secondary bacterial or fungal infection while in the hospital. That shows poor protocol management. The mortality among patients who developed secondary infections was as high as 56.7 per cent compared to an overall mortality of 10.6 per cent among others. Clearly, the risks are quite high.
    • Transmission between patients: Hand hygiene practices were discarded during the pandemic because of the usage of PPE and so there was the risk of inter-patient transmission of infections. Those using PPE do not feel the need to follow hand hygiene, and that lack of concern leads to serious outcomes.
    • A third wave: With the fear of a third wave rife, the study said there was a need to reinforce the principles of infection control and antibiotic stewardship. Both these interventions will lead to reduction in mortality and morbidity related not only to Covid-19 patients, but will also restrain development of drug-resistant pathogens/infections.
    • Too much of a good thing: Fear of missing a secondary infection and lack of specific therapy for Covid-19 leads to over prescription of antibiotics which makes Covid patients more susceptible to fungal infection. ICMR said that sending appropriate cultures, use of biomarkers such as procalcitonin and galactomannan and antibiotic time-out at 48 hours of prescription can help in reducing unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. These simple but effective measures can lead to reduced opportunities for antimicrobial prescriptions and reduce empirical prescriptions, minimising growth of antimicrobial resistance.
    • Summary: Clearly, the urgent need is to improve infection control practices in hospitals and rationalise antibiotic prescriptions.
    Cannot take more than 10% foreign medicos
     

     
    • The story: The Tamil Nadu Medical Council has directed all recognised medical colleges in the State to restrict the intake of Foreign Medical Graduates (FMG) to 10% of the sanctioned MBBS seats for undergoing Compulsory Rotatory Residential Internship (CRRI) training. It said that the number of FMGs applying for provisional registration to undergo internship was increasing.
    • The data: From approximately 600 in 2018, the number went up to 1,000 in 2020 and likely to cross 1,200 in future. But the recognised medical institutions for imparting internship training to them were found to be inadequate and hence unable to accommodate the increasing number of interns, with a resultant crowding in a particular institution. That leads to a loss in quality of internship training.
    • Approval issues: In the list of recognised teaching and non-teaching hospitals for CRRI training, only 40 were approved by the erstwhile Medical Council of India and the data was not updated later. The Council had communicated to the National Medical Commission to provide a fresh list of hospitals/institutions approved for CRRI training in the State.
    • Limits on FMGs: The Council has asked all government district headquarters hospitals with a bed strength of more than 750 to admit 40 and those with more than 500 to admit 30 FMGs for CRRI training. Other private hospitals were told to follow the erstwhile MCI’s order till a communication was received from the National Medical Commission. The instruction is important as the State government had lifted the restriction on the intake of students for internship at government medical colleges as a one-time measure to handle COVID-19.
    • Changing with time: The government issued the orders acting on a proposal of the Director of Medical Education to relax the Tamil Nadu Medical Council’s stipulation that medical colleges issue the NOC to FMGs and students of other States after ensuring that the admission under the CRRI did not exceed 10% of the MBBS seats allotted by the National Medical Commission. The DME had sought lifting of the restriction on internship by students of private and foreign medical colleges at certain colleges, and the govt. had agreed.
    • Summary: The DME had underscored the urgent need to contain COVID-19 cases that had reached alarming proportions with increased mortality in the State.

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      • 5. POLITY AND CONSTITUTION (Prelims, GS Paper 2, GS Paper 3)
    Turbulence in calm Lakshadweep waters
     


    • The story: Lakshadweep is a tropical archipelago of 36 atolls and coral reefs in the Laccadive Sea, off the coast of Kerala, India. The islands are famous for their rich marine life due to the stable temperatures of the waters. Lakshadweep islands are a famous beach destination of India with crystal clear blue waters and coral reefs.
    • A powerful man arrives: Mr. Praful K. Patel, a BJP politician from Gujarat, was appointed Administrator in Lakshadweep in December 2020, a change from the usual pattern of retired civil servants taking up the post. The draft 'Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021' was introduced soon thereafter. That started the controversy.
    • Nature of trouble: Patel is the first politician to become the Administrator of Lakshadweep, and since his arrival, people allege he has demonstrated a unique disregard for the people’s concerns and priorities. In March 2021, the Mumbai police named Mr. Patel as an accused in a death by suicide case of seven-time Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar. Mr. Patel was specifically named in the suicide note.
    • Key provisions in the draft: The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 gives sweeping powers to the Administrator, to take over land and forcibly relocate people, and proposes harsh punishment to those who resist. The consumption or sale of beef, a part of the food habits of many, could be an offence punishable by 7 years in prison. Those who have more than two children cannot contest panchayat elections. Anyone could be held in prison without reason up to a year, under a new Goonda Act; in a place that has a very low crime rate. The traditional livelihood of fishing communities has been impeded by the regulations that deny them access to coastlines. Their sheds on the coastal areas have been demolished, saying they violated the Coast Guard Act. Dairy farms run by the administration have been shut.
    • Concerns: People allege that these changes come as a serious threat to the people of Lakshadweep and the fragile ecosystem. There is clear absence of any administrative rationale or public good in the above arbitrary measures, and thus fears of other motivations exist. Commercial interests could be at play, and the land that inhabitants are forced to part with could be transferred to buyers from outside. There could also be ill-advised political plans to change the demography of the islands.
    • Tourism push: Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands totalling 32 square kilometres in the Arabian Sea. It has had an idyllic existence as a Union Territory (UT), with a population of around 70,000. The rationale for carving out UTs as administrative units is to protect the unique cultural and historical situations of their inhabitants. This being under threat, people have risen in protest, but the Administrator seems insistent on his plans.
    • Summary: The union government has remained neutral so far in this, but may need to intervene soon.
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      • 6. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Prelims, Various GS Papers)
    Cellular machinery and decision-making
     


     

    • The story: In 1906, zoologist Herbert Spencer Jennings published "Behavior of the Lower Organisms", a book that contained a provocative idea: microbes can change their minds! He probed the idea whether individual cells could make conscious decisions.
    • Details: His subject was a single cell bristling with beating hairs called "Stentor". These trumpet-shaped predators are so large fish can eat them and humans can see them, and so brazen they can catch and eat rotifers — proper animals with hundreds of cells and a simple brain. In an experiment, Jennings decided to annoy it and see what happened. When confronted with a stream of irritating carmine powder expertly aimed at their mouths by his steady hand, Stentor would first bend away, then reverse the beating of its hairs (called cilia) to expel the powder, then contract and finally detach.
    • Learning: He noted that the order of behaviors varied somewhat with different stimuli (he tried other chemicals) and steps were sometimes omitted. He came to the conclusion that the behavior consisted in ‘trying’ successively different reactions, till one is found that affords relief. So, stentors could confront a stimulus with one behaviour, and then choose a costlier approach if the irritant persisted. However, other scientists tried and failed to elicit the same reactions. So the idea was dumped.
    • Rebirth of the experiment: In 2011, Jeremy Gunawardena at Harvard Medical School discovered the experiment and its rejection, and decided that it deserved another look. He discovered the 1967 team had not used the correct species of Stentor. The one they had chosen, Stentor coeruleus, strongly prefers to swim, unlike Jennings’s Stentor roeselii, which prefers to not. So he became fascinated by what replicating the experiment might reveal about what single cells are capable of. The Harvard team managed to track down the correct species in an English golf course pond, construct their own “Device for Irritating Stentors” and discovered something extraordinary.
    1. In their setup, Stentor did not respond to carmine powder the way Jennings had ealrier described.
    2. When faced with barrages of 21st-century plastic microbeads, individual Stentor roeseli behaved consistent with Jennings’s description, and in one remarkable way that Jennings did not observe in 1906.
    3. If Stentor really can “decide,” it certainly isn’t the only way the ciliates, the group of shaggy microbes to which Stentor belongs, resemble us. A ciliate operates like an animal at the scale of a single huge cell, and the resemblance can be startling.
    4. For example, some glue bundles of their cilia into structures called cirri and can use them as legs, mouths, paddles or teeth. The cirri are wired by nervelike neurofibrils. If the fibrils are cut, the cirri fall limp.
    5. Some ciliates pack tiny tethered darts they can fire to attack prey, deter predators or simply drop anchor.
    6. Like sea stars, ciliates can regenerate entire bodies within a day or two from tiny pieces if those pieces contain both a bit of the cell’s cilia-studded armour and a bit of nucleus, the cell’s genetic heart.
    7. One ciliate called Diplodinium lives in the rumen of cows and other hoofed animals, a special environment known to harbour all kinds of strange things, about half of which by mass may be ciliates.
    8. Diplodinium contains neurofibrils, cirri, musclelike striated contractile fibers called myonemes, a “backbone” made of stacked plates, a mouth, an esophagus that contracts with the help of a ring tethered to its exterior, and an anus. But all this is just a single cell!
    • Extreme: The ciliates have taken the biology of the solo cell to its extreme limit. In this new study, the scientists found that Stentor indeed switched behaviours in response to repeated puffs of beads, and the order of operations was generally consistent with Jennings’s description. Detachment was always preceded by contraction, and mathematical analyses revealed cilia alternation or bending were far more likely to appear before contraction than after. It also looks like stentors have personalities!
    • The big question: So, does Stentor possess something like a capacity to make decisions? Experiments suggest so. The choice between contracting or detaching was consistent with the probability of a fair coin toss, so it was perfectly random. The problem is that no known cellular mechanism can produce this result.
    • Summary: What cells are capable of because they are only cells may need revision now. The capabilities of free-living cells may well exceed our imaginations, trapped in a body made of trillions of tightly wound-together cells!

    • [message]
      • 7. SOCIAL ISSUES (Prelims, GS Paper 2)
    Ventilation is key to battling SARS-CoV-2 and Covid 

    • The story: Scientists were surprised to find that when families co-incidentally were packed together inside a restaurant, one infected person spread the virus to many more. Initial analysis proposed that the infection had spread via respiratory “droplets”. But medical science believes that such droplets — defined as particles expelled while breathing that are more than five microns across — cannot travel more than a couple of metres after exhaling. But some of the infected were sitting far away. How could a single infected person transmit the virus to many others in just an hour when there had been no direct contact between them?
    • Suprespreading is Covid's main weapon: "Superspreading" is loosely defined as being when a single person infects many others in a short space of time. More than 2,000 cases of it have now been recorded, in places as varied as slaughterhouses, megachurches, fitness centres and nightclubs, and many scientists argue that it is the main means by which Covid-19 is transmitted.
    • Cracking the puzzle: In cracking the puzzle of superspreading, researchers had to re-evaluate their understanding of SARS-CoV-2’s transmission. Most documented superspreadings have happened indoors and involved large groups gathered in poorly ventilated spaces. That points to SARS-CoV-2 being a virus which travels easily through the air, contrary to the early belief that short-range encounters and infected surfaces were the main risks. This, in turn, suggests that paying attention to the need for good ventilation will be important in managing the next phase of the pandemic.
    • Close contact: Social distancing and mask-wearing were recommended with the intention of cutting direct, close-range transmission by virus-carrying droplets of mucus or saliva breathed out by infected individuals. The main risk of spreading the illness indirectly was thought to come not from these droplets being carried long distances by air currents, but rather by their landing on nearby surfaces, on which viruses they were harbouring might survive for hours, or even days. Anyone who touched such an infected surface could then transfer those viruses, via their fingers, to their mouth, eyes or nose. Hence the advice to disinfect surfaces and wash hands frequently, as it was assumed the SARS-CoV-2 spread in the same way as influenza.
    • Different particles, different behaviours: Doctors know that not all respiratory particles fall fast.
    1. Those smaller than five microns can become aerosols, staying aloft for hours and potentially travelling much farther than droplets, or simply accumulating in the air within a closed room. Anyone inhaling these aerosols could then become infected.
    2. But aerosols were thought to be relevant only in specialist medical settings, such as when patients are attached to a ventilator in an intensive-care unit. Intubation, as this process is known, does indeed create aerosols, as the breathing tube is forced down a patient’s trachea.
    3. The WHO played down the risks of aerosols, issuing guidance in March 2020 that the general public need not worry -- “FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne,” it had said.
    4. Non-medical researchers disagreed, as a superspreader case early in the pandemic in America proved. This was at a choir practice in Skagit Valley, Washington State, in March 2020. Of the 61 people present during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, 53 became infected. Investigation showed that those infected were not the people closest to the index patients, which should be if transmission had been by droplet or surface contact.
    • Medical experts got it wrong: Scientists soon showed that received medical wisdom was wrong! Because exhaled breath is a moist, hot, turbulent cloud of air, a five-micron-wide droplet released at a height of one and a half metres can be carried dozens of metres before settling. The generation of respiratory particles is not restricted to medical settings. Liquid drops of all sizes (incl. aerosols) are continuously shed while people are breathing, talking, sneezing or singing.
    • WHO remained firm: The widespread assertion, still promulgated by the WHO, that droplets above five microns in diameter do not stay airborne, but rather settle close to their source, is a wrong foundation. Any particle less than 100 microns across can become airborne in the right circumstances. All of this matters because hand-washing and social distancing are hence not enough to stop an airborne virus spreading, especially indoors. Masks will help, by slowing down and partially filtering an infectious person’s exhalations. But the real weapon will be ventilation.
    • Summary: How can the occupants of a room know whether it is well-ventilated? Just because a room feels spacious and an air conditioner is operating does not mean the air inside it is clean. Actually, CO2 concentrations can be a useful proxy for clean air. Outdoor air contains around 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, and people’s exhaled breath contains around 40,000 ppm. Exhaling into a room therefore gradually raises its CO2 concentration unless the ventilation is good enough to remove the excess. Anything below 500 ppm in a room means the ventilation is good. At 800 ppm, 1% of the air someone is breathing has already been exhaled recently by someone else. At 4,400 ppm, this rises to 10%, and would be dangerous. To keep the risk of covid-19 low, CO2 levels should be well below 700 ppm. In situations where it is not possible to reduce health risks by ventilation alone (nightclubs, or gyms) air filtration could be incorporated into ventilation systems. Air could also be disinfected, using germicidal ultraviolet lamps placed within air-conditioning systems or near ceilings in rooms.

      • [message]
        • 8. MISCELLANEOUS (Prelims, GS Paper 1, GS Paper 2)

      IBF to be renamed as IBDF
       


        • The story: Apex body of broadcasters, Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has extended its purview to cover digital streaming platforms. Also, it will be renamed as Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF).
        • Why do it: Extended coverage will bring broadcasters and OTT (over-the-top) platforms, under one roof. Decision was taken in the view of substantial jump in their viewership base during covid-19 pandemic.
        • Platforms regulation: To regulate them, IBDF is considering to form a new wholly-owned subsidiary which will handle all matters of digital media. A self-regulatory body called ‘Digital Medic Content Regulatory Council (DMCTC)’ will also be established for digital OTT platforms.
        • Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF): IBF is a unified representative body of television broadcasters, established in 1999. About 250 Indian television channels are associated with it.  IBF act as spokesman of India Broadcasting Industry. It is the parent organisation of Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), established in up 2011, to examines content-related complaints. IBF will now be renamed as “Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation” to bring digital OTT platforms under its purview.
        DG NCC Mobile Training App 2.0 Launched



        • The story: Defence Secretary, Dr Ajay Kumar, launched the “DG NCC Mobile Training App 2.0” to provide basis information and training material to NCC Cadet.
        • About: This App will assist in conducting online training to NCC cadets amid COVID-19 pandemic. It aims to provide basic information related to NCC and entire training material including, Syllabus, Training Videos etc on single platform. Cadets can attend online training and appear in certificate exams through this app which in turn help to prevent their academic year. App was developed in line with ‘Digital India’ vision.
        • National Cadet Corps (NCC): It is the youth wing of Indian Armed Forces, headquartered in New Delhi. School and college students can join on voluntary basis. It is a Tri-Services Organization comprising of Army, Navy and Air Wing. NCC groom the youth of country into disciplined and patriotic citizens. The cadets are recruited by “soldier youth foundation” from high schools, higher secondary, colleges and universities of India. They are given basic military training in small arms and drill. Officers and cadets have no liability for active military service after the course is completed.
        • Why created: The NCC was created by the Act of 1950. It was established on the line of ‘University Corps’ created under Indian Defence Act 1917, to fill the shortage in Army.

        Covid origin probe a must, India says
         

         
        • The story: India has extended support to renewed global calls for comprehensive investigation into origins of Covid-19 by World Health Organisation.
        • Details: India extended support after US President asked US intelligence agencies to find how coronavirus emerged in China. Demands were raised by countries including US and Australia to investigate whether coronavirus originated in Wuhan City of China in late 2019 from an animal source or from laboratory accident in December 2019. Earlier, In March 2021, WHO reported on origins of virus but US and other countries were not satisfied with it.
        • WHO’s stand: According to WHO, global study on origin of Covid-19 is an important first step. Now, next phase studies will help in generating further data and studies to reach robust conclusions.
        • Controversy: A study on origin of SARS-CoV-2 conducted in 2020 by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, concluded that coronavirus may have originated in a laboratory in China. However, Z Division report concluded, both lab-origin theory and zoonotic theory were possible. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has come to spotlight when a media report in US claimed, three researchers from Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 some weeks before China disclosed covid-19 cases in Wuhan. China stoutly denied the report stating there were zero Covid-19 infections at the institute.

        Citizenship applications invited from non-Muslims
         

         
        • The story: The Central government has now invited all non-Muslims, i.e. the Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to apply for citizenship in India under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
        • Details: Migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Chhattisgarh. In this regard, Union Home Ministry has issued notification to implement order under Citizenship Act 1955.
        • Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019: The Act, passed on December 11, 2019, amended “Citizenship Act, 1955”. It provided ways for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan belonging to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians; to get Indian Citizenship. This is the first law which used religion as criteria for citizenship in India. It has also relaxed “residence requirement” for naturalization for these migrants to 6 years from 12.
        • Who can apply: Persecuted minorities from three countries who have arrived in India before 31st December 2014. According to data from Intelligence Bureau records, there will be some 30000 immediate beneficiaries.
        • Why exclude the Muslims: The Act does not allow Muslims, belonging to three countries, to take citizenship because as per the government, all of them are Muslim-majority countries. This law was (and is being) criticized for being discriminatory on the ground of religion, for excluding Muslims. Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also called it “fundamentally discriminatory”. There was also the concern that Act will be used along with National Register of Citizens (NRC) to render many Muslims stateless. Experts point that the Government neglected the fact that even certain Muslim groups like Hazaras have historically been persecuted in neighbouring nations. But the Indian government, under the dynamic leadership of HM Amit Shah, has been of the view that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have Islam as their state religion, so persecution is unlikely.

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          • SECTION 3 - MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions)

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