Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 5
Last October, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India mandated the use of green crackers for Deepavali, prescribing specific norms for the manufacture. This year, for the first time, ‘green crackers’ have been made available in markets, though the reach has been limited. These are milder avatars of traditional firecrackers in terms of the sound and smoke generated when burnt. The Supreme Court had banned the use of barium nitrate, a key pollutant in crackers. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was asked to facilitate the development of green crackers.
What are green crackers?
- Traditionally, firecrackers have been made with barium nitrate, antimony and a range of metals that, over the years, have been linked to respiratory diseases and even cancer.
- A group of research institutes of the CSIR had begun work on ‘green crackers,’ namely fireworks without barium nitrate.
- The mainstay of the cracker manufacturing process, barium nitrate lends itself to making explosives that are effective and convenient.
- The Nagpur-based NEERI eventually hit upon formulations that substituted barium nitrate with potassium nitrate and zeolite.
- The ‘green’ versions of the ‘flower pot’, one of the most popular fireworks, has a mixture of water and lime that is chemically stored in the cracker.
- When lit, the effulgence also triggers water and the makers claim that the moisture wets the dust-and-smoke particles.
- NEERI claims that tests in its laboratories have seen a reduction of nearly 30% in particulate matter (PM) and also reduced a release of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
- Green sparklers use 32% potassium nitrate, 40% aluminium powder, 11% aluminium chips, and 17% “proprietary additives” to reduce particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 to 30%.
- Similarly, a new formulation of a ‘bomb’ named ‘SWAS’ (or safe water releaser) uses 72% of a “proprietary additive”, 16% potassium nitrate oxidiser, 9% aluminium powder, and 3% sulphur to reduce PM10 and PM2.5.
- NEERI claims that green crackers when exploded also emit similar levels of sound (100-10dBA) associated with traditional crackers.
Are green crackers less polluting?
- Green cracker manufacturers claim that particulate matter pollution will be reduced by 30% if these crackers are used. However, these numbers have been computed in a laboratory setting and not been verified in real world conditions.
- Because green crackers are not available in sufficient numbers this year, any reduction in smoke levels cannot entirely be attributable to the improvements in crackers themselves.
- Researchers from IIT Bombay have discovered special properties in a class of materials called “semi-Dirac metals” that have been recently talked about in the scientific literature.
- Examples of semi-Dirac metals are systems such as TiO2/V2O3
- Through calculations, the researchers have shown that such materials would be transparent to light of a given frequency and polarisation when it is incident along a particular direction.
- The material would be opaque to the same light when it falls on it from a different direction. There are many known applications for transparent conducting films – the common example being touch screens used in mobiles.
What are Dirac metals?
- Normal metals like gold and silver are good conductors of electricity. A key aspect that decides the quality of conduction is the way energy depends on the momentum of electrons.
- Dirac metals differ from normal metals in that the energy depends linearly on the momentum. This difference is responsible for their unique properties.
- Semi-Dirac metals behave like Dirac metals in one direction and like normal metals in the perpendicular directions (since their microscopic structure is different along the two directions).
- Within any material, charge carriers, such as electrons, acquire an effective mass which is different from their bare mass depending on the nature of the material.
- The effective mass and the number of states available for the electron to occupy when it is excited by an electric field, for example, determine the conductivity and other such properties.
- This is also true of a semi-Dirac metal. In particular, the effective mass becomes zero for conduction along a special direction.
- INS Baaz is located at Campbell Bay on the Great Nicobar island, the southernmost and largest island in the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- This island is also the location of the Indira Point and is less than 250 km by sea from Banda Aceh in Indonesia.
- The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are strategically important for India’s national security as they provide a critical capability to monitor sea areas in the region.
- The Indian Naval Ship (INS) ‘Baaz’ was commissioned in July 2012, and is the southernmost air station of the Indian Armed Forces. Campbell Bay, where the base is located, is more than 1,500 km away from the Indian mainland, and 500 km from Port Blair.
- The primary functions of the INS Baaz include helping build Maritime Domain Awareness by providing information via airborne surveillance using aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
- The base was first equipped with a runway of 3,500 feet but was later lengthened to enable larger aircraft to operate from it.
- The location has been described as India’s “window into East and Southeast Asia”, and is in close vicinity of the Six Degree Channel, also called the Great Channel, one of the Indian Ocean’s busiest shipping lines, carrying strategic cargo to East Asian countries.
- It is also close to the Strait of Malacca.
- The INS Baaz helps to ensure maritime security in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, and substantially enhances the Indian Navy’s maritime surveillance capability, as per a Defence Ministry press release.
- It is a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the only tri-services formation of the Indian Armed Forces that was started in 2001.
- The Centre’s first-ever common foundation course Aarambh (Beginning) for 2019 batch probationer civil servants has begun at the Statue of Unity in Kevadia, Gujarat, where around 500 newly recruited bureaucrats are undergoing six-day training.
- Recently, World Bank president David Malpass addressed the probationers on the topic of “capacity building for civil servants” at Tent City, near the statue.
- Around 500 IAS/IPS/IRS/IFS probationers are participating in the foundation course of the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training at Tent City.
- Along with training and seminars by experts, the government has also launched a new initiative under which each official will guide a local youth from villages near the Statue of Unity, which is located in a tribal area along the Narmada river.
- The probationer officials met local youth from 11 tribal villages in Bharuch and Chhota Udepur districts.
- The new initiative is being launched from Gujarat as the first common foundation course for civil servants is being held in the State for the first time.
Dividend distribution tax
- The dividend distribution tax or DDT is in the limelight after news reports say that the government is working towards a broad overhaul of tax on gains from equities, including the dividend distribution tax.
- Indian companies pay an effective dividend distribution tax (DDT) at 20.35% (including cess and surcharge) on dividends distributed by them to their shareholders.
- The task force on direct tax code (DTC) has recommended abolishing dividend distribution tax (DDT) with a view to promote investment.
Some facts about dividend distribution tax:
- Dividends subject to DDT are exempt from tax in the hands of the recipient or shareholder as the company declaring dividend deducts DDT before making the payment.
- However, in 2017 an additional income tax of 10% became applicable if the aggregate dividend income exceeds ₹10 lakh per annum. It is applicable on the excess amount above ₹10 lakh.
- Dividend distribution tax is also applicable on mutual funds. The fund house deducts DDT at source so dividends from mutual fund schemes are tax-free in the hands of the investors. Dividend paid by the scheme reduces the distributable surplus available for investors.
- Budget 2018 introduced dividend distribution tax on equity oriented mutual funds. It is taxed at 10% and including 12% surcharge and 4% cess it adds up to 11.648%.
- On debt oriented mutual funds, DDT is 25% and after including 12% surcharge and 4% cess it adds up to 29.12%.
- The Export Credit Guarantee Corporation of India (ECGC) is optimistic that the Nirvik scheme announced by the Union Government recently would give a fillip to export lending and insurance cover for export credit.
- The scheme announced by the Minister for Commerce and Industry was expected to get government approval soon. Currently, the average cover given to banks by the ECGC is 60%.
- In the last four to five years, the Corporation has paid nearly ₹1,000 crore a year towards claims to various banks and subsequently, it gradually decreased the cover.
- Under the Nirvik scheme, ECGC will provide 90% cover. The additional outgo, if any, due to the enhanced cover would be supported by the government and the scheme would be valid for five years.
- Though there has been a fall in claims in the last six months, the ECGC is optimistic that business and lending would pick up soon and the scheme would give a fillip to it.
- ECGC also provides various direct covers and has live data and credit profile information.
- It provides details of nearly 1.5 lakh overseas buyers and 20,000 exporters, she said.
National Health Profile
The National Health Profile (NHP) is an annual stocktaking exercise on the health of the health sector.
The current situation
- “The cost of treatment has been on rise in India and it has led to inequity in access to health care services. India spends only 1.28% of its GDP (2017-18 BE) as public expenditure on health. Per capita public expenditure on health in nominal terms has gone up from Rs 621 in 2009-10 to Rs 1,657 in 2017-18,” NHP 2019 says.
- Compare this with the average total medical expenditure per childbirth in a public hospital: Rs 1,587 in a rural area and Rs 2,117 in an urban area. Based on Health Survey (71st round) conducted by NSSO, average medical expenditure incurred during hospital stay during January 2013-June 2014 was Rs 14,935 for rural and Rs 24,436 in urban India.
Blueprint for meeting targets
- In 2011, the High Level Expert Group of the erstwhile Planning Commission submitted its seminal report on the roll-out of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in India. Recommendation 3.1.1 reads: “Government (central government and states combined) should increase public expenditures on health from the current level of 1.2% of GDP to at least 2.5% by the end of the 12th plan and to at least 3% of GDP by 2022.”
- The report adds: “Financing the proposed UHC system will require public expenditures on health to be stepped up from around 1.2% of GDP today to at least 2.5% by 2017 and to 3% of GDP by 2022. The proposed increase is consistent with the estimates by government as well as our preliminary assessment of financial resources required to finance the NHP. Even if we assume that the combined public and private spending on health remains at the current level of around 4.5% of GDP, this will result in a five-fold increase in real per capita health expenditures by the government (from around Rs 650-700 in 2011-12 to Rs 3,400-3,500 by 2021- 22). There will also be a corresponding decline in real private out-of-pocket expenditures from around Rs 1,800-1,850 in 2011-12 to Rs 1,700-1,750 by 2021-22.”
- Universal Health Coverage, according to the World Health Organization, means that “all people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.”
- The three objectives are: equity in access to health services; quality of health services should be good enough to improve the health of those receiving them; people should be protected against financial-risk, ensuring that the cost of using services does not put people at risk of financial harm.
- There are wide disparities in the health spend of states, the NHP points out.
- The Northeastern states had the highest and the Empowered Action Group (EAG) states plus Assam had the lowest average per capita public expenditure on health in 2015-16.
- EAG states are the eight socio-economically backward states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
- Among the big states (erstwhile) Jammu and Kashmir leads with a 2.46% GSDP spend on healthcare – nearest to the ideal spend. Among the NE states, the leaders in health spend were Mizoram with 4.20% GSDP spend and Arunachal Pradesh with 3.29%.
- Even states seen as better performers on health parameters, such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, fare poorly on the health finance index. Tamil Nadu spent 0.74% of its GSDP and Kerala 0.93% of its GSDP on healthcare.
Women to be inducted in Army by end-2021
- The first batch of 100 women will start training for the Corps of Military Police (CMP) in December and will be inducted by end-2021, said Lt. Gen. Ashwani Kumar, who superannuated as the Adjutant General (AG) recently.
- On permanent commission (PC) for women, he said women officers commissioned from April 2020 onwards can opt for it in six streams.
- So far, women were being inducted only as officers and this is the first time they would be joining the Army as the soldiers or “personnel below officer rank”.
- The Army plans to induct 1700 women MP over 17 years.
Coconut palm plantlets grown using tissue culture
- Now researchers from the regional station of ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI) at Kayamkulam in Kerala have developed tissue culture plants of coconut palm.
- The coconut palm is an important cultivated palm in the world, and is popular for its industrial and commercial applications. In India, it is cultivated mainly in the coastal tracts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Pondicherry, Maharashtra and the islands of Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar.
- At present, coconut palm is propagated through seeds. However, it takes five to 10 years for a plant to produce the first harvest.
- Consequently, crop improvement programmes in coconut is time consuming and tedious. A scientist has to wait for 20 to 30 years for releasing a new variety by conventional breeding approaches.
- Tissue culture can help overcome this. Even though many people have developed protocols using various parts of plant like tender leaf, immature inflorescence, shoot tip, and immature embryo. However, they lack reliability and repeatability.
- CPCRI researchers used tissues from immature inflorescence. The team were able to re-generate rooted plants. The plantlets were similar to the mother plant from which they have taken the tissue. This has been confirmed by advanced molecular biology techniques.
- Tissue cultureis the growth of tissues or cells in an artificial medium separate from the organism.
- This is typically facilitated via use of a liquid, semi-solid, or solid growth medium, such as broth or agar.
- Tissue culture commonly refers to the culture of animal cells and tissues, with the more specific term plant tissue culture being used for plants.
- The term “tissue culture” was coined by American pathologist Montrose Thomas Burrows.
- Plant Tissue Cultureis a collection of techniques used to maintain or grow plant cells, tissues or organs under sterile conditions on a nutrient culture medium of known composition.
- Plant tissue culture is widely used to produce clones of a plant in a method known as micropropagation. Different techniques in plant tissue culture may offer certain advantages over traditional methods of propagation, including:
- The production of exact copies of plants that produce particularly good flowers, fruits, or have other desirable traits.
- To quickly produce mature plants.
- The production of multiples of plants in the absence of seeds or necessary pollinators to produce seeds.
- The regeneration of whole plants from plant cells that have been genetically modified.
- The production of plants in sterile containers that allows them to be moved with greatly reduced chances of transmitting diseases, pests, and pathogens.
- The production of plants from seeds that otherwise have very low chances of germinating and growing, i.e.: orchidsand Nepenthes.
- To clear particular plants of viral and other infections and to quickly multiply these plants as ‘cleaned stock’ for horticulture and agriculture.
- Plant tissue culture relies on the fact that many plant cells have the ability to regenerate a whole plant (totipotency).
- Single cells, plant cells without cell walls (protoplasts), pieces of leaves, stems or roots can often be used to generate a new plant on culture media given the required nutrients and plant hormones.
Use of Technology in capturing carbon
|Carbon Capture and Storage
· Carbon Capure and Storage (CCS) is a technology that can capture upto 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes, preventing the carbon di oxide from entering the atmosphere.
· Furthermore, the use of CCS with renewable biomass is one of the few carbon abatement technologies that can be used in a ‘carbon-negative’ mode – actually taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
· The CCS chain consists of three parts
o Capturing the carbon dioxide
o Transporting the carbon dioxide
o Securely storing the carbon dioxide emmissions, underground in depleted oil and gas fields or deep saline aquifer formations.
- While the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions level show no sign of paring down, researchers from around the world have proposed various technologies to trap the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
- Global CO2 emissions likely shot up about 2.7 per cent in 2018 on the back of a 1.6 per cent increase in 2017, according to a Global Carbon Project report. The rising level makes way for a decidedly warm future and demands drastic measures.
- Similar to how natural carbon sinks (eg, plants, oceans and soil) absorb and store carbon, the artificial carbon trapping technologies also aim to efficiently capture carbon in large amounts, convert it and also store it for thousands of years.
- A team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently, developed a large, specialised battery that can suck CO2from a stream of air, even if it is present in very low concentrations.
- The technique is based on passing air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates.
- Another process, by the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, uses liquid metal as a catalyst to permanently and safely convert CO2 into coal for storing.
- Climeworks, a Swiss company, in 2017, developed a direct air capture installation. It extracted carbon and supplied it to a neighbouring greenhouse to fertilise tomatoes and cucumbers.
- In 2018, Canadian firm Carbon Engineering developed a novel extraction system that can suck air into a modified cooling tower with fans, where it comes into contact with a liquid that reacts with the CO2.
- In October 2015, Canada opened world’s first large-scale power station equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. It aimed to make coal “a viable, technical, environmental and economic case for the future”.
- Qatar has recently proposed building a large CO2 storage plant that can sequester five million tonnes of CO2 from its LNG facilities by 2025, according to media reports.
- The CCS technologies, a type of geoengineering, has however, been debated over their ethical and safety concerns.
- According to some researchers, instead of limiting emissions, the carbon capturing approaches can adversely increase air pollution.
- They are also inefficient at reducing carbon in the atmosphere, according to a research.
- The best solution, instead, could be a focus on renewable options, such as wind or solar, while cutting dependence on fossil fuels, it suggested.
Carbon emission from tropical forests jumps in new calculation
- A new study says that carbon impacts from the loss of intact tropical forests has been grossly underreported. Published in Science Advances, the study has calculated new figures relating to intact forest lost between 2000-2013.
- It has found that the long-term net carbon impacts, through 2050, are six times the current estimates. The revised total equals two years’ worth of all global land-use change emissions, the World Conservation Society (WCS) said in a statement.
- Conventionally, only carbon emissions from readily observed forest clearance are considered. This study accounted for less readily observed degradation processes that follow forest clearance – selective logging, edge effects, and defaunation.
- Another metric used in the new study is “forgone carbon removal” — which could have occurred had cleared or degraded forest areas remained intact beyond 2000. Full accounting of these additional factors led to a 626% increase in cumulative net carbon impact from intact forest loss, the study says.
Chile can’t host the COP25 climate conference
- The annual climate change conference have been thrown to uncertainty this year with Chile announcing on Wednesday that it would not be able to host the meeting in view of the ongoing protests in the country.
- With just about a month to go for the start of the December 2-13 meeting in Santiago, COP25 (25th edition of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) is almost certain to be postponed. The UN Climate Change said it was exploring alternative options to host the event.
- If it is not held in December, this would be the first time that no COP could be held in a calendar year since these meetings started in 1995.
- The annual climate conference, held toward the year-end, takes decisions related to global response to climate change.
- COP21 in Paris in 2015 delivered the Paris Agreement, a new international arrangement to fight climate change.
- In the subsequent years since then, the countries have been negotiating to finalise the rules that will govern the implementation of the Paris Agreement that will become effective once the 1997 Kyoto Protocol comes to an end next year.
- The location of this conference is rotated every year in different regions of the world. This year it was the turn of South America to host the event.
- Chile has been witnessing largescale demonstrations that started with protests against suburban train fare hike two weeks ago. It quickly developed into a mass movement demanding greater equality and better public services, and a change in dictatorship-era Constitution.
- But it was also a reluctant host right from the start. It agreed to host it after much persuasion from UN Climate Change, since no one else in the region wanted to do it either.
- The host is usually decided almost two years in advance, to give the city time to organise an event that witnesses participation of over 20,000 delegates.
- Several side events, including protest walks and demonstrations, also take place alongside the conference, so the city has make preparations for those as well.
- In the case of COP25, however, the host not decided till almost the end of COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland last year. It was a toss-up between Chile and Costa Rica.
- Chile, being the host of year-long meetings of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) this year, tried to wriggle out saying it had host the APEC leaders’ summit in November and therefore it could not prepare itself for another large event in December. Costa Rica was not too keen either.
- The host city incurs huge expenditure on the event, and not all of it is reimbursed.
- In 2017, Fiji was the host but the conference was held in Bonn, the headquarters of UN Climate Change, under Fijian presidency. Fiji said it did not have the resources to organise an event of this scale. It was one of the reasons why the UN Climate Change was not very keen on Costa Rica’s candidature, because it could have meant a repeat of the 2017 conference.
- Interestingly, even UN Climate Change does not want to host it in Bonn every year.
- Richer countries have generally shied away from hosting this event. The United States has never hosted the conference and neither has Australia or many other countries in western Europe.
- UK will host it for the first time next year, in Glasgow. Poland, on the other hand, has hosted it four times, and Morocco twice.
Beijing can slap tariffs of $3.6 bn on U.S. goods
- A World Trade Organization arbitrator on Friday authorised China to slap tariffs on U.S. imports worth up to $3.58 billion annually in a years-long dispute over U.S. anti-dumping practices, a trade official said.
- China had asked the WTO for permission to hit the U.S. with more than $7 billion in tariffs in the case.
- But the WTO ruling said it had determined that the illegal U.S. anti-dumping practices had caused “nullification or impairment of benefits accruing to China” to the tune of $3,579.128 million, and that Beijing could impose tariffs on goods not exceeding that amount per year.
- The decision marks the first time the WTO has authorised China to impose tariffs in a trade dispute.
- Beijing still needs to formally request the right to impose that or a lesser sum in tariffs, but it would take opposition from every WTO member to block such a request.
- In this specific case, China alleged that the United States, in violation of WTO rules, was continuing a practice known as “zeroing”, which calculates the price of imports compared to the normal value in the U.S. to determine predatory pricing.
PERSON IN NEWS
Girish Chandra Murmu and R.K. Mathur
- Girish Chander Murmu, a senior IAS officer, who worked closely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat and is currently the expenditure secretary, was recently appointed the first Lt Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, six days ahead of the State becoming a union territory.
- Murmu, 59, an IAS officer of 1985 batch, worked as Modi’s additional principle secretary during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister. He was due for retirement on November 30.
- The state’s third province — Ladakh– has been carved out as a separate Union Territory.
- Former defence secretary R K Mathur was appointed the first Lt Governor of strategically located Ladakh. The 65-year-old bureaucrat, belonging to 1977 IAS batch, retired as chief information commissioner last year. He will be administered oath of office on October 31 in Leh.
- The present governor of the state Satya Pal Malik moves to Goa for the remainder of his tenure as the governor. He was first appointed governor of Bihar in September 2017 and later shifted to Jammu and Kashmir last year in August.
- Malik succeeds Mridula Sinha, who completed her five-year tenure in August this year but continued to hold the post till October 23.
- The two Union territories — Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir — will come into existence on October 31 after the Centre abrogated the special status of the state and bifurcated it into union territories on August 5.
- With the appointment of Murmu, the tenure of advisors to the Jammu and Kashmir Governor — K Vijay Kumar, Khursheed Ganai, K Sikandan and K K Sharma — may come to an end as all of them are seniors in service to the new Lt Governor.
- In another order, former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief and Union government appointed interlocutor to Jammu and Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, has been appointed as administrator to Lakshadweep. An order to this effect was issued by the Union home ministry.
- BJP’s Kerala president P S Sreedharan Pillai has been appointed as the new governor of Mizoram, the Rashtrapati Bhawan statement said. Assam governor Jagdish Mukhi has been holding the additional charge of Mizoram.
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