Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Sept Week 3
Package to boost exports, revive housing sector
- Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced a third set of government decisions to revive the economy, including a ₹50,000 crore export incentive scheme and a ₹10,000 crore special window to provide last mile funding for unfinished housing projects.
- The third set of announcements focussed on giving a fillip to exports, which contracted 6.05% in August, and easing the plight of home buyers.
- For the housing sector, the most notable decision was the setting up of a special fund that would provide last-mile funding for housing projects that are not categorised as non-performing assets and are not undergoing National Company Law Tribunal proceedings.
- The objective is to focus on construction of unfinished units.
- The government, on the lines of the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, can contribute to the fund, while the rest of the investors would be LIC and other institutions and private capital from banks, sovereign funds, etc.
- The government’s contribution to the fund would be ₹10,000 crore and the other investors would contribute “roughly the same amount”.
- The fund is to be professionally run with experts from the housing and banking sectors.
An eco-friendly way to degrade plastics
- Three years ago researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras observed silver slowly dissolving in a glucose solution when heated to 70 degree C.
- Now, the team has demonstrated an environment-friendly strategy to degrade the chemically inert and physically stable plastic fluoropolymer — polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) of which Teflon is made.
- All that is required to degrade the fluoropolymer into molecules is continuous stirring of it in water containing 1,000 ppm glucose and metal ions for about 15 days at 70 degree C.
- Using the same strategy, the team led by T. Pradeep from the Department of Chemistry at IIT Madras was able to degrade polypropylene too. The results were published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.
- The researchers used a magnetic stirrer coated with Teflon to continuously stir for several days the water mixed with glucose in a glass beaker containing a gold foil.
- In earlier studies, they found that gold, too, corrodes slowly due to glucose.
- This phenomenon was observed when other sugars were tested.
- The initial intuition that the bright red luminescent particles should be containing gold turned out to be correct.
- After all, compounds with gold-carbon bonds showing red luminescence are well known.
- But to their surprise, besides gold, they found that the tiny particles also contained fluorocarbon polymer.
- The team tested Teflon in different forms — pellets, tapes and plates.
- They repeated the experiment using a Teflon beaker and tried different metals too and still got the same result each time.
- The only difference was that the particles did not show bright red luminescence when copper, silver and iron were used instead of gold.
- Glucose added to water first leaches out ions from the metal surface.
- When the PTFE-coated magnetic pellet is continuously rotated, triboelectric charges get generated on the pellet. The PTFE gets negatively charged.
- The negative charge on the PTFE surface attracts the metal ions that have been leached out.
- The interaction between the metal ions and PTFE results in metal-polymer bonding, causing the carbon-carbon bonds to destabilise.
- This eventually results in PTFEs degrading into molecules. No such degradation of PTFE was noticed in the absence of stirring, glucose or metal ions.
- The rate of degradation gets reduced at room temperature.
- According to the paper, similar chemistry can possibly lead to micro and nanoplastics in food during cooking as many modern cookware are coated with Teflon.
Alternative to silicon diodes
- Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune have fabricated a non-silicon, organic–inorganic hybrid diode that not only shows high electrical conductivity but also high current rectification ratio.
- The current rectification ratio obtained is comparable with commercial silicon diodes.
- A diode allows current to flow in only one direction.
- A diode is said to have a high current rectification ratio when the flow of current in one direction is manifold high compared with the current flow in the reverse direction.
- In the case of silicon diodes, the current rectification ratio is in the order of 105-108, where 106 denotes one million times.
- The team led by Nirmalya Ballav from the Department of Chemistry at IISER Pune was able to achieve current rectification ratio close to one million times.
- The non-silicon diode fabricated by the team was able to demonstrate that the high rectification ratio remained unchanged even at an elevated temperature of about 180 degree C.
- The diode displays high water repellence so will be moisture-resistant.
- To fabricate the organic–inorganic hybrid diode, the researchers used a commercially available gold-coated silicon wafer as a substrate and functionalised it.
- The functionalised wafer was dipped in an inorganic solution and then in an organic solution.
- Since the coordination polymer is less conducting and almost behaves like an insulating material, the researchers doped it with a redox-active molecule.
- The top portion of the coordination polymer is doped while the bottom portion is not. The doped top layer becomes highly conductive.
- The doped and undoped portions together behave like a p–n junction diode.
- The coordination polymers with a modular approach of inorganic and organic layers could make diodes or transistors not only cheaper but also add value in the emerging scenario of flexible electronics.
- In the late 1990s, when the population of the vultures in the country had begun to decline sharply, one White-backed vulture was rescued from Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, where vultures were dying at an alarming rate.
- To study the cause of deaths of vultures, a Vulture Care Centre (VCC) was set up at Pinjore, Haryana.
- It was here that the rescued vulture from Rajasthan was brought.
- Later, a few more vultures from Haryana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh were brought in.
- Starting with just a few vultures, the VCC, until then the sole facility for conservation of vultures in the country, has come a long way in the past two decades.
- At present there are nine Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centres (VCBC) in India, of which three are directly administered by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
- The major reason behind the vulture population getting nearly wiped out was the drug Diclofenac, found in the carcass of cattle the vultures fed on.
- The drug, whose veterinary use was banned in 2008, was commonly administered to cattle to treat inflammation.
- Referring to the release of two Himalayan Griffon into the wild from the Pinjore VCBC in 2016, the scientists said that the objective of the test release was to see what happens when a species is kept in captivity for a long time and then set free.
Self-reliant in 40 days
- For almost a month after their release, the vultures stayed around the centre, and within a month were flying well.
- Enthused by the success of the release of the pair, scientists at BNHS are now planning more releases.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is likely to release images it takes of Vikram, the American media has reported.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
- The LRO is a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon.
- It studies the Moon’s surface, clicks pictures, and collects data that help in figuring out the presence and possibility of water ice and other resources on the Moon, as well as plan future missions to it.
- According to NASA: “The primary mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, was to measure the entire lunar surface to create a high-resolution 3-D map of the Moon with ~50-centimeter resolution images to aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions. In addition, LRO would map the polar regions and search for the presence of water ice.”
- The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions began on June 18, 2009.
- LRO entered lunar orbit on June 23, 2009.
- In September 2010, LRO completed its primary mapping mission and began an extended science mission around the Moon, with its responsibility transferred to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
- It is estimated that the LRO has fuel enough to stay on its mission for at least six more years.
Achievements of LRO
- According to NASA, some of LRO’s technical innovations include the first global thermal mapping of a planetary body covering a full range of local times and seasons, the first bi-static radar imaging measurements from Earth to a planetary orbiter, and more than five years of laser altimetric measurements yielding more than 8 billion topographic points, better than any other object in the Solar System.
- On March 15, 2011, LRO provided more than 192 terabytes of data from its primary mission to its Planetary Data System, or PDS, to make the information available to researchers, students, media, and the general public.
Maiden IN-RSN-RTN Trilateral Exercise
- A maiden trilateral exercise, involving Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), Royal Thailand Navy (RTN) and Indian Navy (IN) has commenced at Port Blair recently.
- The five-day-long exercise is aimed at bolstering the maritime inter-relationships amongst Singapore Thailand and India, and contribute significantly to enhancing the overall maritime security in the region.
- This would also strengthen the mutual confidence amongst three navies in terms of interoperability and development of a common understanding of procedures.
- Under the ambit of this exercise, RSN Tenacious, a Formidable-class guided missile stealth frigate and His Majesty’s Thailand Ship (HTMS) Kraburi, a Guided Missile Frigate would be exercising with Indian Naval Ships Ranvir, a Guided Missile Destroyer, Kora, a missile corvette and Sukanya, an Offshore Patrol Vessel along with P8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft.
- During the harbour phase scheduled at Port Blair, professional exchanges, sports fixtures and cross deck familiarisation visits would be organised.
- Besides fostering co-operation, the maiden IN-RSN-RTN Trilateral exercise would provide an opportunity to participating navies to come together in a spirit of collaboration to nurture stronger ties.
Govt tightens FCRA norms
- All office-bearers, including the chief functionary of associations, applying for registration, grant of prior permission or renewal of registration under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act will now have to file an affidavit sharing details of their government-issued identity proof and declaring that the entity seeking registration is not fictitious, has not been prosecuted or convicted for indulging in forced religious conversion or creating communal tension and is not engaged in propagation of sedition or found guilty of misutilising funds.
- Currently, only the chief functionary needs to make such a declaration under Section 12(4) of FCRA, 2010.
- As per the proforma of the affidavit notified by the home ministry recently, the officer-bearers must give an undertaking to report to the secretary looking after foreigners division of the home ministry, any violation of provisions of Section 12(4) by the applicant organisation or any of its members or officebearers or any key functionaries that comes to his/her knowledge.
- The affidavit must be filed individually by all officerbearers along with Form FC-3A (fresh registration), FC-3B (prior permission) and FC-3C (renewal of registration), on non-judicial stamp paper and attested by a public notary or first class magistrate. Submission of any false or misleading information would be punishable under the applicable law.
- Among the other changes made to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules, 2011, is in rule 6A that specifies the upper limit for market value of articles gifted for personal use not amounting to foreign contribution. This limit now stands raised to Rs 1 lakh from Rs 25,000.
- Rule 7 has also been amended to require acceptance of foreign hospitality in case of emergent medical aid needed on account of sudden illness during a visit abroad, to be intimated to the central government within a month, unlike sixty days earlier, of such receipt.
- The intimation should give full details including source, approximate value in Indian rupees, purpose and manner in which the foreign hospitality was utilised.
- Staring at a slump in demand and a slowdown in the rural economy, the Centre plans to inject more money into the UPA’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme by linking wages under the Act to an updated inflation index, which will be revised annually.
- It hopes this will increase wages, thus increasing purchasing power and reviving rural demand.
- However, some economists question whether linking wage rates to a better inflation index will be sufficient, given that MGNREGA workers are paid much lower than market rates.
- The national average wage of an MGNREGA worker is ₹178.44 per day, less than half of the ₹375 per day minimum wage recommended by a Labour Ministry panel earlier this year.
- Wage rate revisions are usually notified at the beginning of a financial year, but the Ministry is trying implement the hike during the current year itself, as part of a stimulus package to counter the ongoing slowdown.
- However, some economists questioned whether the move is sufficient to revive demand.
- According to the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey, market wages for men were higher than MGNREGA wages by 74% in 2017-18, while for women, it was a 21% gap.
- Even with existing wages, the scheme is running out of funds due to increased demand for work. MGNREGA received a budgetary allocation of ₹60,000 crore, of which more than 75% has already been released by the Centre even before the halfway point of the year.
Two new plant species in Western Ghats
- A team of researchers has reported the discovery of two new plant species belonging to the Asclepiadaceae or milkweed family from the shola forests of the Western Ghats, highlighting its rich biodiversity and the need for a conservation strategy for the fragile ecosystem.
- Latex in plant parts and pappus seeds are the general characteristics of the family.
- Tylophora balakrishnanii, a straggling vine, has been discovered from the Thollayiram shola in Wayanad, a biodiversity hotspot in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve.
- The tuberous species has been discovered by a team of researchers led by Salim Pitchen, botanist at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) here, and Jose Mathew, Assistant Professor, Department of Botany, SD College, during a recent expedition.
- Flowers of the plant are reddish pink and the species is similar to the coastal plant Tylophora flexuosa.
- The species has been christened after V. Balakrishnan, member-secretary, Kerala State Biodiversity Board, and former director of the MSSRF, Wayanad, in recognition of his contributions to biodiversity.
- Tylophora neglecta has been discovered from the shola forest on the Thooval Mala hill under the Achencoil division in Kollam.
- The flowers of the species are white with a violet tinge. Its leaves are thick and bristly in nature, Dr. Mathew said.
Malnutrition & death in under-5 children
- Malnutrition continues to be the leading risk factor for death in children under-five years of age across India, according to comprehensive estimates of disease burden due to child and maternal malnutrition released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)
- According to the study, the death rate attributable to malnutrition in under-5 children in India has dropped by two- thirds from 1990 to 2017, but still accounts for 68% of deaths in under-five children.
- The study also highlighted that the disease burden rate attributable to malnutrition in children varies seven-fold across states, and is highest in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Nagaland, and Tripura.
- Among malnutrition indicators, low birth weight is the biggest contributor to disease burden followed by child growth failure which includes stunting, underweight, and wasting.
- The estimates, part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2017, were also published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health on Wednesday. The study was conducted by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative — a joint initiative of the ICMR, Public Health Foundation of India, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- According to the study, the prevalence of low birth weight was 21% in India in 2017, ranging from 9% in Mizoram to 24% in Uttar Pradesh.
- The study highlighted that the prevalence of child stunting was 39% in India in 2017. This ranged from 21% in Goa to 49% in Uttar Pradesh, and was generally highest in the EAG states.
- The prevalence of child underweight was 33% in India in 2017, ranging from 16% in Manipur to 42% in Jharkhand.
- The prevalence of child anaemia was 60% in India in 2017, ranging from 21% in Mizoram to 74% in Haryana.
- The study also captured the maternal health which found the prevalence of anaemia in women at 54% in India in 2017, ranging from 28% in Mizoram to 60% in Delhi.
- The study also highlighted that the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding was 53% in India in 2017, ranging from 34% in Meghalaya to 74% in Chhattisgarh.
Ban on e-cigarettes
The Union Cabinet recently approved a ban on e-cigarettes, citing the need to take early action to protect public health. Upon promulgation of the ordinance, any production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes shall be a cognisable offence punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or fine up to ₹1 lakh, or both for the first offence; and imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to ₹5 lakh for a subsequent offence. Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment of up to 6 months or a fine of up to ₹50,000 or both.
- E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a solution of nicotine and different flavours to create aerosol, which is then inhaled.
- These devices belong to a category of vapour-based nicotine products called ENDS.
- E-cigarettes and other ENDS products may look like their traditional counterparts (regular cigarettes or cigars), but they also come in other shapes and sizes and can resemble daily use products, including pens and USB drives.
- Several companies selling ENDS in India have positioned these products as a safer, less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes or as devices that could help users quit smoking.
The ban and its provisions:
- As per a release issued by the Centre, owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes on the date of commencement of the ordinance will have to suo motu declare and deposit these with the nearest police station.
- The sub-inspector has been designated as the authorised officer to take action under the ordinance.
- The Central or State governments may also designate any other equivalent officer(s) as authorised officer for enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance.
- The Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance, 2019, was recently examined by a Group of Ministers (GoM) following directions from the Prime Minister’s Office.
- In the draft ordinance, the Health Ministry had proposed a maximum imprisonment of up to one year along with a penalty of ₹1 lakh against first-time violators.
- E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce aerosol by heating a solution containing nicotine, which is the addictive substance in combustible cigarettes.
- The Minister noted that as per data the misuse of e-cigarettes is very high among students.
- The Union Health Ministry had earlier issued an advisory to all States and Union Territories to ensure that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices, vape, e-sheesha, e-nicotine flavoured hookah, and devices that enable nicotine delivery are not sold (including online sale), manufactured, distributed, traded, imported and advertised in their jurisdictions.
- Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan had also written to the Commerce Secretary to block the entry of a U.S.-based company manufacturing vaping devices.
India is the top source of immigrants across the globe
India has emerged as the leading country of origin for immigrants across the world, with 17.5 million international migrants in 2019 coming from India, up from 15.9 million in 2015, according to a dataset released by the Union Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) in New York recently.
- The International Migrant Stock 2019, released by the UN DESA’s Population Division, said the number of international migrants in the world had reached an estimated 272 million 2019 — 51 million more than in 2010.
- The percentage of international migrants of the total global population has increased to 3.5% from 2.8% in 2000.
- While India remained as the top source of international migrants, the number of migrants living in India saw a slight decline from 5.24 million in 2015 to an estimated 5.15 million in 2019 – both 0.4% of the total population of the country.
- Bangladesh was the leading country of origin for migrants in India, the report stated.
- In a statement, the UN DESA Population Division said that one-third of all international migrants originated from 10 countries — after India, Mexico ranked second as the country of origin with 12 million migrants, followed by China (11 million), Russia (10 million) and Syria (8 million).
U.S. biggest host
- The European region hosted the highest number of the immigrants at 82 million in 2019, followed by North America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).
- Among countries, the U.S. hosts the highest number of international migrants (51 million), about 19% of the global population.
- The statement also said that around two-fifths of all international migrants had gone from one developing country to another.
- The statement added that further, forced displacements continue to rise, with the number of refugees and asylum seekers having increased by about 13 million from 2010 to 2017.
India, U.S. and the ground handling
- India is set to amend its ground-handling regulations for foreign airlines after the U.S., in a retaliatory action, recently barred Air India from performing ground operations on its own at American airports.
Tit for tat
- On July 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation served an order amending Air India’s foreign air carrier permit, and barring it from performing its own ground-handling functions in the U.S., after India failed to allow U.S. airlines to “exercise their bilateral right to perform their own ground-handling (to “self-handle”) at Indian airports”.
- Air India is the only Indian carrier that currently flies to the U.S.
- The employees of these foreign airlines would, however, be subjected to stricter security monitoring, the official added.
- It is reliably learnt that the Ministry will be seeking an in-principle approval from the Union Cabinet as the issue pertains to national security, before moving to modify the clause in the Airports Authority of India (Ground Handling Services Regulations), 2018, which forbids foreign airlines from carrying out security functions within ground handling services.
Relief for others
- The amendment will provide relief to two other countries with which India has an air services agreement on ground handling — Australia and Canada.
- The restriction on security functions will continue to apply to the airlines of other countries.
- While neither does Air India ‘self-handle’ in the U.S., nor do U.S. passenger and cargo airlines currently perform their own ground-handling in India, the tussle is being seen more as an assertion of a right that the U.S. would like to retain, rather than about using it.
- Section 3(2) of the ground handling regulations states that a foreign airline may undertake passenger and baggage handling activities before the passenger security hold area at an airport terminal, but prohibits them from carrying out a list of 60 security functions in ground operations that include loading and unloading of baggage, emplaning and deplaning passengers, fuelling and the cleaning of aircraft.
- India earned U.S. ire as the regulations, which were amended in 2017 and notified again in 2018, were at variance with the India-U.S. air services agreement of 2005, which allowed the two countries’ airlines to perform their own ground handling in the territory of the other party.
- In a major turning point in the cultural historiography of the ancient Sangam Age, the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department (TNAD) has stated that the cultural deposits unearthed during excavations at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE.
- This is the first time the date has been officially announced by the TNAD.
- The new findings in the report, placed the Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed — 3rd century BCE.
- One of the six samples collected at the depth of 353 cm and sent for carbon dating test in the U.S. goes back to 580 BCE.
- The report titled, ‘Keeladi-An Urban Settlement of Sangam Age on the Banks of River Vaigai’, was published by the TNAD.
- The results from the fourth excavations suggested that the “second urbanisation [the first being Indus] of the Vaigai plains happened in Tamil Nadu around 6th century BCE as it happened in the Gangetic plains.”
- The report also spelt the site as Keeladi as against the erstwhile widely used Keezhadi.
- The recent scientific dates obtained for the Keeladi findings pushed back the date of the Tamil-Brahmi script to another century, i.e., 6th century BCE.
- It said no object of worship was found at the site.
Healthcare benefits to Ola drivers
- Government’s healthcare scheme — Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) — has partnered with Ola, a mobility platform, to extend the welfare to its drivers.
- An MoU has been signed to extend the benefits of the Centre-sponsored healthcare scheme.
- The first phase will see Ola and AB-PMJAY conducting a pilot project in NCR, which will subsequently be rolled out at scale to other cities.
- Eligible drivers as well as Ola employees will be able to avail the benefits of the programme and obtain an Ayushman Bharat card at a minimal cost of ₹30.
- Officials from the National Health Authority will work closely with Ola to carry out efficient handling of the process — from checking eligibility to handing out the AB-PMJAY e-cards.
- They will also train Ola staff to execute the process independently.
- Launched in September last year, AB-PMJAY provides a health cover of ₹5 lakh in government and empanelled private hospitals to 10.74 crore economically disadvantaged families.
In a big boost, govt. cuts corporate tax
- In its boldest gambit yet to stir up the economy, the government recently issued an ordinance to reduce the corporate tax rate for domestic firms and new manufacturing units by 10 to 12 percentage points, effectively bringing India’s tax rates on a par with its competing Asian peers.
- Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the effective tax rate for domestic corporates, inclusive of surcharges, would fall from 34.94% to 25.17% if they stopped availing themselves of any other tax sops.
Fillip to manufacturing
- For new manufacturing firms set up after October 1, 2019, and commencing operations by March 31, 2023, the effective tax rate will fall from 29.1% to 17%.
- The slew of measures unveiled by Ms. Sitharaman, including the rollback of the enhanced surcharge levied on foreign portfolio investors in the Union Budget and a reduction in the Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) rate from 18.5% to 15% for all businesses, is estimated to cost the exchequer ₹1,45,000 crore a year in foregone revenue.
- Sitharaman said she was conscious of the impact of the package on the government’s fiscal arithmetic and the 3.3% fiscal deficit target for the year, but the government was betting on “more investments leading to more jobs and economic activity that would shore up revenues”. .
Aim of Corporate Tax:
- Essentially, a lower corporate tax is aimed at boosting investment by the private sector.
- The continuing deceleration of the Indian economy was being blamed both on depressed consumption by private individuals and decline in investment by private businesses.
- The two other factors contributing to growth – government expenditure (where the fiscal deficit is under pressure) and exports (which have been stagnant), both have little space to boost growth.
- The cut in corporate tax chooses to single out private investment.
- This is a long-term measure that would make it more attractive for existing and new businesses to invest and increase production, which, in turn, will create employment.
Does this mean that the GST Council may not cut GST rates?
- It is quite likely that the GST Council may not effect any massive cut in GST rates because government finances – both at Centre and state-level – are stressed and there is little leeway to take a cut on overall revenues.
- Then could the government have cut GST or income tax rate instead of corporate tax rate?
- According to the government’s calculations, the latest corporate tax cut would cost it Rs 1.5 lakh crore.
- It is a valid question to ask if, given that the government was willing to take a hit of this magnitude, it could have spurred more economic activity by either cutting the indirect tax rate ( that is, the GST) or the direct personal income tax rate.
- To be sure, cuts either in personal income tax or the GST would have yielded a higher immediate boost to economic activity as they would have reduced prices and immediately left consumers with more disposable income to spend more.
- Higher consumption spending would have enthused the business to get rid of inventories and possibly invest in new capacities.
Why no cut on income tax or GST?
- There are at least two possible reasons.
- One is the government’s diagnosis of what is wrong with the economy. Some believe it is the investment demand that is key to reviving India’s economic fortunes.
- If that is what the government believed, then a cut in corporate taxes gets preference.
- The other reason is less theoretical and more practical. A cut in income tax only affects those who pay the income tax – which is a very small number of the economy. So an income tax cut’s impact is limited by that.
- On GST, a cut may have been more difficult to achieve because the decision is not contingent just on what the Centre wants – states too have to play ball.
- Lastly, it can be argued that while the immediate impact of a cut in corporate tax (on economic activity) is lower than the immediate impact of either an income tax cut or a GST cut, yet the long-term effect is decidedly more.
- Investment decisions are more long-term decisions and a cut in corporate tax would likely make it cheaper and more profitable for businesses to function in the Indian economy.
MIT engineers create blackest of all materials
- Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a material that they claim is 10 times blacker than anything that has previously been reported.
- The material is made from vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, or CNTs — microscopic filaments of carbon that the team grew on a surface of chlorine-etched aluminum foil.
- The foil captures more than 99.96% of any incoming light, making it the blackest material on record, according to a study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.
- The material may be useful in optical blinders that reduce unwanted glare or to help space telescopes spot orbiting exoplanets, said Brian Wardle, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.
Antibiotic resistance rises in dolphins
- Around 90% of samples taken from dolphins in Florida were found to be resistant to at least one type of pathogen, according to new study
- Antibiotic or Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is spreading in not just among humans but also dolphins, a new study has found.
- The study, conducted over a 12-year period, found disease-causing organisms or pathogens among most of the samples of bodily fluids and solids taken from bottlenose dolphins in an area of Florida.
- Samples were taken from blowholes, gastric fluid and faeces of the animals in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida between 2003 and 2015.
- Of the 733 samples taken from 171 dolphins, 88 per cent contained a pathogen resistant to at least one antibiotic, the study found.
- Most pathogens (91.6 per cent) were found to be resistant to erythromycin, commonly used to treat chest infections, acne and sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia and syphilis.
- Another 77.3 per cent were resistant to ampicillin and 61.7 per cent to cephalothin.
- It was also found that resistance to antibiotic ciprofloxacin among E coli pathogens doubled over the period studied.
- The Indian River Lagoon has a large human population living along its shores and scientists suspect the antibiotic-resistant bacteria must have come into it through a human source including septic tanks, runoff from the land or freshwater discharge from canals.
- AMR is one of the top health challenges of today.
- This is because many common bacterial infections are developing resistance to the drugs once used to treat them, and new antibiotics aren’t being developed fast enough to combat the problem.
- At least two million Americans get an AMR infection in the United States (US) each year, and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Solomon Islands ends ties with Taiwan
- The Solomon Islands’ government has cut official ties with Taiwan in a new blow to President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January amid rising tension with China.
- Taiwan now has formal relations with only 16 countries worldwide, but China claims Taiwan as its territory and says it has no right to formal ties with any nation.
- Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei recently that it would immediately close down its embassy in the Solomon Islands.
- Wu said China was aiming to meddle with Taiwan’s elections in January with “dollar diplomacy”.
- Solomon Islands is the sixth country Taiwan will lose as a diplomatic ally since Tsai came to office in 2016 — following Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama and El Salvador.
- The move came after the Solomon Islands’ months-long review of the pros and cons of a switch to Beijing, which was offering $8.5 million in development fund.
The ‘most massive’ neutron star ever
- The most massive neutron star ever recorded has been discovered by astronomers 4,600 light years from Earth.
- The star is more than twice the mass of the sun but just 24 kilometres in diameter, making it the most dense object in the universe except for black holes.
- It is so dense a single sugar-cube worth of neutron-star material would weigh the same as the entire human population of Earth (100 million tonnes).
- Neutron stars are objects formed from the collapsed cores of large stars following a supernova explosion. They are also known as pulsars due to the pulses of radiation they emit as they rotate at high speeds.
- Named J0740+6620, the star is 2.17 times the mass of the sun and 333,000 times the mass of the Earth, according to the paper published in Nature Astronomy.
- Scientists say this star is approaching the limits of how compact a single object can become without crushing in on itself.
- The neutron star was identified by the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia which is so sensitive it can pick up radio waves emitted milliseconds after the birth of the universe. “These stars are very exotic.
- The neutron star is a pulsar that emits beams of radio waves like a lighthouse as it spins.
- Pulsars get their name because of twin beams of radio waves they emit from their magnetic poles as they rotate hundreds of times each second.
- Astronomers measure these radio waves to work out the mass of stellar objects. They can do this thanks to its orbiting companion star.
Russia’s Floating Nuclear Plant
- Recently, a Russian-built floating nuclear power plant completed its 5,000-km journey along the Northern Sea Route, causing excitement in the energy sector, but sparking fears among environmentalists over the safety of the Arctic region.
- The ‘Akademik Lomonosov’, is the first such plant to be built in the world.
Russia’s floating n-plant
- The Akademik Lomonosov is a first-of-its-kind floating nuclear power station built in St Petersburg, the Russian port city on the Gulf of Finland.
- Three tugboats pulled it from the northern port of Murmansk for 5,000 kilometres to Chukotka, in Russia’s far east.
- Named after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the 21,000-tonne floating plant is 144 m long and 30 m wide, and contains two nuclear reactors of 35 MW each.
- It is a small plant compared to conventional land-based nuclear projects.
- Run by the state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, the Akademik Lomonosov is expected to have a working life of 40 years.
Need for this plant
- After it becomes operational next year, the plant will supply electricity to the Chukotka region, where important Russian national assets such as oil, gold, and coal reserves are located.
- Some 50,000 people currently live in the area, and get their electricity from a coal power station and an ageing nuclear power plant.
- The floating station would become the northernmost nuclear power project in the world.
- Electricity supplied by floating power stations, without long-duration contracts or massive investments, is an option that island nations could consider.
- Power from such small-sized plants can also be supplied to remote regions, as Russia plans to do.
- Additionally, it is argued that nuclear power plants are a more climate-friendly option than coal-fired plants that emit greenhouse gases.
Fears and apprehensions
- Environmental groups such as Greenpeace Russia have criticised the project as a “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic”.
- Activists fear that any accident aboard the plant could cause great damage to the fragile Arctic region. A recent nuclear accident in Russia after which there was a brief spike in radiation levels has added to the fears.
- The radiation fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is also cited as a reason to not rush into such projects.
Rising temperatures in Indian Ocean can boost Atlantic’s ocean currents
- While greenhouse warming caused by human activity is heating up the Indian oceans, it is likely to boost a key system of currents in the Atlantic Ocean, that plays a key role in determining the weather across the world, according to a new study.
- Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) — which is sometimes referred to as the “Atlantic conveyor belt” — is one of the Earth’s largest water circulation systems where ocean currents move warm, salty water from the tropics to regions further north, such as western Europe and sends colder water south.
- It aids in distributing heat and energy around the earth, as the warm water it carries releases heat into the atmosphere, and in absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon.
- For thousands of years, AMOC has remained stable, but since the past 15 years, it has been weakening — a development that could have dramatic consequences for Europe and other parts of the Atlantic rim, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
- Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego and Yale University found that rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean can help boost the AMOC and delay slow down.
- Warming in the Indian Ocean generates additional precipitation, which, in turn, draws more air from other parts of the world, including the Atlantic.
- The higher level of precipitation in the Indian Ocean will reduce precipitation in the Atlantic and increase salinity in the waters, the researchers explained.
- However, scientists don’t know for how long this enhanced warming in Indian Ocean will continue.
- Moreover, it isn’t clear whether slowdown of AMOC is caused by global warming alone or it is a short-term anomaly related to natural ocean variability, said the researchers, emphasising the need to understand the importance of AMOC stability.
- AMOC last witnessed a slow down 15,000 to 17,000 years ago. It caused “harsh winters in Europe, with more storms or a drier Sahel in Africa due to the downward shift of the tropical rain belt,” Fedorov said.
‘Howdy, Modi!’& the ‘mini-deal’
- India and the U.S. are expected to announce the resolution of some of their trade-related differences on medical equipment caps, ICT (information and communication technology) tariffs and market access for agricultural produce. They are in discussions on restoring India’s GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) status and a future free trade agreement (FTA).
- The sources would not confirm, but did not rule out, the possibility that the leaders would reference a “mini-deal” during their joint public appearance at the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston recently, if finalised then.
- The draft agreement addresses some of the U.S. concerns on ICT tariffs and data localisation rules, price caps or trade margin rationalisation on medical equipment such as knee implants, and agricultural market access for select produce. In return, the U.S. is expected to roll back some of the tariffs that it had imposed on India in 2018, when it began its GSP review.
- However, the sources cautioned that India is still holding back on lifting the price caps on coronary stents, which were announced by the Modi government in 2017 as a move to make healthcare affordable, and shying away from major ICT concessions owing to worries over opening the market for Chinese products.
Hopes on FTA
- Business chamber officials who had keenly followed the talks since trade negotiations broke down last year say that an announcement on starting formal discussions on an FTA would be significant.
- According to the sources, the USTR and Commerce Ministry officials have been discussing how to restore India’s GSP status in “some form or entirely”.
- Despite the government announcing that it was not deeply affected by the U.S. decision to review and then revoke the GSP, the latest export figures have shown a slump, indicating that Indian exporters have lost out on contracts due to the decision.
- Several U.S. companies doing business in India and at least 44 lawmakers have made a case for India with Mr. Lighthizer on the GSP issue as well.
- Industry insiders said any trade agreement at this point will be welcomed in both Washington and New Delhi.
PERSON IN NEWS
Noor Wali Mehsud
- The United States has designated the leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP), Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).
- Mehsud was among 12 leaders of previously designated groups — including Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, ISIS, ISIS Phillipines, and ISIS West Africa — who were designated as SDGTs recently.
- The US action against the TTP terrorist came on a day when India described Pakistan as the “epicentre” of global terrorism at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
- Mehsud succeeded Maulana Fazlullah as the leader of the TTP in 2018 after Fazlullah was killed in a US counter-terrorism strike in northeastern Afghanistan’s Kunar.
- The veteran jihadist belongs to the Mehsud tribe of North and South Waziristan, and is also known as Abu Mansoor Asim. The earlier leaders of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakeemullah Mehsud, both came from South Waziristan.
- Mehsud is believed to have fought against the North Alliance alongside the Afghan Taliban before the US invaded Afghanistan.
- He subsequently served as a senior military commander, and led the TTP in Karachi.
- A religious scholar, Mehsud authored a book released in 2017 titled, ‘The Mehsud Revolution in South Waziristan: From British Raj to Oppressive America’, in which he claimed that the TTP was responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhuttoin 2007.
- S. President Donald Trump recently picked U.S. hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien as National Security Adviser, replacing hardliner John Bolton who was fired abruptly recently after clashing with the President on a host of issues.
- O’Brien, who will be the fourth person to hold the post in the Trump administration, has served as Mr. Trump’s special envoy for hostage affairs at the U.S. Department of State since May 2018 and has a long history in Republican foreign policy circles.
- O’Brien is an attorney from Los Angeles who has served as a foreign policy adviser to several Republican presidential campaigns, handled a number of high-profile legal cases and previously served in several State Department positions, including as an alternative representative to the UN General Assembly in 2005.
- The government has named Air Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria as the next Chief of the Air Staff.
- Bhadauria, now the Vice-Chief, will take over on September 30 and will have a two-year tenure. He had played a key role in the negotiations for the deal with France for 36 Rafale jets.
- Bhadauria was commissioned into the fighter stream in June 1980, and has held various command, staff and instructional appointments at various levels, the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
- He has over 4,250 hours of experience on 26 types of fighters and transport aircraft with the unique distinction of being an experimental test pilot, a Cat ‘A’-qualified flying instructor and a pilot attack instructor.
- In an acknowledgment of Mr. Bhadauria’s role in the negotiations, the first Rafale, which made its maiden flight in France, is designated RB-008 after his name.
- The present Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, will retire on September 30, and pass the baton of the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to the Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat.
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