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Special Issue Current Affairs UPSC CSE Oct Week 2

 

Current Affairs UPSC CSE

Special Issue Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 2

The Global Competitiveness Index

The latest edition of the Global Competitiveness Report, which was first launched in 1979, ranks India at 68th position among 141 countries – that’s 10 ranks below its 2018 position in the same index. The slippage this year, however, is not just because India’s score in the Global Competitiveness Index fell, albeit marginally, but also because several other close competitors surged ahead.

What is GCI?

  • This is the fourth version of the global competitiveness index – hence referred to as GCI 4.0 – and it was introduced in 2018. The 141 countries mapped by this year’s GCI account for 99 per cent of the world’s GDP.
  • The basic notion behind the GCI is to map the factors that determine the Total Factor Productivity (TFP) in a country. The TFP is essentially the efficiency with which different factors of production such as land, labour and capital are put to use to create the final product. It is believed that it is the TFP in an economy that determines the long-term economic growth of a country.

Factors that GCI map

  • According to the report, the GCI 4.0 is “the product of an aggregation of 103 individual indicators, derived from a combination of data from international organizations as well as from the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey”.
  • The GCI 4.0 tracks data and/or responses on 12 factors divided into 4 broad categories. The first category is the “Enabling Environment” and this includes factors such as the state of infrastructure, institutions, the macroeconomic stability of the country and its ability to adopt new technology.
  • The second category is “Human Capital” and includes health and level of skills in the economy. The third is the state of “Markets” such as those for labour, product, financial and the overall market size. The last category is “Innovation Ecosystem” which includes business dynamism and innovation capability.
  • Each of these 12 factors will further include sub-factors. For example, within “Institutions” under the “Enabling Environment” category, the GCI tracks the performance on detailed factors such as the performance of the public sector, the level of transparency and corruption, the state of corporate governance, the incidence of terrorism etc.
  • Overall, there are a total of 103 individual factors that GCI 4.0 maps to arrive at the final result.

How are countries ranked?

  • According to the report, “a country’s performance on the overall GCI results as well as each of its components is reported as a ‘progress score’ on a 0-to-100 scale, where 100 represents the ‘frontier’, an ideal state where an issue ceases to be a constraint to productivity growth”.
  • For example, the average GCI score across the 141 economies that were studied this year was 60.7. This means that the ‘distance to the frontier’ stands at almost 40 points.

Performance of India

  • India’s 2019 overall score (61.4) fell by merely 0.7 when compared to its 2018 score. But this slippage was enough for it to slide down 10 ranks in the list.
  • The report states: “In South Asia, India, in 68th position, loses ground in the rankings despite a relatively stable score, mostly due to faster improvements of several countries previously ranked lower”. Some of the countries that were close to India and made rapid progress were Colombia (which had a score of 62.7, up 1.1 points from last year, and now ranked 57th), Azerbaijan (62.7, +2.7, 58th), South Africa (62.4, +1.7, 60th) and Turkey (62.1, +0.5, 61st).
  • India trails China (28th, 73.9) by 40 places and 14 points. But within South Asia (see chart), it is the best performer and is followed by Sri Lanka (the most improved country in the region at 84th), Bangladesh (105th), Nepal (108th) and Pakistan (110th).

Planets and their moons

  • A count of the moons listed on the NASA website shows that our Solar System’s planets together have 205 confirmed moons now.
  • Recently, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center confirmed 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, making it the planet with the most moons in our Solar System, at 82.
  • The 20 had been discovered by Scott S Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Until their confirmation, the planet with the most moons was Jupiter, at 79.
  • A count of the moons listed on the NASA website shows that our Solar System’s planets together have 205 confirmed moons now. Saturn and Jupiter, with 161 between them, account for nearly 80% of these. Another 20% are orbiting Uranus (27) and Neptune (14).
  • Of the remaining three moons, one is Earth’s own while the other two are with Mars.
  • Mercury is so close to the Sun and its gravity that it wouldn’t be able to hold on to its own moon. Any moon would most likely crash into Mercury or maybe go into orbit around the Sun and eventually get pulled into it.
  • It is not yet clear, however, why Venus does not have a moon.
  • The newly discovered moons of Saturn are about 5 km each in diameter. Seventeen orbit Saturn opposite to the planet’s rotation, and three in the same direction as Saturn’s rotation.
  • The Carnegie Institution for Science has invited, until December 6, suggestions for names of the 20 new moons of Saturn.

Bunad

  • When Norwegian Ambassador Hans Jacob Frydenlund went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to present his credentials to President Ram Nath Kovind recently, he was wearing his country’s traditional folk costume.
  • Called a “bunad”, it is not a single kind of costume but an umbrella term with several regional variations.
  • A bunad often includes an apron, a headdress, and a scarf or shawl, and is embroidered and embellished with buckles, ornaments, jewellery and at times, blades. Bunads are expensive and typically worn on festive occasions.
  • The University of Oslo estimates that one in two Norwegians owns a bunad, which is about 2.5 million bunads.
  • There are 400 different variations that come in different styles for men and women.
  • In 2012, Norway’s Ministry of Culture appointed the Bunad and National Costume Council to promote the use of bunads and other national costumes.

The fight over Mumbai’s Aarey Colony

  • A special Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday ordered “status quo [to] be maintained till the next date of hearing with respect to cutting of trees”.
  • This means that while the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) cannot cut any more trees at the site of the proposed car shed, it can go ahead with construction activity related to the project.
  • Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra, said that “whatever [trees] has to be cut, is cut”, and “nothing further is to be cut”.
  • The MMRCL had proposed — and had been permitted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority — to cut 2,185 trees, and transplant 460.

The Core Issue

  • A 21-year old Greater Noida-based law student, Rishav Ranjan, wrote to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recently, seeking a stay on the cutting of trees for the MMRCL’s car shed located on 33 hectares land in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony.
  • The site is on the bank of the Mithi River, with several channels and tributaries flowing into it — and construction for the “polluting industry” could flood Mumbai, he argued. The court accepted the letter as Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and set up the special Bench.
  • The tussle between environmental activists and the government over the Metro car shed has been ongoing since 2014. On Friday, the Bombay High Court dismissed four petitions challenging the decision to cut trees at Aarey.
  • The petitioners had questioned the propriety and legality of the BMC Tree Authority’s permission for the tree-felling, and asked for Aarey to be declared a flood plain and a forest.
  • Activists argue that Aarey is an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and that the car shed would pave the way for greater commercial exploitation of the area.

Why does Metro want the car shed here?

  • MMRCL argues that this land belongs to the state — it is with the Dairy Development Department — and therefore, the long, messy, and expensive process of acquisition can be avoided, with zero additional cost to citizens.
  • Aarey is located 800 metres from SEEPZ, the last station on the 33.5-km Colaba-SEEPZ line — the optimum distance from where operations can be serviced swiftly. In case of an emergency, the depot must be easily accessible for operating staff by alternative means.
  • Government says the site is the most convenient; Bombay HC has rejected the arguments of activists.
  • The activists want the depot to be in Kanjurmarg, which is 10 km from SEEPZ. Acquiring land at this site is likely to increase the cost of the Rs 23,000-crore Metro line 3 project (the Colaba-SEEPZ line, which will be serviced by the car shed) by Rs 5,000 crore. It will also delay the project, and add to the cost.
  • Earlier, the government had said the Kanjurmarg site was under litigation. But while arguing its case in the Bombay High Court, the government said the site would be used to house the depot for a different Metro line.

The Proposed facility at Aarey

  • The proposed car shed will house washing, maintenance, and repair works facilities. A railway car shed is a “Red Category” industry, which causes the highest level of pollution.
  • Activists say activities at the shed will generate oil, grease, and electrical waste, besides hazardous materials such as acid and paints. Effluents will be discharged into the Mithi, and could pollute the groundwater, they say.
  • Also, construction of the depot will increase exploitation of ground water resources, they say.
  • MMRCL says it will set up mechanisms to prevent any kind of pollution. An existing ban on the setting up of Red Category industries on river banks was revoked in 2015.

Argument about the environmental cost of the project

  • According to a report on “Biodiversity of Aarey Milk Colony and Film City” prepared by researchers Zeeshan A Mirza and Rajesh Sanap, the area is home to 86 species of butterfly, 90 species of spider, 46 species of reptiles, 34 species of wildflower, and nine leopards.
  • As per the BMC’s tree census, there about 4.5 lakh trees in Aarey, which is described as Mumbai’s green lung.
  • Activists says the Aarey depot plot is the sole surviving natural floodplain of the Mithi, whose reclamation through construction and felling of trees would lead to greater inundation during the monsoon.
  • However, the proposed car shed will be set up on only 33 hectares, which is barely 2% of the 1,278 hectares of the green belt. The MMRCL has said that beyond this 33-hectare plot, no other part of Aarey will be disturbed, as the site is accessible by road from three sides.
  • Also, the trees that were felled over the weekend stood on only 17% of the land earmarked for the car shed. The MMRCL has said that 60% of the trees are non-native and exotic, and can be replaced by native species.
  • The MMRCL has argued that the Metro will bring enormous environmental benefits by reducing the overall carbon footprint: seven days of Metro operation is projected to cut carbon dioxide equivalent to that absorbed by 2,700 trees in a year.

Controversy over the categorisation of the area as a ‘forest’

  • In 2015, Stalin D of the NGO Vanshakti filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asking that Aarey be declared a “forest”. The petition was dismissed in September 2018.
  • Another petition was filed by Amrita Bhattacharjee of Aarey Conservation Group in 2017, seeking the quashing of the change in land use of Aarey from No Development Zone to Metro car shed. That petition was dismissed by the Bombay High Court in 2018. The court upheld the government’s notification changing the land use.
  • Both Bhattacharjee and Stalin filed Special Leave Petitions in the Supreme Court in 2018. These petitions have now been listed for hearing on October 21, along with Ranjan’s petition.

The Nobel Prize – world’s most prestigious honour

What is the Nobel Prize

  • Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, engineer, industrialist, and the inventor of dynamite, in his last will and testament in 1895, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Literature, and Peace, to be called the “Nobel Prizes”.
  • In 1968, the sixth award, the Prize in Economic Sciences was started by Sweden’s central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank.
  • According to the official Nobel Prize website, between 1901 and 2018, the Prizes have been awarded 590 times, the recipients during this period being 908 Laureates and 27 organisations.
  • The Nobel Prize consists of a Nobel Medal and Diploma, and a document confirming the prize amount.

The prize money

  • The awardees of the 2019 Nobel Prize will receive in prize money Swedish kronor (SEK) 9 million (approximately Rs 6.45 crore) for a full Prize.
  • In his will, Alfred Nobel dedicated most of his fortune, SEK 31 million at that time, for the Awards. This money was to be converted into a fund and invested in “safe securities.”
  • The income from the investments was to be “distributed annually in the form of prizes to those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”.

How candidates are nominated

  • The Nobel Committees of four prize-awarding institutions every year invite thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates, and members of parliamentary assemblies among others to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year.
  • Per the Nobel website, the nominators are selected in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented over time.
  • One cannot nominate himself/herself for a Nobel Prize.

The selection of candidates

  • The nomination processes for every year starts in September of the previous year and ends on January 31 (except the Nobel Peace Prize, nominations for which close on February 1).
  • The Prizes are announced in October, and the Nobel Laureates receive their awards at The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony on December 10 in Stockholm.
  • The names of the nominees cannot be revealed until 50 years later.

The institutions that choose winners

  • The Nobel Committees of the prize-awarding institutions are responsible for the selection of the candidates, the institutions being:
    • Nobel Prize in Physics, Nobel Prize in Chemistry: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
    • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The Karolinska Institutet
    • Nobel Prize in Literature: The Swedish Academy
    • Nobel Peace Prize: A five-member Committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting)
    • Prize in Economic Sciences: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

The Nobel Prize and India

  • The following Indians (or individuals of Indian origin) have been honoured with the Nobel:
    • Rabindranath Tagore (Literature, 1913),
    • C V Raman (Physics, 1930),
    • Hargobind Khorana (Medicine, 1968),
    • Mother Teresa (Peace, 1979),
    • Subramanian Chandrashekhar (Physics, 1983),
    • The Dalai Lama (Peace, 1989),
    • Amartya Sen (Economics, 1998),
    • Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009), and
    • Kailash Satyarthi (Peace, 2014).
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the chairmanship of R K Pachauri won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
  • The Nobel Prize website laments not giving the Peace Prize to Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Under the section ‘Mahatma Gandhi, the missing laureate’, the website says: “Up to 1960, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded almost exclusively to Europeans and Americans. In retrospect, the horizon of the Norwegian Nobel Committee may seem too narrow. Gandhi was very different from earlier Laureates. He was no real politician or proponent of international law, not primarily a humanitarian relief worker and not an organiser of international peace congresses. He would have belonged to a new breed of Laureates.”
  • The legendary physicists Meghnad Saha and Satyendranath Bose are two other glaring Indian exclusions in the list of Nobel Laureates. Both Saha and Bose were nominated multiple times, but ignored by the Nobel Committee.

Geotail & Chandrayaan-2

  • Recently the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) tweeted that an instrument on Chandrayaan-2, CLASS, designed to detect signatures of elements in the Moon’s soil, had detected charged particles during the mission.
  • This happened in September, during the orbiter’s passage through the “geotail”.
  • The geotail is a region in space that allows the best observations. The region exists as a result of the interactions between the Sun and Earth.
  • The Sun emits the solar wind, which is a continuous stream of charged particles. These particles are embedded in the extended magnetic field of the Sun.
  • Since the Earth has a magnetic field, it obstructs the solar wind plasma. This interaction results in the formation of a magnetic envelope around Earth.
  • On the Earth side facing the Sun, the envelope is compressed into a region that is approximately three to four times the Earth radius.
  • On the opposite side, the envelope is stretched into a long tail, which extends beyond the orbit of the Moon. It is this tail that is called the geotail.
  • Once every 29 days, the Moon traverses the geotail for about six days. When Chandrayaan-2, which is orbiting the Moon, crosses the geotail, its instruments can study the properties of the geotail.
  • For the CLASS instrument seeking to detect element signatures, the lunar soil can be best observed when a solar flare provides a rich source of X-rays to illuminate the surface.
  • Secondary X-ray emission resulting from this can be detected by CLASS to directly detect the presence of key elements like Na, Ca, Al, Si, Ti and Fe, ISRO said.

Poorna Kumbam

  • When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Chennai, an honour will await him at the Chennai International Airport.
  • Xi, also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, will be accorded the Poorna Kumbam honour by priests of the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore.
  • The traditional Poorna Kumbam is considered the highest honour accorded by the temple priests to dignitaries.
  • Poorna Kumbam, with a decorated metal pitcher filled with holy water, fresh mango leaves and a coconut on top, is accorded to dignitaries as part of Hindu rituals during auspicious occasions.
  • A total of five priests from the Kapaleeswarar temple will accord the honour to the Chinese President within the airport.
  • Following the Poorna Kumbam, cultural events have also been organised within the airport campus. After this, the Chinese President and his delegation will reach the hotel in Guindy, before leaving for Mamallapuram.

Milasen

  • The drug Milasen was designed to treat only Mila Makovec suffering from a form of Batten disease — a rare, fatal and inherited disorder that affects the retina and the central nervous system.
  • Doctors in the United States have customised a drug to treat a girl with a rare form of genetic disease, opening avenues for the development of personalised treatments for people with life-threatening rare diseases.
  • The child, Mila Makovec, now eight, was only three when the debilitating symptoms — onset of blindness, ataxia, seizures, and developmental regression.
  • By the time Makovec turned five, she began experiencing modest language and social regression, as well as increased clumsiness and stumbling.
  • As the symptoms accelerated, she lost her vision, had frequent falls, slurred speech (dysarthria), difficulty in swallowing foods and liquids (dysphagia). She was hospitalised, months before she turned 6, the study revealed.
  • By age seven, Makovec began experiencing 15-30 overt seizures per day and needed substantial support to walk.
  • After much evaluation, doctors at the Boston Children’s Hospital diagnosed Makovec with a form of Batten disease — a rare, fatal and inherited disorder that affects the retina and the central nervous system (CNS).
  • The disease, caused by mutations in CLN7 protein, is recessive, meaning the patient inherits two mutated genes, one from each parent.
  • CLN7 (also known as MFSD8) is one of more than a dozen genes known to be associated with Batten disease, according to a statement on Boston Children’s Hospital’s website.
  • The mutation that Makovec inherited from her father was detected with standard clinical testing. But, the doctors had to examine her entire genome — and that of her parents and brother — to find the mutation that the girl shared with her mother.
  • The team led by Timothy Yu, from the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children’s Hospital, found that both Makovec’s and her mother’s CLN7 genes had a retrotransposon gene.
  • The rare gene is often called as jumping genes because they can “hop” into DNA at various locations.
  • Within a year of the identification of the mutation, the team of doctors developed a tailor-made a drug, according to Makovec’s conditions.
  • They dubbed it as “Milasen’ after the girl’s first name Mila.
  • The Milasen drug substance (18 g) was manufactured and formulated for clinical administration, after receiving due permission from the US Food and Drug Administration. Initial tests in rats showed the drug to be effective, with no major side-effects. It was then administered to Mila in phases.
  • Within a month, of the first dose on January 31, 2018, the frequency of seizures showed a decline. As the treatment continued, it came down to between 0 and 20 seizures per day, and even the duration of each seizure decreased to less than one minute, the study revealed.
  • The mean age of patients at onset of CLN7 Batten disease was 3.3 years, and seven patients had died at a mean age of 11.5 years, according to the largest published case series of the disease, the team said in the study.
  • To fund the research and development of the drug, Makovec’s mother set up Mila’s Miracle Foundation and raised $3 million, the New York Times reported.
  • “Milasen itself remains an investigational drug, and it is not suited to the treatment of other patients with Batten disease because its design is customised to our patient’s specific mutation,” the researchers noted.
  • However, the study demonstrates the ability to “rationally design, test, and deploy a novel therapeutic agent for a patient with a rare disease”, they added.

Elastocaloric effect

  • In the elastocaloric effect, the transfer of heat works much the same way as when fluid refrigerants are compressed and expanded.
  • When rubbers bands are twisted and untwisted, it produces a cooling effect. This is called the “elastocaloric” effect, and researchers have suggested that it can be used in a very relevant context today.
  • Researchers from multiple universities, including Nankai University in China, have found that the elastocaloric effect, if harnessed, may be able to do away with the need of fluid refrigerants used in fridges and air-conditioners. These fluids are susceptible to leakages, and can contribute to global warming.
  • In the elastocaloric effect, the transfer of heat works much the same way as when fluid refrigerants are compressed and expanded.
  • When a rubber band is stretched, it absorbs heat from its environment, and when it is released, it gradually cools down.
  • In order to figure out how the twisting mechanism might be able to enable a fridge, the researchers compared the cooling power of rubber fibres, nylon and polyethylene fishing lines and nickel-titanium wires.
  • They observed high cooling from twist changes in twisted, coiled and supercoiled fibres.
  • They reported that the level of efficiency of the heat exchange in rubber bands “is comparable to that of standard refrigerants and twice as high as stretching the same materials without twisting”.
  • To demonstrate this setup, the researchers developed a fridge the size of a ballpoint pen cartridge that was able to bring down the temperature of a small volume of water by 8°C in a few seconds.
  • They suggested that their findings may lead to the development of greener, higher-efficiency and low-cost cooling technology.

 

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