Special Issue Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 4
- Recently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released an image from Chandrayaan-2 showing measurements from the Moon, carried out by the instrument Imaging Infrared Spectrometer (IIRS). Such studies make up a branch of physics called spectroscopy.
- It is well known how visible light can disperse into rainbow colours after passing through a prism. The science of spectroscopy grew from there, and today it has extended to include the study of interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation.
- IIRS is designed to measure light from the lunar surface in narrow spectral channels (bands). It has the ability to split and disperse reflected sunlight (and its emitted component) into these spectral bands.
- From the reflected solar spectrum, scientists will look for signatures, including of minerals. This will help map the lunar surface composition, which in turn will help us understand the Moon’s origin and evolution in a geologic context.
Orionids meteor shower
- According to NASA, over 30 meteor showers occur annually and are observable from the Earth.
- They are named after the constellation they appear to be coming from. Orionids meteor shower is believed to originate from the constellation Orion The Hunter.
- This point of origination is referred to as the radiant. Even so, this does not mean that the meteor showers originate from a particular constellation, but the name is given only for the purposes of identification.
- The Orionids meteor shower is not the only one that occurs annually. For instance, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every year in August and was first observed over 2000 years ago.
- Other meteor showers include Quadrantis, that happen between December-January, Lyrids in April, Leonids in November and Geminids in December.
What are meteor showers?
- Meteors are bits of rock and ice that are ejected from comets as they manoeuvre around their orbits around the sun. The Orionids meteors emerge from the comet 1P/Halley.
- Meteor showers, on the other hand, are witnessed when Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet or an asteroid.
- When a meteor reaches the Earth, it is called a meteorite and a series of meteorites when encountered at once, is termed as a meteor shower.
- As it falls towards the Earth, the resistance makes the space rock extremely hot and as the meteorite passes through the atmosphere, it leaves behind a streak of hot glowing gas that is visible to the observers and not the rock itself.
Why do meteor showers happen on an annual basis?
- Like the Earth orbits around the Sun, comets orbit around it as well. Although they may not be as circular as Earth but maybe lop-sided.
- Therefore, when comets come closer to the Sun, their icy parts melt and break off, forming the debris that the Earth may encounter around the same time every year as it makes way around its own orbit.
- In the case of the Orionids, each time the Halley comet, that takes 76 years to orbit around the Sun, reaches the inner solar system (comprising the terrestrial planets and asteroids), the icy and rocky dust is released into space.
- Parts of this debris become Eta Aquarids in May if they collide with the Earth’s atmosphere.
Where is it observable from?
- NASA describes the Orionids meteor shower as the “most beautiful showers of the year.”
- When meteorites travel as fast as the Orionids showers do, they leave behind a trail of hot gas and sometimes burn, becoming “fireballs”, which means they become brighter than the planet Venus and therefore, may be visible for several seconds to a minute.
- The Orionids meteor shower is visible from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres after midnight.
- In order to view meteor showers, an area away from the city and street lights need to be sought.
- India lies in the northeastern hemisphere.
The pros and cons of an income tax cut
- Over the past few weeks, there has been a growing murmur that the government may resort to cutting income tax rates to provide more disposable income with taxpayers.
- While some have speculated that possible income tax cuts will be in accordance to the report on the expected Direct Tax Code – the contents of the report are not yet public but it has been submitted to the government – and will rationalise existing income tax structure.
- Others have quoted senior economic advisors and officials such as Bibek Debroy, who heads the PM’s Economic Advisory Council. Debroy reportedly said: “Now that corporate tax has come down, it is certain that government will sooner or later reduce the income tax rate also”.
Is an income tax cut justified?
- Regardless of the speculation, there is a valid reason why the government may think in terms of reducing the income tax.
- The Indian economic growth has been continuously decelerating for the past 6 quarters. The next quarterly GDP data – for July to September quarter – is also expected to show a further slowdown.
- The key reason for the slowdown is the sharp decline in consumer demand, which, in turn, is a result of weaker wage growth, high unemployment and uncertainty about economic prospects, at least in the near term.
- An income tax cut would provide more disposable income in the hands of the taxpayers and the government’s hope would be that this extra money would be spent by taxpayers – thus providing a boost to the economy.
What about exemptions?
- As things stand, while calculating one’s tax liability, that is the total “taxable” income, an individual can claim exemptions if he or she has saved money in certain saving instrument, such as the Public Provident Fund (PPF).
- It is expected that an income tax rate cut if undertaken, would also be accompanied with a doing away with existing exemptions.
- Much like what happened in the corporate tax cut – where a lower tax rate applies provided all exemptions are given up – a lower income tax rate will possibly rule out exemptions.
- As a basic rule, a tax system with no or fewer exemptions is considered more efficient as it is easier to both comply with and administer.
How far would an income tax rate cut help in boosting the economy?
- Any answer to this question will depend on the exact cuts. Most of the income tax collection comes from the super-rich. A lot of people file tax returns but they may not be paying taxes or paying very little.
- However, Kotak Economic Research team has analysed this based on two different sets of assumed tax structures.
What is the likely impact?
- Analysts Suvodeep Rakshit and Anindya Bhowmik call a possible income tax cut-led stimulus a “double-edged sword”. They state such an exercise may have the following effect:
- The government will likely face a revenue loss ranging from Rs6,200 cr to 1,25,000 cr for the current financial year
- As a result, the government fiscal deficit is likely to slip by 2 to 37 basis points
- But for individuals, gains will range from 1-49% higher income across income ranges mentioned above; most of the gains are likely to be on the lower-income bands
- With less than a week left for Diwali, there is no clarity on the types of firecrackers that individuals and families conscious of reducing their pollution footprint should buy. Air quality, especially in North India, meanwhile continues to get steadily worse.
- In October 2018, the Supreme Court had ruled that only “green firecrackers” having low emission and permissible sound limits were to be sold and used. It had also fixed a timeslot for fireworks — between 8 pm and 10 pm on Diwali, and between 11.45 pm and 12.30 am on Christmas Eve and New Year.
- This decision followed a complete ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi by the Supreme Court in November 2016 after the national capital witnessed a severe episode of smog, described by the Centre for Science and Environment as the worst in 17 years.
- This year, on October 5, in a bid to combat air pollution, the Union Ministry of Science and Technology launched environment-friendly firecrackers developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories.
- CSIR-NEERI (CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) states that it has been working since January 2018 to develop new and improved formulations for reducing emissions from fireworks.
- CSIR-NEERI developed new formulations for reduced emission light and sound emitting crackers (SWAS, SAFAL, STAR) with 30% reduction in particulate matter using Potassium Nitrate (KNO3) as oxidant.
- In other words, the “green firecrackers” are supposed to have a changed composition of chemicals, and emit 30% less particulate matter when burned as compared to traditional firecrackers.
What is particulate matter?
- Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air. These include PM10, which are particles with a diameter equal to or less than 10 micrometres, and PM2.5 that are of diameter equal to or less than 2.5 micrometres.
- Numerous studies have linked particulate pollution exposure to many health problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung diseases.
- They can also settle on ground or water and, depending upon their chemical composition, may have an adverse impact on them.
Could conventional crackers have been tweaked to obtain similar results?
- They could, and they have been modified. Apart from ‘green crackers’, there are other formulations based on new oxidisers, fuel and additives — singly or in combination — which have managed to reduce PM10 and PM2.5 emissions by more than 50%.
- These are being tested at present, and are showing encouraging results.
- Other than these new formulations, CSIR-NEERI also teamed up with fireworks manufacturers and “examined and assessed the possibilities of improvements in conventional formulations based on barium nitrate to meet the stipulated norms of green crackers”.
- This effort too has produced some results. For instance, there is a light-emitting cracker that has partially substituted barium nitrate with potassium nitrate and strontium nitrate.
How do ‘green crackers’ work?
- The firecrackers use a proprietary additive that acts as a dust suppressant. The usage of chemicals is less in green crackers.
- The total quantity is being maintained by using CSIR proprietary additive… which on fragmentation releases dust suppressants.
- Some of the ‘green crackers’ have also replaced barium nitrate as an oxidiser for combustion. Barium nitrate hurts health when inhaled, causing irritation in the nose, throat and lungs. High exposure to barium nitrate can also cause nausea and irregular heartbeat.
- Among the new firecrackers developed are environment-friendly versions of traditional anar, chakri, sparklers, and other light-sound emitting firecrackers.
- According to NEERI, these exploit the exothermic heat of materials such as zeolite, clay and silica gel for burning, and also match the performance of commercial firecrackers in terms of sound.
How can a ‘green cracker’ be identified?
- A Quick Response (QR) code will be put on the firecrackers to differentiate them from conventional ones.
- The cost of these firecrackers would be the same as conventional ones, and that they are already available in the market.
How are ‘green crackers’ produced?
- Under the current framework, the composition of firecrackers is disclosed to manufacturers after signing of a Memorandum of Understanding and a non-disclosure agreement.
- Following this, manufacturers have to apply to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) for authorisation.
- The samples thus produced are submitted to CSIR for emission testing. Nearly 165 fireworks manufacturers had been roped in for production, and around 65 more were in the process of coming on board.
- US-based biotechnology firm Biogen recently announced that it will seek regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its drug ‘aducanumab’, which is an investigational treatment for early Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
- A new analysis called “EMERGE” led by the company in consultation with the FDA shows that administration of the drug may be able to reduce clinical decline in patients in the early stages of AD.
- If approved by the FDA, aducanumab will become the first therapy to reduce clinical decline in patients.
- “Patients also experienced benefits on activities of daily living including conducting personal finances, performing household chores such as cleaning, shopping, and doing laundry, and independently traveling out of the home,” according to a press release issued by Biogen.
- According to US-based Alzheimer’s Association, AD affects over 4 million people in India. Until now, no cure or a method to stop the progression of the disease exists.
What is AD?
- AD is a progressive brain disorder that affects older people, leading to loss of memory, decline in functional ability and change in personality and behaviour.
- Early onset AD, on the other hand, can affect individuals younger than 65 years of age. An individual affected by the disease may eventually be unable to perform everyday tasks.
- While AD is a disease, dementia is the name given to the symptoms of AD. Furthermore, AD is considered to be the most common cause of dementia, which can be caused by Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease as well.
- In April 2011, new guidelines and criteria for diagnosis of AD were published. According to these criteria, there are three stages of the disease.
- The first is the preclinical stage, which may last for ten years or more and is marked by evidence of abnormal biomarker (biomarkers measure the severity of disease) patterns.
- In the second stage, some symptoms of AD, such as cognitive impairment can be noticed and the third stage is the complete manifestation of the disease.
- Early stage of AD is not the same as early onset AD, which is diagnosed in patients younger than 65 years of age. Aducanumab is meant to be effective for the patients in the former category.
Why has it been so difficult for scientists to come up with a cure for Alzheimer’s?
- The last time a drug was approved by the FDA was in 2003, this is primarily because the exact causes of the disease are not known, making drug discovery for AD a challenging task.
- Even so, there is some consensus in the scientific community that the disease involves two proteins – beta amyloids and tau.
- When levels of beta amyloids reach abnormal levels in the brain, it leads to the formation of plaque, which gets deposited between neurons damaging and disrupting nerve cells.
- But it is not known why the levels of these proteins reach abnormal levels in the first place.
- Most AD drugs try to target these proteins in order to manage some of the symptoms of the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there exist five FDA approved prescription medications to treat the symptoms of AD, while some of these can be used for all stages of the disease, some are meant for particular stages of it.
- Three among these medicines are “cholinesterase inhibitors”, that prevent chemical messengers in the brain from breaking down, messengers that help in learning and memory.
- But no drug exists as of now that can slow down the progression of the disease, let alone cure it.
India’s tallest project Palais Royale
- Almost a decade after allegations of building violations first surfaced, the Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the completion of Palais Royale, touted as the country’s tallest residential building, at Worli Naka.
- The SC overturned a Bombay HC order and dismissed the appeal filed by NGO Janhit Manch, which had challenged the excess refuge areas granted to the skyscraper by BMC and a public parking lot (PPL) building on the adjoining plot.
- The 294-metre (56-floor) tower has been jinxed for its promoter, the Vikas Kasliwal-run Shree Ram Urban Infrastructure (SRUIL), and dozens of flat buyers who paid Rs 25-50 crore for each of the luxury apartments.
- Earlier this year, Indiabulls auctioned the property after SRUIL failed to back loans amounting to Rs 915 crore. A little known company called Honest Shelters bought the tower for Rs 705 crore.
- Flat buyers paid Rs 25-50 crore for each of the luxury apartments
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