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November 14, 2020
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13 November Current Affairs

First room-temperature superconductor

In News:

Scientists have reported the discovery of the first room-temperature superconductor, after more than a century of waiting.

How?

The superconductor was formed by squeezing carbon, hydrogen and sulfur between the tips of two diamonds and hitting the material with laser light to induce chemical reactions.

At a pressure about 2.6 million times that of Earth’s atmosphere, and temperatures below about 15° C, the electrical resistance vanished.

However, the new material’s superconducting superpowers appear only at extremely high pressures, limiting its practical usefulness.

Why this discovery is significant?

All superconductors previously discovered had to be cooled, many of them to very low temperatures, making them impractical for most uses.

But, the recently discovered superconductor can operates at room temperature- the material is superconducting below temperatures of about 15° Celsius.

What are Superconductors?

Superconductors transmit electricity without resistance, allowing current to flow without any energy loss.

When superconductivity was discovered in 1911, it was found only at temperatures close to absolute zero (−273.15° C).

Potential applications:

If a room-temperature superconductor could be used at atmospheric pressure, it could save vast amounts of energy lost to resistance in the electrical grid.

And it could improve current technologies, from MRI machines to quantum computers to magnetically levitated trains. Dias envisions that humanity could become a “superconducting society.”

Why women in Poland are protesting a recent court ruling on abortions?

In News:

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that an existing law allowing abortion of malformed foetuses is unconstitutional, provoking an outcry from women and pro-choice activists.

Details:

The country’s 1993 abortion law so far permitted the termination of pregnancy on the grounds of foetal defects.

What was the ruling on abortions?

Permitting abortions in the case of foetal deformities legalised “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity”.

The tribunal observed that since the Polish constitution assures a right to life, an abortion based on a foetal malfunction was “a directly forbidden form of discrimination.”

What does the court’s decision mean for the people of Poland?

Fewer than 2,000 legal abortions are carried out in Poland each year, a majority of which are due to foetal defects.

The court’s ruling now essentially translates to a near complete ban on abortions in the country.

Besides, an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 Polish women either go abroad or seek illegal abortions every year due to the country’s strict abortion laws.

Now, if the Court’s ruling is implemented, this number shall definitely increase.

Implications:

Poland’s abortion laws were already considered some of the strictest in Europe. Now, once the court’s decision is enacted, abortions will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest, or if there is a threat to the mother’s life.

Finally, it is being seen as an attack on women’s basic human rights.

International response:

The Council of Europe has condemned the abortion ruling.

Amnesty International and the Center for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch have also criticised the ruling.

Coal scam

In News:

A special CBI court has sentenced former Union Minister Dilip Ray and three other individual convicts to three years of jail term for irregularities in the allocation of the Brahmadiha coal block in Jharkhand in 1999.

What’s the case?

The Coal Ministry through its guidelines had specifically said no company engaged in production of iron and steel or sponge iron could get a captive coal mine if its production capacity was less than 1 metric tonne per annum (MTPA) in opencast mining.

However, when private company Castron Technologies Ltd applied for Brahmadiha Coal Block in Giridih, the minister agreed to relax guidelines and allow the grant despite it not being eligible, the CBI found.

CAG had put the loss to exchequer at Rs 1.8 lakh crore and called it “the mother of all scams”.

The CAG had argued that the government had the authority to auction the coal blocks but chose not to and as a result allocatees received a “windfall gain”.

Coal sector in India:

Despite having the world’s fourth largest coal reserves, India imported 235 million tonnes (mt) of coal last year, of which 135mt valued at Rs.171,000 crore could have been met from domestic reserves.

India’s state-run coal giant has been unable to meet growing demand despite abundant resources.

The South Asian nation depends on Coal India for more than 80 per cent of its domestic production and the miner has consistently fallen short of production targets in the last few years.

The government has been progressively liberalizing the coal sector over the last several months to attract new investments, and getting rid of this archaic end-use restriction was a key step.

Coal Nationalization and its impact:

Till 1971-73 the coal mining operation remained primarily in the private sector and the production had come up to a level of nearly 72 million tonnes per year only.

The entire coal industry in India was nationalised during 1972-73 and then on massive investments were made by the Government of India in this basic infrastructure sector.

Post liberalisation reforms in 1993, the government decided to allocate coal mines to various players for captive consumption (in captive mining coal is taken out by a company for its own use and it won’t be able to sell it in the market).

During the high growth years of 2000s the increasing demand of Coal could not be fulfilled by the state run Coal India Ltd., leading to higher demand-supply gap.

Why US President poll matters to India?

In News:

US Presidential election.

Why it matters to India?

The relationship with the United States of America matters to India more than any other bilateral engagement: economically, strategically and socially.

American Presidents can often make a real difference to bilateral ties, including on trade, on immigration policies, and larger strategic issues.

The Indian diaspora in the US is one of the most successful expatriate communities, and while their political preferences may differ — they all favour a closer bonding between their janmabhoomi and their karmabhoomi.

What lies ahead? Will the outcome of the election impact India’s ties with China?

India’s first serious departure from its Non Aligned posture, the 1971 Indo-Soviet treaty, was a response to the continuing US tilt towards Pakistan and the beginnings of a Washington-Beijing entente.

Now, in 2020, it is the frightening prospect of a powerful, belligerent and hegemonic China that has helped New Delhi build its relationship with Washington.

Clearly, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump recognise the grave threat from China, but their response may be different:

Trump 2.0 may be willing to even more aggressively counter China.

Biden is likely to follow a policy of “Congagement”: containment with engagement.

Historical ties between India and various US Presidents:

Republican regimes are often associated with the surgical pursuit of American interests.

But, we have had Presidents, across the partisan divide, who have engaged India with passion and vigour.

The two Presidents often viewed as being the most affectionate towards India since World War II: John F Kennedy, in the 1960s, and George W Bush, in the 2000s.

Both reached out to India and engaged New Delhi with uncharacteristic zeal, in two very different times, but on both occasions the China threat acted as a catalyst to ensure that the bonding extended beyond just personal chemistry.