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28 June Current Affairs

Trump terms India’s high tariffs on U.S. products unacceptable

In News:

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he will speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on India’s “high tariffs” on American products, which are “unacceptable”.

Details:

“I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further. This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!” Mr. Trump tweeted on Wednesday night Washington DC time, en route to Osaka in Japan for the G-20 meetings.

He was referring to the tariffs India had levied on 28 goods, starting June 16. The list, which included walnuts, pulses and almonds, were in retaliation for the March 2018 tariffs the Trump administration had levied — ostensibly on national security grounds — on steel and aluminium from a number of countries, including India.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who was in New Delhi this week, discussed trade with his counterpart, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

Mr. Modi is expected to meet Mr. Trump at a bilateral at 9.35 a.m. local time in Osaka on Friday morning, prior to which he will hold a trilateral with Mr. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Reciprocal trade:

On Thursday morning, the White House issued a statement on the G-20, which talked about Mr. Trump’s intent to achieve “fair and reciprocal trade”.

“President Trump will encourage our allies and partners to lower tariff and non-tariff barriers to free, fair, and reciprocal trade,” the statement read.

The White House also referred to “the free flow of data” — curbs on taking data outside border, or ‘data localisation’ is one of the trade issues on the table for India and the U.S., with India having initiated policies for data localisation. “The United States urges members of the G-20 to work together to advance an open, fair, market-based digital economy, which will benefit all our nations through the free flow of data,” the statement said.

On the world trading system, the statement said: “The United States is urging reforms and modernisations to the World Trade Organization (WTO), while making sure the WTO functions as originally intended.”

Interestingly, the U.S. is seen by critics as crippling the ability of the WTO to execute a crucial aspect of its mandate, by blocking the appointment of judges to the WTO’s Appellate Body (trade court). Without the statutorily mandated number of judges to hear cases (three or more), the trade court will become non-functional for all practical purposes at the end of this year, if the U.S. does not allow new nominees to go through.

Kerala says ‘no’ to UGC proposal

In News:

The State has formally conveyed its objections to the University Grants Commission (UGC) proposal to allow two regular academic programmes simultaneously.

Details:

Instead, it has backed a proposal to allow students to pursue distance or online courses along with a degree programme in regular mode, provided the former is restricted to one at a time.

The decision comes in the wake of deliberations recently undertaken by the Kerala State Higher Education Council (KSHEC) on a recent communication by the UGC seeking opinion regarding the validity of pursuing multiple programmes simultaneously. While clarifying that no “definite decision” has been taken, the UGC has proposed to constitute an expert committee to consider the feasibility.

The letter acknowledges that there have been queries regarding the validity of either pursuing two degree simultaneously, one in regular mode and another in distance or online mode, or pursuing one degree and one diploma or pursuing two diplomas together.

Consensus:

The Kerala State Higher Education Council executive body has seen a general consensus during the discussions that centred around the possible ramifications of opening the floodgates to pursue more than one course concurrently.

While it feels that it would be unwise to prevent students from taking up online or distance education courses in view of the high Internet penetration, the panel has stressed the need for strict regulation of the provision.

The committee feels that the implications of the move could have far-reaching effects on the academic system in the country.

A possible reform in this direction, which is influenced by the emerging needs of the global market, could be at the expense of weakening the basic streams that were considered the foundation of science and technology.

Mission on natural language translation

In News:

The Ministry of Electronics and IT will soon place before the Union Cabinet a Rs. 450 crore proposal for Natural Language Translation — one of the key missions identified by the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC).

Details:

The proposal is part of the 100-day action plan charted out by MeitY, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s instructions.

The national mission on natural language translation aims to make science and technology accessible to all by facilitating access to teaching and researching material bilingually — in English and in one’s native Indian language. To achieve this, the government plans to leverage a combination of machine translation and human translation.

“We will be looking at speech-to-speech machine translation as well as text-to-text machine translation for this. Additionally, human translation will be used,” a senior government official told The Hindu .

The official said the Ministry had proposed an outlay of Rs. 450 crore for the mission over the next three-year period.

The official said that to overcome the language barrier, the government planned to set up an ecosystem which involved the Central and State agencies and start-ups. “Start-ups can help expedite the work to build implementable solutions to help make research,” he said.

Translation activities can also help generate employment for educated unemployed, he pointed out, adding that the mission would help not just students who find it difficult to access knowledge because of language barrier, but also teachers, authors, publishers, translation software developers and general readers.

The IT ministry is the lead agency for implentation of the mission along with Ministry of Human Resource Development and Department of Science and Technology. The PM- STIAC is an overarching body that identifies challenges in certain areas of science and technology.

The IT ministry is the lead agency for implentation of the mission along with the Ministry of Human Resource Development and Department of Science and Technology.

The PM-STIAC is an overarching body that identifies challenges in certain areas of science and technology. It then creates a road map to deal with these challenges and presents the recommendations to the Prime Minister.

Besides natural language translation, other missions identified by the body include Quantum Frontier, Artificial Intelligence, National Bio-diversity mission, electric vehicles, BioScience for Human Health and deep ocean exploration.

Ties with Japan will grow stronger, says PM

In News:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that ties between India and Japan had become stronger from the time the two countries cooperated to make a car to coming together to manufacture a bullet train.

Details:

Addressing the Indian community in this Japanese city, Mr. Modi said Japan had played an important role in India’s economic development.

Mr. Modi said the bilateral ties are going to become more robust as India aimed to become a $5-trillion economy in the next five years.

“There was a time when we were collaborating in building cars and today we are collaborating in building a bullet train,” Mr. Modi said.

Indelible mark:

“Today, there is no such part of India where Japan’s projects or investments have not left its mark. Similarly, talent and manpower of India are contributing to strengthen Japan,” he told the enthusiastic Indian diaspora who gave a rousing welcome to the Prime Minister.

India is planning to run its first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad with Japan’s help.

Mr. Modi thanked the Indian diaspora for being part of the world’s largest democratic process, which saw the participation of 61 crore voters. “When it comes to India’s relationship with the world, Japan has an important place in it. This relationship is dated back to centuries. There is a sense of belonging, goodwill and respect for each other’s culture and civilisation,” he said.

“Almost two decades ago, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then Japanese premier, Yoshiro Mori, together made our relationship as a global partnership. After becoming Prime Minister in 2014, I got a chance to strengthen our friendship with my dear friend Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This relationship will become stronger in New India,” he said.

Thanking the Indian diaspora for playing a vital role in the recently concluded Indian elections, in which he was voted back to power with a stronger mandate, the Prime Minister said while several Indians from Japan worked on the field, many used social media to spread the message of the democratic process.

Lok Sabha passes Bill on homoeopathy council

In News:

The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which enables the government to extend the tenure of the Board of Governors for a further period of one year with effect from May 17, 2019.

Details:

This is the second Bill passed by the newly constituted Lok Sabha and will replace an ordinance issued by the previous NDA government.

Urging the government to re-examine the proposed legislation, the Congress’s leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury sought to move a statutory resolution that was defeated by a voice vote. Another Opposition MP, N.K. Premachandaran of the RSP, also unsuccessfully proposed amendments to the Bill.

The Opposition lashed out at the government for the second day in a row for taking the ordinance route.

“Ordinance should not be used for ordinary rule,” Mr. Chowdhury said. “It is not good for the health of the democracy. The Minister has so far been unable to tell us about the urgency to bring in an ordinance. The fact is that the government is bringing in ordinance after ordinance, which is against the spirit of democracy. The House can’t be used as a rubber stamp to pass ordinance after ordinance,’’ the Congress MP added.

Replying to the Opposition, Ayush Minister Shripad Naik said the day-to-day affairs of the Central Homoeopathy Council (CHC) had been entrusted with a Board of Governors comprising eminent and qualified homoeopathy doctors and eminent administrators till such time that the council was reconstituted.

Rajya Sabha passes Bill to amend SEZ law

In News:

The Rajya Sabha on Thursday cleared the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that seeks to allow trusts to set up units in special economic zones, a day after the Lok Sabha passed the measure.

Details:

The Bill will replace the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, promulgated in March.

The Opposition parties had criticised the government for issuing the ordinance, which allowed trusts to open units in the SEZs, just days before the general election was announced.

Replying to the debate, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said the government had issued the ordinance because of the continuous disruption in Parliament. “This is a small amendment that has a large impact on investment, jobs and growth,” he said.

“Until now, we have eight proposals from such trusts. The total investment proposed by these trusts comes to Rs. 8,000 crore,” Mr. Goyal said. The government expected $3 billion, or Rs. 20,000 crore, in investments.

‘Iran won’t breach nuclear deal now’

In News:

Iran will not exceed on Thursday a uranium stockpile limit agreed under a nuclear deal with world powers, contrary to what Tehran said earlier this month, according to a diplomatic source in Vienna.

Details:

The source suggested that there might be a “political reason” for this, given intensified efforts by European governments in recent days to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf region.

There was no indication at present to suggest that the agreed limit would be exceeded this weekend either, the source added, saying that Tehran can suspend its uranium enrichment activities at any time. Iran had said 10 days ago that it would surpass the agreed 300-km reserve of enriched uranium on June 27.

Speaking at a seminar that took place in Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said: “We are in the middle of an economic war with the U.S., not a military war — yet.”

Tensions rose because of the economic war. “There will be no de-escalation unless there is a ceasefire in this economic war”.

NASA to open sealed moon rock samples

In News:

The restricted lab is home to hundreds of kilos of moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts close to a half-century ago. And for the first time in decades, NASA is about to open some of the pristine samples and let geologists take a crack at them with new technology.

Details:

What better way to mark the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first footsteps on the moon than by examining a bit of the lunar loot? “It’s sort of a coincidence that we’re opening them in the year of the anniversary,” said NASA’s Apollo sample curator Ryan Zeigler, covered head to toe in a white protective suit with matching fabric boots, gloves and hat.

Mr. Zeigler’s job is to preserve what the 12 moonwalkers brought back from 1969 to 1972 — the lunar samples weigh 382 kg in total — and ensure that scientists get the best samples for study.

Some of the soil and bits of rock were vacuum-packed on the moon and never exposed to Earth’s atmosphere or frozen or stored in gaseous helium following splashdown and then left untouched.

The lab’s staff is now trying to figure out how best to remove the samples from their tubes and other containers without contaminating or spoiling anything. They’re practising with mock-up equipment and pretend lunar dirt. Compared with Apollo-era tech, today’s science instruments are much more sensitive, Mr. Zeigler noted.

“We can do more with a milligram than we could do with a gram back then. So it was really good planning on their part to wait,” he said.

Secure vaults:

The lunar sample lab has two side-by-side vaults: one for rocks still in straight-from-the-moon condition and a smaller vault for samples previously loaned out for study.

About 70% of the original haul is in the pristine sample vault, which has two combinations and takes two people to unlock. About 15% is in safekeeping at White Sands in New Mexico. The rest is used for research or display.

Of the six manned moon landings, Apollo 11 yielded the fewest lunar samples: 22 kg. It was the first landing by astronauts and NASA wanted to minimise their on-the-moon time and risk.

Neil Armstrong was the primary rock collector and photographer. Buzz Aldrin gathered two core samples just beneath the surface during the moonwalk. All five subsequent Apollo moon landings had longer stays. The last three Apollo 15, 16 and 17 had rovers that significantly upped the sample collection and coverage area.

By studying the Apollo moon rocks, Mr. Zeigler said, scientists have determined the ages of the surfaces of Mars and Mercury, and established that Jupiter and the solar system’s other big outer planets likely formed closer to the sun and later migrated outward.

“So sample return from outer space is really powerful for learning about the whole solar system,” he said.

Especially tricky will be extracting the gases that are trapped in the vacuum-sealed sample tubes. The lab hasn’t opened one since the 1970s.