27 November Current Affairs
November 27, 2018
29 November Current Affairs
November 29, 2018
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28 November Current Affairs

Char Dham pilgrimage

In News:

Government’s ambitious plan to connect the Char Dham pilgrimage spots in Uttarakhand by all-weather highways was put under a question mark. The Supreme Court (SC) has sought the Centre’s response on why it should not stay the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) clearance to the project.

Details:

The proposed four-lane expressway to Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Bardinath in the hill state has been among the flagship projects of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

But the idea of the 900-kilometre road network in the sensitive mountains of Uttarakhand drew scepticism from environmental activists who fear the highways and the tourists they would bring in will be at the cost of the ecological balance.

About Chardham project:

The project involves developing and widening 900-km of national highways connecting the holy Hindu pilgrimage sites of; Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri at an estimated cost of Rs.12,000 crores.

The highway will be called Char Dham Mahamarg(Char Dham Highway) and the highway construction project will be called as Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana (Char Dham Highway Development Project).

The roads will be widened from 12m to 24m and the project will involve construction of tunnels, bypasses, bridges, subways and viaducts.

Source: The Hindu

Central Water Commission

In News:

The Central Water Commission should be disbanded, experts and activists said at India River Week (IRW)-2018. This will be one of the many demands in the Citizens Report from IRW-2018 for rejuvenation of the Ganga.

Details:

According to the experts, the panel has too much on its plate and it needs to go for better regulatory framework. It is a body which is doing multiple jobs—collecting data, making policies, giving technical and financial approvals to various projects, monitoring and what not. It is not capable of doing all this.

Long- and short-term measures to save Ganga (Experts views):

For restoring the e-flows, all proposed projects in the Ganga River Basin should be cancelled. The construction of all projects in the headstreams of the river should also be cancelled.

Among medium-term measures, old dams should be decommissioned. The inland waterways and riverfront development projects should be withdrawn as they are harming the Ganga.

An autonomous institute for the Ganga should be established rather than a one controlled only by the government.

On policy front, a national river policy and a separate national urban water policy to govern the urban use of water resources should be put in place.

No use of machinery to extract sand and other boulders from the riverbed should be proposed.

To improve the base flows, improve upon crop pattern and better irrigation methods.

Other suggestions include- reducing groundwater extraction from the Ganga, promoting rainwater harvesting, ensuring better functioning of existing sewage treatment plants in the Ganga basin (to ensure clean river), comprehensive Ganga law on the lines of the draft given by late G D Agarwal, establishing protected zones in origin stretches of all major rivers and tributaries (for biodiversity conservation), teaching ecology in all science and engineering curricula across the country and studying of climate change impacts on the Ganga, among many others.

About CWC:

Central Water Commission is a premier Technical Organization of India in the field of Water Resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India.

Functions: The Commission is entrusted with the general responsibilities of initiating, coordinating and furthering in consultation of the State Governments concerned, schemes for control, conservation and utilization of water resources throughout the country, for purpose of Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Drinking Water Supply and Water Power Development. It also undertakes the investigations, construction and execution of any such schemes as required.

Source: PIB

CRISPR Technology

In News:

A Chinese researcher recently claimed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin girls. The genes were claimed to be “edited” to ensure that they do not get infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Details:

If proven, it would be the first instance of human offspring having been produced with specific desired attributes, using newly-developed tools of gene “editing”.

What are Genes and what is gene- editing?

Genes contain the bio-information that defines any individual. Physical attributes like height, skin or hair colour, more subtle features and even behavioural traits can be attributed to information encoded in the genetic material.

An ability to alter this information gives scientists the power to control some of these features. Gene “editing” — sometimes expressed in related, but not always equivalent, terms like genetic modification, genetic manipulation or genetic engineering — is not new.

What is CRISPR-Cas9?

The clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) (CRISPR-Cas9) system has revolutionised genetic manipulations and made gene editing simpler, faster and easily accessible to most laboratories.

CRISPR technology is basically a gene-editing technology that can be used for the purpose of altering genetic expression or changing the genome of an organism.

The technology can be used for targeting specific stretches of an entire genetic code or editing the DNA at particular locations.

CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing genomes. It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.

Its many potential applications include correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops. However, its promise also raises ethical concerns.

How it works?

CRISPR-Cas9 technology behaves like a cut-and-paste mechanism on DNA strands that contain genetic information.

The specific location of the genetic codes that need to be changed, or “edited”, is identified on the DNA strand, and then, using the Cas9 protein, which acts like a pair of scissors, that location is cut off from the strand. A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself.

Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process, supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes that binds itself with the broken DNA strand.

Concerns:

Tampering with the genetic code in human beings is more contentious. Leading scientists in the field have for long been calling for a “global pause” on clinical applications of the technology in human beings, until internationally accepted protocols are developed.

Issues:

Study by Stanford University, U.S., found that the CRISPR-Cas9 system introduces unexpected off-target (outside of the intended editing sites) effects in mice. The fear that the CRISPR system is being prematurely rushed for clinical use lingers. Three recent reports have exacerbated this fear even further.

Studies highlighted that CRISPR-Cas9-edited cells might trigger cancer.

May increase the risk of mutations elsewhere in the genome in those cells.

Although, CRISPR-Cas9 technology has been successfully used to cure several diseases however, it remains many things are not clear like how we should determine which disease or traits are appropriate for gene editing.

Ethical concerns: In addition, there are concerns with manipulating human embryos for own interest.

Way ahead:

This CRISPR technology is indeed a path-breaking technology, to alter genes in order to tackle a number of conventional and unconventional problems, especially in the health sector. However, experiments and tests to validate its use must be subjected to appropriate scrutiny by the regulators, and their use must be controlled to prevent commercial misuse.

Source: The Hindu

Measures to tackle crisis in stressed thermal power projects

In News:

High Level Empowered Committee (HLEC) set up by Government of India in July 2018 has come out with its report on stranded thermal power projects.

Background:

The Committee has assessed the landscape of these stranded assets and identified the various reasons that have contributed to the current scenario. The report has also suggested measures to resolve the challenges. These power plants were first identified by the Ministry of Power as stressed assets in March 2017.

Multiple reasons behind the crisis:

The HLEC identified several critical reasons that have contributed to the crisis, which has been festering for more than two years now.

While the Twelth Five Year Plan had envisaged a capacity addition requirement of 88 GW, 99 GW capacity was added during the corresponding period — this led to a glut of supply, causing plants to perform below their rated capacities.

Apart from this, the debt burden of the distribution utilities and the financial stress on banks/financial institutions as well as promoters and bidders.

It is important to note that a significant chunk of the problem has been caused by the erratic coal supply and the uncertainty of coal supplies due to scrapping of mine auctions by the Supreme Court. Clearly, institutional challenges related to the government have contributed to the problem.

In the case of the Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP), for which bidding took place, several players quoted very aggressively, a decision they have since come to regret. Several other promoters did not even secure coal linkages before commencing with the project. Cost and time overruns also took place with some.

Few Suggested solutions:

Coal supply is an inter-ministerial issue, whereby the ministries for coal and railways have been requested to work out mechanisms to address short-term issues of supply, alongside the sale of coal at notified prices without entering bidding in case of short term power purchase agreements.

Further, linking coal supply to power plant efficiency is a good way to incentivise better, newer and more efficient assets.

Closing down of old, inefficient thermal power units make for good economics and good environmental sense.

Several measures related to power markets to address the financial risks have been strongly recommended by the HLEC. These include getting NTPC or any other agency to act as an aggregator for power purchases, which can subsequently be sold to distribution utilities.

Further, suggestion on payment security mechanism—all PPAs have a support for a letter of credit (LoC) for one month’s purchase equivalent to guarantee it. It would rather be prudent to increase the value of the LoC instead of seeking a separate mechanism, and ensure that it can trigger automatically against a payment default or delay.

Way ahead:

In conclusion, the HLEC has shown that ways can be found to sort out the mess within the thermal power sector for coal fired power plants. However, the sole focus on coal has meant that gas-based power plants will have to wait for their turn under the sun.

Source: PIB

Water Deficit next year in India

In News:

Latest edition of Global Water Monitor & Forecast Watch List has been released by IScience (US based limited liability Corporation). As per the report, water deficits will increase and intensify in India in 2019.

Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM):

The findings are based on ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). The model analyses global water anomalies using observed temperature and precipitation.

Highlights of the report:

The forecast predicts severe to exceptional surplus water for regions including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram. Moderate to severe deficits were forecast for Bihar.

From February through April, deficits in India are expected to moderate overall and some regions in the country’s eastern third will normalise. However, intense deficits will persist throughout Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and along the Tungabhadra River through Karnataka.

The forecast for the final months — May through July (2019) — indicates primarily moderate deficits in India and pockets throughout the region. Some surpluses are expected in Jammu and Kashmir, northern Pakistan, along the Gandaki River in central Nepal, and pockets of Tamil Nadu.

The 12-month forecast through July 2019 indicates exceptional (greater than 40 years) water deficits in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh.

Though this September’s extreme heat was unrelated to El Niño — which usually introduces warm dry conditions — El Niño is being blamed for low rainfall during the June-to-September monsoon season. The monsoon rain deficits have caused drought-like conditions in almost a third of Indian districts, and added stress for the farmers.

The report also notes that India’s coffee production is expected to fall to its lowest in five years due to flood damage to plantations in southern states such as Kerala and Karnataka. India exports about three quarters of the coffee it produces, and flood damage has been reported in all key producing areas of the country. The future forecast will help visualise the impact and intensity at a large scale.

Source: The Hindu

Inclusive Wealth Report 2018

In News:

Inclusive wealth index, as part of the Inclusive Wealth Report 2018 has been released by the UN Environment and partners.

Details:

The Inclusive Wealth Report (IWR) is a biennial effort led by the UN Environment to evaluate the capacities and performance of the nations around the world to measure sustainability of economy and wellbeing of their people.

What is Inclusive Wealth Index?

The inclusive wealth index is a tool assessing a nation’s ability to look after its wealth in a way that is sustainable and safeguards its future generations. While GDP measures the size of a country’s economy, inclusive wealth index focuses on stocks of manufactured, human and natural capital.

The Index provides important insights into long-term economic growth and human well-being. The Index measures the wealth of nations through a comprehensive analysis of a country’s productive base and the country’s wealth in terms of progress, well-being and long-term sustainability.

Highlights of the report:

The Inclusive wealth (IW) in 135 countries was higher in 2014 compared to the level in 1990 and the global growth rate of IW was 44% over the indicated period, which implies an average growth rate of 1.8% per year. However, during the same period the global GDP growth per year was 3.4%, which is close to twofold of the annual growth rate of growth in IW.

The biennial report finds The Republic of Korea, Singapore and Malta as the nations that have had the most economic growth. The report also revealed that carbon damage is relatively larger in high-income countries.

Performance of India:

India too sails in the same boat, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation had said last month in a report on environment accounts. It had revealed that India’s economic growth took a toll on its natural assets like forests, food and clean air. It had added that when the average growth rate of gross state domestic product (GSDP) during 2005-15 for almost all the states was around 7-8%, 11 states registered a decline in their natural capital.

Way ahead:

The report comes after the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said that the world has just 12 years left to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The health of an economy is drawn from the health of the environment. Therefore, to make the right choices that will keep us on a sustainable path, we have to be able to properly measure our progress. The report will equip policy-makers with the right numbers, so that they can make the right decisions to deliver results for generations to come. These reports remind the world about how important sustainable use of natural resources is.

About UN Environment:

The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. Its mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

The World Meteorological Organization and UN Environment established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. UN Environment is also one of several Implementing Agencies for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, and it is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.

Source: PIB

HysIS

In News:

HysIS, the country’s first hyperspectral imaging satellite for advanced Earth observation, is slated for the launch. About 30 small satellites of foreign customers will be its co-passengers on the PSLV launcher, numbered C-43.

About HysIS and its significance:

The primary goal of HysIS is to study the Earth’s surface in visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

HysIS will be ISRO’s first full-scale working satellite with this capability. While the technology has been around, not many space agencies have working satellites with hyperspectral imaging cameras as yet.

A hyperspectral imaging camera in space can provide well-defined images that can help to identify objects on Earth far more clearly than regular optical or remote sensing cameras.

The technology will be an added advantage of watching over India from space for a variety of purposes such as defence, agriculture, land use, minerals and so on.

Source: The Hindu

Raksha Mantri Launches ‘Mission Raksha Gyan Shakti’

In News:

Raksha Mantri Smt Nirmala Sitharaman has formally launched ‘Mission Raksha Gyan Shakti’.

Details:

The event showcased salient inventions and innovations achieved by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), and Ordinance Factories (OFs) which have resulted in successful filing of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) applications.

The Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) has been entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating and implementing the programme.

Objective:

As part of the ongoing initiatives to enhance self-reliance in defence, the Mission Raksha Gyan Shakti aims to provide a boost to the IPR culture in indigenous defence industry.

Other Highlights:

IPR emerged as a key ingredient of an ecosystem which stimulates innovation and ingenuity.

It was highlighted the need to migrate from the culture of seeking Transfer of Technology (ToT) from foreign sources to generating Intellectual Property in India, to achieve the goal of self-reliance in Defence sector.

IP Facilitation Cell:

It was established in April this year.

To achieve ambitious targets of training 10,000 personnel of Ordnance Factories (OFs) and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) on IPR.

To facilitate filing of at least 1,000 new IPR applications.

What are Intellectual Property Rights?

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), IPRs are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.

Source: PIB

Disaster and disaster management

In News:

MoS (Home) Shri Kiren Rijiju inaugurates 14th Formation Day of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

Theme of the Year: “Early Warning for Disasters”

Early warning is a major element of disaster risk reduction and can minimize the loss of lives and economic impacts.

Timely early warning is key to a structured and efficient response.

Measures to be taken:

Early warning systems need to involve the communities at risk.

Generate public awareness.

Effectively disseminate warnings, and

Ensure there is a constant state of preparedness.

Background:

On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, which led to the creation of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers, to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.

Parent department: Ministry of Home Affairs

Source: PIB

Hog deer

In News:

Indian scientists have discovered in India an endangered sub-species of hog deer (Axis porcinus annamiticus), earlier believed to be confined to the eastern part of central Thailand.

Key facts:

Researchers reported the presence of a small population of hog deer in Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP), Manipur. The population genetically resembles A. p. annamiticus. The study indicates that the western limit of hog deer is Manipur; not central Thailand as believed.

Significance: Since hog deer is losing habitat in other countries, the genetically distinct and evolutionarily significant population found in KLNP— considered a biodiversity hotspot on the India-Myanmar border—is significant for conservation.

The hog deer or Pada is an endangered species in the IUCN Red List and is protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The species has lost ground in most of its distribution range. A small and isolated population of under 250 was reported from Cambodia. However, it was widely distributed throughout the Southeast Asian countries at the beginning of the 20th century.

Two sub-species of hog deer have been reported from its range. The western race is distributed from Pakistan and the terai grasslands (along the Himalayan foothills, from Punjab to Arunachal Pradesh), while the eastern race of hog deer is found in Thailand, Indo-China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Hedging Norms for Companies

  • A hedge is an investment to reduce the risk of adverse price movements in an asset.
  • RBI has recently relaxed norms for External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) by reducing the mandatory hedging provision to 70% from the current 100%.
  • The notification has come after strengthening of the dollar in the recent times which made ECB route unattractive to companies.
  • A notification issued by RBI highlights that mandatory hedge coverage has been reduced under Track I of the ECB framework.
  • Track I refer to medium-term foreign currency-denominated ECBs with a minimum average maturity of 3-5 years.
  • ECBs raised prior to this circular would be required to mandatorily roll over their existing hedge only to the extent of 70% of outstanding ECB exposure.
  • The move will help reduce costs for companies that raise foreign funds.

Logix India 2019

  • It is the upcoming logistics meet to be held in New Delhi.
  • Delegates from more than 20 countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq are expected to participate.
  • It will be organized by the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO).
  • It is aimed at exploring logistics partnerships with India and will improve logistics cost effectiveness and operational efficiencies for India’s global trade.
  • It will focus on investment opportunities in infrastructure development, warehouse consolidation, technology integration and IT enablement and skilling of manpower.
  • India is ranked 44 in the World Bank Logistics Performance Index 2018.
  • Logistics costs in India are 13-15% of the product cost, while the global average is 6%.