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29 August Current Affairs

Centre asks states to ban e-cigarettes

In News:

In a move to protect health risks to children, adolescents and women of reproductive age, the health ministry has asked states to ban Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) including e-cigarettes, Vape, e-Sheesha, e-Hookah etc.

Details:

States are asked to ensure that devices that enable nicotine delivery are not sold (including online sale), manufactured, distributed, traded, imported and advertised in their jurisdictions, except for the purpose & in the manner and to the extent, as may be approved under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules made thereunder.

Background:

The move comes in the wake of the Delhi HC recently taking strong exception to the Centre for delay in coming up with regulatory measures to tackle the “new emerging threat” of e-cigarettes in the country.

What are e-cigarettes?

An electronic cigarette (or e-cig) is a battery-powered vaporizer that mimics tobacco smoking. It works by heating up a nicotine liquid, called “juice.”

Nicotine juice (or e-juice) comes in various flavors and nicotine levels. e-liquid is composed of five ingredients: vegetable glycerin (a material used in all types of food and personal care products, like toothpaste) and propylene glycol (a solvent most commonly used in fog machines.) propylene glycol is the ingredient that produces thicker clouds of vapor.

Proponents of e-cigs argue that the practice is healthier than traditional cigarettes because users are only inhaling water vapor and nicotine.

Why its hard to regulate them?

As e-cigarettes contain nicotine and not tobacco, they do not fall within the ambit of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA), which mandates stringent health warnings on the packaging and advertisements of tobacco products.

Need for regulation:

The current unregulated sale of e-cigarettes is dangerous for a country like India where the number of smokers is on the decline (WHO Global Report, 2015) as it increases the possibility of e-cigarettes becoming a gateway for smoking by inducing nicotine addiction and perpetuating smoking by making it more attractive, thereby encouraging persons to become users of tobacco as well as e-cigarettes.

WHO report on e- cigarettes and effects:

As per the report, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) (also known as e-cigarettes) emits nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco products. In addition to dependence, nicotine can have adverse effects on the development of the foetus during pregnancy and may contribute to cardiovascular disease.

The WHO report further says that although nicotine itself is not a carcinogen, it may function as a “tumour promoter” and seems to be involved in the biology of malignant disease, as well as of neurodegeneration.

Foetal and adolescent nicotine exposure may have long-term consequences for brain development, potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders.

The evidence is sufficient to warn children and adolescents, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age against ENDS use and nicotine.

Why ban them?

Studies say ENDS have cancer-causing properties, are highly addictive and do not offer a safer alternative to tobacco-based products. Experts say e-cigarettes are just a mechanism to deliver nicotine in an attractive format.

Way ahead:

The government should also impose appropriate restrictions on the sale and advertisement, online and otherwise, of e-cigarettes, including proper health warnings, in order to plug the existing regulatory vacuum. This should be done with immediate effect, and simultaneously the government should also commission independent scientific research on the benefits and risks posed by these products in the Indian context.

Source: The Hindu

Venezuela crisis

In News:

Venezuela, once a rich oil reserve country, is now battering an unprecedented economic crisis. Hyperinflation, mass migration, food shortage, increasing number of crimes and grinding poverty has pushed the nation into a deep turmoil.

What is the Venezuela crisis?

Hyperinflation is the biggest problem faced by Venezuela. The inflation rate there is expected to reach a stunning one million per cent this year, putting it on par with the crises of Zimbabwe in the 2000s and Germany in the 1920s, according to the International Monetary Fund. The government claims that the country is the victim of an “economic war” and that the major issues are due to opposition “plots” and American sanctions.

What caused this increase?

The plummeting oil prices since 2014 is one of the main reasons why Venezuela’s currency has weakened sharply. The country, which has rich oil reserves largely depended on it for its revenue. But when the oil price dropped drastically in 2014, Venezuela which received 96 per cent of its revenue from the oil exports, suffered a shortage of foreign currency. This made import of basic essentials like food and medicines difficult.

Impacts:

Venezuela’s imports are down 50% from a year ago. Venezuela’s minimum wage is now about the equivalent of $1 a month, making basics unaffordable for many. With a shortage of the import goods, the black market has got a free hand in the country. Prices have been doubling every 26 days on average.

A survey from February this year found that almost 90% of Venezuelans live in poverty and more than 60% surveyed said that they had woken up hungry because they did not have enough money to buy food, reported Reuters. Apart from food, the country is also facing medicine shortage. The economic crisis has also hit the public health system, making medicine and equipment inaccessible to its people.

As the country slips into poverty, many are turning towards crime to make money. A recent Gallup study placed Venezuela at the bottom of its 2018 Law and Order index, with 42 per cent of surveyed Venezuelans reporting they had been robbed the previous year and one-quarter saying they had been assaulted.

Mass migration:

Angered by the economic crisis in the country, many Venezuelans have started leaving the country. Of the 2.3 million Venezuelans living abroad, more than 1.6 million have fled the country since the crisis began in 2015, according to the UN. The pace of departures has accelerated in recent days, sparking a warning from the UN. The majority have crossed into neighbouring Colombia and then to Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Others have gone south to Brazil.

Source: The Hindu

Asian Electoral Stakeholder Forum

In News:

The fourth edition of Asian electoral stakeholders forum (AESF-IV) was held in Sri Lanka to discuss the state of elections and democracy in the region. It was jointly organised by Election Commission of Sri Lanka and Asian network for free elections (ANFREL).

Key facts:

This was for first time AESF was held in South Asia.

Theme: ‘Advancing Election Transparency and Integrity: Promoting and Defending Democracy Together‘.

The key objectives of AESF-IV are:

  • To provide a venue for Election Management Bodies (EMBs), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and other stakeholders to share and learn about the present electoral challenges as well as best practices in the region.
  • To develop and endorse the “Colombo Strategy to Promote and Defend Electoral Democracy in Asia”.
  • To institutionalize capacity building efforts in making elections more meaningful and credible through cooperation among stakeholders.
  • To promote inclusiveness in elections by paying special attention to sectoral cooperation.

About AESF:

The AESF is the largest gathering of its kind, and is sustained through a strong cooperation between the civil society and election commissions.

The Forum will cover a wide array of crucial election issues like the current state of democracy in Asia, the common electoral challenges in the region, and various good practices employed to make elections better.

It provides opportunity for Asian election commissions, election observers, non-government organizations (NGOs) and interstate bodies to gather and discuss state of elections and democracy in the region. It also provides platform for institutionalizing capacity building efforts to pave the way for more meaningful and credible election through cooperation among stakeholders.

Source: The Hindu

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

In News:

Satya S Tripathi, an Indian development economist and lawyer, has been appointed assistant secretary general of the United Nations and will head the New York office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

About UNEP:

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is an agency of United Nations and coordinates its environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices.

It was founded by Maurice Strong, its first director, as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference) in June 1972 and has its headquarters in the Gigiri neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya.

UNEP has overall responsibility for environmental problems among United Nations agencies but talks on addressing global warming are overseen by the Bonn-based Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its activities cover a wide range of issues regarding the atmosphere, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, environmental governance and green economy.

UNEP has also been active in funding and implementing environment related development projects.

IPCC: The World Meteorological Organization and UNEP established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. UNEP 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.

The International Cyanide Management Code, a program of best practice for the chemical’s use at gold mining operations, was developed under UNEP’s aegis.

Source: The Hindu

Higgs boson

In News:

Six years after its discovery, the Higgs boson has at last been observed decaying into fundamental particles known as bottom quarks.

Significance:

The finding, presented by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is consistent with the hypothesis that the all-pervading quantum field behind the Higgs boson also gives mass to the bottom quark.

The Standard Model of particle physics predicts that about 60% of the time a Higgs boson will decay to a pair of bottom quarks, the second-heaviest of the six flavours of quarks.

Testing this prediction is crucial because the result would either lend support to the Standard Model – which is built upon the idea that the Higgs field endows quarks and other fundamental particles with mass – or rock its foundations and point to new physics.

What is Higgs Boson?

The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics, produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. It is named after physicist Peter Higgs, who in 1964, along with six other scientists, proposed the mechanism, which suggested the existence of such a particle. Its existence was confirmed by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations based on collisions in the LHC at CERN.

What is the Standard model?

In the world of particle physics, subatomic particles are difficult to observe because of their size. They are smaller than an atom and the wavelength of visible light, so the only way we can detect and observe their behavior is by smashing the atomic nucleus of particles together at intense speeds (close to the speed of light), which generates vast amounts of exotic particles that are only created at high energies. These collisions resemble the conditions physicists believe existed during the time of the big bang.

Thanks to particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and the (now defunct) Tevatron circular particle accelerator, physicists have made a lot of progress in designing a “theory of everything.” This theory postulates how all the subatomic particles in the universe operates and how they interact to comprise the Universe as we know it.

One of the most complete models that comes anywhere near producing a “theory of everything,” is the Standard Model of Fundamental Particles and Interactions, which describes how particles and forces interact. The standard model also includes an explanation for 3 of the 4 fundamental forces of nature on a subatomic scale.

About Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator situated in a tunnel beneath the France Switzerland border near Geneva.

Built by: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

Aim: to allow physicists to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics and high-energy physics, and particularly prove or disprove the existence of the theorized Higgs boson and of the large family of new particles predicted by super symmetric theories.

The LHC consists of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way.

How it operates?

Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide.

The beams travel in opposite directions in separate beam pipes – two tubes kept at ultrahigh vacuum. They are guided around the accelerator ring by a strong magnetic field maintained by superconducting electromagnets.

The electromagnets are built from coils of special electric cable that operates in a superconducting state, efficiently conducting electricity without resistance or loss of energy. This requires chilling the magnets to ‑3°C – a temperature colder than outer space. For this reason, much of the accelerator is connected to a distribution system of liquid helium, which cools the magnets, as well as to other supply services.

Just prior to collision, another type of magnet is used to “squeeze” the particles closer together to increase the chances of collisions. The particles are so tiny that the task of making them collide is akin to firing two needles 10 kilometres apart with such precision that they meet halfway.

Source: The Hindu

‘Horizon 2020’

In News:

The European Union and India will collaborate in research and innovation for developing a next generation influenza vaccine to protect people worldwide. The EU is funding is under its programme for research and innovation ‘Horizon 2020’.

Key facts:

The EU and the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology have committed 15 million Euros each to fund this joint project.

The aim is to advance the efficacy, safety, duration of immunity, and reactivity against an increased breadth of influenza strains. The joint effort also aims to develop cost-effective and affordable influenza vaccine rapidly without compromising quality.

There will be multi-disciplinary approach involving stakeholders who can represent any part of the chain from lab to market.

Eligibility:

The projects require minimum three applicants from Europe (three different EU member states) or countries associated to the EU programme Horizon 20202) and minimum three applicants from India.

The projects are also ‘Open to the World’ and thus applicants from other countries can join the EU-India consortia.

Significance:

Improved influenza vaccines would help the international community to better prepare in the event of an influenza pandemic.

The outcome of the project is expected to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure health and well-being for all and boost the Indian National Health Mission.

This joint call is another demonstration of the increased cooperation between the EU and India as committed by the leaders during the Summit in October 2017. In engaging jointly on this topic, India and the EU are contributing to an important global public health challenge.

What is Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

The goal is to ensure Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation.

Horizon 2020 is open to everyone, with a simple structure that reduces red tape and time so participants can focus on what is really important.

Source: The Hindu

Spitzer telescope

In News:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the youngest member of the “Great Observatory” programme, has completed 15 years in space.

Key achievements:

Launched into solar orbit on August 25, 2003, Spitzer was initially scheduled for a minimum 2.5-year primary mission. But the space telescope has lasted far beyond its expected lifetime.

Spitzer’s discoveries extend from our own planetary backyard, to planets around other stars, to the far reaches of the universe. And by working in collaboration with NASA’s other Great Observatories, Spitzer has helped scientists gain a more complete picture of many cosmic phenomena.

Spitzer has logged over 106,000 hours of observation time in the past 15 years. It has illuminated some of the oldest galaxies in the universe, revealed a new ring around Saturn, and peered through shrouds of dust to study newborn stars and black holes.

The space telescope also assisted in the discovery of planets beyond our solar system, including the detection of seven Earth-size planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, among other accomplishments.

About Spitzer:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was launched in 2003 to study the universe in the infrared. It is the last mission of the NASA Great Observatories program, which saw four specialized telescopes (including the Hubble Space Telescope) launched between 1990 and 2003.

The goal of the Great Observatories is to observe the universe in distinct wavelengths of light. Spitzer focuses on the infrared band, which normally represents heat radiation from objects. The other observatories looked at visible light (Hubble, still operational), gamma-rays (Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, no longer operational) and X-rays (the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, still operational.)

Spitzer’s highly sensitive instruments allow scientists to peer into cosmic regions that are hidden from optical telescopes, including dusty stellar nurseries, the centers of galaxies, and newly forming planetary systems.

Spitzer’s infrared eyes also allows astronomers see cooler objects in space, like failed stars (brown dwarfs), extrasolar planets, giant molecular clouds, and organic molecules that may hold the secret to life on other planets.

Source: The Hindu

NTCA to take over Corbett Tiger Reserve

In News:

Pointing to an “alarming trend” of tiger deaths, the Uttarakhand High Court has asked if the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) could take over the management of the Corbett Tiger Reserve “as an interim measure”. The court also asked the NTCA if the tigers could be relocated “to save them from poaching”.

Details:

The court expressed dissatisfaction with the state government’s inaction in dealing with tiger poaching incidents. It said the state government had failed to constitute a Special Tiger Protection Force despite the court’s order.

What next?

As a last/ extreme measure, the court has sought the response of the NTCA, being the expert body, to take over the management of Corbett Tiger Reserve, as an interim measure, till the state government becomes alive to its duties and starts taking concrete decisions.

The court has also asked NTCA to suggest “whether few tigers can be relocated/ shifted to save them from poaching/ killing to other well-managed national parks/sanctuaries”.

About Corbett tiger reserve:

Corbett National Park is situated in the foothills of the Sub- Himalayan belt in Nainital districts of Uttarakhand state in India.

Established in the year 1936 as Hailey National Park, Corbett has the glory of being India’s oldest and most prestigious National Park. It is also being honored as the place where Project Tiger was first launched in 1973. This unique tiger territory is best known as the father who gave birth of the Project Tiger in India to protect the most endangered species and the Royal of India called Tigers.

Corbett National Park covers an area of 521 sq. km and together with the neighboring Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserve Forest areas, forms the Corbett Tiger Reserve.

Corbett is one of the richest bird regions of the Country and has been declared as an ‘Important Bird Area’ (IBA) by Birdlife International.

About NTCA:

The National Tiger Conservation Authority is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006, for strengthening tiger conservation, as per powers and functions assigned to it under the said Act.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority has been fulfilling its mandate within the ambit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for strengthening tiger conservation in the country by retaining an oversight through advisories/normative guidelines, based on appraisal of tiger status, ongoing conservation initiatives and recommendations of specially constituted Committees.

Source: The Hindu

Vostok-2018 (East-2018)

In News:

It is a military exercise that will be held in the month of September by Russia.

Details:

Significance: It will be Russia’s biggest war games since at least the 1980s. Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict. It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defence budget and its military presence.

Source: PIB

India Energy Efficiency Scale-Up Programme

  • Government of India and the World Bank has signed $300 million agreement for the India Energy Efficiency Program.
  • The program is being implemented by Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL).
  • It will help scale up the deployment of energy-saving measures in residential and public sectors.
  • Under the scheme, EESL will deploy LED bulbs, tubelights, ceiling fans and street lights which will be supplied by the private sector.
  • It will help schemes such as UJALA (Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All) and SLNP (Street Lighting National Programme).
  • This programme will help India meet its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris accord.
  • India has set the target of avoiding additional generation capacity of 19.6 GW under National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency target.
  • Investments from the World Bank will help to achieve the above target and avoid lifetime greenhouse gas emissions.

UJALA and SLNP

  • Under UJALA scheme, LED bulbs at 40% of the market price will be distributed to every grid connected consumer.
  • India Energy Efficiency Scale-Up Programme will help EESL expand UJALA’s deployment of efficient ceiling fans, LED street lights and LED tube lights, along with its already-successful LED bulbs.
  • SLNP scheme aims to replace conventional street light with smart and energy efficient LED street lights by March, 2019.
  • Both the schemes are being implemented by EESL.

Gaganyaan

  • Gaganyaan is India’s ambitious manned spaceflight mission.
  • It aims to send a three-member crew to space for a period of five to seven days.
  • It will be launched by ISRO by 2022.
  • It will make India the fourth nation in the world to launch a Human Spaceflight Mission after USA, Russia and China.
  • ISRO has developed some critical technologies through demonstrations like Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE-2007), Crew module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment (CARE-2014) and Pad Abort Test (2018).
  • The spacecraft will be placed in a low earth orbit of 300-400km.
  • GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle will be used to for the mission. It has the payload capacity of 4000 kg satellites in Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) and 8000 kg payload to Low Earth Orbit.
  • The crew will be selected by Indian Air Force (IAF) and ISRO jointly after which they will undergo training for two-three years.
  • Crew Escape System – It is an emergency escape measure to quickly pull the astronaut crew out to a safe distance from launch vehicle during a launch abort.
  • Pad Abort test was conducted earlier to demonstrate this to ascertain the efficiency of crew escape system.

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