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Current Affairs Analysis

30th May 2016 Current Affairs Analysis

CEPI; Geo-targeting; Hyperlocal; plain packaging; Subramanian Panel; coral bleaching; Mission Innovation; etc.
By IT's Current Affairs Analysis Team
May 30, 2016

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Centre asks States to prevent diversion of 14th Finance Commission Grants meant for Urban Local Bodies 
  • Subramanian Panel moots 1 lakh scholarships for poor
  • Digital vans all set to take e-governance to rural areas
  • Get ready for plain packaging of tobacco products
  • India to ‘export’ #TwitterSeva

Environment & Ecology

  • Thermal stress impacts corals in Indian waters
  • Moratorium from CEPI area of Chandrapur lifted
  • India will participate in Mission Innovation and Clean Energy Ministerial held in U.S.

Science & Technology

  • ‘Potassium bromate not allowed as additive in packaged water’
  • Cloud technology changing TV ad landscape
  • Scientists find potential trigger to kill cancer
  • Rosetta finds building blocks for life in comet 67P

Also in News

  • Centenary of the Battle of Verdun

 

Polity & Governance

Centre asks States to prevent diversion of 14th Finance Commission Grants meant for Urban Local Bodies 

            Central Government has asked the States to prevent diversion and misuse of 14th Finance Commission (FFC) Grants meant for Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).

  • The Ministry of Urban Development and Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation has issued guidelines in the matter for strict compliance by the States.

Key points of Centre’s guidelines:

  • The Centre has asked the States ensure their utilization only for improving delivery of basic urban services like sanitation, water supply, solid and liquid waste management, storm water drains, maintenance of community assets, roads and footpaths, street lighting and burial and cremation grounds.
  • The Ministry has also urged the States/UTs to prepare annual plans for city-level utilization of FFC grants linked to improving basic urban infrastructure till 2019-20.
  • The Ministry also warned the States that Bank rate of interest shall be paid for any delays and the same shall be reflected in the utilization reports to be sent to the Ministry of Urban Development.
  • States/UTs have been advised to use FFC grants to provide additional assistance to eligible beneficiaries over that of Central and State governments’ assistance wherever required under Swachh Bharat Mission, towards ULB share for projects for water supply and solid and liquid waste management and for Operation & Maintenance of infrastructure assets in urban areas.
  • States/UTs have also been asked to ensure effective monitoring of utilization of FFC grants at the level of Chief Secretaries besides concurrent evaluation by third party.

Grants given to ULBs under 14th FC:

In a threefold increase over that of the 13th Finance Commission, the 14th Finance Commission awarded total grants of Rs.87,144 cr to Urban  Local Bodies as Basic Grant (80%) and Performance Grant (20%).

  • While Basic Grant is given to all States/UTs, release of Performance Grant is linked to ULBs ensuring audit of accounts for the previous two years, increase in revenues over the previous year and notification of Service Level Improvement Plans in respect of basic services. 
[Ref: PIB]

 

Subramanian Panel moots 1 lakh scholarships for poor

The high-level government-appointed T.S.R. Subramanian committee that submitted its report on the evolution of a new education policy has recommended one-lakh scholarships for meritorious students from poor families and socially and educationally backward communities to pursue higher education.

  • The focus of the report is on not just quality but also inclusion.

Important recommendations of the committee:

Autonomy:

  • Seeing both quality and inclusion as important, the panel has recommended linking the autonomy of higher education institutions with their rating/performance.
  • The report has recommended full academic autonomy to those getting rated in the highest category. According to the panel, the institutions being rated in the lowest category should close down. Higher the rating, more the autonomy.
  • Full academic autonomy includes the freedom to choose their fee structure, curriculum and even the scales paid to their faculty members.

Professionalism in rating:

  • The panel also proposed greater professionalism in rating. As of now, NAAC under the UGC rates institutions across India.
  • According to the panel, while a government body like the UGC should set standards, the inspection or assessment of institutions based on these standards needed greater professionalism, and agencies/companies that are trained to evaluate should be entrusted with the task.

Indian Education Service:

  • The committee has also called for an ‘Indian Education Service’ with selections done by the UGC for pulling in greater talent into teaching.

Quality in school education:

  • It has also underlined the need for greater quality in school education, suggesting a no-detention policy only till Class V, instead of Class VIII at present.

Other options for students:

  • The committee has opened other options for students i.e. students not learning as per requirements should be offered remedial classes from class 1 itself, and online resources can also be used for this.
  • A student failing the Class V exam should be given another attempt to pass. If he or she fails again, there should be an option to specialise in some vocation, so that vocational training can go alongside language and numerical skills.

Inculcation of values:

  • The report has also recommended the inculcation of values — peace, harmony, respect for diversity, equality, truth, dharma and non-violence among others — in students and has said that pride in the nation should be one of the values education should promote.
[Ref: Hindu]

 

Digital vans all set to take e-governance to rural areas

The government will roll out a new campaign under which 66 digital vans, equipped with Internet and audio-visual facilities, will go to 657 districts by March 2017 to increase awareness about various e-governance services in rural and semi-urban areas, especially the youth.

Key facts:

  • The aim is to reach out to more than 10 lakh citizens and register over 1.5 lakh rural citizens for MyGov, digital locker, Aadhaar and other digital services.
  • State governments, along with the Department of Posts, Department of Telecommunications (BSNL) and CSC-SPV, will play an active role in the execution of this campaign.
  • A district level committee, headed by the District Collector, will foresee its ground level execution to ensure that the maximum benefit is generated out of this campaign.
  • Rural citizens will be informed about the services offered at CSC centres, national scholarship portal, e-hospital, digital lockers and Aadhaar in 14 languages — Hindi, English, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Oriya, Bengali, Assamese, Manipuri, Urdu Marathi and Malayalam.
[Ref: Hindu]

 

Get ready for plain packaging of tobacco products

For this year’s World No Tobacco Day on May 31 the World Health Organisation has called on countries to “get ready for plain packaging of tobacco products”, following Australia’s example.

Background:

  • The WHO’s call for action comes at a time when the tide is firmly turning against the tobacco companies.
  • For instance, during the first week of May this year, the tobacco companies lost a long-run legal challenge against the European Union rules that force them to print graphic images on both sides that cover two-thirds of a cigarette packet.
  • The European Court of Justice also said that the 28 member states can go beyond the requirements of the European directive and introduce plain packaging.

What is Plain packaging?

Plain packaging refers to “measures to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style (plain packaging)”.

  • Experimental studies, surveys and focus group studies have also found that plain packaging achieves its objectives — deter young people from taking up smoking in the first place than making smokers to quit.

Australia’s experiences with plain packaging: 

  • Against all odds, Australia was the first country to successfully introduce plain packaging in 2012 and has since seen a decline in smoking.
  • Between December 2012 and September 2015, plain packaging together with enlarged graphic warnings and 25% tax increase since 2010 reduced average smoking prevalence among Australians aged 14 years and over by 0.55 percentage points. This reduction is would result in at least 118,000 fewer smokers.

Global laws regarding plain packaging:

  • France, Ireland, and the U.K. have also passed legislation that makes plain packaging mandatory from May 20 this year.
  • All cigarette packets manufactured in these countries will have to be plain, standardised in the same drab green colour with the product name on the pack in a standard font.
[Ref: Hindu]

 

India to ‘export’ #TwitterSeva

Micro-blogging platform Twitter is now considering the roll-out of the Twitter Seva service in other countries such as the U.K. and the UAE.

  • This follows the success of the service, developed for the India market to help delivery of e-governance services.

What is Twitter Seva?

  • Twitter Seva helps process a large volume of tweets and assigns them to the relevant authority for real-time resolution.
  • With the help of the Twitter dashboard, queries and complaints can be easily monitored and quick actions can be taken.

Exclusive for India:

  • Twitter Seva is an India-only product right now. It is currently being used by Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Railways, besides the Bengaluru Police.
  • The product had been designed and developed in the country, and the processes that Twitter had built into it are ‘absolutely’ India exclusive.
  • Twitter India is also exploring the roll-out of the product with more ministries and state governments.
  • Through the service, the Railway Ministry processes about 5,500 tweets per day, responding to any citizen query related to catering, cleanliness, or even urgent medical support on board a train.
  • Similarly, Ministry of External Affairs processes over 6,000 tweets in a month, while the number is over 40,000 per month for Commerce Ministry and over 3,000 in a month for Bengaluru Police.
  • Further, 95 per cent of ministers in the ruling government are active on Twitter.
[Ref: Hindu]

 

Environment & Ecology

Thermal stress impacts corals in Indian waters

Coral ecosystem thriving in the Indian waters has come under severe stress with instances of coral bleaching being reported from islands of Lakshadweep and some parts of Andaman.

  • It is the thermal stress in the form of increase in Sea Surface Temperature (SST) during April that has proved disastrous for the corals.
  • The Lakshadweep region witnessed a massive destruction of corals in 1997 when around 85 per cent of the coral reef was destructed.

Corals regeneration:

  • Amidst growing concern about the impact of coral bleaching, scientists have also brought out some good news from the ocean depths of Andaman.
  • The branching corals that were destructed during the 2004 South Asian tsunami have started regenerating in the region.
  • The impact of bleaching would be different in different species and some may take 10 years or longer to regenerate.

What is coral bleaching?

When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.

  • Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching.
  • coralbleaching_compressedWhen a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.
  • Not all bleaching events are due to warm water.
[Ref: Hindu, NOAA]

 

Moratorium from CEPI area of Chandrapur lifted

The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change has lifted moratorium under the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) in respect of the industrial cluster/area of Chandrapur, Maharashtra. 

  • This will enable new investments in the region, which was stalled for last more than 5 years.

About CEPI:

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has developed a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI).

  • CPCB has done a nation-wide environmental assessment of Industrial Clusters based on CEPI and 43 such industrial clusters having CEPI greater than 70, on a scale of 0 to 100, has been identified as critically polluted.
  • The data refers to the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) scores of the critically polluted industrial clusters/areas.
  • The index captures the various dimensions of environment including air, water and land.
  • CEPI is a rational number to characterize the environmental quality at a given location following the algorithm of source, pathway and receptor.
[Ref: PIB, cpcbenvis]

 

India will participate in Mission Innovation and Clean Energy Ministerial held in U.S.

World’s Energy Leaders to gather in San Francisco for the 7th Clean Energy Ministerial and Inaugural Mission Innovation Ministerial on June 1-2,2016.

About Mission Innovation:

MI was announced on November 30, 2015 by the leaders of 20 countries that have a shared desire to accelerate global clean energy innovation during COPE 21 in Paris in the presence of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

  • The ‘Mission Innovation’ (MI) is an effort to accelerate public and private global clean energy innovation, including through participating countries doubling their respective clean energy research and development investment.
  • India is Founding Member of the Steering Committee and also a Member of the two sub-groups: Joint research and Capacity Building and Private Sector Engagement.
  • During the meeting, India will be announcing its current investment and doubling Plan in Clean Energy Research.

About Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM):

Launch in 2010, the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) is a high-level global forum to share lessons learnt and best practices, and to encourage the transition to a global clean energy economy.

  • The CEM is the initiative of the USA. Presently, 23 countries are members of CEM. There are 13 initiatives under CEM covering energy efficiency, clean energy supply and cross cutting areas.                     
  • During the 7thClean Energy Ministerial the Minister for Science & Technology and Earth Sciences will also launch the Global Cooling Challenge.
[Ref: PIB]

 

Science & Technology

‘Potassium bromate not allowed as additive in packaged water’

Potassium bromate is not allowed as an additive in packaged drinking water but its permissible limit as contaminant has been fixed because its traces are found in groundwater or when water undergoes treatment, Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said in a public statement.

What’s the issue?

  • In January, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) proposed that bromates, a probable cancer-causing chemical, be permitted to an extent in bottled drinking water.
[This is the same chemical that the Centre for Science and Environment claims to have found in some bread products after lab tests. Subsequently, FSSAI announced it would ban bromates in breads.]
  • The existing standards for packaged drinking water, set in 2011, strictly prohibited bromates. Currently, bromate is not allowed in bottled water in India.
  • But, in a proposal put out in January for public comments, FSSAI proposed that up to 10 micrograms of bromates per litre of water be allowed as a contaminant. The 30-day comment period for the proposal is over.

Bromate is not an additive but a contaminant in water, Why?

  • Bromate is not inherent component of water but traces of bromate can be found in drinking water when the water undergoes treatment.
  • It is also found in groundwater due to cross penetration of salt water when water source is close to sea or industrial effluents facilities.
  • As it is found in the source of water, its limit as contaminant has been fixed.

Thus in water, bromate is not an additive but a contaminant.

Key facts of the statement:

The proposed regulation of FSSAI is in line with the best international practice and intended to control the presence of this contaminant to a safe level.

  • Current standards of water being developed by FSSAI recognise that this contaminant may be found in water.
  • FSSAI prescribes its limit at 0.01 ppm or 10 ppb significantly lower than the permissible limit in bread which is at 50 ppm.
  • The maximum limit suggested by the scientific panel is at par with global standards of WHO which is also 10ppb.
[Ref: ToI]

 

Cloud technology changing TV ad landscape

With the trend of geo-targeted advertising catching on, more companies are making use of technology to beam adverts to only areas where their products have strong presence.

What is geo-targeting?

Geo targeting in geo-marketing and internet marketing is the method of determining the geolocation of a website visitor and delivering different content to that visitor based on his or her location, such as country, region/state, city, metro code/zip code, organization, IP address, ISP or other criteria.

  • A common usage of geo targeting is found in online advertising, as well as internet television with sites such as iPlayer and Hulu, which restrict content to users geo-located in specific countries.
  • This approach serves as a means of implementing digital rights management. Use of proxy servers and virtual private networks may give a false location.

IASToppers-30th May 2016

What is Hyperlocal?

  • ‘Hyperlocal’ is the new buzzword. It refers to a very specific area or community, centring around where you live.
  • The Google Search trends report for 2015 says keywords like ‘car dealers near me,’ were being increasingly used, with a 32 per cent growth in queries for hyperlocal services.

Watermark technology in set-top box (STB):

  • On television, it happens differently. Normally, local cable operators have decoder boxes for each channel that receive and relay the programmes to households.
  • To enable geo-targeted advertising these boxes are replaced with smart boxes that not only store data but also intelligently identify the spot where the location-specific ad has to replace the nationally telecast one.
  • The trigger for the geo-targeted ad comes from a unique watermark inserted on the video, which gives the cue to the smart box to run the local ad. Watermark is an invisible and inaudible identifier, like a product barcode.
[Ref: Hindu, Wiki]

 

Scientists find potential trigger to kill cancer

Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have discovered a new way of triggering cell death, a finding that may lead to drugs for treating cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Key facts:

Programmed cell death, also called apoptosis, is a natural process that removes unwanted cells from the body.

  • Failure of apoptosis can allow cancer cells to grow unchecked or immune cells to inappropriately attack the body.
  • The protein known as Bak is central to apoptosis. In healthy cells Bak sits in an inert state but when a cell receives a signal to die, Bak transforms into a killer protein that destroys the cell.
  • Researchers have discovered a novel way of directly activating Bak to trigger cell death.
  • There is great interest in developing drugs that trigger Bak activation to treat diseases such as cancer where apoptosis has gone awry.
  • This discovery gives us a new starting point for developing therapies that directly activate Bak and cause cell death.
[Ref: BS]

 

Rosetta finds building blocks for life in comet 67P

Scientists report in Science Advances of directly detected key organic compounds in comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

  • This bolsters the notion that these celestial objects delivered such chemical building blocks for life long ago to Earth and throughout the solar system.

Key facts:

  • The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft made several detections of the amino acid glycine, used by living organisms to make proteins, in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding the comet.
  • Glycine previously was indirectly detected in samples returned to Earth in 2006 from another comet, Wild 2. But there were contamination issues with the samples, which landed in the Utah desert, that complicated the scientific analysis. Glycine is commonly found in proteins and phosphorus is a key ingredient of DNA.
  • It was the first time phosphorus was found around a comet.
  • Scientists have also found other organic compounds, including hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen cyanide on the comet.
  • Rosetta’s findings are important because of the unchanging nature of celestial bodies such as comets. In contrast, Earth has gone through some dramatic changes since its formation billions of years ago.

About Rosetta:

Rosetta is a space probe built by the European Space Agency launched on 2 March 2004.

  • Rosetta is performing a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P). 
  • On 6 August 2014, the spacecraft reached the comet and performed a series of manoeuvres to be captured in its orbit.
  • The probe is named after the Rosetta Stone, a stele of Egyptian origin featuring a decree in three scripts.

 [Ref: Hindu, Wiki]

 

Also in News

Centenary of the Battle of Verdun

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande marked the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Verdun.

  • The Verdun battle was one of the longest in World War I, lasting more than 300 days from February to December 1916 and 300,000 soldiers killed.
  • Its commemoration has come to signify the reconciliation between Germany and France after decades of hostility and distrust following two world wars.
[Ref: Hindu]

 

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