Current Affairs Analysis

13th August 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Hornbill; Who is Assamese?; Assam Accord 1985; Genome; Genome sequencing; Medical abortion (MA) drugs; Papum Reserve Forest; Pakke Tiger Reserve; Abscisic acid (ABA); What is recession?; Project Cheetah; Heron advanced UAV system; Depsang Plains; Perseids meteor shower; What is meteor shower?; ISRO’s role in developmental activities; International Youth Day; Home Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Investigation, 2020; etc.
By IASToppers
August 13, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Who is Assamese?

Issues related to Health & Education

  • Mega labs to boost COVID-19 testing
  • Over-regulation of drugs impeding access to safe abortion

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Forest cover loss threatens hornbills in Arunachal
  • IISER Bhopal scientists’ study on seed germination

Bilateral & International Relations

  • What is behind the UK’s recession?

Defence & Security Issues

  • Project Cheetah
  • India, China Major Generals discuss situation at Depsang
  • HALs Light Combat Helicopters deployed at Leh

Geophysical Phenomena

  • What is the Perseids meteor shower?

Science & Technology

  • ISRO’s role in developmental activities

Key Facts for Prelims

  • International Youth Day
  • Home Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Investigation, 2020

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Polity & Governance

Who is Assamese?

A report by a government-appointed committee has proposed a definition for Assamese people, limited to the purpose of implementing Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord.

Matter of Debate:

  • The Assam Accord was signed in 1985, at the end of a six-year agitation (1979-85) against illegal migration from Bangladesh.
  • The question of who is Assamese arises from the language of Clause 6: Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
  • This gives rise to two questions: what are the safeguards? and Who are Assamese people eligible for these?

What is Assam Accord?

  • The Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985.
  • As per this accord:
  • All those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship including the right to vote.
  • Those who entered between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship.
  • Migrants those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported.

What are the recommendations?

  • For the purpose of implementation of Clause 6, the proposed definition includes indigenous tribals, other indigenous communities, all other citizens of India residing in Assam on or before January 1, 1951 and indigenous Assamese — and their descendants.
  • It covers anyone who can prove their presence (or that of their ancestors) in Assam before 1951.
  • For safeguards, the committee has recommended reservations in legislature and jobs for Assamese people and land rights be confined to them.

Implications of the definition:

  • Migrants who entered Assam after 1951 but before March 24, 1971 are not Assamese but are Indian citizens.
  • They would not be eligible to contest an election in 80-100% of Assam’s seats (if that recommendation is accepted), but they can vote.
  • Not just indigenous groups, but East Bengal migrants who entered Assam before 1951, too, would be considered Assamese.

 [Ref: Indian Express]

Issues related to Health & Education

Mega labs to boost COVID-19 testing

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research is working on mega labs to speed up testing and accuracy for COVID-19 positive cases.

Major Highlights:

  • The mega labs will host large machines, called Next Generation Sequencing machines (NGS).
  • The machines are also used for sequencing human genomes.
  • They will sequence 1,500-3,000 viral genomes at a go for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus.
  • With appropriate modifications, they can detect possible presence of virus even where traditional RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests miss it.

What is the reason?

  • The RT-PCR test identifies SARS-CoV-2 virus by exploring only specific sections of the virus.
  • The genome method can read a bigger chunk of virus genome and thereby provide more certainty.
  • It can also trace the evolutionary history of the virus and track mutations more reliably.

What is Genome?

  • A genome is all the genetic matter in an organism.
  • It is defined as an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.
  • Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
  • Human Genome is made up of 23 chromosome pairs with more than 3 billion DNA base pairs, contained in all cells that have a nucleus.

Genome sequencing:

  • Genome sequencing is a process to figure out order of DNA nucleotides or bases in a genome.
  • This means the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts, a unique combination of which makes up an organism’s DNA.
  • After the genome is sequenced, the data is analysed to understand the genetic information of an entire species.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Over-regulation of drugs impeding access to safe abortion

A survey by Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India across six Indian states has found an overwhelming shortage of abortion pills or medical abortion drugs.

Major Highlights:

  • Over-regulation of drugs to curb gender-biased sex selection has hindered access to safe, legal and cost-effective abortion.
  • There is a severe shortage of medical abortion (MA) drugs in five out of six States surveyed with very small stocking in Madhya Pradesh (6.5%), Punjab (1%), Tamil Nadu (2%), Haryana (2%) and Delhi (34%).
  • The only State that seemed to be better was Assam (69.6%).
  • About 79% of chemists do not stock the drugs to avoid legal issues and excessive documentation requirements.

Medical abortion (MA) drugs:

  • Abortion pills or MA drugs are abortifacients which terminate a pregnancy by expelling an embryo or foetus.
  • Abortion pills are different from emergency contraceptive pills (ECD).
  • ECD are taken 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

Reason:

  • The primary reason for non-availability of MA drugs seems to be the incorrect understanding that medical abortion combipacks can be used for gender biased sex selection among regulatory officials.
  • A Medical abortion combipacks is indicated for use only up to nine weeks while an ultrasound can detect the sex of the fetus at 13-14 weeks’ gestation.

Concerns:

  • Medical abortion drugs are the most preferred method with 81 % of abortions being administered through them.
  • Their lack of availability hinders women, who do not wish to opt for surgical abortion methods.
  • In the midst of the pandemic with restricted movement clinical methods of family planning are not adequately available, there is a dire need to ensure unrestricted access to drugs.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Forest cover loss threatens hornbills in Arunachal

A study based on satellite data has shown a high rate of deforestation in a major hornbill habitat in Arunachal Pradesh.

Major Highlights:

  • There are changes in forest cover of the 1,064 sq.km. Papum Reserve Forest (RF) adjoining Pakke Tiger Reserve and part of Assam affected by illegal felling and ethnic conflict.
  • The satellite data shows alarming deforestation rates in Papum RF with annual loss rates as high as 8.2 sq.km.
  • Papum RF is a nesting habitat of three species of the large, colorful fruit-eating hornbills: Great, Wreathed and Oriental Pied.
  • The 862 sq.km. Pakke reserve houses a fourth species, the Rufous-Necked.

Hornbill:

  • Large and wide-ranging birds, mostly dependent on tropical forest habitats with large and tall trees.
  • They are referred as forest engineers or farmers of forest.
  • They play a key role in dispersing seeds of tropical trees, hornbills indicate the prosperity and balance of the forest they build nests in.
  • India has nine hornbill species, of which four are found in Western Ghats: Indian Grey Hornbill (endemic to India), Malabar Grey Hornbill (endemic to Western Ghats), Malabar Pied Hornbill (endemic to India and Sri Lanka) and widely distributed but endangered Great Hornbill.
  • India also has Narcondam Hornbill, found only on the island of Narcondam.

Hornbill species found in India:

1. Great Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Near threatened.
  • Largest of all hornbills in India.
  • Found in a few forest areas in Western Ghats and the forests along Himalayas.

2. Rufous-necked Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Vulnerable
  • Has Northern-most extent, ranging from North-eastern India to Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in West Bengal.

3. Wreathed Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Least Concern
  • Found in forests from far North-eastern India.

4. Narcondam Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Endangered
  • Endemic to Indian island of Narcondam in Andamans.
  • Smallest home range out of all species of Asian hornbills.

5. Malabar Pied Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Near Threatened
  • Common resident breeder in India and Sri Lanka.
  • Habitat: Evergreen and moist deciduous forests often near human settlements.

6. Oriental Pied Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Least Concern
  • Largest distribution, found in the Indian Subcontinent and throughout Southeast Asia.
  • Habitat: Subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

7. White-throated Brown Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Near Threatened
  • Found in forests from North-eastern India.
  • Common habitat: Namdapha National Park, Changlang District, Arunachal Pradesh.

8. Malabar Grey Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Least Concern
  • Common in the Western Ghats and associated hills of southern India.

9. Indian Grey Hornbill:

  • IUCN Red List: Least Concern
  • Habitat: Mainly on the plains up to about 2000 feet, foothills of Himalayas southwards, bounded to west by Indus system and to east by Ganges Delta.

Papum Reserve Forest:

  • PRF is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • It is located between two IBAs, Itanagar Wildlife Sanctuary to the east and Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary to the west.
  • The Reserve Forest forms part of the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area.
  • It is a nesting habitat of three species of the large, colorful fruit-eating hornbills: Great, Wreathed and Oriental Pied.

Pakke Tiger Reserve:

  • The Tiger Reserve is a Project Tiger reserve in Pakke Kessang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The reserve is protected by the Department of Environment and Forest of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • It is bounded by Bhareli or Kameng River in the west and north, and by Pakke River in the east.
  • It is surrounded by contiguous forests on most sides.
  • Towards the south and south-east, the sanctuary adjoins reserve forests and Assam’s Nameri National Park.
  • The main perennial streams in the area are the Nameri, Khari and Upper Dikorai.

Biodiversity hotspot:

  • It has a subtropical climate with lowland semi-evergreen, evergreen forest and Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests.
  • PTR is a home to over 2,000 species of plants, 300 species of birds, 40 species of mammals, 30 species of amphibians and 36 species of reptiles.
  • It is one of the most protected sanctuaries in the country.

Key Facts:

  • According to the Global Forest Watch 2020 report, Arunachal Pradesh lost 1,110 sq.km. of primary forest from 2002-2019.
  • Forests still cover 74% of the total land area of the State, and steps are being taken to stop felling.
[Ref: The Hindu]

IISER Bhopal scientists’ study on seed germination

A study at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal on seed germination can have a major impact on agriculture.

Major Highlights:

  • IT can help to determine the optimum timing of seed germination and thus ensure high plant yields.
  • It is focused on the interplay between plant hormones like abscisic acid (ABA) and environmental cues like light (which promotes sprouting process) and darkness.

Abscisic acid (ABA):

  • ABA is a ubiquitous plant hormone which inhibit the sprouting of the seed.
  • ABA functions in many plant developmental processes, including:
    • Seed and bud dormancy
    • Control of organ size
    • Stomatal closure
  • ABA-mediated signaling plays an important role in response to environmental stresses, including drought, soil salinity, cold tolerance, freezing tolerance, heat stress, heavy metal ion tolerance and plant pathogens.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Bilateral & International Relations

What is behind the UK’s recession?

The UK has technically entered a recession as its economic output shrank by 20.4 % in the second quarter of 2020.

What is a recession?

  • When economy contracts for two quarters in a row (or six months), this change is classified as a recession.
  • The term denotes a business cycle contraction, when there is a general decline in economic activity and occurs when there is a widespread drop in spending (an adverse demand shock).
  • When a country’s economy is healthy, it grows over time and its GDP or the value of the goods and services it produces — increases.
  • The last time a number of countries entered a recessive phase was during global financial crisis in 2007.
  • A recession can become a depression if it lasts long enough, like in late 1920s.

Why are the UK’s numbers so bad?

  • The UK’s GDP marks worst performance in second quarter in Europe poorer than Spain (-18.5%) and France (-13.8%).
  • The country was late in imposing lockdown restrictions, as compared to Spain and France.
  • British economy has a heavier reliance on the services sector as compared to other European countries.

Forecasts for the global economy:

  • As per World Bank, global economy will shrink by 5.2 % this year — representing deepest recession since the Second World War.
  • The US economy is forecast to contract 6.1 % this year, reflecting the disruptions associated with pandemic-control measures.
  • Euro Area output is expected to shrink by 9.1 % in 2020.
  • Japan’s economy is anticipated to shrink 6.1 %.
  • Emerging market and developing economies are expected to shrink by 2.5 %v this year.
  • Per capita incomes are expected to decline by 3.6 %, tipping millions of people into extreme poverty this year.

India’s numbers:

  • India’s economic growth in January-March quarter of 2019-20 was at the slowest pace in 40 quarters at 3.1 %.
  • It was pulled down by manufacturing and construction sectors (data factored in lockdown impact of only the last week of March).
  • A contraction in output is projected for June quarter, numbers will be released by NSO on August 31.
  • In the current fiscal, India’s economy is projected to a contraction of 4.5%-12.5% in GDP.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Defence & Security Issues

Project Cheetah

Project Cheetah has been revived by the armed forces amid border tensions with China.

Major Highlights:

  • Under this project, around 90 Heron drones of the three services would be upgraded.
  • It aims to arm the Heron UAVs with:
    • Laser-guided bombs
    • Precision-guided munitions
    • Stronger surveillance and reconnaissance payloads
    • Air to ground and air-launched anti-tank guided missiles for taking out enemy positions and armoured regiments.
  • It is expected to cost over Rs 3,500 crores to the government.

Heron advanced UAV system:

  • Heron/ Machatz 1 is a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system.
  • It is primarily designed to perform strategic reconnaissance and surveillance operations.
  • It has been procured from Israel in September 2005.
  • Heron provides its operators with real-time information on enemy battlefields by performing surveillance and target acquisition over large areas, even under adverse weather conditions.

Significance:

  • The upgraded UAVs can be used against conventional military operations as well as in counter-terrorism operations in future.
  • With the upgrade in reconnaissance capabilities, the forces on ground would also be able to get pin-point intelligence about hideouts in areas.
  • It would enable Armed forces’ ground station handlers to operate these aircraft from far-off distances and control them through the satellite communication system.
[Ref: Economic Times]

India, China Major Generals discuss situation at Depsang

India and China recently held talks at Major General-level to discuss issues concerning strategic Depsang Plains.

Major Highlights:

  • The talks began at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) limited to Depsang and varying claims of blocking of patrols by each other.
  • There was no discussion on disengagement or de-escalation.
  • The series of military talks held so far have focussed on the standoff areas at Galwan, Gogra Hotsprings and Finger area of Pangong Tso.

Depsang Plains:

  • The Depsang Plains are located at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the Indian and Chinese controlled regions.
  • The Chinese Army occupied most of the plains in 1962.
  • India controls the western portion of the plains as part of Ladakh, whereas the eastern portion is part of the Aksai Chin region, which is presently controlled by China.
  • Depsang is one of the few places on the LAC where tank manoeuvres are possible.
  • It is also close to Karakoram Pass, overlooking the very strategic Saltoro Ridge and Siachen glacier.
  • During the 1962 war Chinese troops had occupied Depsang Plains.
  • In 2013 Chinese troops came 19 kms inside and pitched tents resulting in a 21-day standoff.

Present status:

  • The Depsang Plains along with Pangong Tso are two major areas of concern in ongoing standoff along LAC in eastern Ladakh.
  • There is heavy Chinese presence in Depsang Plains, at a crucial area called the Bulge.
  • The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are blocking Indian Army patrols from reaching the Patrolling Points (PP) 10 to 13.
  • There has also been buildup of tanks and armoured vehicles on Chinese side very close to LAC.
  • The Chinese ingress in this area threatens Indian positions at Burtse and Raki Nala well inside Indian territory and further at Daulat Beg Oldie.
[Ref: The Hindu]

HALs Light Combat Helicopters deployed at Leh

Two Light Combat Helicopters have been deployed for operations at high altitude Leh sector at short notice to support IAF missions.

HAL Light Combat Helicopter:

  • HAL LCH is the lightest attack helicopter in the world designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
  • The LCH has quick deployment prowess to forward locations in extreme temperatures.
  • LCH is a potent weapon platform with highly accurate weapons capable of hitting any type of target by day or night.
  • LCH can operate in the complete Area of Responsibility (AOR) and altitudes.
  • It has capability to carry adequate weapon load at high altitudes under varied conditions.
  • Its characteristics make it most suitable for hot and high altitude operations.
[Ref: Times of India]

Geophysical Phenomena

What is the Perseids meteor shower?

The Perseids meteor shower is an annual celestial event going to be active from August 17-26.

What are meteor showers?

  • Meteors are bits of rock and ice ejected from comets as they manoeuvre around their orbits around the sun.
  • Meteor showers are witnessed when Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind by a comet or an asteroid.
  • When a meteor reaches the Earth, it is called a meteorite.
  • A series of meteorites when encountered at once is termed as a meteor shower.
  • As meteors fall towards Earth, the atmospheric friction makes space rocks extremely hot.
  • As meteorites pass through atmosphere, they leave behind streaks of glowing gas that are visible to the observers.

What is the Perseids meteor shower?

  • Perseids meteor shower peaks every year in mid-August.
  • It was first observed over 2,000 years ago.
  • The Perseids occur due to pieces of cosmic debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle.
  • The cloud of debris is about 27 km wide, and at peak of the display, between 160 and 200 meteors streak through Earth’s atmosphere every hour.
  • The pieces of debris travel at approx. 2.14 lakh km per hour andburn up a little less than 100 km above the Earth’s surface.

Where do Perseids meteor showers come from?

  • The comet Swift-Tuttle was discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle.
  • It takes 133 years to complete one rotation around the sun.
  • The last time it reached its closest approach to the sun in 1992 and will do so again in 2125.
  • Every time comets come close to sun, they leave behind dust (debris trail), through which the Earth passes through every year as it orbits around the Sun.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Science & Technology

ISRO’s role in developmental activities

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been constantly expanding its role in development activities as well.

Vision:

  • ISRO aims for best utilisation of space technology as a modern tool for supplementing, improving and expediting infrastructural development as well as implementation of various welfare schemes.

New domains of ISRO:

  • ISRO is no longer confined to the launching of satellites.
  • ISRO technology is being used to carry out crop production forecast for at least eight major crops including wheat, Kharif and Rabi rice, mustard, jute, cotton, sugarcane, Rabi sorghum and Rabi pulses.
  • There is improvement in crop condition and increased productivity in agriculture sector in July 2020, as compared to last year due to extensive use of data from remote sensing satellites.
  • The applications of space technology were used in guarding unmanned railway crossings, detecting obstructive objects on rail tracks to avoid train accidents etc.
  • Satellite imaging is being utilised for supervising Indian borders and to check foreign infiltrations.
  • ISRO and Department of Space have already overtaken several other countries in their space endeavors.
  • The images procured by missions like Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) are now being utilised even by premier space centres.

Key Fact:

  • The Department of Space is directly under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

 [Ref: Financial Express]

Key Facts for Prelims

International Youth Day

The International Youth Day is celebrated on 12 August every year.

Aim:

  • To raise awareness regarding cultural and legal issue concerning youth.

About the day:

  • International Youth Day was designated by United Nations in 1999.
  • The first IYD was observed on 12 August 2000.
  • It is meant to highlight the importance of young people, not just as a future generation, but also as current driving force of change in the world.
  • Theme 2020: Youth Engagement for Global Action.

Key facts:

  • National Youth Day is celebrated on 12 January on the birthday of Swami Vivekananda.
  • The initiatives like Skill India, Start-Up India, Make in India &New Education Policy (NEP) has been constantly creating an ecosystem to unlock the immense potential of Indian youth.
[Ref: Hindustan Times]

Home Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Investigation, 2020

  • The Union Home Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Investigation for 2020 have been awarded to 121 Police personnel.
  • The medal was constituted in 2018 and awarded by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Objective:

  • To promote high professional standards of investigation of crime.
  • To recognize such Excellence in Investigation by investigating officers.
[Ref: PIB]
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