Current Affairs Analysis

19th & 20th April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Edakkal Caves; National Fertilizers Ltd; UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage; A predictive model for medical needs for COVID 19; Types of human coronaviruses; Public Financial Management System; Red clump giants; Social vaccine; Organization of Islamic Cooperation; SWOT analysis; Bug sniffer; Active galactic nuclei; Blazars; Kole Wetlands; Remdesivir; TriboE Mask
By IASToppers
April 20, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Overcoming structural constraints

Government Schemes & Policies

  • Public Financial Management System

Issues related to Health & Education

  • A predictive model for medical needs for COVID 19
  • Types of human coronaviruses

Social Issues

  • Social Vaccine
  • SWOT analysis of impact of COVID-19 on education

Economy

  • National Fertilizers ltd
  • Government nod mandatory for FDI from neighbouring countries

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Huge crack develops on Ambukuthi hills in Kerala

Bilateral & International Relations

  • Islamophobia is rising in India, says OIC

Art & Culture

  • National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of India

Science & Technology

  • IIA scientists connect Lithium in space to new Lithium rich red giants

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Most online content on child sexual abuse from India
  • Bug sniffer
  • Active galactic nuclei
  • Blazars
  • Kole Wetlands
  • Remdesivir
  • TriboE Mask

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Polity & Governance

Overcoming structural constraints

India must invest in health and economy, marshal medical resources, remedy institutional defects.

India’s health infrastructure and policy situation

  • As a percentage of GDP, India’s health budget has hovered below 1.5% for several years now.
  • India’s per capita public expenditure on health has increased from INR 621 per person in 2009-10 to INR 1,657 in 2017-18, which is still far too low.
  • By comparison, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries spent, on an average, 8.8% of GDP on health in 2017. Only a fraction of India’s health care budget goes towards battling communicable diseases.
  • There is just 0.55 beds per 1,000 people.  Twelve states, with 70% of the population, are below the national average.

Suggestions

  • Health Budget allocations need to be scaled up.
  • As per International Labour Organization, 400 million Indians in the informal sector may fall into poverty. This demands long-term planning to support businesses through loan moratoriums, lower interest rates, greater State contributions for employee benefits and a transition to no-contagion workplaces.
  • Agriculture must be supported through liberal and assured procurement, lower input costs and forbearance in agricultural lending and loan recoveries till the crisis blows over.
  • The Goods and Services Tax and income tax administration must be steered towards lower rates and lighter burdens of compliance.
  • India doesn’t lacks the raw materials or the technical know-how. However, access to capital, standardisation and testing facilities, and protracted procurement procedures remain limiting factors. A transparent emergency procurement policy must be implemented to cut red-tape. 
  • Hundreds of doctors embedded in non-medical streams, such as the civil service, armed forces, must be marshalled to support the frontline care providers.
  • None of the National Disaster Management Authority’s four members has experience in biological disasters. This institutional defect should be rectified quickly, by expanding the body to include the director- general of health services. 
  • A separate body with adequate resources can also be considered on the lines of Taiwan, where a flexible command structure, an epidemic prevention strategy, medical big data, all through a central epidemic situation command centre, have made the country a model for coronavirus response.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Government Schemes & Policies

Public Financial Management System

More than Rs36,659 crore has been transferred by using Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT)  through Public Financial Management System (PFMS) during COVID 2019 lockdown.

About PFMS

  • The PFMS, earlier known as known as Central Plan Scheme Monitoring System (CPSMS), is a web-based online software application. 
  • It is administered by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) office, Department of expenditure.
  • It aims to facilitate a sound Public Financial Management System for the Government of India by establishing an efficient fund flow system as well as a payment cum accounting network.
  • Ambit of PFMS coverage: includes Central Sector and Centrally Sponsored Schemes as well as other expenditures including the Finance Commission Grants.

Background

  • PFMS was initially started as a Plan scheme named CPSMS of the Planning Commission in 2008-09 as a pilot in four States of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Mizoram for tracking funds released under all Plan schemes of the Government of India, and real time reporting of expenditure at all levels of Programme implementation.
  • In 2013, the scope was enlarged to cover direct payment to beneficiaries under both Plan and non-Plan Schemes. In 2017, the Government scrapped the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure.
[Ref: PIB]

Issues related to Health & Education

A predictive model for medical needs for COVID 19

A team of researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research have developed a heuristic predictive model for COVID-19.

  • The model provides short-term predictions about the evolution of the disease and the medical needs that are generated as a consequence.

Significance:

  • The model focuses on the medical inventory management. By providing key figures for medical inventories such as PPEs and ventilators, this model can plan response to the pandemic.
  • It will also provide a pan-India overview of the development of the pandemic, as well as a state and district-level insight into its progress.

How does it works?

  • Most modelling and forecasting work for COVID-19, focusing on India, was clustered around the popular epidemiological models like Susceptible-Infected-Recovered (SIR) model.
  • These models have a serious shortcoming because many aspects of the disease are yet unknown. However, they realized that in many nations, COVID-19 evolution had key similarities, and as these nations were ahead in the curve, these key similarities could be exploited for predictive heuristics — allowing rapid calculation of disease evolution. 
[Ref: Hindustan Times]

Types of human coronaviruses

In the last two decades, more aggressive coronaviruses have emerged that are capable of causing serious illness and even death in humans. These include SARS-CoV, MERS and now SARS-CoV-2.

What are coronaviruses?

  • Coronaviruses are a large family of single-stranded RNA viruses that cause diseases in animals and humans.
  • Human coronaviruses were first characterised in the mid-1960s and they are mostly considered to be responsible for causing upper respiratory tract infections in children.
  • In 1965, when scientists identify a human coronavirus, they termed the strain B814 and later in 1968 the term “coronavirus” was accepted. These viruses are named so because of spikes found on their surface that give them the appearance of a crown.

Classifications

  • Broadly, coronaviruses (CoV) are the largest group of viruses that belong to the Nidovirales order, which includes Coronaviridae among three others.
  • Coronavirinae are one of the two subfamilies of Coronaviridea, with the other being Torovirinae.
  • Coronavirinae can be further subdivided into alpha, beta, gamma and delta coronaviruses.
  • While there are hundreds of coronaviruses, there are seven that we know can infect humans. Out of the seven, two are alpha coronaviruses (229E and NL63) and four are beta coronaviruses (OC43, HKU1, MERS and SARS-CoV).
  • The classification of the viruses is based on their phylogeny (how these virus strains evolved from their common ancestors).
[Ref: Indian Express]

Social Issues

Social Vaccine

In a recent interview, the Union Health Minister, asserted that lockdowns and social distancing are the most effective “social vaccines” available to fight the pandemic as it has far broader implications.

What is a social vaccine?

  • A social vaccine is a metaphor for a series of social and behavioural measures that governments can use to raise public consciousness about unhealthy situations through social mobilisation.
  • This can drive political will and hold governments accountable to address the social determinants of health by adopting progressive socio-economic policies.
  • When applied to pandemics, the effectiveness of a social vaccine is determined by the extent of dissemination and uptake of accurate information about personal infection risk and methods to reduce the risk.
  • A social vaccine addresses barriers and facilitators of behaviour change, whether attitudinal, social, cultural, or economic, and supplements information, education, and communication (IEC) with targeted social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) strategies.

Example

  • Uganda and Thailand used IEC and SBCC strategies effectively during the HIV/AIDS pandemic to bring down the incidence of HIV infection, before highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) was introduced in 1995.

A social vaccine also requires people to hold leaders accountable to invest in:

  • Rapidly scaling-up testing; meeting the basic and economic needs of vulnerable sections;
  • Providing psychological support where needed;
  • Not communalising or politicising the pandemic;
  • Providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to front-line workers and other essential services; and
  • Not compromising the privacy and dignity of infected individuals and their families in the interest of public health.
[Ref: The Hindu]

SWOT analysis of impact of COVID-19 on education

With the pandemic forcing everyone to seriously consider e-learning tools and resources, now is a good time to assess its strengths and opportunities, and adapt to the new normal.

  • SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique used to help identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a situation.

Strengths

  • For the first time many teachers, parents and students have thought about the purpose of education and asked some useful question such as : Will ‘education’ be defined in a different way, in the future? Is there a need to learn differently? Should students’ knowledge and skills be assessed? Will online education be successful in India? How important is home learning? etc.

Weaknesses

  • Lack of innovative thinking, inadequate infrastructure, untrained teachers, unequal accessibility, exam-centric assessment, and lack of learner autonomy.
  • Recently, the Delhi government announced that it would conduct online classes for class XII students, but school teachers say that it is impractical since most students do not have access to the required facilities.
  • Teachers working in government-aided and government schools in cities and towns and private schools in rural areas also do not have such facilities.  
  • They may neither have the awareness of online tools such as Google Classroom available for such purposes, nor have the expertise to use them.

Opportunities

  • The three main opportunities that we have are: i) our students who belong to Gen Z, ii) numerous web resources, and iii) enthusiastic teachers.
  • Gen Z learners (born between 1997 and 2010) are born in the digital era and are familiar with computers, multimedia content and Internet-based activities from an early age. Now is the right time to move classes to a different platform, introduce e-learning and develop learner autonomy.
  • The COVID-19 lockdown has enabled teachers to become creative. They can now create e-material such as YouTube videos and PPTs and share the links with their students and engage them during the lockdown period.

Threats

  • India is far behind some developing countries where digital education is getting increased attention. In countries where e-learning is popular, students have access to various online resources such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
  • India needs to take the threat of many developed and developing countries leading the way in online education seriously and promote it earnestly.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Economy

National Fertilizers ltd

National Fertilizers Ltd. (NFL) is taking active part in distributing essential in its effort to combat COVID-19.

About National Fertilizers Ltd

  • NFL is a Schedule ‘A’ & a Mini Ratna (Category-I) Company, incorporated in 1974.
  • Coming under the administrative control of Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, it is the second largest producer of the key fertiliser urea in India.
  • NFL has five gas-based ammonia-urea plants viz Nangal and Bathinda in Punjab, Panipat in Haryana and two at Vijaipur (Madhya Pradesh).
  • NFL is engaged in manufacturing and marketing of Neem Coated Urea, four strains of Bio-Fertilizers (solid & liquid), Bentonite Sulphur and other allied Industrial products. The brand name of the company is popularly known in the market as ‘KISAN’.
  • It has also started production of certified seeds under its Seeds Multiplication Program for sale under its own brand name as Kisan Beej.
[Ref: PIB]

Government nod mandatory for FDI from neighbouring countries

In a move that will restrict Chinese investments, the Centre has made prior government approval mandatory for foreign direct investments from countries which share a land border with India. 

  • Previously, only investments from Pakistan and Bangladesh faced such restrictions.

Details

  • The revised FDI policy is aimed at curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
  • India shares land borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Investors from countries not covered by the new policy only have to inform the RBI after a transaction rather than asking for prior permission from the relevant government department.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Huge crack develops on Ambukuthi hills in Kerala

A huge crack has developed on the eastern part of Ambukuthi hills, on which the Edakkal caves are situated.

About Edakkal Caves

  • Edakkal Caves are located in Wayanad district of Kerala. The name ‘Edakkal’ literally means ‘a stone in between’.
  • The caves were discovered by Fred Fawcett, the then Superintendent of Police of the Malabar district in 1890.
  • Edakkal is the only known place in India with Stone Age carvings. Edakkal caves are famous for its pictorial paintings (cave paintings), which are considered to be of 6000 B C. The human figures of these caves have raised hair and some have masks. 
  • Edakkal is said to have some links with Indus Valley Civilization too. Around 400 signs were discovered recently, which had shown its relationship with the ancient civilization. The prominent among them was ‘a man with a jar cup’.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Bilateral & International Relations

Islamophobia is rising in India, says OIC

Calling on the Indian government to take steps to protect Muslim minorities who are being negatively profiled, facing discrimination and violence amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has criticised “growing Islamophobia” in India.

About the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

  • Formerly known as Organization of the Islamic Conference, OIC has membership of 57 states.
  • It was established upon a decision of the historical summit which took place in Rabat, Morocco in 1969 following the criminal arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.
  • Its headquartered at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. OIC has permanent delegations to United Nations and the European Union.
  • Its objectives are to raise collective voice of the Muslim world and to ensure the safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world.
  • It is the second-largest intergovernmental organisation in the world after the United Nations.
  • While the 22 members of the Arab League are also part of the OIC, the organisation has several significant non-Arab member countries, including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. It also has five observer members, including Russia and Thailand.
  • The OIC holds an Islamic Summit once every three years.

India and OIC

  • In OIC, India is a blocked country, though it has about 12% of the world’s Muslim population. India has been blocked by Pakistan from joining the OIC over Kashmir issue.
  • In 2018, Bangladesh proposed the restructuring of the charter of the OIC to pave way for the inclusion of non-Muslim countries like India as an “observer state”.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Art & Culture

National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of India

Union Minister for Culture launched the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of India in New Delhi.

Details

  • This initiative is also a part of the Vision 2024 of the Ministry of Culture.

Following UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, this list has been classified into five broad domains in which intangible cultural heritage is manifested:

  1. Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  2. Performing arts;
  3. Social practices, rituals and festive events;
  4. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
  5. Traditional craftsmanship

The present items in the list have been collated from the projects sanctioned under the scheme for ‘Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Diverse Cultural Traditions of India’ formulated by the Ministry of Culture in 2013. 

About UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage:

  • This coveted list is made up of those intangible heritage elements that help demonstrate diversity of cultural heritage and raise awareness about its importance.
  • The list was established in 2008 when Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage came into effect.
  • It has two parts viz. Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of urgent safeguarding.

13 Intangible Cultural Heritages of India:

India houses a repository of unique Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) traditions, 13 of which have also been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

  1. Tradition of Vedic chanting
  2. Ramlila, the traditional performance of the Ramayana
  3. Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre
  4. Ramman, religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas.
  5. Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala
  6. Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
  7. Chhau dance
  8. Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir.
  9. Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur
  10. Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab
  11. Yoga
  12. Nawrouz
  13. Kumbh Mela
[Ref: The Hindu]

Science & Technology

IIA scientists connect Lithium in space to new Lithium rich red giants

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science &Technology have discovered hundreds of Li-rich giant stars indicating that Li is being produced in the stars and accounts for its abundance in the interstellar medium.

  • They have also associated such Li enhancement with central He-burning stars, also known as red clump giants, thereby opening up new vistas in the evolution of the red giant stars.
  • This is an important discovery that will help to eliminate many proposed theories such as planet engulfment or nucleosynthesis during the red giant evolution in which helium (He) at the center is not burning.

About the new discovery

  • Lithium (Li), is one of the three primordial elements, apart from Hydrogen and Helium (He), produced in the big bang nucleosynthesis (BBN) whose models predict primordial Li abundance.
  • However, the present measurement of Li in the interstellar medium and very young stars is about 4 times more than the primordial value.
  • Thus, identifying sources of Li enrichment in Galaxy has been a great interest to researchers to validate Big Bang Nucleosynthesis as well as a stellar mixing process.
[Ref: PIB]

Prelims Key Facts

Most online content on child sexual abuse from India

  • The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) urges people to report CSAM found online across the world annually, on their online platform CyberTipline.
  • In a global compilation of reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) found online, India stands right on top of the list (11.7% or 19.87 lakh reports), followed by Pakistan (6.8%). Bangladesh comes in fourth with 5.5 lakh reports and a share of 3.3%.

Bug sniffer

  • Bug sniffer is a biosensor that uses synthetic peptides, magnetic nanoparticles, and quantum dots to detect the presence of bacteria, providing a cost- and time-effective way of screening water and foodborne pathogens. 
  • It is developed by researchers at the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Pune.
  • The most common disease-causing bacteria Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium can be detected individually and simultaneously using this biosener.

Active galactic nuclei

  • At the center of most galaxies, there’s a massive black hole that can have mass of millions or even billions of Suns that accrete gas, dust, and stellar debris around it.
  • As these material falls towards the black hole, their gravitational energy gets converted to light forming active galactic nuclei (AGN). 
  • A minority of AGN (~15%) emit collimated charged particles called jets travelling at speeds close to the speed of light. 

Blazars

  • Blazars are active galactic nuclei (AGN) whose jets are aligned with the observer’s line of sight.
  • They are the most luminous and energetic objects in the known universe. They emit Gamma ray.
  • Some blazars are thought to host binary black holes in them and could be potential targets for future gravitational-wave searches.

Kole Wetlands

  • The Kole wetlands lie between the Chalakudy river in Thrissur district and Bharathapuzha river in Malappuram district.
  • These wetlands get submerged in the monsoon and cultivation is carried out in the summer months when water levels are low.
  • It gives 40 % of the Kerala’s rice requirement and acts as a natural drainage system for Thrissur city and Thrissur District. 

What is remdesivir?

  • It is a drug with antiviral properties that was manufactured by US-based biotechnology company in 2014, to treat Ebola cases.
  • It was also tried in patients of MERS and SARS, both caused by members of the coronavirus family.
  • Coronaviruses have a single-strand RNA as their genetic material. When the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 enters a human cell, an enzyme called RdRP helps the virus replicate. Remdesivir works by inhibiting the activity of RdRP.

TriboE Mask

  • Researchers at the Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences (CeNS), Bangalore have come up with TriboE Mask that can hold electric charges to restrict the entry of infections but, without any external power.
  • The mask relies on electrostatics. When two non-conducting layers are rubbed against each other, the layers develop positive and negative charges instantly and continue to hold the charges for some time. 
  • The mask is three-layered –a layer of nylon cloth sandwiched between polypropylene layers.

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