Polity & Governance
- Decriminalisation of offences under Companies Act
Issues related to Health and Education
- Status of PWD during the COVID-19 crisis
- Stem cells transplantation
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Dwarfing genes in wheat
- New species of Seahorse
- New species of Dragonfly
Science and Technology
- Sonic Boom
Key Facts for Prelims
- Finance Commission’s committee report on nominal GDP
- President accepts credentials of envoys in e-ceremony
- China’s May Fourth Movement
- Quantum entanglement
- International Tea Day
- Alzheimer’s disease
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Polity & Governance
Decriminalisation of offences under Companies Act
The Finance Minister has recently announced that the government is moving to decriminalise provisions of the Companies Act to enhance ease of doing business in the country.
What is the move?
- The move is a part of a larger effort by the government since 2018 to remove criminal penalties from all provisions of the Companies Act, except provisions dealing with fraudulent conduct.
- The imprisonment penalty has been removed from a number of offences previously classified as compoundable offences (those offences that had either imprisonment or fines as punishments).
- The number of compoundable offences under the Companies Act have come down to 31 from 81 prior to the 2018 amendment to the Companies Act.
- A number of these offences have been moved from needing to be prosecuted through the National Company Law Tribunals to being dealt with by the Registrar of Companies.
- The RoC is empowered to decide penalties for these offences and companies can appeal to the Regional Director (RD) of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) to appeal or seek modifications to these decisions.
- This move would decongest NCLTs to deal with cases dealing with insolvency and other higher priority matters.
- The total number offences to be dealt with the in-house adjudication mechanism has risen from 18 in 2018 to 58 proposed in the latest amendment.
Why the change?
- The move has been part of larger government efforts to boost ease of doing business since 2018.
- The recent decriminalised offences include administrative offences such as delays in filing CSR reports, or failure to rectify the register of members in compliance with orders from the NCLT.
- Experts point out that the decriminalisation efforts are really an effort to pull back on regulations introduced in 2014 aimed at boosting corporate compliance.
- The Companies Act amendment bill 2020 has also proposed to remove criminal liability from Corporate Social Responsibility provisions.
Issues related to Health and Education
Status of PWD during the COVID-19 crisis
The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People has released a report “status of persons with disabilities in India during the COVID-19 crisis” recently.
- The report included a survey of 1,067 respondents and responses from 19 disability sector leaders across the States.
- Over 73% of those interviewed were facing severe challenges on account of the lockdown.
- The key problems faced by persons with disability were limited access to doorstep delivery of essentials, government helplines and financial assistance from the government.
- It recommended enforcing the government guidelines and securing financial support to all persons with disabilities.
- The report stated that the issues could have been taken care of if the ‘Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines’ issued by the Central Government’s Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) had been uniformly enforced across the country.
- As per the guidelines “the persons with disabilities are given access to essential food, water, medicine and to the extent possible, such items should be delivered at their residence or place where they have been quarantined.”
- The persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable during periods of lockdown or other emergencies as their usual difficulties in securing services or procuring essential goods were greatly amplified.
- Usual caregivers too were immobile during a lockdown and even persons with low levels of dependency were hindered by the restraint imposed by the lockdown.
- The attention we pay to the pressing needs of persons with disability is the hallmark of a sensitive society and the symbol of caring administration.
Stem cells transplantation
Doctors in Japan have successfully transplanted liver cells derived from embryonic stem cells into a newborn baby.
- The success of this trial demonstrates safety in the world’s first clinical trial using human Embryonic stem (ES) cells for patients with liver disease.
- ES cells are harvested from fertilised eggs and using them in research has raised ethical issues because embryos are destroyed subsequently.
- A stem cell is a cell with the unique ability to develop into specialised cell types in the body.
- Stem cells provide new cells for the body as it grows, and replace specialised cells that are damaged or lost.
- They can divide over and over again to produce new cells.
- As they divide, they can change into the other types of cells that make up the body.
- Stem cells can be used to replace cells and tissues that have been damaged or lost due to disease.
Characteristics of Stem cells:
- They are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity.
- Under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue or organ-specific cells with special functions.
- In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues.
- In other organs such as the pancreas and the heart, stem cells only divide under special conditions.
Similarities and differences between embryonic and adult stem cells:
- Embryonic stem cells are stem cells derived from an early-stage pre-implantation embryo.
- Theysupply new cells for an embryo as it grows and develops into a baby.
- These stem cells are said to be pluripotent, which means they can change into any cell in the body.
- Embryonic stem cells can be grown relatively easily in culture.
- Adult stem cells supply new cells as an organism grows and to replace cells that get damaged.
- Adult stem cells are said to be multipotent, which means they can only change into some cells in the body, not any cell.
- Blood (or haematopoietic) stem cells can only replace the various types of cells in the blood.
- Skin (or epithelial) stem cells provide the different types of cells that make up our skin and hair.
- Adult stem cells are rare in mature tissues, so isolating these cells from an adult tissue is challenging.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Dwarfing genes in wheat
Scientists at Agharkar Research Institute have mapped two alternative dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat.
- In India farmers burn leftover rice residues annually to get rid of the straw and prepare their fields for sowing wheat resulting in air pollution.
- The dry environments pose a challenge for the germination of wheat varieties with short coleoptile.
- To overcome these problems, Scientists at Pune based Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) have mapped two alternative dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat.
- These genes are associated with better seedling vigour and longer coleoptiles (sheath protecting the young shoot tip).
About the Research:
- The scientists have mapped the dwarfing genes on chromosome 6A in durum wheat, and DNA-based markers were developed for a better selection of these genes in wheat breeding lines.
- The DNA-based markers will help wheat breeders to precisely select wheat lines carrying these alternative dwarfing genes from a massive pool of wheat breeding lines.
- These DNA based markers are being used at ARI for marker-assisted transfer of these genes in Indian wheat varieties, so as to make them suitable for sowing under rice stubble-retained conditions and dry environments.
- Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.
- The improved wheat lines which are being developed at ARI will help reduce stubble burning incidences under the rice-wheat cropping system.
- These lines will also allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil, therefore, saving valuable water resources and reducing the cost of cultivation to farmers.
New species of Seahorse
A new species of seahorse is discovered in the waters of Sodwana Bay, South Africa, which falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site.
About the species:
- Hippocampus nalu grows to a maximum size of just two centimetres.
- It is the first pygmy seahorse ever discovered in African waters.
- It is physically and genetically distinct from the seven known species of pygmy seahorses.
- Its nearest relatives are found more than 8,000 km away in the Pacific Ocean.
- As not much is known about the species, their IUCN status is unknown.
- Pygmy seahorses can also provide an important boost for tourism: scuba divers love these small species and are willing to travel far and wide for a chance to see them.
- Seahorse is the name given to species of small marine fish in the genus Hippocampus.
- Seahorses are mainly found in shallow tropical and temperate salt water throughout the world, from about 45°S to 45°N.
- They live in sheltered areas such as seagrass beds, estuaries, coral reefs, and mangroves.
- Seahorses are threatened all around the world.
- Many species are at risk of becoming extinct because of human activities such as bottom trawling, overfishing, and habitat destruction.
New species of Dragonfly
A new species of dragonfly that is endemic to the lowland region of Konkan in Maharashtra, has been found recently.
About the species:
- This is the only species of dragonfly or damselfly known to be endemic to the lowland coastal region of Konkan.
- This species prefers to perch on rocks and even concrete walls, and thus gained the name Konkan Rockdweller.
- Dragonflies and damselflies, that belong to the Order Odonata, are some of the ecologically important insects of freshwater habitats.
- The Western Ghats are home to about 196 species of odonates, more than 40 per cent of which are endemic to the region.
Science and Technology
A loud sonic boom was heard in Bengaluru recently, which was revealed to have emanated from an IAF test flight.
What is a Sonic Boom?
- A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created whenever an object travels through the air faster than the speed of sound i.e. at a speed greater than 1225 kmph at sea level.
- Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, which sounds similar to an explosion or a thunderclap to the human ear.
- Sonic booms due to large supersonic aircraft can be particularly loud and disturbing to living bodies, and may cause minor damage to some structures.
How does it form?
- When any object flies through the atmosphere, it continuously pushes the air in front of it.
- This action creates pressure waves that ripple out at the speed of sound.
- When the object goes supersonic – i.e. crosses the speed of sound in the medium in which it is flying, in this case these pressure waves are pushed out at faster than the speed of sound.
- But since they can only move out at the speed of sound, they begin to accumulate in front of the object.
- At some point they merge together into a single high-pressure wave known as a shockwave.
- When this shockwave reaches the human ear, a loud sonic boom: a thunderous clap of noise is heard, signalling there is a supersonic object in his wider vicinity.
- The boom marks the moment when one experiences a sudden but transient (for a very small duration of time) change in air pressure around him.
Key Facts for Prelims
Finance Commission’s committee report on nominal GDP
- The 15th Finance Commission’s committee on fiscal consolidation has estimated India’s nominal GDP growth rate in 2020-21 between -6% and 1%.
- As per the committee, there is a high level of uncertainty in the trend of economic recovery both due to the pandemic and the fiscal pressures on the economy.
- The participants in the committee had wide variations of opinion in terms of nominal GDP growth projections, ranging between -6% and 1%.
- They differed on whether the economy would experience a V-shaped or U-shaped recovery.
- Nominal GDP growth does not take inflation into account, and is thus higher than real GDP growth.
President accepts credentials of envoys in e-ceremony
- President Ram Nath Kovind became India’s first head of state to receive and accept diplomatic credentials of seven foreign envoys in an e-ceremony heralding “digital diplomacy” because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
- Usually, the presentation of credentials is an elaborate ceremony with strict rules and rituals.
- The foreign envoys come to Rashtrapati Bhavan accompanied by a foreign ministry official; they have to sit in a specific seat in the car with the protocol officer next to them.
- The diplomat is received at the forecourt of the presidential palace by the commander of the Presidential Guard.
- Then there is a guard of honour in the middle arc of the main entrance, and the police band plays the national anthem of the diplomat’s country.
- Once inside the ceremonial hall, the diplomat sits two metres away from the President; does not shake hands or exchange any words, but gives a gentle bow.
China’s May Fourth Movement
- May Fourth Movement is an intellectual revolution and sociopolitical reform movement that occurred in China in 1917–21.
- The movement was directed towards national independence, emancipation of the individual, and rebuilding society and culture.
- Its leaders wanted the eradication of Confucian values and a society based on democratic government, liberal individualism, science and industry.
- The movement peaked on May 4th 1919, when thousands of students rallied in Beijing to protest against China’s treatment in the Treaty of Versailles.
- They were particularly outraged by the treatment of Shandong province, which was given to the Japanese after World War I.
- Quantum entanglement is one of the peculiarities of quantum mechanics, which makes phenomena such as quantum teleportation and super-dense coding possible.
- Quantum entanglement occurs when two particles become inseparably linked and whatever happens to one immediately affects the other, regardless of how far apart they are.
- The pair or group of particles interact in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the pair or group cannot be described independently of the state of the others.
- Entangled states are key resources to facilitate many quantum information processing tasks and quantum cryptographic protocols.
International Tea Day
- The world’s first International Tea Day (ITD) is being celebrated by the United Nations on 21st May to raise awareness of the deep cultural and economic significance of tea around the world.
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will lead the observance of the Day.
- Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati have worked on ideas that can help prevent or reduce short-term memory losses associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- The team reports methods such as application of low-voltage electric field, and the use of ‘trojan peptides’ to arrest aggregation of neurotoxic molecules in the brain.
- The development of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease assumes importance India as it has the third highest number of Alzheimer’s patients in the world, after China and US, with more than four million people falling prey to the memory loss associated with it.
- While current treatments only alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease, there is no disruptive therapeutic approach yet that can treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s.