Issues related to Health and Education
- COVID-19 may cause subacute thyroiditis
- Calamity cess on GST
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- New plant species found in Western Ghats
- Nallamala Forest Reserve
- Cicadas are coming out after 17 years
Bilateral & International Relations
- Grand Renaissance Dam dispute
Science and Technology
- Earth’s weakening Magnetic field
- SpaceX Demo-2 mission
Key Facts for Prelims
- Eid al-Fitr
- World’s fastest internet data speed
- Katkari tribes
- Black Softshell Turtle
- N95 masks
- Shahi Litchi & Zardalu Mango
- Hunar Haat
- Kangra Tea
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Issues related to Health and Education
COVID-19 may cause subacute thyroiditis
According to a new case study Patients with COVID-19 may develop an inflammatory thyroid disease called subacute thyroiditis.
- Subacute thyroiditis is characterised by neck pain and is usually preceded by an upper respiratory tract infection.
- The disease may be caused by a viral infection or a post-viral inflammatory reaction, and many viruses have been linked to the disease.
- COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus has emerged as a pandemic with severe respiratory symptoms and may involve other organs too.
- The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple.
- It’s part of an intricate network of glands called the endocrine system.
- The endocrine system is responsible for coordinating many of our body’s activities.
- The thyroid gland manufactures hormones that regulate our body’s metabolism.
- The two hormones secreted are Triiodothyronine (T3) hormone and the Thyroxine hormone (T4).
- Thyroxine is a hormone that affects physiological processes such as growth, development, metabolism, etc.
- Several different disorders can arise when the thyroid gland produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism) or not enough (hypothyroidism).
Calamity cess on GST
The central government is considering a calamity cess on Goods and Services Tax to tide over the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is the issue?
- A proposal to raise additional revenue from GST excluding goods and services in the five per cent slab currently under consideration of the Finance Ministry.
- The issue will be raised at the next GST Council meeting, which is expected to be held in a few weeks.
- Such a move would not be a good idea as the industry is already facing a “huge crisis”.
Example of implementation:
- Kerala is the only state to have levied such a cess (disaster relief cess) introduced following the monsoon floods of 2018.
- The cess was levied using the Constitutional provision, Section (4) (F) of Article 279 A.
- The provision refers to any special rate or rates for a specified period to raise additional resources during any natural calamity or disaster.
- The GST (Compensation to States) Act, 2017 provides for the imposition of cess up to the rate of 15 percent ad valorem (based on estimated value) on supplies.
- Kerala had started levying 1 percent cess on GST for two years from August 1, 2019, on the value of goods and services taxed at 12 percent, 18 percent and 28 percent.
- A cess is a tax on tax, levied by the government for a specific purpose.
- It is levied on the tax payable and not on the taxable income.
- For the taxpayer, cess is equivalent to a surcharge on tax.
- A cess can be levied on both direct and indirect taxes.
Examples: Clean environment cess, Education cess, Krishi Kalyan cess etc.
- A cess is levied to meet a specific purpose and soits proceeds cannot be spent on any other kind of government expenditure.
- The proceeds of all taxes and cesses are credited in the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI).
- The approval of the Parliament is necessary to withdraw funds from the CFI.
- The tax proceeds are shared with the States and Union Territories according to the guidelines by the Finance Commission. But the cess proceeds need not be shared with them.
- The government has to create a dedicated fund in order to utilize the cess proceeds lying in CFI.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
New plant species found in Western Ghats
A team of scientists of the Botanical Survey of India have reported the discovery of three new plant species from the evergreen forest patches of the southern end of the Western Ghats.
1. Eugenia sphaerocarpa:
- The species belong to the Myrtaceae or Rose apple family.
- A good population of the species is growing in the Malabar wildlife sanctuary in Kerala above 800 m.
- The Eugenia species have large, showy lemon-yellow spherical fruits known for their palatability.
2. Goniothalamus sericeus:
- The species belong to the Annonaceae family of custard apple.
- A small number of Goniothalamus sericeus plants have been found in the Kanyakumari wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu at an altitude of 1400 m.
3. Memecylon nervosum:
- The species belong to the Melastomataceae (Kayamboo or Kaasavu in local parlance) family.
- A small population of Memecylon nervosum was also found at the Kanyakumari wildlife sanctuary at an altitude between 700-900 m.
Nallamala Forest Reserve
The Nallamala Forest Reserve is located in the Nallamala hill ranges, Eastern Ghats of India.
About the reserve:
- Nallamala Hills are located in the Eastern Ghats in eastern Andhra Pradesh.
- A part of the forest reserve belongs to the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve which is the largest Tiger Reserve in India.
- Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve and Amrabad Tiger Reserve are located in Nallamala Hills.
- Amrabad Reserve was created after the separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.
- Nallamala hills are located south of the Krishna River and run parallel to the Coromandel Coast on the Bay of Bengal.
- The rocks of the Nallamala ranges are among the oldest in the world.
- The Eastern Ghats are a discontinuous range of mountains along India’s eastern coast.
- The Eastern Ghats run from the northern Odisha through Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu in the south passing some parts of Karnataka.
- They are eroded and cut through by four major rivers of peninsular India, viz. Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna, and Kaveri.
- The mountain ranges run parallel to the Bay of Bengal.
- The Deccan Plateau lies to the west of the range, between the Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats.
- The coastal plains, including the Coromandel Coast region, lie between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal.
- The Eastern Ghats are not as high as the Western Ghats.
- The Eastern Ghats harbours a wide list of Sanctuaries and Nationalparks, many hills, minor rivers, including Nallamala Hills of Andhra Pradesh.
- They extend over a length of 1700 Km in a north-east southwest strike in the Indian Peninsula covering an area of about 2, 50,000 Sq. Km., with an average width of 220 Km in the north and 100 Km in the south.
- The Mahanadi basin marks the northern boundary of the Eastern ghats while the southern boundary is the Nilgiri hills.
- Major portion of the mountain range falls in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
- One of the biggest characteristics of Eastern Ghats lie in its being extremely fertile.
- In fact, the Ghat is said to be the watershed of many rivers as the Ghat gets a higher average waterfall.
- Due to higher rainfall, the fertile land results in better crops.
- Often referred as “Estuaries Of India”, Ghats are full of fishing opportunities.
Cicadas are coming out after 17 years
A brood of periodical cicadas, noisy insects that breed underground for as long as 13-17 years are expected to emerge into some states on the east coast of the US this year.
What are cicadas?
- Cicadas are insects that spend most of their lives underground and emerge from the soil mainly to mate.
- They take upto 17 years to reach adulthood.
- Once out of the ground, their life span is fairly short, somewhere between two-four weeks.
- There will be major outbreaks of periodical cicadas in 2020 and 2021.
- The insects are found in the America’s as well as New Zealand and Australia.
- The people living in these areas will experience a unique natural phenomenon that has not occurred in most of the area since 2003.
What happens when cicadas emerge?
- After emerging from the ground in billions, the cicadas shed their exoskeletons or outer skins to take their winged form.
- After mating, the females lay their eggs in twigs that are ½ to ¼ in diameter.
- One female is capable of laying over 400 eggs in 40-50 different sites.
- The eggs remain in the twigs for six to ten weeks before they hatch and after hatching the nymphs fall to the ground where they burrow 6-18 inches underground to feed and emerge 13 or 17 years later.
- The egg-laying by the cicadas causes significant damage to small twigs.
Bilateral & International Relations
Grand Renaissance Dam dispute
The Nile, Africa’s longest river, has been at the center of a decade-long complex dispute involving several countries in the African continent who are dependent on the river’s waters.
What is the dispute about?
- The Grand Renaissance Dam hydropower project is being constructed by Ethiopia.
- It will be Africa’s largest dam when completed.
- While the main waterways of the Nile run through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, its drainage basin runs through other countries in East Africa, including Ethiopia.
- Ethiopia began construction of the dam in 2011 on the Blue Nile tributary that runs across one part of the country.
- Egypt has objected to the construction of this dam and in Sudan has found itself caught in the midst of this conflict.
- Due to the importance of the Nile as a necessary water source in the region, observers are concerned that this dispute may evolve into a full-fledged conflict between the two nations.
- The US has stepped in to mediate between the parties.
How can this lead to conflict?
- Ethiopia’s mega project on the Nile may just allow the country to control the river’s waters, and this essentially concerns Egypt because it lies downstream.
- Last year, Ethiopia announced that it planned on generating power using two turbines by December 2020.
- Egypt has objected to these plans and has proposed a longer timeline for the project because it does not want the water level of the Nile to dramatically drop as the reservoir fills with water in the initial stages.
- For the past four years, tri-party talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been unable to reach agreements.
Why does Ethiopia want this dam?
- Ethiopia believes this dam will generate approximately 6,000 megawatts of electricity when it is done.
- According to a BBC report, 65% of Ethiopia’s population suffers due to lack of access to electricity.
- This dam will reduce those shortages and help the country’s manufacturing industry.
- The country may also be able to supply electricity to neighbouring nations and earn some revenue in exchange.
- Neighbouring countries like Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea and South Sudan also suffer from electricity shortages.
- If Ethiopia sells electricity to these nations, they may also reap benefits.
What is happening now?
- In the latest developments Egypt announced that it is willing to resume negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan concerning the dam.
- While Ethiopia has stated that it does not need Egypt’s permission to fill the dam.
- Egypt has written to the UN Security Council on May 1, saying the dam would jeopardise food and water security and livelihoods of ordinary Egyptian citizens.
- In the letter to the UNSC, Egypt also implied that the dam would cause armed conflict between the two countries.
To read more about the issue, kindly read Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the link given below:[Ref: Indian Express]
Science and Technology
Earth’s weakening Magnetic field
Scientists say that earth’s magnetic field is gradually weakening which is resulting in technical disturbances in some satellites orbiting our planet.
Magnetic field of Earth:
- The magnetic field is vital for life on earth as it protects us from the harmful cosmic radiation and charged particles emitted from the sun.
- The field is mostly generated by the ocean of super-hot liquid iron that makes up Earth’s outer core, around 3,000 km below the earth crust.
- It creates electric currents that generate and change our electromagnetic field.
- This field varies in strength and direction and over the last 200 years, it has lost around 9% of its strength.
South Atlantic Anomaly:
- Scientists studying the phenomenon have observed that between 1970 and 2020, the magnetic field weakened considerably in a large region stretching from Africa to South America, known as the ‘South Atlantic Anomaly’.
- This area has grown and moved westward at a rate of around 20km per year.
- The reason for the reducing magnetic field is not entirely known and researchers are using European Space Agency’s Swarm satellites to improve their understanding of this area.
- Swarm satellites are designed to identify and precisely measure the different magnetic signals that make up Earth’s magnetic field.
- The challenge now is to understand the processes in the Earth’s core driving these changes.
- According to the ESA, one possibility for the current weakening is a sign that Earth’s magnetic field is about to reverse – in which the north and south magnetic poles switch places.
- Such events have occurred many times throughout Earth’s history, roughly every 250,000 years.
- In fact, such a “geomagnetic reversal” is long overdue since the last one took place 780,000 years ago.
- The impact of such a geomagnetic reversal could be significant, given the role of Earth’s magnetic field in protecting the planet from solar winds and harmful cosmic radiation.
- Also, as the telecommunication and satellite systems also rely on the magnetic fields to operate, the computers and mobile phones could experience difficulties.
- Another impact of the reversal will be on birds, turtles and other creatures that use the magnetic field to navigate.
- The North on a compass will point to Antarctica rather than Canada.
- The satellites and other spacecraft flying through the area are more likely to experience technical malfunctions, so charged particles can penetrate the altitudes of low-Earth orbit satellites.
SpaceX Demo-2 mission
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight will lift off for the International Space Station on May 27, 2020.
What is the mission?
- The Demo-2 mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will see two astronauts fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
- The spacecraft will lift off from a Falcon 9 rocket, from Kennedy Space Center Florida.
- The lift-off on May 27 is a flight test to certify if SpaceX’s crew transportation system can be used to ferry crew to and from the space station regularly.
- This is the final flight test for the system and intends to validate its different components, including the spacecraft (Crew Dragon), the launch vehicle (Falcon 9), the launch pad (LC-39A) and the operations capabilities.
- After its launch, the Crew Dragon will perform a series of phasing manoeuvres to gradually approach and autonomously dock with the ISS on May 28.
- After docking, the two astronauts will go aboard the ISS.
- They will perform tests of the Crew Dragon and conduct research with Expedition 63, the space station crew currently in residence at ISS.
The Commercial Crew Program:
- The main objective of this program is to make access to space easier in terms of its cost, so that cargo and crew can be easily transported to and from the ISS, enabling greater scientific research.
- By encouraging private companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to provide crew transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, NASA can focus on building spacecraft and rockets meant for deep space exploration missions.
Key Facts for Prelims
- Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and is celebrated by Muslims all across the globe.
- Eid al-Fitr, also called the “Festival of breaking fast”marks the first day of Islamic Shawwal month.
- It is widely believed that Prophet Muhammad got the first revelation of the Holy Quran during the holy month of Ramadan.
- It is celebrated to pay respect to Allah for providing strength and endurance during the month-long fasting rituals.
- One of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat or giving alms to the poor is also practised on Eid.
World’s fastest internet data speed
- The researchers from Monash University in Australia, recorded a data speed of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps) from a single light source.
- It is the world’s fastest internet data speed which can help scale up the capacity of network connections across the world.
- This speed was achieved by attaching their new device to existing fibre-optic technology, like the one used in broadband internet networks.
- The optical fibres already part of internet infrastructure in the ground may be the backbone of communications networks now and into the future.
- The Katkari tribes are located primarily in Raigad, parts of Palghar, Ratnagiri and Thane districts of Maharashtra and in some places of Gujarat.
- Katkaris were historically forest dwellers.
- The name Katkari is derived from a forest based activity – the making and barter or sale of Katechu (kath) from the khair tree.
- They primarily speak Katkari language amongst themselves and Marathi with others.
- Katkaris are former criminal tribes under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 which described certain groups of people as “habitually criminal” and put restrictions on their movements.
- Presently, the Katkaris are classified as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).
Black Softshell Turtle
- Black softshell turtle is a species of freshwater turtle endemic to India and Bangladesh.
- They are called softshell because their shell is light and flexible which allows them to move much faster on land than most turtles.
- IUCN status: Extinct in the wild.
- The turtles are found only in the ponds of some temples in Assam and Chittagong and Sylhet areas in Bangladesh.
- Selling and consuming turtle meat is illegal under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- N95 masks, worn mostly by healthcare workers, are known to offer the highest level of protection against airborne infections, but they still have limitations.
- N95 masks filter about 85% of particles smaller than 300 nanometres, or nm (1 nm is a billionth part of a metre). SARS-CoV-2, however, is in the size range of 65-125 nm, so some virus particles could slip through N95s.
- Now, researchers have developed a membrane that can be attached to a regular N95 mask and replaced when needed. The filter has a smaller pore size than normal N95 masks, potentially blocking more virus particles.
- Scientists have discovered the 70-million-year-old remains of a megaraptor in Argentina, which means this dinosaur may have been one of the last carnivorous ones on the planet. The team found fossils, measuring 10 m, in the southern province of Santa Cruz in March 2020.
- Megaraptor is a dinosaur that lived in the Turonian to Coniacian ages of the Late Cretaceous period.
- Megaraptors were slimmer than the Tyrannosaurus rex, and were built for speed, with long tails that enabled them to maintain balance.
- They had muscular, elongated legs with which they could take long steps.
- The defining characteristic of megaraptors was that they had very long arms and that their thumb ended in a claw of approximately 15 inches.
Shahi Litchi & Zardalu Mango
- The Department of Posts, Government of India and the Department of Horticulture, Government of Bihar have joined hands to supply ‘Shahi Litchi’ & Zardalu Mango to the people at doorstep.
- The ”Shahi Litchi” of Muzaffarpur (Bihar) & “Zardalu Mango” of Bhagalpur(Bihar) are famous in the world by virtue of their unique fragrance and demand everywhere.
- After a gap of about 5 months due to the Corona pandemic, “Hunar Haat” will restart from September 2020 with the theme of “Local to Global” and comparatively larger participation of artisans.
- Hunar Haats are organised by the Ministry of Minority Affairs under the USTTAD (Upgrading the Skills & Training in Traditional Arts/Crafts for Development) scheme. The USTTAD scheme aims at preserving & promoting the traditional arts & crafts of the Minority communities.
- The exhibition is aimed at promoting and supporting artisans from Minority communities and providing them domestic as well as international market for display and sell their products.
- The United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth has listed Manipur’s Khudol (gift) among the top 10 global initiatives for an inclusive fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Khudol is a crowdfunded initiative of Ya_All, an Imphal-based NGO that had created India’s first transgender football team.
- The initiative entails ensuring food, health and hygiene of the LGBTQI+ community, people living with HIV, daily-wage earners, children and adolescents.
- A research has claimed that Kangra Tea, well known for its other medicinal properties, may be able to boost immunity against coronavirus by blocking the virus activity better than the anti-HIV drugs currently being used as preventive care for patients and health care professionals.
- The endorsement of Kangra tea as a potential virus killer comes days after a group of researchers revealed that herb Ashwagandha contains certain bio-actives that interact with SARS-CoV-2 virus in a way that prevents it from multiplying.
- Ashwagandha, which is also popular as an aphrodisiac, has a natural compound called withanone (Wi-N), with the potential to block Covid-19’s enzyme responsible for replication. It is being alleged that Ashwagandha, if used along with an active ingredient of propolis called Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE) can block the replication process of the virus.
- Tea vinegar has anti-obesity properties.