Issues related to Health & Education
- National Conference on Down Syndrome
- CBEC to be renamed, reorganised for GST regime
Environment & Ecology
- Earth Hour
Bilateral & International Relations
- India Signs Financing Agreement with World Bank
Defence & Security Issues
- Government approves Shekatkar Committee recommendations to reform military
- Indian Navy gets three naval systems from DRDO
- Titu Mir returns to roil Bengal, 190 years after his fall in war
Science & Technology
- Massive brown dwarf 750 light years away
- Scientists switch on the world’s largest ‘artificial sun’
Key Facts for Prelims
- World Conference on Environment
- India to redefine blindness to meet WHO stipulation
- 9th World Environmental Education Congress
Issues related to Health & Education
National Conference on Down Syndrome
National Conference on Down Syndrome was recently inaugurated in New Delhi.
- The Conference was organized by The National Trust for the welfare of persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities under M/o SJ&E in collaboration with Muskaan, a registered organisation of the National Trust.
- The conference called upon the people to provide all types of support and help to Persons with Down Syndrome.
About Down Syndrome:
- Down Syndrome is a chromosomal condition associated with intellectual and learning disabilities.
- Persons with Down Syndrome have 47 chromosomes as compared to 46 in majority of people.
- This one Extra chromosome causes its own impact and slows down learning process.
- It impacts neurological functioning causing impairment of intellectual functions e.g. analytical thinking, complex abstractions and judgement etc.
- Good schooling, loving family, learning and work opportunities make them grow up to be responsible, loving and cheerful persons.
- Their emotions and needs are like any other person of the same age.
- Accepting and respecting family/community is a big support to their growth and development.
CBEC to be renamed, reorganised for GST regime
The Union Finance Minister has approved re-organisation of field formations of the Central Board of Excise & Customs (CBEC) for the implementation of Goods & Services Tax (GST).
- Under it, CBEC will be renamed as the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) after getting required legislative approval.
- The existing formations of Central Excise & Service Tax under the CBEC will be re-organised to implement and enforce the provisions of the proposed GST Laws.
- The proposed CBIC will supervise the work of all its field formations and Directorates and assist the Government in policy making in relation to GST, continuing Central Excise levy & Customs functions.
- The CBIC will have 21 Zones, 101 GST Tax payer Services Commissionerates comprising 15 sub-Commissionerates, 768 Divisions, 3969 Ranges, 49 Audit and 50 Appeals Commissionerates.
- It will ensure rendering of taxpayer services to all the taxpayers through an indirect tax administration structure by having pan-India presence.
- For a robust IT Network, the Directorate General of Systems under CBEC will be expanded for greater out- reach for facilitating smooth transition for the taxpayers to the GST environment.
- The existing training establishment will be renamed as National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics (NACITN) and shall have an all India presence.
- It will enable capacity building to the employees of the indirect tax administration of the Centre as well as of the State Governments and also of Trade and Industry.
- The renamed Directorate General of Goods & Service Tax Intelligence will be also strengthened and expanded to become an important wing of the Government in its fight against Tax Evasion and Black Money.
Environment & Ecology
The eleventh edition of the Earth Hour was observed across the world on 25 March 2017 to take a global call on climate change.
- To mark this day, cities worldwide turned their lights off from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm local time.
About Earth Hour:
- Earth Houris a worldwide movement for the planet organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
- The event is held worldwide annually encouraging individuals, communities, households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. towards the end of March, as a symbol for their commitment to the planet.
- It was famously started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to engage more than 7000 cities and towns worldwide.
- Today, Earth Hour engages a massive mainstream community on a broad range of environmental issues.
Why do we need earth hour?
- Global warming and climate change have dominated the scientific discourse in the past more than one decade. With ever rising population of the world, the climate change has put the humankind at a great risk along with other species.
- Global warming, rising levels of pollution due to ever increasing industrialisation, declining forest cover and rising sea levels are some of the dangers that drastically affect the workings of life on the earth.
- Though the largest polluters are big industries, the WWF tries to make the masses more and more aware about the impending dangers of adverse climate so that they could put pressure on the respective governments to frame environment-friendly policies and laws.
- With Earth Hour, the WWF aims to engage people across the globe to adopt more sustainable lifestyle. Turning off lights for an hour is just an annual reminder that if the world does not mend its ways, it will be heading to a dark age, literally.
About World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF):
- It is considered as one of the world’s largest and independent conservation organizations.
- It was established on 29 April 1961 with the slogan – For a Living Planet.
- Its primary objective is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.
- It seeks to achieve this objective by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful.
- The WWF has over 5 million supporters in over 100 countries.
Bilateral & International Relations
India Signs Financing Agreement with World Bank
India and World Bank have singed Signs Financing Agreement for IDA credit of $100 million for the “Uttarakhand Health Systems Development Project”.
- The project aims to improve access to quality health services, particularly in the hilly districts of the state and to expand health financial risk protection for residents of the State.
- The project has two main components,
- Innovations of engaging the private sector and
- Stewardship and system improvement.
- Out of the total project size of $125 million, $25 million will be contribution of the State Government.
- The project will benefit the residents of hilly districts of state in particular The project’s planned design consists of multiple self-contained clusters of clinical services managed by operators on a PPP basis.
- It also provides services for free or at nominal charges, backed up by a robust oversight and monitoring mechanism fully integrated with the expanded health insurance program in the State.
- It is concurrent with strengthening the state’s capacity to implement the project. It will be functional till September 2023.
About International Development Association (IDA):
The International Development Association (IDA) is the part of the World Bank that helps the world’s poorest countries.
- Overseen by 173 shareholder nations, IDA aims to reduce poverty by providing loans (called “credits”) and grants for programs that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities, and improve people’s living conditions.
- IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 771 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa, and is the single largest source of donor funds for basic social services in these countries.
IDA and IBRD:
- IDA complements the World Bank’s original lending arm—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
- IBRD was established to function as a self-sustaining business and provides loans and advice to middle-income and credit-worthy poor countries.
- IBRD and IDA share the same staff and headquarters and evaluate projects with the same rigorous standards.
Functions of the IDA:
- IDA lends money on concessional terms. This means that IDA credits have a zero or very low interest charge and repayments are stretched over 25 to 40 years, including a 5- to 10-year grace period. IDA also provides grants to countries at risk of debt distress.
- In addition to concessional loans and grants, IDA provides significant levels of debt relief through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI).
Defence & Security Issues
Government approves Shekatkar Committee recommendations to reform military
The Union Defence Ministry has approved most of the proposals of a committee of experts, headed by Lt General (retired) DB Shekatkar to bring host of reforms in the military and improve financial management.
- Around 90 recommendations have been of the committee were approved.
- Most of these recommendations are measures to increase coordination among the three Services and cut down flab in Army to make it lean and agile.
Major recommendations of Committee:
- If recommendations of committee are implemented over the next five years, government can save up to Rs. 25,000 crore from the current defence expenditure.
- Most of the recommendations are measures to cut down flab in the Army to make it lean and agile and increase coordination among the three Services.
- Roll-on defence budget must have enough capital expenditure available for modernisation. It must be against the present practice of surrendering unspent capital budget at the end of each financial year.
- It must be conducted of non-combat organisations under the Defence Ministry. It must include those dealing with defence estates and accounts, Director- General of Quality Assurance, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and National Cadet Corps (NCC).
Downsizing or rationalisation of manpower:
- It will lead to significant savings. Joint services war college: It must be established for training middle-level officers.
Reduce deployment of active-duty soldiers in avoidable postings:
- They will be replaced by retired officers and jawans in the running of NCC.
Comprehensive reforms in the running of NCC:
- Transfer of NCC out of the Defence Ministry to the HRD Ministry: NCC can be run by re-employed or on-contract ex-service personnel.
Indian Navy gets three naval systems from DRDO
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has handed over three naval systems to the Indian Navy.
- These latest systems will significantly enhance the navy’s navigation and communication network.
Three naval systems are:
- USHUS-II Submarine Sonar:
- The USHUS-II is a highly evolved compendium of multiple sensors.
- The constituent sonars in the suite include passive sonar, active sonar, intercept sonar, obstacle avoidance sonar and underwater telephony.
- Directing Gear for Hull Mounted Sonar Array:
- It is an electro-mechanical system that supports the transducer array of hull-mounted ship sonar systems.
- It rotates the sonar systems at a controlled speed for in-situ acoustic calibration at harbour and sea.
- RLG based Inertial Navigation System for Ship Applications (INS-SA):
- The Inertial Navigation System (INS) is based on indigenous Ring Laser Gyroscopes (RLG).
- It features high speed processor, multi-constellation Sat Nav receiver, ship specific interfaces and innovative algorithms.
- It provides vital information on the ship’s position coordinates and directs a ship towards its destination accurately.
Two Other products:
Defence Minister also released two other products developed by DRDO, namely
IP-based secure phone:
- It incorporates an indigenous encryption algorithm on a “trustworthy hardware platform”.
- It will provide high level of secrecy to voice and data, for communication of strategic and tactical plans of the Armed Forces.
Gallium Nitride Technology:
- It will substantially help in the development of next generation radars, seekers and communication systems, for application in Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
Titu Mir returns to roil Bengal, 190 years after his fall in war
Row over Titu Mir has been sparked again by the introduction of a chapter in the textbook in West Bengal.
What’s the issue?
- The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has approved the introduction of a chapter in its 10th history book that claims Titu Mir “killed” many Hindus and destroyed several temples.
- Some historians have challenged this assertion, while the Opposition described it as a “distortion of history.”
About Titu Mir:
- Titu Mir (1782-1831) a peasant leader who resisted the oppression of the local zamindars and European indigo planters on the peasantry with ultimate object of liberating the country from British domination.
- He was a leader of the tariqah-i-muhammadiya in Bengal.
- His movement initially aimed at socio-religious reforms, elimination of the practice of shirk (pantheism) and bidat (innovation) in the Muslim society and at inspiring the Muslims to follow Islamic principles in their day to day life.
- Syed Mir Nisar Ali, or Titu Mir led the Narkelberia Uprising in 1831 — often considered the first armed peasant uprising against the British.
- Bamboo fort (Bansher-Kella) built by him is very famous.
Why was he controversial political figure?
- Celebrated in folklore as a peasant leader, Titu Mir remains a controversial political figure in Bengal for his religious identity as an Islamic preacher after he converted to Wahabism.
Science & Technology
Massive brown dwarf 750 light years away
What are brown dwarfs?
- Brown dwarfs are objects which have a size between that of a giant planet like Jupiter and that of a small star.
- In fact, most astronomers would classify any object with between 15 times the mass of Jupiter and 75 times the mass of Jupiter to be a brown dwarf.
- Given that range of masses, the object would not have been able to sustain the fusion of hydrogen like a regular star; thus, many scientists have dubbed brown dwarfs as “failed stars”.
Why is it in news?
Scientists have identified a record-breaking brown dwarf, which possesses the ‘purest’ composition that is about 90 times as massive as the planet Jupiter, located 750 light years away in the outermost reaches of our galaxy.
About the discovery:
- The new object, known as SDSS J0104+1535, is located 750 light years away in the constellation of Pisces.
- It is made of gas that is around 250 times purer than the Sun, hence consists of more than 99% hydrogen and helium.
- Estimated to have formed about 10 billion years ago, measurements also suggest that it has a mass equivalent to 90 times that of Jupiter, making it the most massive brown dwarf found to date.
- It was previously not known if brown dwarfs could form from such primordial gas, and the discovery points the way to a larger undiscovered population of extremely pure brown dwarfs from our Galaxy’s ancient past
- The researchers have classified SDSS J0104+1535 as an L-type ultra-subdwarf using its optical and near-infrared spectrum, which has been measured using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).
About Very Large Telescope:
- The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.
- The VLT consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across, which are generally used separately but can be used together to achieve very high angular resolution.
- The four separate optical telescopes are known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun, which are all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language.
- The VLT operates at visible and infrared wavelengths.
- Each individual telescope can detect objects roughly four billion times fainter than can be detected with the naked eye, and when all the telescopes are combined, the facility can achieve an angular resolution of about 0.001 arc-second. This is equivalent to roughly 2 meters resolution at the distance of the Moon.
- The VLT is the most productive ground-based facility for astronomy, with only the Hubble Space Telescope generating more scientific papers among facilities operating at visible wavelengths.
Scientists switch on the world’s largest ‘artificial sun’
Scientists from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) have switched on world’s largest artificial sun – a device developed to help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuels.
What is it?
- The artificial sun is giant honeycomb-like set-up of 149 spotlights, officially known as Synlight. It is located in Juelich.
- It uses xenon short-arc lamps normally found in cinemas to simulate natural sunlight.
- The aim of Synlight experiment is to develop an optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
- Its goal is to eventually use actual sunlight rather than the artificial light produced using electricity which is costly and requires as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would use in a year.
- Using the array, scientists are seeking to produce the equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation by focusing the entire array on a single 8×8 in spot (20*20cm).
- When light from all the lamps is aligned to concentrate on a single spot, it can generate temperatures of around 3,500 degree Celsius i.e. temperature two to three times of a blast furnace.
Significance of this experiment:
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, but on earth it is relatively rare. One way to manufacture hydrogen is to split water (H2O) into its two elemental components – Hydrogen and oxygen, using electricity in electrolysis process. Synlight experiment will bypass usage of electricity by tapping into the enormous amount of solar energy that reaches Earth from sun. Hydrogen obtained from it will be used to be used in fuel cells, a clean source of energy that does not produce carbon emissions.[Ref: The Hindu]
Key Facts for Prelims
World Conference on Environment
- The 3rd edition of ‘World Conference on Environment’ was held in New Delhi.
- It was organized by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and inaugurated by the President Pranab Mukherjee.
- The 2-day conference discussed various issues like air pollution, water pollution, economics and clean technology, and the role of courts and tribunals for environmental protection.
- The conference conducted sessions on various environmental issues.
- The conference aims to provide a new dimension to the environmental jurisprudence from a world perspective.
- This is for the first time that UNEP is holding a conference in India in which around 55 delegates from 30 countries especially South Asian countries will participate.
India to redefine blindness to meet WHO stipulation
- The Union Government has decided to change a four-decade-old definition of blindness to bring it in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) criteria and ensure the Indian data on blindness meets the global estimates.
- As per National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) definition, in India person is blind if he is unable to count fingers from a distance of six metres.
- WHO definition stipulates this distance as three metres.
9th World Environmental Education Congress
- Canada is going to host 9th edition of World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC) in Vancouver from September 9-15, 2017.
- The theme of the congress will be “Culture/Environment: Weaving New Connections”.
- The WEEC is an international event that seeks to addresses issues related education for environment and sustainability.