Current Affairs Analysis

28th March 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

US’s historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package; Vice President donates a month’s salary to PM National Relief Fund; PM National Relief Fund; Cantonment Boards gear up to COVID-19 challenge; Cantonment Board; Indian Railways has decided a period under Force Majeure; Force Majeure; Arunachal’s tribes revive indigenous lockdown rituals; Galo Community; Korean Model to combat COVID-19; Intensification of Research in High Priority Area scheme; Science & Engineering Research Board; Coal capacity pipeline declines in India; Satish Gujral; Ossification Test; Laser surface micro-texturing; Reducing Repo Rate; Fight Corona IDEAthon; Solidatory Trial
By IASToppers
March 28, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Vice President donates a month’s salary to PM National Relief Fund
  • Cantonment Boards gear up to COVID-19 challenge

Government Schemes and policies

  • Intensification of Research in High Priority Area scheme

Issues related to health and education

  • Arunachal’s tribes revive indigenous lockdown rituals
  • Korean Model to combat COVID-19
  • US’s historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package

Economy

  • Indian Railways has decided a period under Force Majeure
  • Coal capacity pipeline declines in India

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Satish Gujral
  • Ossification Test
  • Laser surface micro-texturing
  • Reducing Repo Rate
  • Fight Corona IDEAthon
  • Solidatory Trial

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Polity & Governance

Vice President donates a month’s salary to PM National Relief Fund

The Vice President of India Shri M Venkaiah Naidu has contributed a sum equivalent to a month’s salary to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) to strengthen the government’s efforts in combating COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund:

  • Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) in India is the fund raised to provide support for people affected by natural and man-made disasters.
  • Natural disasters covered under this include flood, cyclone, earthquake etc.
  • Man-made disasters include major accidents, acid attacks, riots etc.

Key Features:

  • PMNRF was established in 1948 entirely with public contributions and does not get any budgetary support.
  • PMNRF accepts voluntary contributions from Individuals, Organizations, Trusts, Companies and Institutions etc.
  • All contributions towards PMNRF are exempt from Income Tax under section 80(G).
  • The resources of the PMNRF are utilized to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc.
  • Assists partially to defray the expenses for medical treatment like heart surgery, kidney transplantation, cancer treatment of needy people and acid attack etc.
  • The corpus of the fund is invested with banks in fixed deposits.
  • Disbursements are made with the approval of the Prime Minister.
[Ref: PMNRF, MEA]

Cantonment Boards gear up to COVID-19 challenge

Sixty two Cantonment Boards spread over 19 States/Union Territories, across the country, with a population of approx. 21 lakh  (including military and civil) have geared up to the challenge posed by Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Highlights:

  • Instructions have been issued to all the Cantonment Boards to identify beds in hospitals/health centres and guest houses for any eventuality.
  • Presidents and Chief Executive Officers of the Cantonment Boards are in constant touch with civilian authorities in their respective areas and providing required assistance whenever needed.
  • All the advisories issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are being strictly adhered to by all the Cantonment Boards.
  • All the Cantonment offices buildings, residential areas, school premises, libraries, parks and markets are being sanitised regularly.
  • Task forces have been set up consisting of office staff to ensure supply of essential commodities, food items, etc, especially for poor people residing in Cantonment areas.

Cantonment Board:

  • A cantonment board is a civic administration body in India under control of the Ministry of Defence.
  • The overall municipal administration of the Cantonment areas comes under Cantonment Boards which are democratic bodies.
  • The Cantonment areas were and are primarily meant to accommodate the military population and their installations.
  • Cantonments are different from the Military Stations in that the Military Stations are purely meant for the use and accommodation of the armed forces and these are established under an executive order whereas the Cantonments are areas which comprise of both military and civil population.

Members:

  • The board comprises elected members besides ex-officio and nominated members as per the Cantonments Act, 2006.
  • The term of office of a member of a board is five years.
  • A cantonment board consists of eight elected members, three nominated military members, three ex-officio members (station commander, garrison engineer and senior executive medical officer), and one representative of the district magistrate.

Categories:

  • Cantonments are divided into four categories, namely,
  • Category I – population exceeds fifty thousand.
  • Category II – population exceeds ten thousand, but does not exceed fifty thousand.
  • Category III – population exceeds two thousand five hundred, but does not exceed ten thousand.
  • Category IV – population does not exceed two thousand five hundred.
[Ref: PIB]

Government Schemes and policies

Intensification of Research in High Priority Area scheme

The Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB), an autonomous institution of the DST has sent out a call to invite proposals as part of special call under IRHPA (Intensification of Research in High Priority Area) scheme specifically designed for Covid-19.

Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB):

  • Science and Engineering Research Board is a statutory body under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, established by an Act of the Parliament of India in 2009.
  • The Board is chaired by the Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Science and Technology and shall have other senior government officials and eminent scientists as members.

Objective:

  • The Board was set up for promoting basic research in science and engineering.
  • To provide financial assistance to scientists, academic institutions, R&D laboratories, industrial concerns and other agencies for such research.

Intensification of Research in High Priority Area scheme:

  • The Intensification of Research in High Priority Areas(IRHPA) program of Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) supports proposals in high priority areas where multidisciplinary / multi-institutional expertise is required which will put our nation in international science map in that particular discipline.
  • The Scheme is designed to provide major conscious support to very few selected areas of research that have high priority from the view point of advances in fundamental science and that can be of great significance for scientific and technological development of the country.
  • The necessary facilities required for implementing the identified high priority areas will be supported through this scheme.
[Ref: SERB]

Issues related to health and education

Arunachal’s tribes revive indigenous lockdown rituals

A tribal lockdown ritual has staged a comeback in Arunachal Pradesh, the State geographically closest to China’s Hubei province where the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Arr-Rinam:

  • The border State’s West Siang district ceremonially entered the Arr-Rinam phase at the stroke of 5 p.m. on Thursday.
  • Arr-Rinam is the Galo equivalent of lockdown imposed by consensus for 48 hours whenever an epidemic strikes.

Galo community:

  • Galos are one of the 26 major communities of Arunachal Pradesh, and dominate West Siang, Lepa Rada and Lower Siang districts.
  • They have a big population in East Siang, Upper Subansiri and Namsai districts too.
  • The Galos belong to the Tani group inhabiting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, besides Tibet.
  • They trace their common origin to a primeval ancestor, Abotani.
  • Galo community has been recognized as a Scheduled Tribe in the Amendment to the Constitution (ST), Order, 1950, Part-XVIII.
  • Mopin is the main festival in Galos which is celebrated for the prosperity of the villages.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Korean Model to combat COVID-19

 South Korea which had hit the peak 989 cases of Corona in February has been successful in taking full control of the spread of the disease, despite the fact that Korea might be the only country that hasn’t imposed a lockdown within its territories or even of its international borders.

How has this been possible?

  • Korea has its own strict measures to prevent inflow and outflow of the virus but we are sticking to improving the situation without using drastic measures such as closing off our cities or our borders.
  • The ‘Korean model’ is grounded on concentrated testing of high-risk areas and clusters.
  • Korea found out at the beginning of the spread of the virus that a certain religious cult group and its gathering was the cause of a large portion of the spread in a certain area of the country.
  • This group had massive gatherings in a closed-off space with congregation in close contact with each other.
  • The government listed all members of the group across the country, tracked their whereabouts and conducted tests on a massive scale, leading to the rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases.
  • Thus, Korea succeeded in identifying and isolating potential cases at a very early stage and finally flattened the curve.

Testing Kits:

  • The moment the virus DNA pattern was confirmed in Wuhan, Korean medical teams and bio-companies were able to develop new testing kits with surprising speed.
  • This made it possible for Korea to conduct mass-scale testing of 18,000 cases a day.
  • Anybody in Korea who has symptoms or reasons to be tested can get the test within minutes at a ‘drive-thru’ or ‘walk-thru’ testing centres and receive the result by text message the very next day. Korea made available over 650 testing centers nationwide.

 [Ref: The Hindu]

US’s historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package

The US Senate Thursday unanimously approved a $2.2 trillion economic package to contain the damage caused to the country’s economy due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Major provisions:

  • The package, which was negotiated over several hours by the Senate Republicans, Democrats and Trump administration officials, is the largest of its kind in modern American history.
  • It is far bigger than the $800 billion assistance provided in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
  • The package intends to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and provide direct payments and jobless benefits for individuals, money for states and a huge bailout fund for businesses.
  • The package will provide direct financial support for low and middle-income families, and payments for companies that have lost a majority or all of their customers due to the pandemic.
  • The support for companies is aimed towards ensuring that they keep paying wages to their employees through the crisis, despite losing business activity. The deal also provides increased support for workers who have been fired or who have had their remuneration reduced.
  • It allocates $500 billion for loans and guarantees to businesses, state and local governments. This includes up to $50 billion for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo carriers, $17 billion for “businesses critical to maintaining national security.”
[Ref: Indian Express]

Economy

Indian Railways has decided a period under Force Majeure

Indian Railways has decided that period from 22.03.20 to 14.04.20 shall be treated under ‘force majeure’.

Force Majeure:

  • A force majeure(FM) means extraordinary events or circumstance beyond human control such as an event described as an Act of God (like a natural calamity).
  • Clarifying that spread of corona virus should be considered as a natural calamity and Force Majeure clause may be invoked, Ministry of Railways has decided that the period from 22.03.2020 to 14.04.2020 shall be treated under force majeure and none of the following mentioned charges shall arise for this period:-
  • Demurrage: Demurrage charges are levied per wagon per hour, or part of an hour, for detention of wagon in excess of the permissible free time for loading or unloading.
  • Wharfage: Wharfage means the charge levied on goods for not removing them from the railway after the expiry of the free time for such removal.
  • Stacking
  • Stabling, Demurrage in case of privately/jointly owned stock
  • Demurrage on parcel traffic
  • Wharfage on parcel traffic
  • Detention Charge in case of container traffic
  • Ground Usage Charge in case of container traffic
  • Zonal Railways have been advised to coordinate with State Government authorities to ensure logistics support in order to keep up the essential goods transportation.
[Ref: PIB]

Coal capacity pipeline declines in India

  • The latest report ‘Boom and Bust 2020: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline’ which is the fifth annual survey of the coal plant pipeline has been released recently. The report highlights that the capacity of coal power plants in the pre-construction phase fell by half from 2018 to 2019 in the country.

Released by:

  • Jointly released by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), Greenpeace International, the Sierra Club and Global Energy Monitor.

Major Highlights:

  • The capacity of coal power plants which was 60.2GW in 2018, saw a sharp fall to 29.3GW last year.
  • In India, capacity under construction and in pre-construction phase declined 80% from 311.1GW in 2015 to 66GW in 2019, with only 2.8GW newly proposed in 2019.
  • The findings state that the biggest growth in construction took place in South Asia in 2019, with India starting construction of 8.8GW of new coal power capacity.
  • Along with this, 8.1GW coal- based capacity was commissioned in the country last year.
  • The new construction includes four coal plants —- Adani Godda, Patratu and Udangudi having 1.6GW each and Yadadri with 4GW.
  • All the 8.8GW of new construction received substantial financing from the Power Finance Corporation or the Rural Electrification Corporation, both of which fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Power and are set to merge this year.
  • The report indicated that the private sector is exiting coal plant development in the country, the public sector is stepping in and footing the bill.

Concerns:

  • The shrinking coal pipeline in India, forced by huge over-capacity, subdued demand for electricity, falling utilization factor, falling prices of renewable energy, drying investments, and increasing public resistance due to pollution gives hope for a future with reduced fossil footprint for the country.
  • But, at the same time new capacity is being added to the grid, new projects are given clearances and infusion of public money into new projects by the government stresses on the environmental and economic crisis faced by the country.
  • A strict policy against building or clearing new coal-based plants with rapid retirement of older units is urgently required.
[Ref: TOI]

Key Facts for Prelims

Satish Gujral:

  • Satish Gujral (25 December 1925 – 26 March 2020) was an Indian painter, sculptor, muralist and writer of the post-independent era.
  • He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award of the Republic of India, in 1999.
  • He wrote his autobiography “A Brush With Life”.

Ossification test:

  • Bone ossification or osteogenesis, is the process of bone formation.
  • The process begins between the sixth and seventh weeks of embryonic development and continues until about age twenty-five, though this varies slightly based on the individual.
  • There are two types of bone ossification, intramembranous and endochondral.
  • Intramembranous ossification converts the mesenchymal tissue to bone and forms the flat bones of the skull, clavicle, and most of the cranial bones.
  • Endochondral ossification begins with mesenchymal tissue transforming into a cartilage intermediate, which is later replaced by bone and forms the remainder of the axial skeleton and the long bones.
  • Ossification test is a guess work based on the fusion of joints in the human body between birth and age 25.
  • If all joints are fused the person must be of 25yrs of age or older.
  • As per experts that there can be an error of about 2 years in the age determined by the ossification test, but it is still more reliable than ascertaining the age on mere appearance basis.
  • The Bombay high court in its 2016 ruled that a bone ossification test is by itself not conclusive proof of age.

Laser surface micro-texturing:

  • International Advanced Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI), an autonomous R&D Centre of Department of Science and Technology (DST), has developed ultrafast laser surface texturing technology, which can improve the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engines.
  • Laser surface micro-texturing, which offers precise control of the size, shape and density of micro-surface texture features has gained momentum as a way to control friction and wear.
  • In this technology, a pulsating laser beam creates micro-dimples or grooves on the surface of materials in a very controlled manner.
  • Such textures can trap wear debris when operating under dry sliding conditions and sometimes provide effects like enhancing oil supply (lubricant reservoir) which can lower friction coefficients and may enable reduced wear rate.

Reducing Repo rate 

  • Recently, to increase liquidity in market, the government reduced repo rate by 75 bps (basis points) to 4.4% while the reverse repo rate was cut by 90 bps point to 4%. 
  • The higher reduction in the reverse repo rate was aimed at prompting banks to lend more rather than keeping their excess liquidity with the RBI.

Fight Corona IDEAthon

  • Fight Corona IDEAthon, a 2-day online ideathon, is an initiative jointly organised by MHRD Innovation Cell, AICTE, MEITY Startup Hub, InnovatioCuris and other institutions to scout for affordable technological solutions that can contain the rapid spread of corona infection.

Solidatory Trial

  • India is all set to join World Health Organisation’s “Solidarity trial” aimed at rapid global search for drugs to treat COVID-19. The country has stayed away so far from this multi-country trial “due to its small sample size.
  • The Solidarity Trial will test four different drugs or combinations — remdesivir, a combination of two drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, the two drugs plus interferon beta, and chloroquine — and will compare their effectiveness to what is called standard of care, the regular support hospitals treating COVID-19 patients use now.
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