Current Affairs Analysis

29th & 30th March 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Neanderthal; COVID-19 National Teleconsultation Centre; PM CARES fund; Kerala seeks relaxation of FRBM rules; What is the FRBM Act; Relaxation of FRBM rules; Himalayan Ibex; Siberian Ibex; Air quality improves due to lockdown effect; National Air quality Index; COVID-19: Plasma experimental therapy; SWAYAM Programme; National Gallery of Modern Art; Toothed pterosaur; Dineobellator notohesperus; Section 10(2)(i) in the Disaster Management Act, 2005; Daporijo bridge; Diabetic retinopathy; Business Immunity Platform; Indian Handicrafts and Gift Fair (IHGF); Khari Baoli; Red flag Exercise
By IASToppers
March 30, 2020

Contents

Government Schemes and policies

  • PM CARES fund

Issues related to health and education

  • COVID-19 National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC)
  • COVID-19: Plasma experimental therapy

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Himalayan Ibex
  • Air quality improves due to lockdown effect

Economy

  • Kerala seeks relaxation of FRBM rules

Key Facts for Prelims

  • National Gallery of Modern Art
  • Toothed pterosaur
  • Dineobellator notohesperus
  • Neanderthal
  • Section 10(2)(i) in the Disaster Management Act, 2005
  • Daporijo bridge
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Business Immunity Platform
  • Indian Handicrafts and Gift Fair (IHGF)
  • Khari Baoli
  • Red flag Exercise
  • SWAYAM Programme

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Government Schemes and policies

PM CARES fund

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for donations to the newly instituted PM-CARES Fund, which he said, has been formed on popular demand to help fight the novel coronavirus.

Key Features:

  • Respecting the spirit of Indian people from all walks of life who had expressed their desire to donate to India’s war against COVID-19, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund has been constituted.
  • This will go a long way in creating a healthier India.
  • He also said the fund will cater to similar distressing situations if they occur in the times ahead.
  • As per a PIB statement, the fund will be a public charitable trust under the name of ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’.
  • The Prime Minister is the Chairman of this trust and members include the Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister.
  • There is already a Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for identical purpose.
  • The PM-Cares Fund accepts micro-donations too.
  • It will strengthen disaster management capacities and encourage research on protecting citizens.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Issues related to health and education

COVID-19 National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC)

The Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare has launched the National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC) recently and reviewed the COVID-19 preparedness.

CoNTeC:

  • The project CoNTeC, an acronym for COVID-19 National Teleconsultation Centre, has been conceptualised by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and has been implemented by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.
  • The CoNTeC is a Telemedicine Hub established by AIIMS, New Delhi, wherein expert doctors from various clinical domains will be available 24×7 to answer the multifaceted questions from specialists from all over the country.
  • It is a multi-modal telecommunications hub through which 2 way audio-video and text communications can be undertaken from any part of the country as well as the world at large.
  • The modes of communication will include simple mobile telephony as well as two way video communications, using WhatsApp, Skype and Google Duo.
  • The CoNTeC is also fully integrated with the National Medical College Network (NMCN) to conduct a full-fledged Video Conference (VC) between the 50 Medical Colleges connected through the NMCN with its National Resource Centre located at SGPGI, Lucknow.

Rationale:

  • CoNTeC has been made operational at AIIMS with a view to connect the Doctors across the country to AIIMS in real time for treatment of the COVID-19 patients.

Key Features:

  • He further informed that the Doctors would be available in the facility 24X7 and to keep it operational 24 hrs.
  • The boarding and lodging facility is also made available for the Doctors manning it
  •  It has been set up in the AIIMS so that the small states should also make use of the vast experience of the Doctors at AIIMS.
  • The doctors world over are using different protocols to treat COVID-19 patients and the goal of the facility is to at least connect the doctors in the country together to discuss amongst themselves the protocols undertaken and provide the best treatment accordingly.
  • The Telemedicine guidelines have also been notified by the Government of India and with the help of digital platform and technology, the public at large will get the benefit not only for COVID- 19 but other diseases also.
  • The ultimate purpose of starting this facility at prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences is to take the best possible treatment to the poorest of the poor of the country.
  • The patient management advice offered will be standardized as per the national guidelines supplemented protocols developed by the team at AIIMS.
[Ref: PIB]

COVID-19: Plasma experimental therapy

With no specific treatment available for novel coronavirus disease and a vaccine at least a year away, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week has approved use of blood plasma from recovered patients to treat severely critical COVID-19 patients.

How does this therapy work?

  • It is called convalescent plasma therapy.
  • It seeks to make use of the antibodies developed in the recovered patient against the coronavirus.
  • The whole blood or plasma from such people is taken, and the plasma is then injected in critically ill patients so that the antibodies are transferred and boost their fight against the virus.
  • A study has said that a COVID-19 patient usually develops primary immunity against the virus in 10-14 days.
  • Therefore, if the plasma is injected at an early stage, it can possibly help fight the virus and prevent severe illness.

How often has it been used in the past?

  • In 2009, H1N1 patients were treated with plasma.
  • In 2014, the WHO released guidelines to treat Ebola patients with convalescent whole blood and plasma.
  • The WHO observed that “convalescent plasma has been used successfully for the treatment of a variety of infectious agents” for which no treatment is available.
  • In 2015, plasma was used for treating MERS patients.

How is it done?

  • If whole blood is donated (350-450 ml), a blood fractionation process is used to separate the plasma.
  • WHO guidelines in 2014 mandate a donor’s permission before extracting plasma.
  • Plasma from only recovered patients must be taken, and donation must be done from people not infected with HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, or any infectious disease.
  • If whole blood is collected, the plasma is separated by sedimentation or centrifugation, then injected in the patient.
  • If plasma needs to be collected again from the same person, it must be done after 12 weeks of the first donation for males and 16 weeks for females, as per the WHO guidelines.

Can it be done in India?

  • India has facilities for removing 500 ml of plasma from a donor using aphaeresis (a technique by which plasma is removed from the blood, the remaining volume of blood being returned to the body).
  • For this experimental therapy to be tried out, the Drug Controller General of India will first have to grant blood banks approval for removal of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.
  • The treatment could be effective for patients in the age group 40-60, but may be less effective for people aged beyond 60 years.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Himalayan Ibex

A recent study by scientists of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has proved that Himalayan Ibex, distributed in the trans-Himalayan ranges of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, is a distinct species from the Siberian Ibex.

Siberian Ibex:

  • Siberian Ibex is a species of wild goat and is distributed in diverse habitats, ranging from cold deserts, rocky outcrops, steep terrain, high-land flats and mountain ridges to low mountains and foothills.
  • From Mongolia, its distribution extends towards mountain ranges of Russia and scattered populations in the small mountains of Trans-Altai Gobi.
  • IUCN: Least Concern
  • In Asia, Ibex is distributed in the Montane habitats, ranging in elevations from 500 m to 6,700 m in countries like India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Southern Siberia and China
  • In India, the Ibex is distributed mainly in the trans-Himalayan ranges of the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh up to the river Sutlej.

Reason for difference:

  • The research has found that Himalayan Ibex is genetically different from all other ranges of Siberian Ibex.
  • The scientists behind the discovery are now working to understand how the mountain oscillations might have led to this allopatric speciation with the inclusion of sophisticated tools of genomics and GIS.
  • They presumed that the ‘montane systems’, formed by a series of climatic oscillations and temporal topographic metamorphosis, have broken up the contiguous distribution of widespread species and accelerated allopatric speciation (speciation because of geographic and reproductive isolation).
  • Identification of Indian Tajikistan Ibek as a distinct species will prioritize the conservation of the species at global level.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Air quality improves due to lockdown effect

Lockdown has reduced vehicular traffic across the country, leading to a drop in PM2.5, NOx levels.

Pollution status:

  • According to the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the measures against COVID-19 have led to a drop in PM2.5 (fine particulate pollutant) by 30% in Delhi and by 15% in Ahmedabad and Pune, respectively.
  • The level of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) pollution, which can increase the risk of respiratory conditions, has also reduced.
  • NOx pollution is mainly caused due to a high motor vehicle traffic. In Pune, NOx pollution has reduced by 43%, in Mumbai, by 38% and in Ahmedabad, by 50%.
  • Generally in March, pollution is in the “moderate” category (Air Quality Index range: 100-200) while currently, it is in the “satisfactory” (AQI 50-100) or “good” (AQI 0-50) category.

Factors responsible:

  • It is the lockdown impact.
  • Local factors like shutting down of industries and construction and traffic have contributed in improving the air quality.
  • Rain is also helping, but the curbs on local emissions are playing a significant role.

Air Quality Index:

  • Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change launched National Air Quality Index (AQI) under Swachh Bharat Mission (Cleanliness Mission), based on the recommendations of IIT Kanpur and the Expert Group formed in this regard.

About NAQI:

  • National Air Quality Index (AQI) transforms complex air quality data of eight pollutants into a single number (index value), nomenclature and colour.
  • AQI is considered as ‘One Number- One Colour-One Description’ for the common man to judge the air quality within his vicinity.
  • AQI was launched to disseminate information on air quality in an easily understandable form for the general public.
  • The measurement of air quality is based on eight pollutants namely,
  • Particulate Matter (size less than 10 µm) or (PM10),  
  • Particulate Matter (size less than 2.5 µm) or (PM5),
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2),
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2),
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO),
  • Ozone (O3),
  • Ammonia (NH3), and
  • Lead (Pb)
  • It may be noted that ambient air quality standards are specified separately in India for around 12 pollutants including the 8 that constitute the Air Quality Index.
  • AQI has six categories of air quality.
  • These are: Good, Satisfactory, Moderately Polluted, Poor, Very Poor and Severe.

Associated Health Impacts:

  • Good (0–50): Minimal Impact
  • Satisfactory (51–100): May cause minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people
  • Moderately polluted: (101–200) May cause breathing discomfort to people with lung disease such as asthma, and discomfort to people with heart disease, children and older adults.
  • Poor (201–300): May cause breathing discomfort to people on prolonged exposure, and discomfort to people with heart disease.
  • Very Poor (301–400): May cause respiratory illness to the people on prolonged exposure. Effect may be more pronounced in people with lung and heart diseases.
  • Severe (401-500): May cause respiratory impact even on healthy people, and serious health impacts on people with lung/heart disease. The health impacts may be experienced even during light physical activity.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Economy

Kerala seeks relaxation of FRBM rules

To help fund the emergency relief package for Kerala amid COVID-19, the State proposes to borrow as much as ₹12,500 crore from the market in April itself and the Chief Minister has urged the Centre to provide Kerala with flexibility under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act so as to ensure that the State’s finances are not adversely impacted in the rest of the financial year starting on April 1.

What is the FRBM Act?

  • Enacted in August 2003, the legislation is aimed at making the Central government responsible for ensuring “inter-generational equity in fiscal management and long-term macro-economic stability”.

Rationale:

  • The current generation of the country’s administrators must ensure that their management of the country’s finances, both in terms of expenditure and revenue, does not leave future generations saddled with the burden of having to service unsustainably high levels of inherited debt that would in turn affect their ability to provide a stable economic environment for contemporary society.

Key Features:

  • To achieve this, the Act envisages the setting of limits on the Central government’s debt and deficits as well as mandating greater transparency in fiscal operations of the Central government and the conduct of fiscal policy in a medium-term framework.
  • The rules for implementing the Act were notified in July 2004 and since then every Budget of the Union government has included a Medium Term Fiscal Policy Statement that specifies the annual revenue and fiscal deficit goals over a three-year horizon.
  • The government also uses the Budget to spell out the longer-term glide path to achieve the key objective of reducing the fiscal deficit to 3% of GDP within a specified time frame — one that has shifted from the initial goal of March 31, 2009, to March 31, 2021, when the rules were amended in 2018, and most recently to the setting of a target of 3.1% for March 2023.
  • To ensure that the States too are financially prudent, the 12th Finance Commission’s recommendations in 2004 linked debt relief to States with their enactment of similar laws.
  • The States have since enacted their own respective Financial Responsibility Legislation, which sets the same 3% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) cap on their annual budget deficits.

Relaxation of the FRBM rules:

  • The law does contain an ‘escape clause’.
  • Under Section 4(2) of the Act, the Centre can exceed the annual fiscal deficit target citing grounds that include national security, war, national calamity, collapse of agriculture, structural reforms and decline in real output growth of a quarter by at least three percentage points below the average of the previous four quarters.
  • Given that the on-going pandemic could be considered as a national calamity — which in conjunction with the on-going lockdown to combat it is in all likelihood going to cause a severe contraction in economic output as well — the current circumstances would be apt for suspending both the Centre’s and States’ fiscal deficit targets.
  • This would allow both the Union government and States including Kerala to undertake the much-needed increases in expenditure to meet the extraordinary circumstances.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Key Facts for Prelims

National Gallery of Modern Art

  • The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is the premier art gallery under Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
  • The main museum at Jaipur House in New Delhi was established on 29 March 1954 by the Government of India, with subsequent branches at Mumbai and Bangalore.
  • Its collection of more than 1700 works by 2000 plus artists includes artists such as Thomas Daniell, Raja Ravi Verma, Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendra Nath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Amrita Shergil as well as foreign artists.
  • Some of the oldest works preserved here date back to 1857.
  • With 12,000 square meters of exhibition space, the Delhi branch is one of the world’s largest modern art museums.

Toothed pterosaur

  • Scientists have discovered three new species of toothed pterosaur – flying reptiles that inhabited the Sahara 100 million years ago.
  • These were part of an ancient river ecosystem in Africa that was full of life, including fish, crocodiles, turtles and several predatory dinosaurs.

Dineobellator notohesperus

  • Scientists have unearthed fossils of a feathered dinosaur in New Mexico that was a quick and agile predator.
  • Dineobellator notohesperus, dating back to 67 million years, could chase down smaller prey or swarm larger prey in packs.

Neanderthal

  • As per a study, Neanderthals were feeding regularly on mussels, fish and other marine life over 80,000 years ago.
  • The study found the first robust evidence during an excavation in the cave of Figueira Brava in Portugal.
  • Neanderthals are an extinct species or humans who lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago. 

Section 10(2)(i) in the Disaster Management Act, 2005

  • It says “Evaluate the preparedness at all governmental levels for the purpose of responding to any threatening disaster situation or disaster and give directions, where necessary, for enhancing such preparedness.”

Daporijo bridge

  • Border Roads Organsation (BRO) personnel are working to replace Daporijo bridge, the only lifeline of Upper Subansiri district, Arunachal Pradesh to restore Lines of Communication for all villages and located along the China border.

Diabetic retinopathy 

  • It is a diabetes complication that affects eyes.

It’s caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the

  • eye (retina).

Business Immunity Platform

  • The Invest India Business Immunity Platform (BIP) was recently launched to help businesses and investors get real-time updates on India’s active response to COVID-19.
  • BIP has launched ‘Joining the Dots’ campaign to procure essential healthcare supplies.

 Indian Handicrafts and Gift Fair (IHGF)

  • IHGF is amongst Asia’s largest gifts & handicrafts fair which is held biannually (Spring & Autumn edition).
  • It is organised by Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH).
  • EPCH, India’s premier export promotion organisation with 10000 member exporters is engaged in trade promotion of handicrafts exports from India.

Khari Baoli

  • A large number of migrant workers living in Khari Baoli — Asia’s largest wholesale spice market — have left for their home town as the shops which employed them are shut.

 

Red Flag exercise

  • The U.S. Air Force has cancelled Phase I of its flagship multilateral air exercise, Red Flag, scheduled in Alaska.
  • The Indian Air Force (IAF) was to take part in the exercise with its Sukhoi Su30 fighter jets.

SWAYAM Programme

  • SWAYAM platform is indigenously developed by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) with the help of Microsoft.
  • It is designed to achieve the three cardinal principles of Education Policy viz., access, equity and quality.
  • It would be ultimately capable of hosting 2000 courses and 80000 hours of learning: covering school, under-graduate, post-graduate, engineering, law and other professional courses.

Objective:

  • To take the best teaching learning resources to all, including the most disadvantaged.
  • To bridge the digital divide for students who have hitherto remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy.

How it works?

  • The platform to be accessed by anyone, anywhere at any time.
  • All the courses are interactive, prepared by the best teachers in the country and are available, free of cost to the residents in India.
  • More than 1,000 specially chosen faculty and teachers from across the Country have participated in preparing these courses.
  • The platform covers courses from 9th class school to under-graduate, post-graduate, engineering, law and other professional courses.
  • The courses hosted on SWAYAM are in 4 quadrants – (1) video lecture, (2) specially prepared reading material that can be downloaded/printed (3) self-assessment tests through tests and quizzes and (4) an online discussion forum for clearing the doubts.
  • Steps have been taken to enrich the learning experience by using audio-video and multi-media and state of the art pedagogy / technology.
  • At the end of each course, there will be an assessment of the student through proctored examination and the marks/grades secured in this exam could be transferred to the academic record of the students.
  • SWAYAM shall be offered a certificate on successful completion of the course, with a little fee.
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