Stratospheric-Observatory-for-Infrared-Astronomy-(Sofia)-iastoppers
Current Affairs Analysis

30th December 2017 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

NASA’s flying observatory Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia); Infrared energy; Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR); Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga; Gas (India) Limited (GAIL); India’s “brain drain”; Ramanujan Fellowship Scheme; Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) Faculty Scheme; National Action Plan Vision 2022; Cities need a sustainable transport update; Ujh multi-purpose project; Indus Water treaty; India’s first BIO-CNG plant; China’s photovoltaic highway; etc.
By IT's Current Affairs Analysis Team
December 30, 2017

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • New President of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR)

Government Schemes & Policies

  • GAIL awards major contracts for Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga
  • More scientists coming back now

Economy

  • India leads in global milk production
  • Cities need a sustainable transport update

Bilateral & International Relations

  • CWC Submits DPR Of Ujh Project

Science & Technology

  • Govt plans to set up bio-CNG plants and allied infrastructure
  • China successfully tests country’s first photovaltaic highway
  • NASA’s flying observatory to explore Saturn’s moon

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Polity & Governance

New President of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR)

President Ram Nath Kovind appointed BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe as the President of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Vinay-Sahasrabuddhe-bjp-iastoppers

About Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR):

The ICCR is an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of External Affairs.

Indian Council of Cultural Relations iastoppers

  • It was founded in 1950 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of independent India.
  • Maulana Abul Kalam Azad also served as its first President. Former Presidents Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma and K.R. Narayanan, former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have also held the post.
  • It is involved in India’s external cultural relations, through cultural exchange with other countries and their peoples.
  • ‘Indian Horizons’ is one of the six quarterly journals published by the ICCR.

Objectives of ICCR:

The ICCR’s main objectives are

  • To actively participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes pertaining to India’s external cultural relations and
  • To foster and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries.
  • To promote cultural exchanges with other countries and people; and
  • To develop relations with nations.
[Ref: Indian Express]

 

Government Schemes & Policies

GAIL awards major contracts for Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga

State-run Gas (India) Limited (GAIL) has placed orders for another 400-km natural gas pipeline project under ambitious Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga (PMUG).

Urja-Ganga-iastoppers23

  • The orders were placed for 400-km for pipeline from Dobhi (Bihar) to Durgapur (West Bengal).
  • With this, the total pipe supply orders for 2,100 km of Jagdishpur-Haldia & Bokaro-Dhamra Natural Gas Pipeline (JHBDPL) project have been placed.
  • GAIL also has placed 1,700 km of line laying orders.

About Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga:

iastoppers-urja-ganga-2

Aim of the project:

  • The gas pipeline project aims to provide piped cooking (PNG) gas to residents of the eastern region of the country and CNG gas for the vehicles.

Key Facts:

iastoppers-urja-ganga

  • The project is being implemented by state-run gas utility GAIL.
  • The ambitious 2,655 km long Jagdishpur-Haldia & Bokaro-Dhamra Natural Gas Pipeline (JHBDPL) project originates at Jagdishpur (Uttar Pradesh).
  • The main trunk of pipeline ends to Haldia (West Bengal) and Dhamra (Odisha). The pipeline passes through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
  • The Urja Ganga project also augments existing GAIL’s network of trunk pipelines covering the length of around 11,000 km by 2540 km.
  • Besides, under this project work on 2540-km long Jagdishpur-Haldia and Bokaro-Dhamra Natural Gas pipeline project will begin and will be completed between 2018 and 2020.
  • Seven East India cities Varanasi, Jamshedpur, Patna, Ranchi, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack – will be the major beneficiary of this network development.
  • Besides, LNG terminal at Dhamra will provide clean fuel to the Industrial Development of the Eastern states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha.

Significance of the project:

  • The project is considered as a major step towards collective growth and development of the Eastern region of India. Under it, overall 20 lakh households will get PNG connections.
  • It will usher Industrial development in East India by supplying environmentally clean natural gas to fertiliser and power plant, refineries, steel plants and other industries.
  • From Varanasi’s perspective, 50,000 households and 20,000 vehicles will get cleaner and cheaper fuel PNG and CNG gas respectively.
  • It will also help in revival of defunct fertilizer plants in Barauni in Bihar, Gorakhpur in UP, Sindri in Jharkhand and Durgapur in West Bengal by supplying gas.

About GAIL:

iastoppers-Gas-(India)-Limited-(GAIL)

  • Gas (India) Limited (GAIL) is the largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company in India.
  • It was conferred with the Maharatna status in February 2013 by the Government of India.
  • It has business segments like: natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas transmission, liquid hydrocarbon, city gas distribution, petrochemical, exploration and production, GAILTEL and electricity generation.
[Ref: The Hindu, Indian Express]

 

More scientists coming back now

According to figures revealed by the Department of Science and Technology, the number of Indian-origin scientists working internationally and returning to India between 2012 and 2017 has jumped 70% from that from 2007 to 2012.

scientists-brain-gain-iastoppers

Reason for surge:

  • This is primarily due to schemes such as the Ramanujan Fellowship Scheme and the Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) Faculty Scheme and the Ramalingaswami re-entry fellowship scheme coordinated by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
  • These schemes allow “high-calibre” Indian researchers working abroad to relocate to Indian institutes and universities of their respective interest and domain.

India’s “brain drain”:

  • However, not all researchers who return get absorbed as full-time faculty in institutions. The lack of absorption is often due to returning researchers not always getting their choice of institutions.
  • Every person cannot get a permanent position in the IIT of their choice.
  • Only about 25% of young scientists abroad systematically plan their careers. There’s still limited scholarships and institutional capacity to absorb all of them.
  • India does not yet attract the upper echelon of Indian-origin scientists to set up labs and move their research here.

About Ramanujan Fellowship Scheme:

Ramanujan Fellowship Scheme is meant for brilliant scientists and engineers from all over the world to take up scientific research positions in India, i.e. for those scientists who want to return to India from abroad.

Ramanujan Fellowship Scheme iastoppers

  • Ramanujan Fellowship are only for those candidates who are doing Post Doctoral abroad and not for the people who already have permanent position in a scientific organization in the country.
  • This scheme is managed by Science and Engineering Research Board under the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.
  • The fellowships are scientist-specific and very selective. All Areas of Science (in the broadest terms) are covered by this Fellowship.
  • The Ramanujan Fellowship duration is for 5 years only.
  • The Ramanujan Fellows could work in any of the scientific institutions and universities in the country.
  • They would be eligible for receiving regular research grants through the extramural funding schemes of various S&T agencies of the Government of India.

About INSPIRE Faculty Scheme:

INSPIRE Faculty Scheme iastoppers

  • Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) Faculty Scheme is an innovative programme sponsored and managed by the Department of Science & Technology for attraction of talent to Science.
  • The basic objective of INSPIRE is to communicate to the youth of the country the excitements of creative pursuit of science, attract talent to the study of science at an early age and thus build the required critical human resource pool for strengthening and expanding the Science & Technology system and R&D base
  • A striking feature of the programme is that it does not believe in conducting competitive exams for identification of talent at any level
  • It believes in and relies on the efficacy of the existing educational structure for identification of talent.

Components of INSPIRE:

INSPIRE has three components:

  1. Scheme for Early Attraction of Talent (SEATS)
  2. Scholarship for Higher Education (SHE)
  3. Assured Opportunity for Research Careers (AORC)
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Economy

India leads in global milk production

During the past three years, India has outpaced the global milk production with an annual growth rate of 5.53% compared with the 2.09% achieved globally.

milk-production-india-images

Key facts:

  • India has been the largest producer of milk in the world for the past 15 years.
  • Milk production, which was around 17-22 million tonnes in the 1960s, has increased to 163.7 million tonnes in 2016-17. Particularly, it has increased by 19% during 2016-17 in comparison to the year 2013-14.
  • Similarly, per capita availability of milk has increased from 307 grams in 2013-14 to 351 grams in the year 2016-17. Similarly, the income of dairy farmers increased by 23.77% in 2014-17 compared to 2011-14.

National Action Plan Vision 2022:

  • To meet future challenges, it is necessary to gradually shift towards a technology-driven environment. To achieve the same, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Daily Farming is working on a National Action Plan Vision 2022.

Objectives:

  • Enhancing the outreach of dairy cooperatives to additional villages and milk producers.
  • Building of additional milk processing infrastructure for processing additional volume of milk expected on account of higher milk production and
  • Meeting the increased demand for value-added products.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Cities need a sustainable transport update

Bengaluru is engulfed in a never-ending traffic jam, Delhi’s pollution is at world-beating levels and Mumbai was never famous for its fast roads. This decade has made it resoundingly clear that the present model of urban transport is unsustainable. And the only way out of the cycle of rising incomes and more cars on the road—is an efficient public transport alternative.

sustainable-transport-ias

Collective action problem

  • It’s not rational for anyone to switch to public transport until everyone else also follows. An individual will stop using his car if the bus is faster, but that is possible only if others also get their cars off the road

How the problem starts?

  • The problem starts with the way cities are governed in India.
  • Municipal corporations lack adequate transparency and accountability, and urban governance is a tangled web of overlapping jurisdictions.
  • City-development plans have failed to create the right incentives, as is borne out by the preference for private transport. The lack of adequate devolution as per the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992, and consequently, effective power vested in a city-level governance mechanism, exacts a heavy toll.

What should be done?

  • The urban transport policy must rethink the hierarchy of needs; pedestrians and cyclists must be on top, followed by buses and then motor vehicles.

FIRST

  • It is absolutely clear that there isn’t enough space for everyone to drive a car, and the government must pivot the policy to delivering reliable public transport
  • The metro project is a step in the right direction, but it needs complementary changes that improve the citizens’ experience
  • For starters, the metro system needs a bus system to provide last-mile connectivity
  • The bus system also needs to be reliable

SECOND

  • The government must resist using attractive-sounding propositions, like pushing electric and hybrid buses, to give the impression that there is political will to improve urban transport
  • Changing the fuel of the bus will reduce emissions
  • But there will be dramatically bigger gains if we are able to prompt even a quarter of the private vehicle-using population to use public transport

THIRD

  • India has plenty of assets that are decaying due to poor maintenance
  • Policymakers will do well to make space for depreciation accounts in their budgets to pay for maintenance and replacement of public assets

Way forward:

  • India is a growing economy, and census data suggests that only 31% of the population lives in urban centres
  • Another 300 million people will be added by 2050 and the planning for carrying those people in our cities must begin now
  • Public transport can easily be the cheaper, faster and economical alternative if policymakers plan for tomorrow’s problems today.
[Ref: Live Mint]

 

Bilateral & International Relations

CWC Submits DPR Of Ujh Project

The Central Water Commission has submitted a detailed project report (DPR) of the Ujh multi-purpose project to the Jammu and Kashmir government for evaluation.

ias toppers Indus Waters Treaty

About the Ujh multi-purpose project:

  • The Ujh project is a step towards India’s utilisation of waters of the Indus and its tributaries in keeping with its rights under the treaty.
  • The project will store around 0.65 million acre-feet (MAF) of water of the river Ujh (a tributary of river Ravi) to irrigate nearly 30,000 hectares of land and produce more than 200 MW of hydro-power. This will help India to utilize a part of the flow that presently goes across border unutilized.

About Indus Water treaty:

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank.

Indus Water treaty info2 ias

  • The treaty was signed in Karachi in 1960 by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Ayub Khan.
  • According to this agreement, control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — was given to India, while control over the three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — to Pakistan.
  • As per the provisions in the treaty, India can use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus river.
  • A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. The Commission solves disputes arising over water sharing.
  • The Treaty also provides arbitration mechanism to solve disputes amicably.

Indus Water treaty info iastoppers

It is important to note that China has been kept out of the Treaty although Indus originates from Tibet. If China decides to stop or change the flow of the river, it will affect both India and Pakistan.

[Ref: PIB, Times of India, Indian Express]

 

Science & Technology

Govt plans to set up bio-CNG plants and allied infrastructure

To promote the use of clean fuel, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas plans to set up bio-CNG (compressed natural gas) plants and allied infrastructure at a cost of Rs7,000 crore.

BioCNG Vehicle Fuel for a Green Future-7-FE16-009-650

  • The ministry will be working with state-run oil and gas retailers to set up the plants over the next two years.
  • The government’s plan is to make India a gas-based economy.

What is Bio- CNG?

Bio-CNG is a purified form of biogas with over 95% pure methane gas. It is similar to natural gas in its composition (97% methane) and energy potential.

  • While natural gas is a fossil fuel, Bio-CNG is a renewable form of energy produced from agricultural and food waste.
  • Bio-CNG is being looked at as an environment-friendly alternative to diesel.
  • In its composition and energy potential it is exactly similar to the commercially available natural gas.

How is CNG generated from agricultural waste?

  • The process of generating CNG from agricultural waste involves treating the waste matter with a special bacterial solution, and then the gas which is generated is cleaned and compressed so that it can be used in vehicles.

BIO-CNG plant iastoppers

Benefits of BIO-CNG:

  • It will help in reducing the import of diesel up to 50 per cent
  • It is cost-effective
  • It is pollution free

Background:

  • The world’s third-largest crude oil importer is targeting halving its energy import bill by 2030.
  • India currently imports one-third of its energy requirement. The government aims to increase the contribution of gas in India’s energy mix to 15% from the current 6.5%.

India’s first BIO-CNG plant:

  • India’s first ever BIO-CNG plant producing CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) from agricultural residue was inaugurated in Pune, Maharashtra.
  • This plant uses agricultural residue to generate CNG which can be used in automobiles as fuel.
[Ref: Live Mint, India Today]

 

China successfully tests country’s first photovaltaic highway

China successfully tested its first photovoltaic (solar) highway based on home-grown technology in country’s eastern Shandong province.

China’s-photovoltaic-highway-iastoppers

Key facts:

  • With this, China became the second country in the world to construct a photovoltaic highway. France had introduced world’s first photovoltaic road fitted with solar panels in late 2016.
  • In 2014, the Netherlands built a bike path embedded with solar panels.

About China’s photovoltaic highway:

China’s-photovoltaic-highway-iastoppers2

  • It is built using solar panels which have a thin sheet of clear concrete on top of them, protecting the surface.
  • The solar panels were designed and constructed to transfer energy to electric vehicles passing on top of them.
  • The one-kilometer segment of photovoltaic highway covers up a surface area of 5,875 square meters (about 63,238 square feet).
  • The special section has 3-layers. The top is protective, made of transparent concrete, and its bottom is an insulator to avoid moisture from reaching to the photovoltaic devices in the middle layer.
  • The tested one-kilometer segment of highway can produce 817.2 KW of power and is likely to generate 1 million KW hours of electricity each year.
  • The electricity produced through this highway will be connected to China’s national power grid.

Way ahead:

  • Solar roadways may have their critics (they are susceptible to being covered by dirt and other debris), but as their efficiency and applications improve, they’re sure to prove their value.
  • With EVs becoming more popular, the world’s going to need more ways to keep their vehicles charged and ready to go.
[Ref: The Hindu, Futurism]

 

NASA’s flying observatory to explore Saturn’s moon

NASA’s flying observatory Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) is preparing for its 2018 campaign, which will include, among others, observations of celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets and Saturn’s giant moon Titan.

Stratospheric-Observatory-for-Infrared-Astronomy-(Sofia)-iastoppers

  • This will be the fourth year of full operations for Sofia with observations planned between February 2018 and January 2019.

Significance of the observations:

  • Scientists believe that the observatory’s investigations will help them understand how magnetic fields affect the rate at which interstellar clouds condense to form new stars.
  • These observations could also help them learn whether the luminosity of these active black holes is driven by star formation or accretion of material onto the central black hole.
  • Sofia will also conduct observations to better understand how methane levels change with seasons on Mars.

What is Sofia?

Sofia is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Centre, DLR.

  • SOFIA is designed to observe the infrared universe.

Sofia-image-iastoppers-nasa

Focus areas:

SOFIA studies many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, but some of the most interesting are:

  • Star birth and death.
  • Formation of new solar systems.
  • Identification of complex molecules in space.
  • Planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system.
  • Nebulae and dust in galaxies (or, Ecosystems of galaxies).
  • Black holes at the center of galaxies.

Why does NASA need a flying telescope?

  • Water vapor blocks infrared light energy and 99% of the world’s water vapor exists below 39,000 feet. So, the higher altitude you fly, the drier it gets and the more optimal it is for infrared observation.

About Infrared energy:

Infrared energy is just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes visible light, x-rays, radio waves and others.

Infrared energy iastoppers graph

  • Many objects in space emit almost all their energy at infrared wavelengths. Often, they are invisible when observed in ordinary visible light.
  • In other cases, clouds of gas and dust in space block the light emitted by more distant objects, but allow infrared energy to reach our telescopes.
  • In both cases, the only way to learn about other objects is to study the infrared light they emit.
[Ref: Economic Times, NASA]

 

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