Polity & Governance
- First for forest produce, GI tag for Nilambur teak
- TRAI issues new interconnection rules
- Allied Health Professionals Database Portal
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Species we lost in 2017 and the ones that managed to hold on
Bilateral & International Relations
- Plan finally moving to overhaul H-1B visa program
- India sidelines Pakistan from a SAARC initiative
- China develops underwater surveillance networks in Indian Ocean, South China Sea
Defence & Security Issues
- Defence Ministry clears purchase of guided bombs, Barak missiles
- ‘Perihelion’: Earth closest to sun
Science & Technology
- New way to raise wheat production threefold
- Astronauts identify unknown microbes in space for first time
- China to become world’s first country to launch a lunar probe on far side of moon
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Polity & Governance
First for forest produce, GI tag for Nilambur teak
Nilambur teak, known internationally for its superior timber quality and appearance has been accorded the Geographical Indication (GI) status by the GI registry, Chennai.
- It is the first time that a forest produce was added to the list of products with GI tag.
- The Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Cell of the Kerala Agricultural University along with Nilambur Teak Heritage Society are responsible for the recent bestowing of the GI tag.
What does a Geographical Indication tag entail for Nilambur teak?
- The GI tag states that this type of wood originates and is a product of, the Nilambur taluk of Kerala.
- Those who sell other types of wood under the guise of Nilambur teak will be blocked from the market, thereby protecting native cultivators, who had previously lost out because of competitive pricing.
- Revenues generated from Nilambur teak will be higher, because cultivators can now fetch good prices for the trees.
Significance of GI tag to Nilambur teak:
- There are about 10,000 people including workers and traders who are dependent on teak for their livelihood, and the GI tag will fetch them good revenues, as it will block sale of fake products.
About Nilambur teak:
- Britishers were first to identify the superior and unique quality of teak from Kerala’s Nilambur plantations and forests. Later, the region became the major supplier of quality teak in the world.
- Nilambur was christened the Mecca of Teak.
- Due to its superior mechanical and physical properties as well as aesthetic appearance, the teak was exported to England and other parts of the world.
- However, as the fame of Nilambur teak increased, fake products with false tags also started flooding the wood and furniture markets.
Key features of Nilambur teak:
- Nilambur teak is famous for its large size, superior colour and durability.
- Durability of Nilambur teak is attributed to the synergistic effect of its components and is also known for its resistance to fungal decay as well as for hydrophobicity, anti–oxidant properties and oily nature.
TRAI issues new interconnection rules
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued new guidelines, Telecom Interconnection Regulations 2018 that require telecom operators to sign an interconnection agreement on a non-discriminatory basis within 30 days of receipt of a network connectivity request from a rival service provider.
- The regulations will apply to all the service providers offering telecom services in India
Reliance Jio vs others case:
- After it started commercial services in September 2016, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, the telecom arm of Reliance Industries Ltd, complained to the regulator that a majority of calls on its network were failing as rival operators were not providing sufficient PoIs.
- The other operators had then said the free voice calls offered by Reliance Jio had led to a “tsunami” of traffic on their networks.
- TRAI had in May defended its earlier stand to recommend to the department of telecommunications the imposition of a cumulative fine of Rs3,050 crore on Bharti Airtel Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd and Vodafone India Ltd for allegedly denying PoIs to Reliance Jio.
- TRAI had recommended this penalty as it believed that the three operators had violated the licence agreement which mandates that the licensee will be responsible for maintaining the quality of service and any violation is liable to be treated as breach of terms and conditions of the licence.
What is interconnection?
- Interconnection means the commercial and technical arrangements under which service providers connect their equipment, network and services for the benefit of customers across their networks.
- Point of interconnect (PoI) is a mutually agreed point of demarcation where the exchange of traffic between the two operators takes place.
Highlights of the new rule:
- At a broad level, the regulations comprise rules for crafting network connectivity agreements, initial provisioning of such connectivity, augmentation of Points of Interconnect, applicable rates or charges, disconnection of ports, and financial disincentive on interconnection issues.
- The new rules outline a framework for provisioning and augmenting of interconnectivity ports, laying down a step-by-step process for provisioning of such ports.
- The new rules provide for a penalty of a maximum of Rs1 lakh a day per circle for operators that violate these rules.
- Trai, has also laid down a ‘formula’ that would act as a ceiling for ‘bank guarantees’ in case of interconnection, instead of the current practice of such guarantees being worked out through mutual negotiation between operators.
- The interconnection charges such as set-up charges and infrastructure charges may be mutually negotiated between service providers subject to the regulations or directions issued by the Authority provided that such charges are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory.
- For provisioning of ports at the Points of Interconnect (point of exchange of network traffic), the regulator has fixed 30-day time-frame instead of the 90 days earlier.
Significance of the rules:
- The regulations, effective 1 February, assume significance since there were no clear guidelines on the time frame for entering into such network connectivity pacts.
- In addition, the previous interconnect agreement rules did not provide for any penalties on defaulting operators.
About Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI):
- TRAI is the regulator of the telecommunications sector in India.
- It was established in 1997 by an Act of Parliament to regulate telecom services and tariffs in India. Earlier regulation of telecom services and tariffs was overseen by the Central Government.
- TRAI’s mission is to create and nurture conditions for growth of telecommunications in India to enable the country to have a leading role in the emerging global information society.
- One of its main objectives is to provide a fair and transparent environment that promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition in the market.
- TRAI regularly issues orders and directions on various subjects such as tariffs, interconnections, quality of service, Direct To Home (DTH) services and mobile number portability.
- It is important to note that TRAI does not have penal powers and can only recommend penalties for violation of regulations.
Allied Health Professionals Database Portal
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has launched Allied and Healthcare Professional (APH) Database portal to make data repository robust to ensure better systems and frameworks for healthcare workforce in country.
About the Allied and Healthcare Professional (APH) Database portal:
- The AHP portal has a capacity of capturing more than 10 lakh Allied and Healthcare Professionals’ (AHP) data.
- The database will help government to track the number of professionals and streams of allied and health care professions in the country.
- It will be helpful in expediting envisaged processes viz. licensing of professionals, workforce policy planning, and bringing transparency in system by maintaining standards of educational and clinical practice etc.
What is Allied Health?
- Allied health may be defined as those health professions that are distinct from medicine and nursing.
Who are Allied Health professionals?
- Allied Health professionals are involved with the delivery of health or related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation and prevention of diseases and disorders; dietary and nutrition services; rehabilitation and health systems management, among others.
- Allied health professionals, to name a few, include dental hygienists, diagnostic medical sonographers, dietitians, medical technologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, radiographers, respiratory therapists, and speech language pathologists.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Species we lost in 2017 and the ones that managed to hold on
According to the updated IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list, here are the species that were marked as “EXTINCT”.
Christmas Island Pipistrelle:
- This small bat found exclusively on Christmas Island, Australia was listed as critically endangered last year.
- Predation, loss of habitat, and diseases were pointed out as causes for its extinction.
Christmas Island Whiptail-skink:
- Another species endemic to Christmas Island, this lizard went extinct this year. Non-native predators and insecticide poisoning drove it over the edge.
Christmas Island chained gekho:
- The species is listed as extinct in the wild, which means it is now found only in a captive breeding programme.
Gunthers Dwarf Burrowing skink:
- Though no record of the skink has been made for more than 125 years, this native of South Africa was officially confirmed to be extinct only this year.
Critically endangered species:
The species that are under a high risk of extinction in the near future are placed under the “critically endangered” category. Here is the list:
Western Ringtail Possum:
- The number for this species has declined by almost 80 per cent in the past 10 years. Australia’s increasingly dry and hot climate has led to its dramatic decline.
- Loss of roosting site and use of pesticides are major causes of their its decline.
- Exposure to pesticides, habitat loss, predation by foxes have all affected the survival of this small quail-like bird
Green Poison Frog, Perret’s Toad, and Rose’s Mountain Toad are also listed as critically endangered.
Changes in the list:
Due to conservation efforts and captive breeding, a few species have recovered and moved from endangered to “vulnerable”. Here is the list:
- Setting up of protected areas, anti-poaching measures, vaccination have helped save the mountain species of Asia.
North Brown Kiwi & Okarito Kiwi:
- Conservation efforts by the Australian Government and captive breeding has aided the change in their status.
- Their status of this Kenyan warbler bird was changed after re-assessment in its habitat
- Native to Ouvea Island of France, conservation efforts by local population has helped increase its population.
Bilateral & International Relations
Plan finally moving to overhaul H-1B visa program
The US is considering new regulations aimed at preventing the extension of H-1B visas, predominantly used by Indian IT professionals, as part of President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative.
What’s the proposal?
- The proposal intends to end the provision of granting extensions to H-1B visa holders whose applications for permanent residency (Green Card) had been accepted.
- The administration also plans to redefine high-speciality professionals for the purpose of H-1B visas.
Implications for India:
- A clampdown on H1B visas will make it tough for Indian IT majors to grow their US business.
- An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders could be sent home if the administration decides to go ahead with the proposal which is aligned with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” vision to boost manufacturing and protect local jobs for Americans.
- If implemented this could lead to large-scale deportations, mostly of Indians, throwing hundreds and thousands of families into crisis. The idea is to create a sort of ‘self-deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans.
- Indian IT companies will be forced to increase hiring of locals at the expense of Indians. It means there will be fewer job opportunities for Indian IT professionals especially on offshore locations.
- It will also raise operating costs and lower their forex earnings.
- At a larger scale, India continuously runs a large deficit in merchandise trade. This is largely funded through a surplus in services exports. Any event or measure that hits services exports will have negative implications for the current account deficit and exchange rate besides economic growth.
- The employment in IT industry supports a large market for everything from housing to automobiles. Any slowdown in fresh hiring by IT companies or lower salary growth will hit consumption demand across sectors.
What is H-1B visa?
- The H1B visa is an employment-based, non-immigrant visa category for temporary workers given by the United States.
- For such a visa, an employer must offer a job and apply for your H1B visa petition with the US Immigration Department.
- The applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s degree required for 20,000 of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually.
- This non-immigrant visa lets a firm employ foreigners for up to six years in positions for which they have been unable to find American employees.
- The H-1B visa holders can apply for permanent residency in the US and buy property in the country.
- An estimated 70% of these visas go to Indian citizens.
- However, the demand for these visas is three times higher, and H-1B visas are allocated by a lottery system.
Why does the US want to tighten the regulation for H1B visa?
The aim of the H1B visa programme was to supplement the US workforce with high-skilled workers to do jobs that Americans are not skilled to do, not to replace the US workers.
- But over time, there have been many grumblings that many companies use the H1B visa to replace American workers with foreign ones, as the latter can be hired at lower salaries without compromising on the skill sets.
- In some cases, American employees have alleged that they were made to train H1B holders to do their own jobs, and then fired.
- Many US legislators are of the opinion that H1B visa regime is taking away job opportunities from the Americans.
- Even President Donald Trump holds a very conservative view on the H-1B and other guest worker visa programmes.
- The United States grants 85,000 non-immigrant H-1B visa every year — 65,000 to foreigners hired abroad and 20,000 to foreigners enrolled in advanced degree courses in US schools and colleges.
- An estimated 70% of these visas go to Indians — hired mostly by American companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google and some by American arms of Indian tech giants Infosys, Wipro and TCS.
China develops underwater surveillance networks in Indian Ocean, South China Sea
China has successfully developed new underwater surveillance network to help its submarines get stronger lock on targets while protecting nation’s interests along maritime Silk Road, which also includes Indian Ocean.
- The project is part of unprecedented military expansion fuelled by China’s desire to challenge United States in world’s oceans.
About the Underwater surveillance network:
- The network is underwater surveillance system based on network of platforms — buoys, satellites, surface vessels and underwater gliders — that gather data from Western Pacific, South China Sea and Indian Oceans.
- The system works by gathering information about underwater environment, particularly water temperature and salinity, which navy can then use to more accurately track target vessels as well as improve navigation and positioning.
- The new surveillance system will enable Chinese submarines to steer a much safer course through difficult waters as well as improving their targeting ability.
India sidelines Pakistan from a SAARC initiative
India has kicked off the process of appointing a telecom company that will connect and extend its state-of-the art National Knowledge Network (NKN) to research and education networks in six SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) member states — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
- It is important to know that Pakistan is the only SAARC nation that has been left out of this initiative.
Why Pakistan out of the initiative?
- India has for long suspended official talks with Pakistan due to continuing terrorist attacks launched by groups from across the border and chill in the relations is now evident in sphere of research cooperation too.
What is National Knowledge Network (NKN)?
NKN is a state-of-the-art Pan-India Gigabit network and is a revolutionary step towards creating a knowledge society without boundaries.
- NKN is also providing an ultra-high speed backbone for e-Governance and has links to multiple Global Networks.
Purpose of NKN:
- The purpose of such a knowledge network goes to the very core of the country’s quest for building quality institutions with requisite research facilities and creating a pool of highly trained professionals.
- The NKN will enable scientists, researchers and students from different backgrounds and diverse geographies to work closely for advancing human development in critical and emerging areas.
Features of NKN:
NKN is designed as a Smart Ultra High Bandwidth network that seamlessly interconnects the leading Scientific and Technological institutions – which are pursuing world-class research and development.
Some of the salient features of the NKN are:
- Establishing Connectivity for Knowledge and information sharing.
- Enabling Collaborative Research in emerging areas such as Climate Modeling.
- Facilitating distance education in specialized fields such as medicine, emerging high tech areas covering info-bio-nano technology.
- Facilitating an ultra-high speed e-governance backbone for information sharing.
NKN will also act as a test bed for research in the area of network, security and delivery models for various services. The leading mission oriented agencies in the fields of nuclear, space and defence research are also part of NKN.
Services offered by NKN:
NKN network is designed with the aim of providing:
- Highest level of availability
- Robust & reliable connectivity
- Highest level of Scalability (specifically planned to match the unknown future demands which cannot be envisaged currently)
- Best Bandwidth Capacity: For NKN, various National Long Distance Carriers (NLDs) have provided 1Gbps / 2.5Gbps capacity links which can be self-healed. Further, the NLDs are in process of upgrading (using DWDM) to 10Gbps or more connectivity.
Extension of NKN:
India has now decided to extend the NKN to the global research and education networks in Saarc nations.
- NKN will be connected from Afghanistan to Delhi or Mumbai, from Bangladesh to Kolkata or Delhi, from Bhutan to Kolkata or Delhi, from Nepal to Kolkata or Delhi, from Maldives to Chennai or Mumbai and from Sri Lanka to Chennai or Mumbai.
- A state-of-the-art management centre and Network Operations Centre will also be set up to run the NKN network.
- The connection from Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka to India would be through a submarine cable for international connectivity.
Defence & Security Issues
Defence Ministry clears purchase of guided bombs, Barak missiles
The Centre approved the purchase of 240 precision-guided bombs from Russia and 131 Barak missiles from Israel.
- The procurement of bombs will address the deficiency of Precision Guided Munitions in the Indian Air Force arsenal, besides enhancing the offensive capabilities of the IAF.
- The surface-to-air Barak missiles for the Indian Navy will be used as a ship-borne anti-missile defence system against anti-ship missiles.
- In May 2016, the Cabinet had approved the strategic partnership model to allow domestic private companies to form joint ventures with foreign defence equipment manufacturers.
Barak 8 is the next-generation surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, jointly developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries, Rafael and DRDO. Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) produce the missiles.
- Barak missiles are designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UAVs as well as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and combat jets.
- Both maritime and land-based versions of the system exist.
What is precision-guided munition?
A Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) is a missile, bomb or artillery shell equipped with a terminal guidance system.
- It contains electrical equipment that guides it in the last phase before impact. The terminal guidance unit is designed to sense emitted or reflected EMR (electromagnetic radiation) within its field of view.
- With guided weapons, fewer air crews are put at risk, less ordnance spent, and collateral damage reduced.
- The creation of precision-guided munitions resulted in the retroactive renaming of older bombs as unguided bombs or “dumb bombs”.
‘Perihelion’: Earth closest to sun
On 3rd January 2018, the earth will be at the closest point to the sun in its annual elliptical orbit, at a distance of 14,70,97,237 km approximately.
- The phenomenon is called ‘Perihelion’.
- The event, however, cannot be observed.
- Perihelion is an important event for research and educational purposes although the public cannot observe it. Commonly it is believed that the distance of the earth from the sun decides the season or temperature on the earth. But this is not true.
- The axial tilt (approx. 23.5 degrees) of the earth on its axis while revolving around the Sun regulates seasons on the earth with one of the hemispheres facing away or towards the Sun.
- So, while the earth is closest to Sun this time in January, it is winter in India and countries in Northern Hemisphere, it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
- On July 6, the earth will be at ‘Aphelion’ at 15,20,95,571 km from the sun, i.e. it will be at the farthest point from the sun.
Science & Technology
New way to raise wheat production threefold
Inspired by NASA’s experiments to grow wheat in space, Australian scientists have developed the world’s first ‘speed breeding’ technique that can boost the production of the crop by up to three times.
How does this technique work?
- The speed breeding technique uses fully controlled growth environments and can also be scaled up to work in a standard glass house.
- It uses LED lights optimised to aid photosynthesis in intensive regimes of up to 22 hours per day. LED lights significantly reduce the cost compared to sodium vapour lamps which have long been in widespread use but are ineffective because they generate much heat and emit poor quality light.
Significance of ‘speed breeding’ technique:
- By using speed breeding techniques in specially modified glasshouses scientists could grow six generations of wheat, chickpea and barley plants, and four generations of canola plants in a single year – as opposed to two or three generations in a regular glasshouse, or a single generation in the field.
- The quality and yield of the plants grown under controlled climate and extended daylight conditions was as good, or sometimes better than those grown in regular glasshouses.
- There has been a lot of interest globally in this technique due to the fact that the world has to produce 60-80% more food by 2050 to feed its nine billion people.
- The new technology could also have some great applications in future vertical farming systems, and some horticultural crops.
Usage of this technique:
The speed breeding technique has largely been used for research purposes but is now being adopted by industry.
- The scientists have used the technique to develop the new ‘DS Faraday’ wheat variety due for release to industry this year.
- DS Faraday is a high protein, milling wheat with tolerance to pre-harvest sprouting.
Astronauts identify unknown microbes in space for first time
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have for the first time identified microbes in space without having to samples back to Earth for tests.
- Identifying microbes involves isolating the DNA of samples, and then amplifying – or making many copies – of that DNA that can then be sequenced, or identified.
Significance of this discovery:
- The ability to identify microbes in space could aid in the ability to diagnose and treat astronaut ailments in real time, as well as assisting in the identification of DNA-based life on other planets.
- It could also benefit other experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory.
About International Space Station (ISS):
The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit.
- The ISS is now the largest artificial body in orbit.
- The ISS consists of pressurised modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components.
- ISS components have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets as well as American Space Shuttles.
- The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and other fields.
- The ISS is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars.
- ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, following the Soviet and later Russian Salyut, Almaz, and Mir stations as well as Skylab from the US.
- The ISS maintains an orbit with an altitude of between 330 and 435 km by means of reboost manoeuvres using the engines of the Zvezda module or visiting spacecraft. It completes 15.54 orbits per day.
Use and ownership rights:
- The ISS programme is a joint project among five participating space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA.
- The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements.
- The station is divided into two sections, the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), which is shared by many nations.
China to become world’s first country to launch a lunar probe on far side of moon
China announced its plans to launch a lunar probe in 2018 to achieve the world’s first soft landing on the far side of the moon to showcase its ambitious space programme.
- The mission is called Chang’e 4 project.
About the mission:
Chang’e 4 is the fourth mission in the country’s lunar mission series which is being named after the Chinese moon goddess.
- A Long March 4C rocket will start its course to 60,000 kilometers behind the moon carrying a 425-kilogram relay satellite. This relay satellite will act as an initial communication link between earth and the lunar far side.
- Once China’s space agency succeeds in establishing the link, China will trigger the second part of the mission i.e. sending a lander and rover to the unexplored region of the moon.
Significance of the mission:
- The far side of the moon known as ‘South Pole-Aitken Basin’ still remains a mystery among space scientists and by sending a probe there, China will outdo the historical achievements of the US and USSR.
- According to experts, landing on the far side of the moon is undoubtedly one of the most challenging missions ever launched by any of the world’s superpowers.
Obstacles in this mission:
- Communication difficulties will be the main problem faced by the Chinese team as they try to land on the other side of the moon.
China is expected to consider using options like radio telescopes developed by Heino Falcke of Radboud University to communicate in the absence of a transmitting medium.
- China began their lunar exploration program in 2007 by launching a simple lunar orbiter named ‘Chang’e 1’.
- The second mission in the program named ‘Chang’e 2’ was launched in 2010, and it was later followed by the third mission ‘Chang’e 3’.
- ‘Chang’e 3’ made headlines all around the world as it marked the first soft moon landing since 1976.