Issues related to Health & Education
- Consequences of India’s falling sex ratio
- Finance Ministry to consolidate overseas operations of public sector banks
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- March 3: World Wildlife Day
Bilateral & International Relations
- India and Vietnam enhance nuclear cooperation
- Myanmar puts off border pact with India
- US delays decision on H-4 visas
Science & Technology
- Silver copper telluride (AgCuTe) – novel material to convert waste heat into electricity
Key Facts for Prelims
- Ama Gaon, Ama Vikas programme
- ‘Namaste Shalom’
- DEFEXPO India 2018
- Pakistan elects its first Dalit woman Senator
- First Indian woman wrestler to win gold at Asian Wrestling Championships
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Issues related to Health & Education
Consequences of India’s falling sex ratio
A recent report from the NITI Aayog said sex ratio at birth (SRB) nationwide had dropped from 906 in 2012-2014 to 900 in 2013-2015.
What is sex ratio at birth (SRB)?
- The SRB is the number of girls born for every 1,000 boys.
Highlights of the report:
- In all, 17 of 21 large Indian States saw a drop in the SRB, with Gujarat performing the worst, declining 53 points.
- Also, newer data from India’s Sample Registration System show the SRB fell even further in 2014-2016, from 900 to 898.
Unique case for India:
- The number of girls born is naturally lower than the number of boys, and demographers speculate that this may be nature’s way of offsetting the higher risk that men have of dying — male babies are biologically weaker than females, and men have historically seen higher mortality rates owing to risk-taking behaviour and participation in wars. This evens out the sex ratio of a population as it grows older. But India is a special case. Its SRB is far lower than 952 because of the preference for the male child.
This means we are killing girl children in the womb. As on today, around 63 million girls are estimated to be ‘missing’ in India because of such actions.
How did it come about?
- Till the 1970s, female infanticide was the preferred way of killing the girl child.
- But in the Seventies, sex selection technologies like amniocentesis came about, in which doctors can test the amniotic fluid around a developing foetus for genetic abnormalities. But people soon realised this method could be used to determine the child’s sex and to abort it, if female. Other technologies, including the cheaper and less invasive ultrasound, followed, allowing more people to use them.
- A thriving market for sex selection sprung up with doctors openly advertising their services. In 1994, the government took notice and introduced the Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques Act which punishes healthcare professionals for telling expectant parents the sex of a child with imprisonment and hefty fines.
- In 2003, when technologies that allowed gender-selection even before conception became available, the act was amended to become the Prenatal Conception and Prenatal Determination Act (PC-PNDT).
- By any token, this Act has been a failure. In November 2016, a report from the Asian Centre for Human Rights noted that between 1994 and 2014, 2,266 cases of infanticide were registered in India, against 2,021 cases of abortion under the PC-PNDT, even though abortions outnumber infanticides today. In all, 17 out of 29 States had either not registered any case, or had zero convictions.
- The PHFI report in 2010 found major gaps in the training of personnel implementing PC-PNDT. Poor training meant that they were unable to prepare strong cases against violators to secure convictions.
Why does it matter?
- Low SRBs starting from the Seventies have led to large numbers of “surplus men” today in countries like India and China.There are concerns that skewed sex ratios lead to more violence against both men and women, as well as human-trafficking.
- In India, some villages in Haryana and Punjab have such poor sex ratios that men “import” brides from other States. This is often accompanied by the exploitation of these brides.
- India must implement the PC-PNDT more stringently, but must also dedicate more resources to fighting the preference for boys.
Finance Ministry to consolidate overseas operations of public sector banks
Public-sector banks (PSBs) have started rationalising the overseas operations by consolidating 35 operations and closing down non-viable branches as part of the clean and responsible banking initiative.
- The consolidation includes bank branches, remittance centres and representative offices. It will be without affecting international presence of PSBs in these countries.
- Moreover, 69 operations also have been identified for further examination.
- As per the banking sector agenda approved at the PSB Manthan in November last year, public sector banks (PSBs) have to examine all 216 overseas operations.
Need for rationalisation:
- The rationalisation of overseas operations of banks is significant as jewellery designer Nirav Modi allegedly cheated Punjab National Bank (PNB) of Rs 12,700 crore in connivance with PNB staff and officials of overseas branches of other state-owned banks.
- Moreover, it is part of government’s commitment to ‘clean and responsible banking and move towards cost efficiencies and synergies in overseas market.
- Presently, public sector banks have about 165 overseas branches, besides subsidiaries, joint ventures and representative offices.
- State Bank of India has the largest number of overseas branches (52) followed by Bank of Baroda (50) and Bank of India (29).
- The state-owned banks have largest number of branches in United Kingdom (32) followed by Hong Kong and UAE (13 each) and Singapore (12).
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
March 3: World Wildlife Day
The World Wildlife Day is observed every year on 3rd March to celebrate and raise awareness about the world’s wild fauna and flora.
- The theme for this year is ‘Big Cats: Predators under Threat’.
- The World Wildlife Day aims to create awareness and encourages people across the globe to protect endangered species.
About Big cats:
- Big cats are among most widely recognized and admired animals across the globe.
- Big cat species are found in Africa, Asia, and North, Central and South America, representing a virtually global distribution.
- These predators are facing many and varied threats, mostly caused by human activities. Overall, their populations are declining at disturbing rate due to loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, poaching and illegal trade.
- For example, tiger populations plummeted by 95% over the past 100 years and African lion populations dropped by 40% in just 20 years. But a range of measures are underway to arrest this decline.
- The theme aims to raise awareness about plight of big cats and galvanize support for many global and national actions that underway to save these iconic species.
- It also expands definition of big cats being used, which includes not only lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar (4 largest wild cats that can roar) but also cheetah, snow leopard, puma, clouded leopard, etc.
About the World Wildlife Day:
- The World Wildlife Day is celebrated to mark the signing of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on this day in 1973.
- On 20 December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 3 March, the day of signature of the CITES, as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.
- The UNGA resolution also designated the CITES Secretariat as the facilitator for the global observance of this special day for wildlife on the UN calendar.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is international agreement to regulate worldwide commercial trade in wild animal and plant species.
- Its aim is to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.
- It was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It entered into force in July 1975.
- CITES is legally binding on state parties to the convention, which are obliged to adopt their own domestic legislation to implement its goals.
- It classifies plants and animals according to three categories, or appendices, based on how threatened. They are:
Appendix I species:
- It lists species that are in danger of extinction. It prohibits commercial trade of these plants and animals except in extraordinary situations for scientific or educational reasons.
Appendix II species:
- They are those that are not threatened with extinction but that might suffer a serious decline in number if trade is not restricted. Their trade is regulated by permit.
Appendix III species:
- They are protected in at least one country that is a CITES member states and that has petitioned others for help in controlling international trade in that species.
- In addition, CITES also restricts trade in items made from such plants and animals, such as food, clothing, medicine, and souvenirs.
Bilateral & International Relations
India and Vietnam enhance nuclear cooperation
India and Vietnam have signed an MoU on Cooperation between the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) and the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute (VINATOM).
- Its purpose is to strengthen technical cooperation in field of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
- India and Vietnam countries had signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2016 and the MoU will enhance training and research collaboration possibilities.
About Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP):
- GCNEP is sixth Research & Development unit under Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). It is located near Bahadurgarh, Haryana.
- It helps in capacity building, in association with interested countries and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
- It is involved technology, human resource development, education & training and giving momentum to R&D in enlisted areas.
Objectives of GCNEP:
- Develop enhanced nuclear safeguards to effectively and efficiently monitor nuclear materials and facilities.
- Establish accreditation facilities for radiation monitoring.
- Train manpower in field of Nuclear Security and Radiological Safety.
- Promote development of advanced, more proliferation resistant nuclear power reactors.
- Provide education in field of Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Isotopes and Radiation Technologies, nuclear forensic.
Location of Vietnam:
- Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia.
- Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest, and the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia across the South China Sea to the east and southeast.
Myanmar puts off border pact with India
Citing “domestic compulsions”, Myanmar has indefinitely deferred signing an agreement with India to streamline the free movement of people within 16 km along the border.
Indo- Myanmar border:
- India’s 1,643-km border with Myanmar touches four states: Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km) and Mizoram (510 km) and permit free movement regime (FMR) upto 16 km beyond border.
- In January 2018, Union Cabinet had approved agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) between India and Myanmar on land border crossing to enhance economic interaction between people of two countries.
- To give it shape, Central Government had asked four border states with Myanmar to distribute “border pass” to all the residents living within 16 km from the border.
- The agreement has been deferred twice in the past seven months.
Significance of agreement:
- The agreement will facilitate movement of people on basis of valid passports and visas which will enhance economic and social interaction between two countries.
- It will facilitate regulation and harmonization of already existing free movement rights for people ordinarily residing in border areas of both countries.
- It will also give boost to economy of North East and leverage geographical connections with Myanmar to boost trade and people to people ties.
- It will also safeguard traditional rights of largely tribal communities residing along border which are accustomed to free movement across land border.
Need for free movement across border:
- There are over 250 villages with over 300,000 people living within 10 km of the border who frequently cross the border through 150 small and large, formal and informal, border crossings.
- Also, both the countries intend to put a system in place after India raised the issue of movement of extremists and smugglers freely across the border.
What is the Border Pass Proposal?
- As per the proposal, there would have been no restrictions on the movement of people across the borders. The domiciles were to be allotted border passes and those going across for agriculture, work or to meet relatives should carry the pass at all times.
US delays decision on H-4 visas
The Trump administration has delayed its decision on termination of work authorisation of H-4 visa users, spouses of H-1B visa holders, till June as it needs time to review the economic impact of such a decision.
- The extension of decision-making process by four months comes as a temporary relief to the spouses of H-1B visas holders, a significantly large number of whom are Indian workers.
What’s the issue?
- Since 2015, the spouses of H-1B visa holders waiting for green cards have been eligible to work in the U.S. on H-4 dependent visas, under a rule introduced by the previous Barack Obama administration.
- However, in January 2018, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) re-evaluated the rule and determined that significant revisions to the draft proposal were necessary.
What is an H-4 Visa?
- H-4 visa holders are immediate family members of H-1B visa holders. Most H-4 visa holders are spouses who want to join their partner in a new country.
- They enjoy many of the benefits of living in the United States, but some limitations exist. That’s why an H-1B visa is better.
What are the rights of an H-4 Visa holder?
- They can live in the United States on a continuous basis. They can also travel to and from the country as needed.
- H-4 visa holders can either join their spouse immediately or choose to move to America at a later date.
- They also have the right to attend college in the United States and may even enjoy discounted tuition.
Who qualifies for an H-4 Visa?
- The only people who qualify are dependents. In the United States, those people are spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.
How long does an H-4 Visa Last?
- No official termination date exists for an H-4 visa. Instead, the holder of the primary visa, the H-1B, will determine length of stay.
- When that visa expires, both the H-1B and H-4 holders are no longer eligible for American residency.
Science & Technology
Silver copper telluride (AgCuTe) – novel material to convert waste heat into electricity
Researchers have developed silver copper telluride (AgCuTe), a novel compound that exhibits poor thermal conductivity in the 25-425 degree C range but shows good electrical conductivity.
- The new material made from silver, copper, and tellurium shows high levels of thermoelectric performance that the scientists are hoping could some day be harnessed to extract electricity from waste heat of chemical, thermal, or steel power plants.
- Due to the low thermal conductivity of AgCuTe, one end of the 8 mm-long rod that is contact with waste heat remains hot while the other end maintains cold temperature.
- The temperature difference is essential for the generation of electrical voltage. At the same time, the material exhibits good electrical conductivity like metal.
- The compound, silver copper telluride (AgCuTe), shows promise as a thermoelectric material for converting waste heat into electricity.
- Potential applications of the thermoelectric technology are in automobile industry, chemical, thermal and steel power plants where large quantities of heat are wasted.
Key Facts for Prelims
Ama Gaon, Ama Vikas programme
- Odisha Government has launched ‘Ama Gaon, Ama Vikas’ (Our Village, our development) programme to reach out to people in rural areas and involve themselves in developmental activities.
- Under this programme, people can directly send their grievances to Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) at Secretariat in Bhubaneswar through Wi-Fi enabled latest technology video wall vans.
- This initiative administration will help people in solving their grievances instantly.
- Namaste Shalom is a regular monthly magazine on bilateral relations between the two friendly nations – India-Israel.
- The magazine aims to strengthen India-Israel relations and provide a platform for exchanging views between Indians and Jews the world over.
- Recently, the social media of ‘Namaste Shalom’ was launched.
DEFEXPO India 2018
- India’s biggest ever land, naval and homeland security exhibition Defence Expo 2018 was held in Chennai.
- It will brand India as a defence exporter of several defence systems and components for all three Services – Army, Navy and Air Force.
- Defence Expo 2018 is the 10th edition of the exhibition.
- It is the first time that the defence expo is going to be held in Chennai.
- Till 2016, all defence expos had been held only in New Delhi.
- In 2017, it was held in Goa.
Pakistan elects its first Dalit woman Senator
- Pakistan has elected Krishna Kumari Kohli as its first Dalit woman Senator. She won the election for the reserved seat for women from Sindh Province.
- Her election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in Pakistan.
- Earlier, Pakistan People’s Party had elected first Hindu woman named Ratna Bhagwandas Chawla as a Senator.
First Indian woman wrestler to win gold at Asian Wrestling Championships
- India’s Ace wrestler Navjot Kaur won gold medal in the 65kg freestyle wrestling category of Senior Asian Championships held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
- With this, she created history by becoming first Indian woman wrestler to win gold medal in Senior Asian Championships. This was also India’s first gold in the ongoing championships.