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Current Affairs Analysis

5th & 6th July 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Saiga antelope; Dilution of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016; Diabetes; Types of diabetes; Stevioside; Impact of COVID-19 on SDGs; Privatization of Indian Railways; Locust plague; Locust upsurge; Locust outbreak; Sasa kurilensis; Sakteng wildlife sanctuary; China claims eastern Bhutan boundary; Swami Vivekananda; Aatmanirbhar Bharat Innovation Challenge; Dhanvantri Rath; Chambal Express Project; Kisan Satyagraha; Baltal Track; Vaartavali; Winter diesel etc.
By IASToppers
July 06, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Dilution of Disabilities Act

Issues related to Health & Education

  • Genetics could help diagnose type-1 diabetes in Indians
  • Stevioside can make cancer therapy more efficient

Social Issues

  • Severe impact of COVID-19 on SDGs

Economy

  • Privatization of Indian Railways

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Difference between a locust plague, upsurge and outbreak
  • Saiga antelope, Sasa kurilensis & fungi species

Bilateral & International Relations

  • China claims eastern Bhutan boundary

Persons in News

  • Swami Vivekananda

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Aatmanirbhar Bharat Innovation Challenge
  • Dhanvantri Rath
  • Chambal Express Project
  • Kisan Satyagraha
  • Baltal Track
  • Vaartavali
  • Winter diesel

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Polity & Governance

Dilution of Disabilities Act

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s notification proposing an amendment of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, to de-criminalise minor offences for improving business sentiment and unclogging court processes have met with protests from the community of disabled persons, activists and organisations.

Major Highlights:

  • The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities stated that decriminalisation of minor offences will reduce the risk of imprisonment for actions which do not necessarily have malafide intent.
  • It stated that the risk of jail is a hurdle in attracting investments – from both domestic and foreign investors.
  • The department will consider reducing the punishment or penalty meted out to an offence which may be classified as severe currently but which the department holds as a minor offence.
  • Ex: There is a difference in severity between sexual offence against a person with disability and insulting a disabled person by calling them names, or (calling) a non-disabled person by a disabled name which demeans the community.
  • At present, both such offences are considered severe, and both has a financial penalty as well as the possibility of imprisonment.
  • The notification seeks that both these offences are not at the same level of severity and need to be treated differently.

Concerns of disabled community:

  • The representatives of the disabled community contend that the strong 2016 Act for the first time, gave them robust protection under punitive measures included in the law.
  • They argue that the 2016 Act was the result of years of struggle, and came into force after India became a signatory to and ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007.
  • An integral part of those rights is the penal provisions that the 2016 Act provides for the first time, which are to act as deterrents against offences against disabled persons.
  • There are layers of discrimination that a disabled person goes through, including insults that have severe psychological effects.

Sections under review:

Three sections of the Act are under review:

  • Section 89, which, in a first, imposes a fine – of Rs 10,000, going up to Rs 50,000 to Rs 5,00,000 in a second offence for breaking of any rule in the Act.
  • Section 92(a) for intentionally insulting or intimidating a person with disability with intent to humiliate in public view.
  • Section 93, which pertains to companies contravening the Act or not submitting relevant documents to the Disability Commissioner when asked for.
  • Only Section 92(a) has a provision for imprisonment: According to the new proposal, the imprisonment provision will be taken out and the penalty can be negotiated by the sparring parties under supervision of either the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities or State Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities.

Key Fact:

  • The Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 ensures right to education, right to employment and the right to livelihood, with 4 % reservation in government offices and 5 % reservation in educational institutions.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Issues related to Health & Education

Genetics could help diagnose type-1 diabetes in Indians

Researchers of India and the UK have found that a genetic risk score is effective in diagnosing type-1 diabetes in Indians.

What is the genetic risk score?

  • Developed by the University of Exeter, the genetic risk score takes into account detailed genetic information that is known to increase the chance of developing type-1 diabetes.
  • The score may be used at the time of diabetes diagnosis to help decide if someone has type-1 diabetes.
  • It is widely believed that only children and adolescents get type-1 diabetes and obese and older (typically after 45 years of age) get type-2 diabetes.
  • Recent findings have shown that type-1 diabetes can occur later in life, while type-2 diabetes is on the rise among younger and thinner Indians.

Key Facts on Diabetes:

  • Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
  • Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
  • Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body’s systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.

Type-1 diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent) is characterized by deficient insulin production and requires daily administration of insulin.
  • Neither the cause of Type 1 diabetes nor the means to prevent it are known.
  • Symptoms include excessive excretion of urine, thirst, constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes, and fatigue.
  • Type-1 diabetes needs lifelong insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes:

  • Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent) results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin.
  • The majority of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
  • This type of diabetes is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.
  • Until recently, this type of diabetes was seen only in adults but it is now also occurring increasingly frequently in children.
  • Type-2 diabetes often being managed with diet or tablet treatment.

 [Ref: PIB; WHO]

Stevioside can make cancer therapy more efficient

Researchers at the Institute of Nano Science & Technology have found that stevioside, when coated on nanoparticles can increase the efficiency of Magnetic hyperthermia-mediated cancer therapy (MHCT).

Major Highlights:

  • Stevioside is a natural plant-based glycoside found in leaves of Honey yerba.
  • MHCT method of cancer therapy is based on heating the tumour tissues using magnetic nanoparticles.
  • It is based on the generation of localised heat at the tumour site on exposure to AMF (alternating magnetic field) in the presence of magnetic nanoparticles.
  • Coating the nanoparticles with the stevioside, a biosurfactant not only improved the cellular uptake of the nano-magnets in glioma C6 cancer cells but also enhanced its retention time.

 [Ref: PIB]

Social Issues

Severe impact of COVID-19 on SDGs

COVID‑19 will have severe negative impacts on most of the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a report that has tracked the progress of 166 countries since 2015.

Major Highlights:

  • The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
  • The subsequent socio-economic crisis after COVID-19 has affected all countries, including high-income ones in Europe and North America.
  • As a result of lockdown, many economic activities were shut down, leading to massive losses to the economy and loss of jobs, with maximum impact on vulnerable groups.

Negative Impact:

The report said COVID-19 had negatively affected several goals including:

  • SDG 1 (no poverty)
  • SDG 2 (zero hunger)
  • SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing)
  • SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth)
  • SDG 10 (reduced inequalities)

Immediate Relief:

At the same time, the pandemic had brought “immediate relief” in areas related to:

  • SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production)
  • SDG 13 (climate action)
  • SDG 14 (life below water)
  • SDG 15 (life on land)

However, these gains will be short-term.

India and SDG:

  • India ranked at 117/166 countries, with a score of 61.9 out of 100.
  • It ranked below two South Asian nations — Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • India faces major challenges in 10 of the 17 SDGs which include — zero hunger, good health, gender inequality among others.
  • There are significant challenges in another three SDGs — no poverty (SDG 1), Life below water (SDG 14) and Life on land (SDG 15).

 [Ref: DownToEarth]

Economy:

Privatization of Indian Railways

Indian Railways has launched the process of opening up train operations to private entities on 109 origin destination (OD) pairs of routes using 151 modern trains.

Major Highlights:

  • It has invited Request for Qualifications proposals, for scrutiny of vendor capabilities, from those who can bring modern trains for operations on existing rail infrastructure.
  • The Railway Board has moved ahead with a long-pending plan, setting a tentative schedule for private train operations, expected to begin in 2023 and in 12 clusters.
  • The present invitation for private operators to submit qualification bids for 151 trains would be, in the assessment of the Railway Board, only for a fraction of the total train operations — 5% of the 2,800 Mail and Express services operated by Indian Railways.
  • The overall objective is to introduce a new train travel experience for passengers who are used to travelling by aircraft and air-conditioned buses.

What is the background to the decision?

  • In 2015, the expert panel chaired by Bibek Debroy constituted by the Ministry of Railways, recommended that the way forward for the railways was liberalisation and not privatisation in order to allow entry of new operators to encourage growth and improve services.
  • It also made it clear that a regulatory mechanism was a prerequisite to promote healthy competition and protect the interests of all stakeholders.
  • From a passenger perspective, there is a need for more train services, particularly between big cities.
  • Five crore intending passengers could not be accommodated during 2019-20 for want of capacity, and there was 13.3% travel demand in excess of supply during summer and festival seasons.

Why is the move significant for Indian Railways?

  • According to the World Bank, in 2018 India had 68,443 route kilometres of railways.
  • It is among the four largest rail networks in the world, along with the United States, China, and Russia.
  • Although every kilometre of track in India covers geographical area much less than Germany, Russia, China or Canada, indicating scope for expansion.
  • It was estimated that a one rupee push in the railway sector would have a forward linkage effect of increasing output in other sectors by ₹2.50.
  • The move to augment capacity virtually overnight through private capital in train operations pursues this line of reasoning.

Are private train operations sustainable?

  • Train services operated by Indian Railways cover several classes of passengers, meeting the social service obligation to connect remote locations, and the philosophy of cross-subsidy for passengers in low-cost trains through higher freight tariffs.
  • Private operators are not expected to shoulder the burden of universal service norms, and will focus on revenue.
  • The Government of India in March 2020 said that it had notified the resolution to set up a Rail Development Authority as a recommendatory/advisory body, advising government on, among other things, promoting competition, efficiency and economy, and protecting consumer interests.
  • Private rail operations can thus be seen as a government-led pilot plan.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Difference between a locust plague, upsurge and outbreak

Food and Agriculture Organization has warned India to remain on high alert against locust attack for the next four weeks.

 Major Highlights:

  • As per FAO the spring-bred locust swarms, which migrated to the Indo-Pakistan border and travelled east to northern states, are expected to return to Rajasthan with the start of the monsoon in coming days.
  • The FAO has three categories of Desert Locust situations: outbreak, upsurge, and plague.
  • The current locust attack (2019-2020) has been categorised as an upsurge.

Locust outbreaks:

  • Before the outbreak stage, the FAO first issues Desert Locust threats that are determined from an analysis of national survey and control data combined with remote sensing imagery and historical records.
  • Such threats have been issued in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Not all threats develop into an outbreak.
  • When there are good rains, Desert Locusts – which are always present somewhere in the deserts between Mauritania and India – can rapidly increase in number and within a month or two, start to concentrate which unless checked, can lead to the formation of small groups or bands of wingless hoppers.
  • Such a situation is called an outbreak and usually occurs with an area of about 5,000 sq. km (100 km by 50 km) in one part of a country.

Locust upsurge:

  • This is a more serious Desert Locust situation and generally affects an entire region.
  • An ‘upsurge’ is formed when an outbreak or contemporaneous outbreaks are not controlled.
  • If widespread or unusually heavy rains fall in adjacent areas, several successive seasons of breeding can occur that causes further hopper band and adult swarm formation.
  • The upsurge of 1992-1994 affected India after Desert Locusts that bred for several generations along the Red Sea coastal plains in the winter of 1992 moved via the Arabian interior to India and Pakistan.

Locust plague:

  • The most serious category, a plague can develop when an upsurge is not controlled and ecological conditions remain favourable for breeding.
  • Thus the locust populations continue to increase in number and size, and the majority of the infestations occur as bands and swarms.
  • This does not happen overnight; instead, it takes at least one year or more for a plague to develop through a sequence that commences with one or more outbreaks and followed by an upsurge.
  • A major plague exists when two or more regions are affected simultaneously.
  • The area in which plagues occur covers about 29 million sq. km and can extend across 58 countries.
  • There have been six major plagues in the 1900s, one of which lasted almost 13 years.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Saiga antelope, Sasa kurilensis & fungi species

The saiga antelope population in Kazakhstan got a big boost with recent mass calving.

Saiga antelope:

  • The Saiga antelope of Asia’s steppes is the smallest and most threatened population of saiga in Kazakhstan.
  • The subspecies is only found in one region in Russia and three areas in Kazakhstan.
  • The species has experienced its largest mass calving in recent years.
  • IUCN status: Critically Endangered.

Sasa kurilensis:

  • Alpine plants growing in the mountainous regions of Japan have come under threat due to the sudden growth of dwarf bamboo, that has been aided by global warming.
  • Due to global warming, snow is melting faster and the soil is drying up in these regions.
  • The dwarf bamboo species, Sasa kurilensis blocks the sun’s rays and prevents other plants from performing photosynthesis.
  • It also absorbs a large amount of water, drying up the soil and preventing alpine plants from growing in wetland areas.
  • Moreover, rising temperatures are causing alpine plants to flower earlier, disturbing their balance with the insects that pollinate them.

Four new fungi species:

  • A group of researchers in China has led to the discovery of four novel fungal species on bat carcasses.
  • The expedition was undertaken in an underground limestone karst system.
  • The four new species are Mortierella rhinolophicola; M multispora; M yunnanensis; and Neocosmospora pallidimors.
[Ref: DownToEarth]

Bilateral & International Relations

China claims eastern Bhutan boundary

China has included Bhutan’s Eastern sectors to the boundary dispute between the two countries for the first time.

Major Highlights:

  • The boundary between China and Bhutan has never been delimited. There have been disputes over the eastern, central and western sectors for a long time.
  • China in June 2020, attempted to stop funding for the Sakteng sanctuary, Bhutan from the U.N. Development Programme’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) citing it was disputed territory between China and Bhutan.
  • There have been 24 previous rounds of boundary negotiations held between the two countries between 1984 and 2016.
  • However, there has been no mention of Eastern Bhutan, or Trashigang Dzongkhag (district), where Sakteng is based, that borders Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The negotiations have not been held since the Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017.

Bhutan’s stand:

  • The Bhutanese government and its Embassy in Delhi declined to comment on the current issue.
  • Bhutan does not have any formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.
  • However, Bhutan rejects the claim made by the Council Member of China and cites that Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan and at no point during the boundary discussions between Bhutan and China has it featured as a disputed area.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Persons in News

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda was remembered on his 118th death anniversary on 4 July.  

About Swami Vivekananda:

  • Swami Vivekananda was born on 12 January 1893, as Narendra Nath in West Bengal.
  • His birthday is declared as National Youth Day to honour his contributions to the country.

Contributions of Swami Vivekananda:

  • He wrote the books named Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga.
  • He was an ardent disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India and credited with enlightening the western world about Hinduism.
  • He pushed for national integration in colonial India.
  • He is known to have introduced the Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the West.
  • He began delivering lectures at various places in the US and UK, and became popular as the ‘messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world’.
  • He formed the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 to bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.
  • In 1899, he established the Belur Math on the western bank of the Ganga to have a permanent abode for the monastery.
  • He preached ‘neo-Vedanta’, an interpretation of Hinduism through a Western lens, and believed in combining spirituality with material progress.

Key facts:

  • His speeches at the Chicago World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 made him famous as an orator by divine right.
  • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had called Vivekananda the maker of modern India.
  • In 1893, he took the name Vivekananda after Maharaja Ajit Singh of the Khetri State requested him to do so.
  • He was the first religious leader in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India’s downfall was the neglect of the masses.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Key Facts for Prelims

Aatmanirbhar Bharat Innovation Challenge

  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in partnership with Atal Innovation Mission – Niti Aayog launched a Digital India AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge for Indian tech entrepreneurs and startups.
  • The challenge will have two tracks: the promotion of existing apps and the development of new apps.
  • The government would be launching a grand challenge for Indian companies to build apps for various categories and to create a local app ecosystem.
  • The focus of the first track is to identify the best Indian Apps that are already being used by citizens and have the potential to scale and become world-class apps in their respective categories.
  • Following the app innovation challenge, the government will also launch the second track of challenge that will seek to identify Indian startups, entrepreneurs, companies and encourage them with ideation, incubation, prototyping and the rollout of applications.

Dhanvantri Rath

  • Centre has hailed the efforts made by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), by setting up an innovative example like Dhanvantri Rath.
  • Dhanvantri Rath is a mobile van providing non-COVID essential healthcare services to the doorsteps of the people in the city.

Chambal Express Project

  • The Rs 8,200 crore Chambal Express Project passes through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • Union Road Transport Minister called for the formation of Chambal Development Authority for the progress of the region.
  • It envisages connecting Bhind to Kota and will provide cross connectivity with Golden Quadrilateral‘s Delhi-Kolkata corridor, North-South Corridor, East-West Corridor and Delhi-Mumbai/Expressway.

Kisan Satyagraha

  • Young farmers and social workers in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh have launched an online campaign called ‘Kisan Satyagraha’ demanding their produce be bought above the minimum support price (MSP) and attempt to educate the urban population about agriculture.
  • Reduced demand for poultry owing to the pandemic, but more significantly imports from Ukraine, Myanmar and Russia, have crashed the prices locally.

Baltal Track

  • The J&K administration started the annual Amarnath pilgrimage, where only 500 pilgrims will be allowed to trek from central Kashmir’s Baltal area.
  • Due to the pandemic, the pilgrimage will only take from the Baltal track and not the traditional route of Pahalgam in south Kashmir.

Vaartavali

  • Prime Minister of India has congratulated Sanskrit News Magazine ‘Vaartavali’ on completion of its five years of continuous broadcast on DD News.

Winter diesel

  • It is a specialised fuel for high altitude regions and low-temperature regions such as Ladakh, where ordinary diesel can become unusable.
  • It is developed in 2019 by the Indian Oil Corporation Limited’s (IOCL).
  • IOC may begin supplying winter diesel once its use is approved by the Controllerate of Quality Assurance for petroleum products under the Directorate General of Quality Assurance of the armed forces.
  • It meets the BIS specification of BS-VI grade diesel.

Properties of Winter Diesel:

  • Low pour point.
  • Higher cetane rating (an indicator is the combustion speed of diesel and compression needed for ignition).
  • Lower Sulphur content (which would lead to lower deposits in engines and better performance)
  • Contains additives to maintain lower viscosity.
  • Can be used in temperatures as low as -30°C.

Need:

  • The flow characteristics of regular diesel change at such low temperatures and using it may be detrimental to vehicles.

Key Facts:

  • The pour point of a liquid is the temperature below which the liquid loses its flow characteristics.
  • It is defined as the minimum temperature in which the oil can pour down from a beaker.
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