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Current Affairs (July 19th - 25th, 2020)

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  • 3rd G20 FMCBG Meeting
    Current Affairs Recently India has virtually participated in the 3rd G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) meeting under the Presidency of Saudi Arabia.

    It discussed the global economic outlook amid evolving Covid-19 pandemic crisis along with other G20 finance track priorities for the year 2020.

    The First meeting was held in February 2020 at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

    Key Points
    G20 Action Plan: The importance and relevance of the G20 action plan was highlighted.

    It was endorsed in response to Covid-19 in April 2020.

    It has a list of collective commitments under the pillars of Health Response, Economic Response, Strong and Sustainable Recovery and International Financial Coordination, aimed at coordinating G20 efforts to fight the pandemic.

    India's Response:
    India emphasised the need to balance supply side and demand side measures in response to Covid-19.

    It also spoke about the procyclicality of credit rating downgrades by the rating agencies and its deterrent impact on policy options, particularly for Emerging Market Economy (EMEs).

    Procyclic ratings are stricter during an economic downturn than an expansion. As a result, firms receive overly pessimistic ratings in a recession, relative to during an expansion.

    International coordination required in addressing the spill-over effects of exit strategies related to covid-19 lockdowns.

    Spillover effect refers to the impact of unrelated events in one nation on the economies of other nations.

    G20 Finance Track deliverables: FMCBG discussed the developments on G20 Finance Track deliverables under the Saudi Arabian Presidency. India discussed two such deliverables:

    First, Enhancing access to opportunities for Women, Youth and Small Market Economies (SMEs) and a menu of policy options on access to opportunity.

    Second, International Taxation agenda and the intended deliverable of formulating a solution for addressing challenges related to digital taxation.

    India said that the consensus based solution should be simple, inclusive and based on a robust economic impact assessment.

    It is in line with the recent decision of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to initiate an investigation into taxes adopted or under consideration by 10 nations, including India, on revenues of American digital service companies like Netflix, Airbnb etc.

    Digital taxation or Digital Services Taxes (DSTs) are the adopted taxes on revenues that certain companies generate from providing certain digital services. E.g. digital multinationals like Google, Amazon and Apple etc.

    In response to it the central government has stated that it will not extend the deadline for payment of equalisation levy by non-resident e-commerce players, even though a majority of them are yet to deposit the first installment of the tax.

    The equalization levy is aimed at taxing foreign companies which have a significant local client base in India but are billing them through their offshore units, effectively escaping the country’s tax system.

  • China Crossed its 1960’s LAC Claims
    According to the records of 1960 boundary talks, the Chinese troops have gone beyond China’s own territorial claims at Pangong Tso Lake and Galwan Valley.

    The records also raise questions on recent statements from Indian officials that China is not present anywhere on Indian territory.

    Key Points
    Official Records:
    The 1960’s documents show that the Chinese claim over the Pangong Tso Lake was at near Finger 8, around 8 km east of where China now says the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is. Now the Chinese troops are at Finger 4.

    The Fingers refer to mountain spurs on the bank of the Lake, and run from 1 to 8, west to east.

    The documents show that, in the Galwan Valley, the LAC ran east of the bend of the Galwan river, called the Y-nallah, which is now claimed by China.

    The Y-nallah was the site of the recent clash between Indian and Chinese troops.

    The clash took place following a dispute during the de-escalation process, triggered when the Chinese troops put up a tent near the bend.

    Reason for Increased Claims:
    The Chinese are now likely interpreting their perception of the LAC in a manner that seeks to redefine or maximise old claims along new lines, as cartography and terrain knowledge have improved, which offer them tactical advantage and more ‘domination’ in key areas along the LAC.

    Strengthening of India’s border infrastructure (e.g. construction of Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road) may also be the reason.

  • ICJ on Qatar Blockade
    Recently, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) refused an appeal by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which challenged the authority of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to adjudicate on the legality of the Qatar blockade.

    ICJ is the top United Nations (UN) court and ICAO is the international aviation agency of the UN.

    UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are located in the Persian Gulf Region and are the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

    Key Points
    Qatar Blockade:
    In June 2017, Qatar’s neighbouring Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt shut off shipping routes and air space with Qatar for its alleged support for terrorism and its ties with Iran.

    It severed their diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar.

    However, Qatar denied supporting Islamic extremism and has openly condemned its isolation as a clear attack on its sovereignty.

    All four neighbours issued a 13-point list of demands for Doha (capital of Qatar) to comply with in order to restore erstwhile relations.

    Some of the demands included Qatar closing down news outlets such as Al-Jazeera, end ties with radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, scale down ties with Shia-majority Iran and remove Turkish troops stationed in the country.

    Since 2017, the blockade of Qatar has included:

    Closing of its only land border with Saudi Arabia.

    Stopping Qatari ships from entering ports anywhere in the Saudi coalition.

    Blocking Qatari planes from flying in their airspace.

    Expelling Qatari citizens from these countries as part of the measures.

    Dispute at the ICJ:
    Qatar approached the ICAO, alleging that its rights of free passage under the 1944 Convention on Civil Aviation were violated by the blockade.

    Saudi Arabia and its allies argued that the ICJ should have the authority to settle the dispute instead of the ICAO because the dispute goes beyond the aviation matters.

    In 2018, the ICAO ruled against the Saudi coalition, holding that it did have jurisdiction to hear the case and its ruling was recently backed by the ICJ too.

    The blockade still remains in force and the ICAO is expected to deliver its verdict in 2021. The ruling will be in Qatar’s favour and will be a major win for the country and its national carrier, Qatar Airways.

  • PASSEX with the U.S.A
    Recently, Indian Naval ships conducted a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with the U.S. Navy’s USS Nimitz carrier strike group near the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

    A passage exercise is normally undertaken whenever an opportunity arises, in contrast to pre-planned maritime drills.

    Recently, the Indian Navy had also conducted similar PASSEXs with the Japanese Navy and the French Navy.

    Key Points
    Four frontline Indian naval ships which included INS Shivalik, INS Sahyadri, INS Kamorta and INS Rana, teamed up with carrier USS Nimitz and three other U.S. ships to conduct the exercise.

    USS Nimitz is the U.S. Navy’s largest aircraft carrier.

    To improve the cooperation between the U.S. and Indian maritime forces and to maximize training and interoperability, which also include air defence.

    It will enhance both sides' ability to counter threats at sea, from piracy to violent extremism.

    A free and open sea promotes an international rules-based order wherein each country can reach its potential without sacrificing national sovereignty.

    It will also present opportunities to build upon the pre-existing strong relationship between the United States and India and allow both countries to learn from each other.

    China Factor:
    PASSEX comes amid a high alert by the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) due to the stand-off with China along the border in Ladakh.

    The exercise also came amidst mounting tensions in the South China Sea where the U.S Navy just conducted a major exercise involving USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan.

    The Indian Navy is keeping a close watch on the movement of Chinese naval ships in the IOR, whose presence has gone up considerably over the years in the name of anti-piracy patrols.

    In 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

  • World Chess Day was observed on 20 July
    World Chess Day was observed on 20 July. The day is to celebrate the founding day of Federation Internationale des Echecs (International Chess Federation or World Chess Federation).

    The day also celebrate the game of Chess and encourages more people to play and enjoy the game amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On 20 July 2020, Chess players, United Nations and governments officials, permanent missions to the UN, representatives of civil society, academia and other relevant stakeholders attended and participated in a High-Level Virtual Event title "Chess for Recovering Better".

    On December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 20 July as World Chess Day to mark the date of the establishment of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) in Paris in 1924.

    FIDE initiatde to observe 20 July as International Chess Day by chess players around the world since 1966. The UN designated the observation of the Day to recognize the important role of the FIDE in supporting international cooperation for chess activity.

    It also aim to improve friendly harmony among all peoples of the world, but also to provide an important platform to foster, dialogue, solidarity, and a culture of peace.

    The game Chess is encouraged as it offers important opportunities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including strengthening education, realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women.

  • Tech Cold War Between U.S.A and China
    Recently, the U.S.A blocked China's access to chip making tools and designated Chinese telecom giants Huawei, ZTE as national security threats. However, with the 5G rollout approaching, the move will impact several countries including India.

    Recently, the United Kingdom also reversed its earlier decision and blocked Huawei from its 5G network rollout.

    Key Points
    U.S.A-China Tech Relation:
    China has traditionally resisted against American big-data companies such as Facebook and Google to operate within its jurisdiction.

    However, both the Countries still have significant dealings on the technology side.

    Last year, Apple recorded USD 100 million of daily sales in China, while Huawei Technologies reported record revenues primarily from its exposure in western markets, including the U.S.A.

    The latest steps by U.S.A against Huawei mark the first real prohibitory action by a western government in the nearly two decades.

    This has been done on the ground that China’s equipment is designed to aid snooping.

    There have been apprehensions that American telecoms players are too much dependent on subsidised Chinese technology.

    Impact of Ban on Chip Making Tools:
    Huawei could face shortages in its supply of specialist chips for which it relies on the U.S.A.

    Technological cold war could extend beyond the U.S.A and China, and compel other countries, including India, to effectively choose between one of the camps.

    Some of the countries perceive the same threat as that of the U.S.A, and others are wary of trade sanctions by the U.S.A.

    This could have a bearing on the growing competition to dominate next-generation technologies such as 5G networks and artificial intelligence.

    Impact the plans of most countries preparing to transition to a 5G regime, including India.

    India’s Position:
    In 2009, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had advised Indian mobile companies to suspend deals with Chinese equipment makers after fears that Chinese equipment were being used for hacking and spying.

    However, India did not took strong actions on any of DoT’s recommendations. Indeed, much of India’s telecom growth story has been supported by Chinese companies in both hardware and software.

    The approach changed after the standoff in Ladakh, wherein India has asked state-owned telecom service providers to exclude Chinese companies from the scope of their network upgrade contracts.

    India also justified the ban on 59 mobile apps with Chinese links on grounds of a threat to national security.

    This was part of the wider decision to signal curbs on Chinese investments and tech companies in the country.

    The border clashes and the U.S.A action could now force India into the anti-China camp.

  • China Proposes Territory Swap with Bhutan
    Recently, China has offered Bhutan a “package solution” to its boundary dispute. Although the package solution is not specified, it may be seen as a revival of the 1996 proposal by China for a territory swap.

    Key Points
    Territory Swap:
    In 1996, China wanted to exchange the valleys to the north of Bhutan (an area of 495 square kilometres), with the pasture land to the west (including Doklam), totalling 269 square kilometres.

    The deal would have benefited Bhutan by giving it the larger chunk of land, and resolving its tensions with China.

    However it was a big worry for India, as the Doklam swap would have given China access to the strategically sensitive “chicken neck” of the Siliguri corridor.

    Repeated Claim Over Sakteng:
    China also repeated its claim on Bhutan’s eastern boundary at Sakteng.

    Earlier, China has made the claim over Sakteng at an online meeting of the 58th Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council, while unsuccessfully objecting to the funding request to develop the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary project in eastern Bhutan.

    China claims that the boundary between China and Bhutan has never been delimited. It has had disputes over the eastern, central and western sectors of Bhutan.

    However, Bhutan outrightly rejected the claim made by China by saying that Sakteng is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan.

    According to Bhutan, China and Bhutan have a dispute in only two sectors of the border, one in the north (central) – Pasamlung and Jakarlung, and second in the west – Doklam.

    There has been no mention of eastern Bhutan, where Sakteng is based, in 24 previous rounds of boundary negotiations held between the two countries between 1984 and 2016.

    Reason Behind the New Offer:
    The aim may be to pressure Bhutan into concluding a deal quickly on terms on offer, otherwise the claims may keep increasing.

    The similar offer was made to India on Arunachal Pradesh, which subsequently expanded to include a Chinese claim on Tawang in 1985.

    Concerns for India:
    In 2017 China had intruded into Doklam plateau, which is claimed by Bhutan, leading to a standoff between Indian and Chinese Armies.

    Even after the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007, Indian military is virtually responsible for protecting Bhutan from the kind of external threat that the Chinese military poses.

    According to the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949, Bhutan allowed India to "guide" its foreign policy and defence affairs.

    However, the 1949 treaty was amended in 2007 to respect the sensitivities of Bhutan regarding its sovereignty.

    Under the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007, the two sides have agreed to cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests.

    Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.

    China has said that a third party should not point fingers in the China-Bhutan border issue, which is an apparent reference to India.

  • South Korea launched its first-ever military communications satellite
    South Korea launched its first-ever military communications satellite "ANASIS-II" by private operator SpaceX on 21 July 2020.

    The information was passed by Seoul's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). The move by the country aims to build up its defence capabilities.

    ANASIS-II is aimed to enhance the South's defence against the nuclear-armed North Korea, which invaded in 1950.

    The satellite was carried by Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

    ANASIS-II will reach its orbit of 36,000 kilometres and South Korea's military will take over the system in October after testing.

    South Korea and the United States are security allies. The US has stationed 28,500 troops in the country.

  • Supply of DDT to South Africa for Malaria Control Program
    Recently, HIL (India) Limited has supplied 20.60 Metric tonne of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), a fertilizer to South Africa for their malaria control program.

    The Company is further in the process of supplying DDT to Zimbabwe and Zambia in the current Financial Year 2020-21.

    Key Points
    It is a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline chemical compound.

    It was first synthesized in 1874 by the Austrian chemist OthmarZeidler.

    Its insecticidal action was discovered by the Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Muller in 1939.

    He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 "for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods.

    Arthropods are invertebrate species which include insects (Mosquitos), arachnids (Spiders), and crustaceans (Crabs) etc.

    Originally developed as an insecticide, it became infamous for its environmental impacts.

    A worldwide ban on agricultural use was formalized under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

    However, its limited use in disease vector control continues, because of its effectiveness in reducing malarial infections.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends DDT as one of the efficient Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) chemicals to curb mosquito menace and it is widely used by Southern African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and India.

    IRS is a core vector control intervention that involves the application of a residual insecticide to internal walls and ceilings of housing structures where malaria vectors may come into contact with the insecticide.

    Supply to South Africa: South Africa will be utilising DDT in three provinces bordering Mozambique.

    The region is highly affected with Malaria and it has reported maximum morbidity and mortality.

    Supply to Other Countries: HIL (India) Limited has recently exported Malathion Technical 95% to Iran under Government-to-Government initiative for the Locust Control Programme and also exported Agrochemical-fungicide to Latin American region.

    Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites.

    The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, called "malaria vectors".

    Impact: Malaria continues to be one of the major public health problems globally.

    In 2018, an estimated 228 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide.

    Most of the cases and deaths (93%) were reported from African Region.

    In the South East Asia Region, India accounts for the majority of cases and death.

    According to World Malaria Report 2019, India reported 2.6 million fewer cases in 2018 compared to 2017. Thus the overall incidence of malaria in the country has reduced.

    However, 7 states (Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh) account for about 90% of the burden of malaria cases in India.

  • Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
    Recently, ‘key populations affected by HIV/AIDS (or KPs)’ have protested for being ignored by governments and multilateral agencies (including United Nations) in Covid-19 related emergency relief efforts.

    They have petitioned the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (or simply the Global Fund), demanding allocation to meet their basic survival needs of food, shelter, and emergency medical care.

    KPs include sex workers, transpeople, gay and bisexual men, drug users, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

    Key Points
    The Global Fund is an international financing and partnership organization.

    It was created in 2000 and its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The Global Fund aims to attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to support attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    It is designed to promote innovative solutions to global health challenges. It works in partnership with governments, civil society, technical agencies, and people affected by the diseases.

    India joined the Global Fund as a donor in 2006, and has contributed a total USD 46.5 million to date.

    In 2019, the Government of India pledged USD 22 million to the Global Fund's Sixth Replenishment for 2020-22, demonstrating shared commitment toward ending the epidemics of HIV, TB and malaria.

  • Concern Over Imports of Small Arms
    Current Affairs Recently, the domestic small arms manufacturers have expressed their concern over continuing imports of small arms by the Government of India.

    Key Points
    No Big Orders for Domestic Manufactures:
    In the last few years, several Indian companies have invested in the small arms segment. The government also opened up the ammunition sector to the private sector, given the large requirement of small arms.

    The Government of India has opened up the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) up to 74% and on a case to case basis it is even 100%.

    The Indian companies are capable of making small arms with over 50% indigenous content and can also match the price and timelines.

    However, in dearth of any major order, the Indian companies are now looking for smaller orders from police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF).

    Further, Indian companies are also not considered for deals through Fast Track Procurement (FTP), which is limited to foreign vendors currently.

    Small Arms Import:
    Recently, the Indian Army has ordered 72,400 SIG-716 assault rifles from Sig Sauer of the U.S.A for the second time.

    The Army has been attempting to replace the indigenous Indian National Small Arms System (INSAS) rifles with a modern rifle.

    Earlier, in February 2019, the Defence Ministry procured 72,400 SIG-716 assault rifles from Sig Sauer of the U.S.A through Fast Track Procurement (FTP), most of which were for the Army.

    The remaining demand of over 7 lakh rifles was to be met through the licensed manufacture of Russian AK-203 rifles in India through a joint venture with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). However, the final deal has been stuck over the issue of pricing.

    Demand of Domestic Manufactures:
    They are asking to give domestic companies the same level playing field as foreign companies to showcase their products and support Make in India.

  • Govt announces norms for contributions by individuals, institutions to NDRF
    The Central Government has allowed contributions from any person or institution in the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) as per Section 46(1)(b) of the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005.

    Key Points
    National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF) was renamed as National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) with the enactment of the Disaster Management Act in 2005.

    It is defined in Section 46 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DM Act).

    It is placed in the “Public Account” of Government of India under “reserve funds not bearing interest“.

    Public Accounts: It was constituted under Article 266 (2) of the Constitution. It accounts for flows for those transactions where the government is merely acting as a banker eg. provident funds, small savings etc. These funds do not belong to the government and have to be paid back at some time.

    Expenditures from it are not required to be approved by the Parliament.

    It is managed by the Central Government for meeting the expenses for emergency response, relief and rehabilitation due to any threatening disaster situation or disaster.

    It supplements the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) in case of a disaster of severe nature, provided adequate funds are not available in the SDRF.

    SDRF is the primary fund available with the State governments for responses to notified disasters to meet expenditure for providing immediate relief.

    The Centre contributes 75% of the SDRF allocation for general category States and Union Territories, and 90% for special category States/UTs (northeast States, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir).

    Financing: Financed through the levy of a cess on certain items, chargeable to excise and customs duty, and approved annually through the Finance Bill.

    Currently, a National Calamity Contingent Duty (NCCD) is levied to finance the NDRF and additional budgetary support is provided as and when necessary.

    NCCD is levied in the case of goods specified in the Seventh Schedule (goods manufactured or produced).

    Monitoring: Department of Agriculture and Cooperation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare monitors relief activities for calamities associated with drought, hailstorms, pest attacks and cold wave/frost while rest of the natural calamities are monitored by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

    Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audits the accounts of NDRF.

  • Consumer Protection Act, 2019
    The new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 came into force on 20th July 2020 and it will empower consumers and help them in protecting their rights through its various notified rules and provisions.

    The new act will be swift and less time consuming compared to the older Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in which single-point access to justice was given making it a time-consuming exercise.

    The old act provided for a three-tier consumer dispute redressal machinery at the National (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission), State and District levels.

    Key Points
    The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 establishes the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) whose primary objective will be to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers.

    It is empowered to:

    Conduct investigations into violations of consumer rights and institute complaints/prosecution.

    Order recall of unsafe goods and services.

    Order discontinuance of unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements.

    Impose penalties on manufacturers/endorsers/publishers of misleading advertisements.

    Rules on E-commerce and Unfair Trade Practices: The government will notify the Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules, 2020 under the Act whose broad provisions are given below.

    E-commerce entities are required to provide information to consumers, relating to return, refund, exchange, warranty and guarantee, delivery and shipment, modes of payment, grievance redressal mechanism, payment methods, security of payment methods, charge-back options and country of origin.

    These are necessary for enabling the consumer to make an informed decision at the pre-purchase stage.

    These platforms will have to acknowledge the receipt of any consumer complaint within 48 hours and redress the complaint within one month from the date of receipt. They will also have to appoint a grievance officer for consumer grievance redressal.

    The Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules, 2020 are mandatory and are not advisories.

    Sellers cannot refuse to take back goods or withdraw services or refuse refunds, if such goods or services are defective, deficient, delivered late, or if they do not meet the description on the platform.

    The rules also prohibit the e-commerce companies from manipulating the price of the goods or services to gain unreasonable profit through unjustified prices.

    Product Liability:
    A manufacturer or product service provider or product seller will be held responsible to compensate for injury or damage caused by defective product or deficiency in services

    Basis for product liability action:

    Manufacturing defect.

    Design defect.

    Deviation from manufacturing specifications.

    Not conforming to express warranty.

    Failing to contain adequate instructions for correct use.

    Service provided-faulty, imperfect or deficient.

    Punishment for Manufacture or Sale of Adulterated/Spurious Goods:

    In case of the first conviction, a competent court may suspend any licence issued to the person for a period of up to two years and in case of second or subsequent conviction, may cancel the licence permanently.

    Alternate Dispute Resolution Mechanism of Mediation:
    A complaint will be referred by a Consumer Commission for mediation, wherever scope for early settlement exists and parties agree for it.

    The mediation will be held in the Mediation Cells which will be established under the aegis of the Consumer Commissions.

    There will be no appeal against settlement through mediation.

    Simplification of the Consumer Dispute Adjudication Process:

    Empowering the State and District Commissions to review their own orders.

    Enabling a consumer to file complaints electronically and in consumer commissions that have jurisdiction over the place of his residence.

    Video-conferencing for hearing and deemed admissibility of complaints if the question of admissibility is not decided within the specified period of 21 days.

    Other Rules and Regulations:
    As per the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission Rules, there will be no fee for filing cases up to Rs. 5 lakh.

    The credit of the amount due to unidentifiable consumers will go to the Consumer Welfare Fund (CWF).

    State Commissions will furnish information to the Central Government on a quarterly basis on vacancies, disposal, the pendency of cases and other matters.

    Apart from these general rules, there are Central Consumer Protection Council Rules, provided for the constitution of the Central Consumer Protection Council (CCPC).

    It will be an advisory body on consumer issues, headed by the Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution with the Minister of State as Vice Chairperson and 34 other members from different fields.

    It will have a three-year tenure and will have Minister-in-charge of consumer affairs from two States from each region- North, South, East, West, and North-East Region.

  • Non-personal Data data generated in India
    Recently, a government committee headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan has suggested that non-personal data generated in India be allowed to be harnessed by various domestic companies and entities.

    The committee has also suggested a separate national legislation and a separate authority to oversee non-personal data.

    It also recommended mandatory sharing of non-personal data, as it may be useful for Indian entrepreneurs to develop new and innovative services or products to benefit citizens.

    Key Points
    Non-personal data is any set of data which does not contain personally identifiable information. This means that no individual or living person can be identified by looking at such data.

    For example, order details collected by a food delivery service will have the name, age, gender, and other contact information of an individual, it will become non-personal data if the identifiers such as name and contact information are taken out.

    The government committee, which submitted its report has classified non-personal data into three main categories, namely public non-personal data, community non-personal data and private non-personal data.

    Public, Community, and Private Non-personal Data:
    Public non-personal data: It involves all the data collected by the government and its agencies during execution of all publicly funded works.

    E.g. census, data collected by municipal corporations on the total tax receipts.

    Community non-personal data: It involves any data identifiers about a set of people who have either the same geographic location, religion, job, or other common social interests.

    E.g. The metadata collected by ride-hailing apps, telecom companies, electricity distribution companies.

    Private non-personal data: It can be defined as those which are produced by individuals which can be derived from application of proprietary software or knowledge. E.g data generated by companies like Google, Amazon etc.

    Importance of Non-personal Data:

    These data sets will help to map consumer biases and ensure targeted delivery of services. It will unlock the doors of economic value and innovation in the country.

    Sensitivity of Non-personal Data:
    Unlike personal data, non-personal data is more likely to be in an anonymised (without particulars or details) form.

    However, in certain categories such as data related to national security or strategic interests such as locations of government laboratories or research facilities, even if the data provided in anonymised form can be dangerous.

    Possibilities of such harm are obviously much higher if the original personal data is of a sensitive nature.

    Therefore, the non-personal data arising from sensitive personal data may be considered as sensitive non-personal data.

    Issues Involved:
    The data sets will heavily favour big tech companies.

    Only big tech companies possess the capital and infrastructure to create such large volumes of data. Others will find it difficult to match the capabilities of these technology giants.

    As a signatory to Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), India extended copyright protection to computer databases in 1999.

    In such a scenario, there is a challenge of demarcation between non-personal data that cannot be shared, and non-copyright non-personal data that can be used as a public resource.

    There is no clarity over the grievance redressal mechanism in the committee’s report.

  • Zoram Mega Food Park: Mizoram
    Recently, the government has operationalized the first Mega Food Park (MFP) of Mizoram i.e. Zoram Mega Food Park.

    It has been set up under the ‘Mega Food Park Scheme’.

    Key Points
    Zoram MFP:
    It is located in Khamrang village in Kolasib District, Mizoram.

    It is spread over 55 acres of land and is set up at a cost of Rs. 75. 20 crores.

    It is not only expected to benefit the people of Mizoram but also that of adjoining districts in Assam.

    Assam already has a MFP in its Nalbari district- North East Mega Food Park.

    It will boost the North-East Region’s potential to become the organic destination of the world due to its rich agricultural and horticultural produce.

    Sikkim has already been declared as an organic state.

    Mega Food Park Scheme:
    Launched in: 2008-09 under the purview of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries.

    Aim: To provide a mechanism to link agricultural production to the market by bringing together farmers, processors and retailers so as to ensure maximizing value addition, minimizing wastage, increasing farmers income and creating employment opportunities particularly in the rural sector.

    The Scheme is based on the “Cluster” approach and envisages creation of state of art support infrastructure in a well-defined agri/horticultural zone for setting up of modern food processing units in the industrial plots provided in the park with a well-established supply chain.

    A Mega food Park typically consists of supply chain infrastructure including collection centers (cc), primary processing centers (ppc) central processing centers (cpc), cold chain and around 25-30 fully developed plots for entrepreneurs to set up food processing units.

    Financial Assistance:
    The central government provides financial assistance upto Rs. 50 Crore per Mega Food Park (MFP) project.

    The MFP project is implemented by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which is a Body Corporate registered under the Companies Act, 2013.

    Presently, 18 MFP Projects are under implementation in various states and 19 Mega Food Parks have already become functional in the States.

    It is in line with the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar’ vision of the Government of India.

  • No Postal Ballots for Above 65 in Bihar
    Recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has decided against extending postal ballots to electors above 65 years of age in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections due to logistical challenges.

    Key Points
    Earlier in June 2020, the Law Ministry, on the recommendation of ECI, had extended the postal ballot facility to electors over 65 years (being most vulnerable to Covid-19), Covid-19 patients and those suspected to have it by notifying a change to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

    Earlier, postal ballots were extended to Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and electors over 80 years in November 2019 ahead of the Jharkhand and Delhi elections.

    Working Mechanism:
    The postal ballot facility for electors above 65 years is different from the conventional postal service.

    Usually, ballot papers are distributed electronically to electors and are returned to the election officers via post.

    For above 65 and Covid-19 patients, it works as a polling station on the move, with the polling staff visiting the homes of such electors, having them fill out their ballots, sealing them in envelopes and taking it back.

    It was done to minimize vulnerability and exposure at the polling stations for above 65 and to not deprive the Covid-19 patients and people under quarantine of their voting rights.

    After reviewing the preparations for the Bihar polls, the ECI has made this decision keeping in mind the logistical, staff and safety protocol related constraints.

    For collecting votes of so many electors, additional staff and security will be required and would not be possible to arrange the facility for about 72 lakh electors, about 10% of the total 7.19 crore electors in the state.

    State authorities are already preparing 34,000 additional polling stations in order to limit electors to 1,000 at each location. It also requires additional polling personnel which is an administrative challenge in itself.

  • Ravana’s Aviation Route: Sri Lanka
    Recently, the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka has sought relevant documents and literature from the public to study the mythological character Ravana’s “aviation routes”.

    Key Points
    Description: The Civil Aviation Authority will lead a research project titled “King Ravana and the ancient domination of aerial routes now lost”.

    The project aims to bring out an authoritative narrative about King Ravana as there are many stories about Ravana flying aircrafts and covering these aerial routes.

    According to the civil aviation authority, it was Ravana who used a flying machine called “Dandu monara” to fly not only within the country, but also in the South East Asia region.

    Tourism: Sri Lanka’s tourism sector promotes the ‘Ramayana trail’ for visitors from India — one of Sri Lanka’s largest tourism markets.

    Sinhala-Buddhists Community: The majority Sinhala-Buddhists community hail the King Ravana.

    The group calls itself RavanaBalaya.

    Linkages with India: Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu acknowledge Ravana as “the brave king” similar to the Buddhists community of Sri Lanka.

    Satellite: Sri Lanka named its first satellite Ravana-1 launched in June 2019.

  • NFRA constitutes technical advisory committee
    Recently, the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) has constituted a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to aid and advise the executive body of the NFRA on issues relating to drafts of accounting standards and auditing standards.

    The TAC comprises seven members including the chairman - R. Narayanaswamy.

    Key Points
    Constitution: NFRA was constituted in 2018 by the Government of India under section 132 (1) of the Companies Act, 2013. It is an audit regulator.

    Background: The decision to constitute the NFRA was taken after the role of auditors and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India came under the scanner for alleged lapses in various corporate scams including that at the Punjab National Bank.

    Composition: It consists of a chairperson, who shall be a person of eminence and having expertise in accountancy, auditing, finance or law, appointed by the Central Government and such other members not exceeding 15.

    Functions and Duties:
    Recommend accounting and auditing policies and standards to be adopted by companies for approval by the Central Government.

    Monitor and enforce compliance with accounting standards and auditing standards.

    Oversee the quality of service of the professions associated with ensuring compliance with such standards and suggest measures for improvement in the quality of service.

    Protect the public interest.

    It can undertake investigation related to the following class of companies and bodies corporate, namely:-

    Companies whose securities are listed on any stock exchange in India or outside India.

    Unlisted public companies having paid-up capital of not less than Rs. 500 crores or having annual turnover of not less than Rs. 1,000 crores or having, in aggregate, outstanding loans, debentures and deposits of not less than Rs. 500 crores as on the 31st March of immediately preceding financial year.

    Insurance companies, banking companies, companies engaged in the generation or supply of electricity.

    Where professional or other misconduct is proved, it has the power to make order for imposing penalty of—

    not less than one lakh rupees, but which may extend to five times of the fees received, in case of individuals; and

    not less than ten lakh rupees, but which may extend to ten times of the fees received, in case of firms.

    Its account is monitored by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India.

    It is headquartered in New Delhi.

    Mine Ploughs on T-90 Tanks
    Recently, the Ministry of Defence has signed Rs. 557 crore contract with the BEML Limited (formerly known as the Bharat Earth Movers Limited) for the procurement of 1,512 mine ploughs for T-90 Tanks.

    The induction is expected to be completed by 2027.

    Key Points
    T-90 Tanks:
    These Russian-origin tanks are the Indian Army’s main battle tanks.

    Indian Army recently deployed them in the Galwan Valley sector of Ladakh amid the face-off with Chinese troops.

    Mine Ploughs:
    Mine ploughs help tanks to clear minefields and minimize risks to men and machines.

    After being fitted on T-90 Tanks, they will facilitate individual mobility to the tanks while negotiating a minefield.

    The mobility of the tank fleet will enhance manifolds which in turn would extend the reach of the armoured formations deep into enemy territory without becoming a mine casualty.

    The decision is expected to boost the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

    As per the procedure, the contract has Buy and Make (Indian) categorisation with a minimum of 50% indigenous content in the Make portion.

  • Union Minister inaugurated India’s first of its kind public EV Charging Plaza
    Union Minister for Power, New & Renewable Energy, Shri R.K Singh, inaugurated India’s first public Electric Vehicle (EV) charging plaza at Chelmsford Club in New Delhi on 20 July 2020.

    The move is focused on enhancing energy efficiency and promoting e-mobility. The Minister also launched Retrofit of Air-conditioning to improve Indoor Air Quality for Safety and Efficiency (RAISE). The two initiatives focus on energy efficiency, promoting e-mobility, and improving indoor air quality.

    Charging plaza:
    EESL, in collaboration with New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), has established India’s first of its kind public EV Charging Plaza in Central Delhi.

    The plaza will host 5 EV Chargers of different specifications.

    The charging plaza is compatible with a wide range of EVs. It will greatly spur e-mobility adoption.

    The charging plaza is expected to make EV charging hassle-free and convenient for the consumers, thereby making e-mobility adoption an attractive proposition.

    RAISE (Retrofit of Air-conditioning to improve Indoor Air Quality for Safety and Efficiency) is a joint initiative of Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) MAITREE programme.

    The project focuses on improving indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal comfort, and energy efficiency (EE) in the EESL office’s air conditioning system.

    The pilot project showed about 80% improvement in Air Quality parameters with almost no implementation hassles.

    Both Charging plaza & RAISE reaffirm the pledge for ecological preservation and building a resilient energy sector, undertaken by EESL and other key stakeholders during the “#iCommit” campaign held on World Environment Day, 5th June 2020.

  • Delhi Sero-Survey for Covid
    Recently, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) conducted a sero-surveillance study for Covid-19 in New Delhi.

    NCDC is under administrative control of the Directorate General of Health Services in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

    Key Points
    Detects Specific Antibodies: It seeks to assess the prevalence of disease in a population by detecting the presence of specific antibodies against the virus.

    Immunity Check: It can also be conducted to check if a person has developed immunity to certain diseases.

    Past Infections: It indicates past infections (and which triggered an immune response), and is not used to detect active infections.

    Tested Immunoglobulin G Using ELISA: The Sera (a part of blood) of samples were tested for IgG antibodies and Covid-19 infection using CovidKavach ELISA kits approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

    IgG (Immunoglobulin G) is a type of antibody which develops in most Covid-19 patients (infections) at around two weeks after infection and remains in the blood even after recovery.

    ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) is a test that detects and measures antibodies in blood

    Coverage of the Latest Study:
    Coverage Period: It was conducted from 27th June - 10th July 2020. It was done when the city was reporting over 3,000 cases a day.

    Coverage Groups: A total 21,387 samples were randomly collected across the 11 districts of the capital, which were then divided into two groups, of less than 18 years and older.

    23.48% of the people surveyed had developed IgG antibodies, indicating they had been exposed to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes Covid-19, with a large number showing no symptoms (asymptomatic).

    Government's Response:
    Impact of Proactive Efforts: Only 23.48% were found to be infected in a study carried out in a city with several pockets of dense population, shows that the proactive efforts by the government to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including prompt lockdown, effective containment and surveillance measures, contact tracing and tracking, as well as citizens’ compliance had yielded benefits.

    Challenges: The remaining proportion of the population (about 77%) is still vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus infection.

    Containment measures need to continue with the same rigour.

    Non-pharmacological interventions such as physical distancing, use of face mask/cover, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and avoidance of crowded places etc. must be followed strictly.

    The 23.48% rate of seropositivity cannot be extrapolated over Delhi’s entire population.

    Further, currently there isn’t enough scientific data available about the level and duration of immunity that the body will develop after a person tests Covid-positive.

    Sero-surveillance in the Past:
    ICMR had conducted a pilot sero-survey in April 2020 across 83 districts in 21 states.

    The initial results, which are being peer-reviewed, suggested that the percentage of the general population that could have been infected was 0.73, with urban areas showing a higher prevalence of about 1.09%.

  • Idea of Social Security Number for Migrants
    The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour has recommended that the government introduce a social security number for migrant workers, especially those working in the unorganised sectors which are beyond the purview of the labour laws.

    Key Points
    The Ministry of Labour and Employment was unable to give any concrete figures on the number of migrant workers.

    However, the officials quoted data from the Railway Ministry. About 1.08 crore migrant workers had travelled on Special Shramik express trains initiated by the government to ferry migrant workers.

    It was pointed out that students and family members of the workers too used these trains and thus this figure doesn’t accurately record the number of migrant workers.

    Social Security Number:
    Instead of making Aadhar the basis for providing government benefits to migrants, they should be given a social security number which is a more effective way of covering them for insurance, health and other welfare programmes.

    A social security number is essential to avert situations like the one during the extended lockdown when several lakh workers had to walk back to their homes as they were shut out of employment overnight.

    The number will not only help in mapping the number of migrant workers but also their migration patterns.

    Other Suggestions:
    Both the State of origin and State where the worker has migrated to should have a record.

    The migrant workers may or may not have access to the Internet, therefore the smallest arm of administration — the gram sabhas — should be roped in. The same work can be done by municipality workers in the urban areas.

    Concerns Raised:
    It flagged issues related to the social security fund stated under the Social Security Code Bill 2019. There are no specific details in the legislation as to who will contribute to the fund and how it will be utilised.

    It also discussed changes in labour laws by some states in the wake of pandemic and impact on workers.

    Most of the beneficiaries under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana were local workers and not migrants.

    Social Security Code Bill, 2019
    The central government has been working to concise 44 central labour laws into four broad codes on wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational health & safety.

    The Social Security Code Bill seeks to amend and consolidate nine laws related to social security, including the Employees’ Provident Fund Act, 1952, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, and the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.

    Social security refers to measures to ensure access to health care and provision of income security to workers.

    It proposes setting up a social security fund. This fund will provide welfare benefits such as pension, medical cover, and death and disablement benefits to all workers, including gig workers.

    Gig workers refer to workers outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship (e.g., freelancers).

    The Code provides for the establishment of several bodies to administer the social security schemes notified by the government.

    It provides that every woman shall be entitled to, and her employer shall be liable for, the payment of maternity benefit at the rate of the average daily wage for the period of her actual absence, i.e. the period immediately preceding the day of her delivery, and any period immediately following that day.

    The Code specifies penalties for various offences, such as falsification of reports, punishable with imprisonment of up to six months.

  • MANODARPAN: Mental Health Initiative
    Recently, the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) has launched the 'Manodarpan' initiative under Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

    It is aimed to provide psychosocial support to students, family members and teachers for their mental health and well-being during the times of Covid-19.

    Key Points
    Description: The platform includes a national toll free helpline for students of schools, universities and colleges, which will be manned by a pool of experienced counsellors, psychologists and mental health professionals.

    It also has a website, a national database of counsellors which will host an interactive online chat platform, advisories and tips through webinars and other resources.

    Significance: It would act as an element of strengthening human capital and increasing productivity for the education sector in the wake of covid-19.

    Covid 19 lockdown had led to forced close down of schools and colleges.

    Therefore, it would help children as well as their parents in facing tense situations and its effects on academics.

  • India successfully test fires Dhruvastra anti-guided missiles
    The Indian armed forces successfully test-fired the helicopter-launched Nag Missile Dhruvastra anti-tank guided missile, erstwhile called Helina, indirect and top attack mode. The flight test trials were done without a helicopter on 15th and 16th July at ITR Balasore, Odisha.

    HELINA is a third-generation fire and forget class anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) system. It is mounted on the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).

    The missile has all-weather day and night capability and can defeat battle tanks with a conventional armour and explosive reactive armour. The HELINA missile can engage targets both in direct hit mode as well as top attack mode.

    HELINA Weapon Systems is being inducted into the Indian Army.

    A variant of HELINA Weapon System called Dhruvastra.

    The Dhruvastra missile system is being inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF).

    The missile has a maximum range capability of 7 km in Lock On Before Launch (LOBL) mode. 8 such missiles can be attached to the Helicopter with the help of 4 twin launchers.

    It can be fired in two modes namely Direct and Top attack.

    It has a warhead penetration capability of 800 mm, the missile can defeat futuristic armour and inflict maximum damage to the tank and crippling its crew.

    The fire and forget capability has been imparted by an indigenously developed Imaging Infra Red seeker.

  • Appointment of Government Servants as Gram Panchayat Administrator
    Recently, the Bombay High Court passed an interim order directing that a government servant of the local authority be appointed as an administrator of gram panchayats in Maharashtra.

    It is for the 15,000 panchayats where the terms of these officers have ended or would be ending.

    These administrators include sarpanch, secretary of the panchayats and gram sevaks.

    Key Points
    Petition Against Recent Decisions: The order came after petitions were filed against a recent Government Resolutions (GR) issued by the State Rural Development Department and Maharashtra Village Panchayat (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.

    Through these, the Maharashtra government ordered appointment of administrators to all gram panchayats by zilla parishad chief executive officers (CEO) in consultation with their respective district ministers.

    The resolution and ordinance were challenged on various grounds related to the appointment of private individuals as administrators of gram panchayats.

    It also challenged the section 151 of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act by allowing appointment of administrators in case the State Election Commission (SEC) could not hold elections due to a natural calamity, pandemic, financial emergency or administrative emergency.

    High Court's Argument:
    Questioned Private Appointments: The Court ordered that the administrator to be appointed, should be a government servant or an officer from the local authority.

    If not available and the appointment of a private individual is to be made, then each such order shall record the reasons because of which such officer was not available.

    The criteria that administrators have to be “a resident of the village and on the voters’ list'' is directory, not mandatory in nature.

    Local Authority Officers: The court emphasised that local authority offices should be the first choice for appointment as an administrator.

    Impact on Local Governance: The Court admitted that working of the gram panchayat will be affected if the administrator is not appointed, however it also emphasised the need to address the concerns regarding the appointment of the private individual.

    According to the court private individuals appointment is not warranted in law and such mass appointments will have a lasting adverse impact on the local governance in terms of efficiency, impartiality and effectiveness of the work.

    State Government’s Argument:
    Urgent Need: It stated that there is an urgent need for administrators to run the panchayats as pandemic has halted the election process.

    Overburdened Officers: There are a large number of gram panchayats in the State and the government servants are already overburdened. So, it is difficult to appoint them as administrators.

  • Stubble Burning and Pollution
    According to a recent study, Delhi’s meteorology and the quantity of chaff (crop residue or stubble) burnt in Punjab and Haryana play a more important role in worsening air quality than the time chosen by farmers to start stubble burning.

    Key Points
    Crop Burning:
    It is a traditional practice in Punjab and Haryana to clean off the rice chaff to prepare the fields for winter sowing.

    It begins around October and peaks in November, coinciding with the withdrawal of southwest monsoon.

    The pollutants and the particulate matter (PM) from the chaff, along with other sources of pollution in Delhi, get stuck in the lower atmosphere worsening the winter pollution.

    Subsidies and assured procurement of rice have led to a rise in the rice acreage.

    Increased and modernised farm mechanisation extract the rice grains only and leave large quantities of rice stubble behind.

    Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009:
    This mandated farmers to delay sowing of paddy to late June to discourage groundwater extraction.

    This led to a delay of an average of 10 days compared to 2002-2008 and now due to the delayed harvesting, rice chaff burning coincides perfectly with the withdrawal of southwest monsoon.

    Findings of the Study:
    Crop burning contributed nearly 40% of the near-surface PM 2.5 in Delhi in 2016, which saw one of Delhi’s severest pollution episodes.

    The study largely relies on mathematical modelling.

    Data on the number of crop burning episodes and levels of PM were plugged into a mathematical model.

    In results, it emerged that crop residue contribution to PM over Delhi in 2016, increased only marginally (1%) when compared to a hypothetical scenario of crops being burned 10 days earlier.

    Early burning while reducing PM burning by 20g/m3, did not reduce the number of days of significant PM exposure in Delhi, which hovered around 55 days.

    However, the study showed that delaying rice burning 10 days beyond what is currently practised could be harmful leading to an increase in peak PM emissions as well as increase the number of pollution days.

  • Madhubani Paintings
    Recently, artists from Madhubani district of Bihar became famous for making masks with hand-painted Madhubani motifs.

    Motif is a decorative image or design, especially a repeated one forming a pattern.

    Key Points
    Origin:Madhubani painting has its origins in Mithila region of Bihar.

    The painting is one of the oldest and most famous Indian art forms which is also practised in Nepal.

    Traces of Madhubani art can also be noticed in the Ramayana, the Indian epic.

    It is also known as Mithila or Madhubani art.

    Characteristics: These paintings are popular because of their tribal motifs and use of bright earthy colours.

    Traditionally the women of the village drew these paintings on the walls of their dwelling, as a demonstration of their feelings, hopes, and ideas.

    Today men are also involved to meet the demand.

    Style: It includes geometrical patterns, floral, animal and bird motifs.

    Colours: The colours used in paintings comprise natural extracts from plants and other natural sources. E.g.: Black colour is obtained by mixing soot with cow dung; blue from indigo; white from rice powder; orange from palasha flowers, etc.

    The colours are applied flat with no shading and no empty space is left.

    These are usually dark and bright with pigments like lampblack (obtained from coal) and ochre (earthy yellow pigment).

    These paintings are not made with modern brushes but rather with twigs, matchsticks, and fingers.

    But now artists use brushes, nib-pens and synthetic colours as well to paint.

    Themes: It is based on the mythological characters which depict the life of Hindu deities like Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi, Shiva, Durga, and Saraswati.

    The designs widely painted are of Tulasi plant, court scenes, wedding scenes, social happenings etc.

    Also, heavenly bodies like the Sun and the Moon often form the centrepiece of paintings.

    Eminent Artists:Karpuri Devi, Mahalaxmi and Dulari.

  • National Broadcasting Day is observed on 23 July
    National Broadcasting Day was observed on 23 July. The first-ever radio broadcast in India went on air from the Bombay Station on 23 July 1927.

    The broadcasting was done under the then private company, the Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC).

    Radio Broadcasting:
    Radio broadcasting began in the year 1923. It is under the radio club of the Bombay initiative. All India Radio is officially known as AkashVani since 1956. It is a division of Prasar Bharati.

    It was established in the year 1930. On 8 June 1936, the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS) became All India Radio (AIR). Currently, AIR is one of the largest public broadcasting organisations in the world. It is owned by Prasar Bharati.

    Prasar Bharati:
    Prasar Bharati is India’s largest public broadcasting agency. It is a statutory autonomous body set up by an Act of parliament and compromises the Doordarshan Television Network which was earlier media units of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

  • Government Order for PC of Women in Army
    Recently, the Ministry of Defence has issued the formal Government Sanction Letter for grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to Women Officers in the Indian Army.

    Key Points
    The order specifies grant of PC to Short Service Commissioned (SSC) Women Officers in the remaining 8 streams of the Indian Army.

    These 10 streams include Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), Intelligence Corps, Judge and Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC).

    Before the order, women officers are allowed a PC in the JAG and AEC.

    In anticipation, the Army Headquarters had set in motion a series of preparatory actions for the conduct of the Permanent Commission Selection Board (PCSB) for the eligible women officers.

    The Selection Board will be scheduled as soon as all eligible SSC Women Officers exercise their option and complete requisite documentation.

    Under the SSC scheme, women were commissioned into the Army for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years.

    Women were, however, restricted to roles in specified streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps and Corps of Engineers. These specified streams excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.

    While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. Women officers were kept out of any command appointment and could not qualify for a government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer.

    The case was first filed in the Delhi High Court by women officers in 2003 and had received a favourable order in 2010.

    However, the order was never implemented and was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government.

    In its appeal, the government cited “physical” and “physiological limitations” in granting command positions to women.

    In the February 2019 policy statement, the Government endorsed the PC for SSC women officers in 10 streams of the ‘Combat Support Arms’ and ‘Services’ sections.

    However, it was said that the women officers would not be offered any command appointments, and would serve only in staff posts.

    In February 2020, the SC held that there is a need for an administrative will and ‘change of mindset’ and directed the government to grant PC and command postings in all services other than combat to women Army officers.

    Permanent Commission for Women
    The Ministry of Defence has taken steps to ensure implementation of the grant of PC to women officers and all three services have allowed permanent recruitment of women in select streams including medical, education, legal, signals, logistics and engineering.

    Indian Air Force: Women Officers recruited through the SSC in the IAF have the option of seeking PC in all streams except the flying branch.

    Indian Navy: In March 2020, the SC cleared the way for PC to women in Indian Navy as well.

    The Navy has allowed PC of women in a host of departments such as logistics, naval designing, air traffic control, engineering and legal.

    Indian Army: Women officers are granted PC in the Indian Army in all the ten branches where women are inducted for SSC.

  • Rajya Sabha Members Facing Criminal Charges
    According to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), about 24% of the sitting Rajya Sabha members have declared criminal cases against themselves.

    Key Points
    Data Analysis: Analysis of 229 of the 233 Rajya Sabha seats showed that 54 MPs had declared criminal cases.

    Among the newly-elected representatives 28 or 12% had declared serious criminal cases.

    It also found out from their self-sworn affidavits that 89% have declared assets estimated at over Rs. 1 crore.

    17th Lok Sabha: According to the finding of Association of Democratic Reforms, about 43% of members elected to 17th Lok Sabha are facing criminal charges in court of law, while 84% have self-declared assets worth more than Rs. 1 crore.

    This is the highest number of members of parliament facing serious criminal charges like rape, murder and kidnapping, since 2004.

    ADR is an Indian non-governmental organization established in 1999 situated in New Delhi.

    With National Election Watch (NEW), ADR is striving to bring transparency and accountability in Indian politics and reduce the influence of money and muscle power in elections.

    Lack of Political Will: Section 8 of the Ac the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections.

    Therefore, in order to curb criminalisation of politics, Parliament needs to bring an amendment in the Act.

    Use of Muscle and Money Power: Candidates with serious criminal records seem to do well despite their bad public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and further fund their respective parties for different election activities.

    Vote Bank: Criminals are being wooed by political parties and given cabinet posts because their muscle and money fetches crucial votes.

    Narrow Self-interests of Voters: Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism of being able to represent their community interests by hook or by crook.

    Lack of Choices: Sometimes voters are left with no options, as all competing candidates have criminal records.

    Ineffective Democracy: It affects the efficacy of the democratic process in delivering good governance as law breakers become law makers.

    Culture of Violence: It introduces a culture of violence in society and sets a bad precedent for the youth to follow.

    Black Money: It also leads to increased circulation of black money during and after elections, diluting probity in public life.

    Election Commission's Recommendations:
    In 1997, Election Commission directed all the Returning Officers (ROs) to reject the nomination papers of any candidate who stands convicted on the day of filing the nomination papers even if his sentence is suspended.

    It recommended that if a person is found guilty by a commission of Inquiry then he shall be disqualified from contesting elections.

    The First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system shall be replaced by the 2-ballot system under which a candidate is declared elected from a territorial constituency on the basis of majority principle.

    If no one wins 50 percent of the vote, all candidates except the top two are excluded and voters are asked to vote a second time. In the second round, the candidate who wins the most votes is elected.

    The 2-ballot system will make winning elections very difficult for criminals as they will have to garner the widest possible support from the voters to get the majority votes.

    Along with the 2-ballot system, the negative vote shall also be introduced.

    Other Measures:
    Right to recall: It confers the power on the registered voters in a constituency to recall their elected representatives from the house on the ground of non-performance. It could empower the people at grassroot level. The elected representative could be made truly accountable to the people.

    State Funding of Elections: It means the government would extend financial assistance to the political parties to contest elections in part or in full, in kind or in cash.

    Various committees (Dinesh Goswami, Inderjeet Committee) on the electoral reforms have recommended for state funding of elections.

    State funding of elections will curb use of black money to a large extent and thereby will have a significant impact on limiting criminalization of politics.

    Plea Bargaining
    Several citizens of various countries, who were accused of violating visa conditions and government guidelines following the Covid-19 pandemic, have obtained release from court cases in recent days by means of plea bargaining.

    Key Points
    Plea Bargaining:
    It refers to a person charged with a criminal offence (accused) negotiating with the prosecution for a lesser punishment than what is provided in law by pleading guilty to a less serious offence.

    It primarily involves pretrial negotiations between the accused and the prosecutor. It may involve bargaining on the charge or in the quantum of sentence.

    Provision in India:
    Plead Guilty: There has always been a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for an accused to plead ‘guilty’ instead of claiming the right to a full trial, but it is not the same as plea bargaining.

    Plea Bargaining: Plea bargaining was introduced in 2006 as part of a set of amendments to the CrPC as Chapter XXI-A, containing Sections 265A to 265L.

    Cases for which the plea bargaining is allowed are limited.

    Only someone who has been charged for an offence that does not attract the death sentence, life sentence or a prison term above seven years can make use of the scheme under Chapter XXI-A. It is also applicable to private complaints of which a criminal court has taken cognisance.

    Other categories of cases that cannot be disposed of through plea bargaining are those that involve offences affecting the “socio-economic conditions” of the country, or committed against a woman or a child below the age of 14.

    Procedure in India:
    The plea bargaining process can be initiated only by the accused. This provision is different from the one in other countries like the USA where the prosecutor plays a key role in bargaining with the suspected offender.

    The accused will have to apply to the court for invoking the benefit of bargaining.

    Thereafter, the court may permit the prosecutor, the investigating officer and the victim (if any) to hold a meeting for a “satisfactory disposition of the case”.

    Once mutual satisfaction is reached, the court formalises the arrangement by way of a report signed by all the parties and the presiding officer.

    The accused may be sentenced to a prison term that is half the minimum period fixed for the offence. If there is no minimum term prescribed, the sentence should run up to one-fourth of the maximum sentence stipulated in law.

    The outcome may also involve payment of compensation and other expenses to the victim by the accused.

    Arguments in Favour:
    As per the Justice Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system (formed in 2000):

    This ensures speedy trial, ends uncertainty over the outcome of criminal cases, saves litigation costs and relieves the parties of anxiety.

    It would also have a dramatic impact on conviction rates.

    It is common in the USA, and has been a successful method of avoiding protracted and complicated trials. As a result, conviction rates are significantly high there.

    Prolonged imprisonment of undertrials without any progress in the case for years and overcrowding of prisons are also other factors that may be cited in support of reducing pendency of cases and decongesting prisons through plea bargaining.

    It may help offenders make a fresh start in life.

    Arguments Against:
    People who are pushed to plea bargain are those who do not have the wherewithal to arrange for bail.

    Even courts are also very particular about the voluntary nature of the exercise, as poverty, ignorance and prosecution pressure should not lead to someone pleading guilty of offences that may not have been committed.

    The Judiciary in its earlier verdicts (especially before the introduction of the process) had disapproved of bargaining with offenders, and pointed out that lenient sentences could be considered as part of the circumstances of the case after a regular trial. Mere acceptance or admission of the guilt should not be a ground for reduction of sentence.

    Further, it may hamper the victim’s right to fair trial, involvement of coercion by the investigating agencies and corruption in the process.

    Some argue that it is against Article 20 (3) of the Constitution which provides immunity to an accused against self-incrimination.

  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak birth anniversary on 23rd July
    On 23rd July, India paid tribute to the freedom fighter and educationist Bal Gangadhar Tilak on his birth anniversary.

    Key Points
    Birth: He was born on 23rd July 1856 in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra.

    Freedom fighter and lawyer, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, is also known as Lokmanya Tilak.

    Founder of the Deccan Education Society (1884) along with his associate Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and others.

    One of the founders of the Fergusson College (1885) in Pune through the Deccan Education Society.

    He was a devout Hindu and used Hindu scriptures to rouse people to fight oppression.

    Stressed on the need for self-rule and believed that without self-rule or swarajya, no progress was possible.

    Slogan: “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!”

    A book ‘Indian Unrest’ written by Valentine Chirol, an English journalist, stated Tilak the ‘father of Indian unrest’.

    Emphasised the importance of a cultural and religious revival to go with the political movements.

    Popularised the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in the Maharashtra region.

    Propounded the celebration of Shiv Jayanti on the birth anniversary of the monarch Chhatrapati Shivaji.

    Political Life: He was one of the earliest and the most vocal proponents of complete independence or swarajya (self-rule).

    Along with Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal, he was part of the Lal-Bal-Pal trio of leaders with extremist outlooks.

    Joined the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1890.

    Surat Split: It was the splitting of the INC into two groups - the Extremists and the Moderates - at the Surat session in 1907.

    Reason: The extremists wanted either Tilak or Lajpat Rai to be president, so when Rasbehari Ghose was announced as president, the extremist resorted to violence. Hence Surat Split happened.

    While extremists wanted to end the tyranny rule of British through protest, Moderates were aimed at administrative and constitutional reforms.

    The Extremist camp was led by Lal Bal and Pal and the moderate camp was led by Gopal Krishna Gokhle.

    Contribution to Freedom Movement:
    Propagated swadeshi movements and encouraged people to boycott foreign goods.

    Indian Home Rule Movement:
    It was a movement in British India on the lines of Irish Home Rule movement.

    Started in 1916, it is believed to have set the stage for the independence movement under the leadership of Annie Besant and Bal Gangadhar Tilak for the educated English speaking upper class Indians.

    All India Home Rule League: Founded by Tilak in April 1916 at Belgaum.

    It worked in Maharashtra (except Bombay), the Central Provinces, Karnataka and Berar.

    Lucknow Pact (1916): Between the INC headed by Tilak and All-India Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah for hindu-muslim unity in nationalist struggle.

    Jail: Between 1908 and 1914, he spent 6 years in Mandalay Prison for defending the actions of revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki.

    Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki had tried to assassinate the District Judge, Mr. Kingsford by throwing bombs at the carriage in which he was supposed to travel.

    Newspapers: Weeklies Kesari (Marathi) and Mahratta (English)

    Books: Gita Rhasya and Arctic Home of the Vedas.

    Death: He died on 1st August 1920.

  • Chandra Shekhar Azad birth anniversary on 23rd July
    On 23rd July, India paid tribute to the freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad on his birth anniversary.

    Key Points
    Birth: Azad was born on 23rd July 1906 in the Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

    Early Life: Chandra Shekhar, then a 15-year-old student, joined a Non-Cooperation Movement in December 1921. As a result, he was arrested.

    On being presented before a magistrate, he gave his name as "Azad" (The Free), his father's name as "Swatantrata" (Independence) and his residence as "Jail".

    Therefore, he came to be known as Chandra Shekhar Azad.

    Contribution to Freedom Movement:

    Hindustan Republican Association: After the suspension of the non-cooperation movement in 1922 by Gandhi, Azad joined Hindustan Republican Association (HRA).

    HRA was a revolutionary organization of India established in 1924 in East Bengal by Sachindra Nath Sanyal, Narendra Mohan Sen and PratulGanguly as an offshoot of Anushilan Samiti.

    Members: Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Sukhdev, Ram Prasad Bismil, Roshan Singh, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri.

    Kakori Conspiracy: Most of the fund collection for revolutionary activities was done through robberies of government property. In line with the same, Kakori Train Robbery near Kakori, Lucknow was done in 1925 by HRA.

    The plan was executed by Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri, and Manmathnath Gupta.

    Hindustan Socialist Republican Association: HRA was later reorganised as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA).

    It was established in 1928 at Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi by Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ashfaqulla Khan, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee.

    HSRA planned the shooting of J. P. Saunders, a British Policeman at Lahore in 1928 to avenge the killing of Lala Lajpat Rai.

    Death: He died at Azad Park in Allahabad on 27th February 1931.

  • Indian Railways to RFID Tag all wagons by 2022 December
    Indian Railways is planning to radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) Tag all wagons by the end of 2022. Indian Railways is expected to complete this process of fitting RFID in all the wagons by December 2022.

    The RFID tags will be used to track all wagons.

    Around 23,000 wagons have been covered under the RFID project.

    The Project is still in progress amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Currently, the Indian Railway is maintaining such data manually that leaves scope for errors.

    The RFID devices will be easier for the railways to know the exact position of all the wagons, locomotives, and coaches.

    The RFID tag will be fitted in the rolling stock and the trackside readers will be installed at stations and key points along the tracks to read the tag from a distance of about two meters and transmit the wagon identity over a network to a central computer.

    The moving wagon can be identified and its movement will be tracked.

    The issue of shortage of wagons, coaches, and locomotives is expected to be addressed in a more transparent and expeditious manner by fixing the RFID Tag.

  • Karnataka Cabinet approves Karnataka Digital Economy Mission
    Karnataka State Government approved the formation of the Karnataka Digital Economy Mission. The Mission was aimed to promote over 7,000 start-ups, e-commerce, and other gig economy companies in the State.

    Karnataka Digital Economy Mission:
    Karnataka Digital Economy Mission or new company will be incorporated under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 with the Government of Karnataka holding 49% and the remaining 51% by the industries and other stakeholders.

    Previously, startups, e-commerce, and gig economy companies operated under a previous technology mission. They were governed by three to four government agencies. Now, after the launch of the Mission, it will be under one roof.

    In 2016, the Karnataka government formed a company called ‘Invest Karnataka’ to promote the State as an ideal investment destination. So far, the company has been active in promoting the State globally and is efficiently run jointly by the industry as private partners and the government.

    The Industries Minister is the Chairman of Invest Karnataka. Karnataka is the first state to form a company under Section 8 which is led by industrialists. Of the nine directors of the company, six are from the industry. The chief executive officer (CEO) will be a professional from the industry.

  • Direct Monetisation for Funding Deficit: SBI
    Current Affairs Recently, a report by the State Bank of India (SBI) has recommended direct monetisation as a possible way of funding the Centre’s deficit at lower rates, without increasing inflation and affecting debt sustainability.

    Key Points
    Direct Monetisation:
    It simply means that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) directly funds the Central government’s deficit against government bonds or securities.

    Until 1997, the government used to sell securities directly to the RBI. This allowed the government to technically print equivalent amounts of currency to meet its budget deficit.

    However, this practice was stopped over its inflationary impact and in favour of fiscal prudence.

    This is different from the “indirect” monetisation that RBI does when it conducts the Open Market Operations (OMOs) and/or purchases bonds in the secondary market.

    Increasing Debt:
    Most agencies expect India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to contract by more than 5% in FY 2020-21 as a result of slump in economic activity. This has also led to reduction in revenues of the government.

    This means the government will run short of its revenue targets, and will be forced to raise debt.

    Further, SBI noted that the GDP collapse is pushing up the debt-to-GDP ratio by at least 4%.

    India’s debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to rise to around Rs. 170 lakh crore or 87.6% of GDP in FY21, from Rs 146.9 lakh crore (72.2% of GDP) in FY20.

    The higher debt-to-GDP ratio means, less probability of the country to pay back its debt and the higher its risk of default.

    Recommendations of the SBI Report:
    The report argued that the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, 2003 also allows direct monetisation of deficit in certain exceptional circumstances, the Covid-19 pandemic being one such.

    It expects this not to be inflationary, given the stagnant demand in the country.

    The report argued that bringing growth back is more important to debt sustainability as compared to fiscal conservatism (which involves lower levels of public spending, lower taxes and lower government debt).

    As the current level of foreign exchange reserves are sufficient to meet any external debt obligations. Also, since most of the debt is domestically owned, the debt servicing of the internal debt is also not an issue.

    The real challenge is the contraction of economic growth, which can turn interest rate-growth differential into a positive trajectory.

    Interest rate - growth differential is a key metric watched by agencies to gauge debt sustainability.

    A negative interest rate-growth differential, which denotes growth is higher than interest rate on debt, is important from a sustainability perspective, as higher growth means government’s revenue expansion will outstrip any spike in debt repayment.

  • India aims to pare PSU bank count to just five: sources
    India is looking to privatise more than half of its state-owned banks to reduce the number of government-owned lenders to just five as part of an overhaul of the banking industry.

    The Centre is working on a privatisation plan to help raise money by selling assets in non-core companies and sectors when the country is strapped for funds due to lack of economic growth caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    India expects bad loans at its banks to double after the crisis brought the economy to a standstill.

    According to officials, the first part of the plan would be to sell majority stakes in Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, UCO Bank, Bank of Maharashtra and Punjab & Sind Bank, leading to an effective privatisation of these state-owned lenders.

    Several government panels and the RBI have recommended a maximum of five state-owned banks.

    At present, India has 12 state-owned banks.

  • Achieving Zero Hunger by 2030: UN Report
    According to a study titled State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, hunger and malnutrition is increasing around the world. In this scenario, achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (2) of ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030 will be very difficult.

    The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the most authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition.

    It is produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Key Points
    Increasing Hunger:
    Steep Rise: The study estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years (2014-2019).

    Hunger is an uncomfortable or painful physical sensation caused by insufficient consumption of dietary energy.

    For decades, FAO has used the prevalence of undernourishment indicator to estimate the extent of hunger in the world, thus “hunger” may also be referred to as undernourishment.

    Chronic Hunger: There has been no change in the hunger trend since 2000, After steadily diminishing for decades, chronic hunger slowly began to rise in 2014 and continues to do so.

    Regional Hotspots: Asia remains home to the greatest number of hunger (381 million). Africa is second (250 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (combined 48 million).

    Rate of Hunger: The rate of undernourishment (hunger) in Africa is double compared to Asia and it is expected that by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry.

    Impact of Covid-19: The Covid-19 pandemic could also push over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

    Reasons: High costs and low affordability was the main reason behind the hunger.

    Increasing Malnutrition:
    Affordability: The study estimates that 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet.

    In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57% of the population.

    The key reason behind malnutrition is the high cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of families.

    According to the study, a healthy diet costs far more than USD 1.90/day, which is the international poverty threshold.

    It puts the price of even the least expensive healthy diet at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only.

    Impact on Children: According to the study, in 2019, nearly a third of children under five (191 million) were stunted (too short) or wasted (too thin). Another 38 million under-fives were overweight.

    Shifting of Diet: A global switch to healthy diets would help check the backslide into hunger while delivering enormous savings.

    Shift to a healthy diet will reduce the health costs associated with unhealthy diets.

    The diet related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at USD 1.7 trillion, could also be cut by up to three-quarters by 2030.

    Transform Food Systems: The transformation of food systems will not only reduce the cost of nutritious foods but also increase the affordability of healthy diets.

    The study calls on governments:
    To mainstream nutrition in their approaches to agriculture.

    Work to cut cost-escalating factors in the production, storage, transport. distribution and marketing of food – including by reducing inefficiencies and food loss and waste.

    Support local small-scale producers to grow and sell more nutritious foods and secure their access to markets.

    Prioritize children’s nutrition as the category in greatest need.

    Foster behaviour change through education and communication;

    Embed nutrition in national social protection systems and investment strategies.

  • Investments in India
    According to a recent survey by Projects Today, overall fresh investment announcements in India slumped to the lowest in five years in the first quarter of the financial year 2020-21.

    The period saw extended pandemic-induced lockdowns.

    During this time, Tamil Nadu emerged as the country’s top investment destination.

    Projects Today is an independent firm that tracks investment projects in the country.

    Key Points
    Investments improved every passing month in the quarter (April to June).

    In April, there was an announcement of 260 new projects worth Rs. 20,181.6 crore.

    In May, it rose to 436 new projects worth Rs. 37,922 crore.

    In June, after the announcement of Unlocking 1.0 of the economy, there was a further surge in the number of new projects. In all, the month saw the announcement of 545 new projects with a total investment of Rs. 39,755.43 crore.

    Reliance secured investments from some of the world’s largest firms such as Google, Facebook (Jio-Facebook Deal) and Intel.

    However, fresh project expenditure from Central government agencies dipped in June 2020, though it is expected to rise in coming months.

    With falling revenues due to the lockdown and mounting expenses due to the pandemic, the government has blocked the initiation of approved/appraised new schemes by various ministries and departments for the next 9 months or till 31st March 2021.

    Atmanirbhar Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana have been insulated from the expenditure cut measures.

    The coming quarters will also demonstrate the efficacy of the Centre’s stimulus packages, that included financial and fiscal reforms along with steps to enhance the agriculture and small scale industries, in attracting foreign and domestic private capital.

    Investment projects were largely dominated by the government sector and private promoters also announced new projects.

    Apart from investments, fresh capacity additions are expected in the healthcare and pharma sectors with immediate effect.

    Covid-19 has led companies to do intensive research for its vaccinations which need fundings.

    The pandemic gave boost to the production of Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs), masks, sanitisers etc. because of more emphasis on personal hygiene and products related to it.

    Development of various anti-viral and immunity boosting medicines also went up.

    States like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra held investors meet and signed MoUs, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka reworked labour laws, started building land banks and sent proposals to foreign companies.

    Major Challenges: Country’s slow-moving official machinery, archaic land and labour laws are some of the things preventing foreign companies from bringing in their technology and capital to India.

  • NPCI launches UPI AutoPay feature for recurring payments
    National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) launched its one-stop fintech payment solution Unified Payments Interface (UPI) AutoPay in a virtual event of Global Fintech Fest.

    UPI AutoPay is dedicated to recurring payments.

    It can be used for multiple financial purposes such as utility payments, booking bus pass, train tickets, paying DTH subscriptions among others.

    Customers can create e-mandate through their UPI ID or QR Scan for transactions up to Rs.2000.

    For transactions above Rs.2000, the UPI PIN will be needed to authenticate the payment.

  • Display of ‘Country of Origin’ Must for e-Commerce Site
    Recently, the Central government has told (via an affidavit) the Delhi High Court that all e-commerce entities have to ensure the mandatory declaration of ‘country of origin’ of imported products sold on their site.

    The Consumer Protection Act 2019 also mandates to display the ‘country of origin’ by the e-commerce entities.

    Key Points
    The affidavit came in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking directions to the Centre to ensure that the name of the manufacturing country is displayed on products being sold on e-commerce sites.

    The petitioner has sought implementation of the Legal Metrology Act, 2009 and the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011, which mandate that country of origin be displayed on products being sold on e-commerce sites.

    Enforcement of the provisions of the said Act and Rules rests with the States and Union Territories governments.

    The petitioner has contended that enforcement of the mandate is in sync with the recent ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘AtmaNirbhar’ Bharat push by the government of India.

    Earlier, the Central government has also mandated for all sellers on the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) to list the Country of Origin while registering new products.

    GeM is a platform for public procurement.

    Issues Involved
    Most of the e-commerce sites function as a ‘marketplace-based’ e-commerce model in which they only act as an ‘intermediary’ i.e they merely provide their information technology platform to connect third-party sellers with their potential consumers.

    The other form of e-commerce model is ‘Inventory-based,’ where the entities offer services or goods for sale from their own inventory.

    The e-commerce entities say that they have ensured that a data field pertaining to ‘country of origin’ is available on their system, which may be filled in by a seller when creating a new product listing.

    However, they have not made it mandatory, because the law does not mandate a disclosure of the ‘country of origin/manufacture/assembly’, in the case of India-manufactured goods.

    In many cases, finished goods sourced from different countries are packed together or assembled in a third country, prior to their shipment into India.

    Therefore, it could not be presumed that the rules intended that the last country of export alone be declared as the ‘country of origin,’ unless the law is amended or clarified to expressly state so.

  • Increase in Gold Prices
    Recently, the gold prices crossed Rs. 50,000 per 10 grams after nine years in India.

    Gold prices in India are dictated by international prices. India is the world’s second-largest gold consumer after China.

    Key Points
    Global uncertainties triggered by Covid-19 pandemic, weak dollar, low-interest rates environment and stimulus programmes have increased the demand for gold.

    Rising virus cases and USA-China tensions have also led to increase in the gold price.

    Gold as Safe Haven:
    Whenever stock markets, real estate and bonds fall across the world, investors turn to gold to park their funds. It is considered as a safe haven for investors during periods of uncertainties.

    As gold is highly liquid and carries no default risk. It is scarce which has historically preserved its value over time.

    Liquidity describes the degree to which an asset can be quickly bought or sold.

    Further, supply growth of gold has changed little over time, in contrast to fiat money (paper currency), which can be printed in unlimited quantities to support monetary policy.

    Gold is an integral part of wedding ceremonies in India. It is traditionally used as a hedge against inflation.

    Global economies are considering stimulus to boost growth which may lead to increase in inflation further.

    Return on Gold:
    Historically, gold has generated long-term positive returns.

    The price of gold has increased by an average 14.1% per annum since 1973 after Bretton Woods collapsed and the gold standard system of pegging the currency to gold ended.

    Bretton Woods System was a fixed exchange rate system, under which gold was the basis for the US dollar and other currencies were pegged to the US dollar’s value.

    Gold has surged nearly 40% in the last one year while the Sensex (benchmark index of Bombay Stock Exchange) showed a loss of 0.41% in the same period.

    India’s Gold Market:
    According to the World Gold Council (WGC), households in India may have around 24,000-25,000 tonnes of gold. Various temples across the country also hold sizable gold holdings.

    The Reserve Bank of India bought 40.45 tonnes of gold in the financial year 2019-20, taking its total holdings of the gold to 653.01 tonnes.

    It is a part of RBI’s forex reserves.

    India’s gold demand in 2019 was 690.4 tonnes compared to 760.4 tonnes in 2018.

    The demand has reduced in 2020 due to lockdown caused by pandemic.

    Around 120-200 tonnes of gold are estimated to be smuggled into India every year.

  • Restrictions on Public Procurement
    Recently, the Government of India imposed restrictions on public procurement from bidders of countries that share a land border with India, citing grounds of defence and national security.

    This was done by amending the General Financial Rules 2017.

    Earlier the Central government has made it mandatory for sellers on the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) portal to clarify the country of origin of goods when registering new products.

    The government also amended Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rules mandating prior approval for investment by entities in countries that share land borders with India.

    Key Points
    According to experts, this decision has been taken to prevent the influx of Chinese products and investments into India, following the clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley.

    To push for Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India).

    New Order:
    Bidders from these countries will be eligible only if they are registered with the Registration Committee (Competent Authority) constituted by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT).

    For national security reasons, the Registration Committee shall not be required to give reasons for rejection/cancellation of registration of a bidder.

    Bidders will also be required to take mandatory political and security clearance from the ministries of External Affairs and Home respectively.

    The order will be applicable for public sector banks and financial institutions, Autonomous Bodies, Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) and Public Private Partnership projects receiving financial support from the Government or its undertakings.

    The order will not apply to procurement by the private sector.

    Order Mandatory for State Governments:
    The Central government has invoked the provisions of Article 257(1) of the Constitution, directing the state governments to implement this order for all public procurement.

    For State government procurement, the Competent Authority will be constituted by the states but political and security clearance from Central government ministries will remain necessary.

    Relaxation will be provided for procurement of Covid-19 medical supplies till 31st December 2020.

    The order for prior registration will not apply for countries to which India extends lines of credit or provides development assistance, even if they share a land border with India.

    India shares its border with China, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

    As per official data, out of these, the government has extended lines of credit to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar.

    India also provides various developmental assistance to Bhutan and Afghanistan.

  • Indian Military Equipment of Russian Origin
    Current Affairs According to a paper published by Stimson Center, 86% of the equipment, weapons and platforms currently in military service in India are of Russian origin.

    The Stimson Center is a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, USA. It aims to enhance international peace and security through a combination of analysis and outreach.

    Key Points
    Data Analysis:
    Stimson Center data shows that more than 55% of Indian defence imports since 2014 have been from Russia.

    For the Navy, more than 41% equipment is of Russian origin while two-thirds for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

    The figure for the Army is 90%, as it assigns around 10,000 pieces of military hardware from Russia.

    Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data shows that Russia continues to occupy the First position as India’s defence supplier, with 9.3 billion USD worth of exports to India.

    The USA is at second, with defence supplies worth 2.3 billion USD to India in the same period.

    Russia's Military Equipment:
    The Navy's only active aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and it's only nuclear attack submarine in service, Chakra II, are from Russia.

    So are the Army’s T-90 and T-72 main battle tanks and IAF’s Su30 MKI fighter.

    The country’s only nuclear-capable supersonic cruise missile, BrahMos, is produced by a joint venture with Russia.

    As India has been spreading its supplier base with Israel, USA and France, Russia still remains a major supplier. This is indicated by following latest developments:

    India has approved proposals to acquire 21 Mig29 and 12 Su30 MKI fighter aircraft from Russia for 2.4 billion USD.

    India and Russia had agreed to a joint programme to develop a variant of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft Programme (FGFA) in 2007.

    As India has not committed to the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft Programme (FGFA) programme with Russia.

    It is negotiating on the price of AK103 rifles for Make in India.

    USA’s Military Equipment: Apache and Chinook helicopters, M777 howitzer guns for the Army.

    Reasons: Boeing C-17 and C-130J for IAF and P8I submarine hunter aircraft for Navy.

    There are many reasons for India's dependency on Russia for the supply of military equipments:

    Legacy Issue: India and Russia have a longstanding defence relationship and there is familiarity with each other’s processes and systems.

    Specialised Equipment: The kind of specialised equipment that Russia provides to India makes a difference from other countries, e.g. the S-400 Air Defence Missile Systems, nuclear submarines and aircraft carrier.

    Combat Capability: Each of the systems supplied by Russia has its advantages and uses as they have been used effectively to develop maximum combat capability especially when focusing on India’s higher-end strike platforms.

    Border Clash with China: Notwithstanding India’s growing mutual convergence with the USA against China following the recent tensions on the Ladakh border, its armed forces remain heavily dependent on equipment, weapons and military platforms of Russian origin which form the bulk of its inventory.

    USA’s CAATSA: Recently, the USA has asked all its allies and partners, including India, to stop transactions with Russia. The USA can risk triggering sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

  • G20 Digital Economy Ministers Meeting
    Recently, a virtual meeting of G20 Digital Economy Ministers was hosted by Saudi Arabia in which Indian Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology represented India.

    Saudi Arabia is holding the presidency of G20 currently.

    Key Points
    Few major initiatives taken by India to tackle Covid-19 were highlighted:

    Early lockdowns which helped in curbing the spread of the virus as well as preparing for the upcoming challenges effectively.

    Digital innovations for managing Covid-19:
    Initiatives like AarogyaSetu mobile app, Covid-19 Quarantine Alert System (geofencing system for monitoring quarantined patients) and Covid-19 Savdhan (bulk messaging systems).

    Direct Benefit Transfers and digital payments ensured that even the weakest in the society was provided various financial relief during the lockdown.

    India Emphasised Upon:
    Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence should be leveraged for inclusive growth and development especially in healthcare and education.

    In the wake of a pandemic like Covid-19, there is a need for building a resilient global supply chain.

    India’s potential as an attractive destination for investment closely integrated with global supply chains was also brought into focus.

    All digital platforms need to be accountable and sensitive towards concerns related to defence and data privacy of citizens of sovereign countries.

    The comments follow the Indian government’s move to ban 59 Chinese applications citing a threat to national security and sovereignty.

    India’s Step for Data Protection:
    India is soon going to put in place a robust personal data protection law (Personal Data Protection Bill 2019) which will not only address the data privacy-related concerns of citizens but also ensure availability of data for innovation and economic development.

    Science & Technology
    Current Affairs Recently, New Delhi's Covid-19 testing strategy has become controversial due to the low level of RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) re-testing in persons tested negative in RADT (Rapid Antigen Detection Tests).

    Using RADT widely without following up with adequate retests contradicts Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines on use of the RADT test.

    Key Points
    ICMR Guidelines:
    RADT ought to be used only in containment zones, hotspots, hospital settings and laboratories among those who manifested one or other symptoms of the disease, influenza-like illnesses.

    People with comorbidities who were asymptomatic and high-risk contacts of those confirmed positive.

    Those who tested ‘negative’ and whom clinicians suspected to be harbouring the disease ought to be definitely tested sequentially by RT-PCR to rule out infection and higher chances of false negatives.

    Those who test positive don’t need a re-test and must be considered positive.

    Testing in New Delhi:
    From 18th June - 16th July, it has conducted 3,05,820 RADT. Of these, 2,85,225 tests came ‘negative’ and out of them only, 1,670 were chosen for re-test by RT-PCR and 262 of these were confirmed positive.

    Only 1 in 200 of those who tested negative in an antigen test to detect possible coronavirus cases were re-tested, which is against the given guidelines of ICMR.

    Of those re-tested with RT-PCR, around 15% tested positive, which is higher than the RADT positive results i.e. 6%.

    Arguments for Low Re-tests:
    Re-testing everyone would defeat the purpose of having another (rapid antigen) test.

    The RT-PCR test takes a minimum of 2-5 hours including the time taken for sample transportation. This limits the widespread use of the test and also impedes quick augmentation of testing capacity in various containment zones and hospital settings.

    In RADT, the maximum duration for interpreting a positive or negative test is 30 minutes, thus a quicker complement to the standard RT-PCR tests.

    Arguments Against:
    The consequence of indiscriminately deploying antigen tests would mean expanding the number of tests and presenting a lower positivity rate while not necessarily being able to reliably establish the extent of the spread of the coronavirus in the population.

    A low level of re-testing with RT-PCR in persons who are testing antigen negative will underestimate the cases and make the tracking inaccurate.

  • Winter Rise in Covid-19 Cases
    According to a recent study, “The Covid-19 Spread in India and Its Dependence on Temperature and Relative Humidity”, the spread of Covid-19 may pick up the pace during peak monsoon and winter with a fall in the temperature.

    The study was conducted by the School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences of the IIT, Bhubaneswar and the Department of Microbiology of the AIIMS, Bhubaneswar.

    It took into account the pattern of the coronavirus outbreak and the number of such cases in all of the states between April and June 2020.

    Key Points
    The respiratory viral pandemics of the 21st century (SARS in 2003, Swine Flu in 2009) have revealed that seasonality in environmental factors plays an important role in the dynamics of their spread.

    Researchers tried to observe the state-level relationship between environmental factors such as temperature, relative humidity, specific humidity and solar radiation on the Covid-19 spread over the Indian region.

    The rainfall, decrease in temperatures and cooling of the atmosphere coupled with progression towards winter may environmentally favour the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

    Temperature and relative humidity have a significant impact on the disease growth rate and doubling time and the rise in temperatures leads to a decline in the transmission of the virus.

    Correlation with Covid-19:
    A one-degree-Celsius rise in temperature leads to a 0.99% decrease in cases and increases the doubling time by 1.13 days, implying a slowdown of the virus spread.

    An increase of 10% in relative humidity tends to decrease the growth rate and doubling time of coronavirus cases by 1.18 days.

    The study also carried out an analysis of the impact of solar radiation on the spread of Covid-19.

    A higher surface-reaching solar radiation leads to a reduction in the number of infections and an increase in the doubling time of cases, similar to that of temperatures.

    The mean difference of as high as seven degrees Celsius between summer and winter points to a possibility for greater potential spread of Covid-19 in winter.

  • BlackRock Android Malware
    Recently, a security firm has alerted about a new malware called BlackRock which targets social, communication, and dating apps.

    Key Points
    BlackRock is a banking Trojan and said to be an enhanced version of existing Xerxes malware which itself is a variant of the LokiBot Android trojan.

    A trojan is any type of malicious program disguised as a legitimate one. Often, they are designed to steal sensitive information (login credentials, account numbers, financial information, credit card information, and the like) from users.

    Banking trojans are a specific kind of trojan malware. Once installed onto a client machine, banking trojans use a variety of techniques to create botnets, steal credentials, inject malicious code into browsers, or steal money.

    Functioning: It collects user information by abusing the Accessibility Service of Android and overlaying a fake screen on top of a genuine app. It uses Android DPC (Device Policy Controller) to provide access to other permissions.

    It surfaces as a google update.

    The malware is said to have the design to overlay attacks, send, spam, and steal SMS messages as well as lock the victim in the launcher activity. It can also act as a keylogger (i.e. track the keys struck on a keyboard), which essentially could help a hacker to acquire financial information.

    Despite being a banking Trojan, BlackRock is said to target non-financial apps.

    It targets a total of 337 apps, which is significantly higher than any of the already known malicious code.

    It makes antivirus applications useless.

  • UAE launched mission to Mars
    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched its first mission to Mars on 20th July 2020. The UAE is striving to develop its scientific and technology capabilities and move away from its reliance on oil.

    The first Arab (UAE) mission to Mars was initially planned to be launched on 14 July, but got delayed twice due to bad weather.

    The Hope Probe was launched from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center on 20 July for a seven-month journey to Mars.

    The satellite will orbit around Mars and send back data about the atmosphere.

    The total cost of the Emirates Mars Mission is $200 million.

    The Hope Probe was developed by the Emiratis and Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) worked with U.S. educational institutions.

    The UAE has an ambitious plan for a Mars settlement by 2117.

    At present, there are 8 active missions exploring Mars. Of the 8 missions, some satellites orbit the planet and some satellites have landed on the surface of Mars planet. China and the United States, currently, each plan to send another this year.

  • Kakrapar Atomic Plant Achieves Criticality
    Recently, the third unit of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP-3) in Tapi district of Gujarat achieved its first criticality.

    Key Points
    Criticality is the first step towards power production. A nuclear reactor is said to be critical when the nuclear fuel inside a reactor sustains a fission chain reaction.

    Each fission reaction releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain a series of reactions. Heat is produced in the event, which is used to generate steam that spins a turbine to create electricity.

    Fission is a process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei, and some byproduct.

    When the nucleus splits, the kinetic energy of the fission fragments (primary nuclei) is transferred to other atoms in the fuel as heat energy, which is eventually used to produce steam to drive the turbines.

    KAPP-3 is the country’s first 700 MWe (megawatt electric) unit, and the biggest indigenously developed variant of the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR).

    Until now, the biggest reactor size of indigenous design was the 540 MWe, two of which have been deployed in Tarapur, Maharashtra.

    A PHWR is a nuclear power reactor, commonly using unenriched natural uranium as its fuel, that uses heavy water (deuterium oxide D2O) as its coolant and moderator.

    PHWR technology was started in India in the late 1960s with the construction of the first 220 MWe reactor, Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS-1).

    State-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) had awarded the reactor-building contract for both KAPP-3 and 4 in 2010.

    Safety Features:
    The 700 MWe PHWRs have advanced safety features like steel lined inner containment, passive decay heat removal system, containment spray system, hydrogen management system, among others.

    The ‘passive decay heat removal system’ can remove decay heat (released as a result of radioactive decay) from the reactor core without requiring any operator actions.

    This is on the lines of similar technology adopted for Generation III+ plants to negate the possibility of a Fukushima-type accident that happened in Japan in 2011.

    KAPP-3 addresses the issue of excess thermal margins.

    Thermal margin refers to the extent to which the operating temperature of the reactor is below its maximum operating temperature.

    KAPP-3 would constitute the biggest component in the nuclear power capacity expansion plan.

    India is working to ramp up its existing nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MWe to 22,480 MWe by 2031.

    Currently, nuclear power capacity constitutes less than 2% of the total installed capacity of 3,68,690 MW (end-January 2020).

    It will also help for the future construction for the PHWRs.

  • China successfully launched a rover to Mars
    China successfully launched a rover to Mars on 23 July 2020, which is another milestone for its space programme.

    China's Mars probe was launched from the southern island of Hainan, China.

    The Mars mission was named Tianwen-1 meaning "Questions to Heaven" in a nod to a classical Chinese poem that has verses about the cosmos.

    Under the mission, the probe aims to go enter into Martian orbit. It will land on the planet Mars and release a small rover to conduct research on its surface.

    It is expected to reach the planet in February 2021.

    The spacecraft will travel at least 55 million kilometres to reach its destination.

    In its earlier attempt in 2011, China's partnership with Russia failed because the Russian launcher was unable to get the craft into a transfer orbit to slingshot towards Mars.

  • National Award for Excellence in Forestry awarded to Kannan C S Warrier
    Current Affairs The National Award of Excellence for Outstanding Research in Forestry for the year 2019 has been awarded to Kannan C S Warrier, a scientist at Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB).

    This award is conferred by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE).

    ICFRE is an apex body in the national forestry research system. ICFRE was recently declared as the Centre for Excellence in addressing issues related to land degradation by the Prime Minister.

    Key Points
    The award has been awarded to Kannan C S Warrier for releasing three salt-tolerant productive clones of Casuarina that are suitable for salt-affected soils, for the first time in the country.

    India has 6.73 million hectares of salt affected land and is also the largest producer of Casuarina in the world which makes the production of these clones a significant achievement.

    Sacred Groves
    Sacred groves are communally protected forests which usually have a significant religious connotation for the protecting community.

    In India, there are over a lakh sacred groves across different states called by different names like Kaavu in Malayalam, Koyilkaadu in Tamil, Orans in Rajasthan, Devarakaadu in Karnataka, and Sernas in Madhya Pradesh.

    Many rare and endemic species, and species having medicinal and economic value can be found here, thus making them Biodiversity Hotspots. They house gene pools of some critically endangered plant species.

    They are often associated with religious beliefs and felling of trees in sacred groves is considered taboo.

    Sacred groves have been legally protected under ‘community reserves’ in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002.

    Some common threats to Sacred Groves are:

    Disappearance of the traditional belief systems, which were fundamental to the concept of sacred groves.

    The transformation of the primitive forms of nature worship into formal temple worship.

    Rapid urbanization and developmental interventions such as roads, railways tracks, dams including commercial forestry.

    Invasion by exotic weeds.

    Pressures due to increasing livestock and fuelwood collection.

  • Bathynomusraksasa: Isopod Species
    Recently, scientists have reported the discovery of the first super giant isopod species in the eastern Indian Ocean named ‘Bathynomusraksasa’.

    It has been described as the ‘cockroach of the sea’.

    A team of researchers from Singapore discovered it while exploring waters of the Indian Ocean in Bantan, off the southern coast of West Java in Indonesia in 2018.

    Key Points
    Super Giant Isopod: The Bathynomusraksasa is a super giant isopod in the genus Bathynomus.

    Isopods are marine invertebrates (animals without backbones) that belong to the greater crustacean group of animals, which also includes crabs and shrimp.

    They live in many different types of habitat, from mountains and deserts to the deep sea.

    Isopods that reach 50 cm are referred to as supergiants. The largest isopod species are from the genus Bathynomus.

    It has 14 legs but uses these only to crawl along the bed of oceans in search of food.

    It measures around 50 cm in length, which is big for isopods, which normally do not grow beyond 33 cm.

    The only member of the isopod species that exceeds the raksasa in size is the Bathynomusgiganteus, which is commonly found in the deep waters of the western Atlantic Ocean.

    As a scavenger, it eats the remains of dead marine animals, such as whales and fish, but can also go for long periods without food, a trait that it shares with the cockroach.

    It is the first recorded species of the genus Bathynomus from Indonesia.

    It is the sixth ‘supergiant’ species from the Indo-West Pacific, and is one of the largest known members of the genus Bathynomus.

    It’s discovery will contribute towards increasing knowledge about the deep sea.

    Giant Sea Cockroaches were discovered in the Eastern Indian Ocean
    Researchers from Singapore discovered a "Super Giant Isopod" species, a cockroach, when they unexplored waters of the Indian Ocean in Bantan, southern coast of West Java in Indonesia. The new species has been named "Bathynomusraksasa."

    Bathynomusraksasa is a giant isopod in the genus Bathynomus. In general, the giant isopods are distantly related to crabs, lobsters, and shrimps (which belong to the order of decapods).

    The species is found in the cold depths of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. The sea cockroach has 14 legs but uses these only to crawl. It is about 50 centimetres (1.6 feet) in length. The Darth Vader appearance is because of the shape of the cockroach’s head and compound eyes. Isopods that are in 50 cm length are referred to as Supergiants.

    About the project:
    A group of 31 researchers from National Universtiy of Singapore conducted the project. The researchers collected thousands of specimens through dredging, trawling, and various types of seafloor coring devices.

    During the mission, the researchers collected 12,000 deep-sea creatures comprising 800 species during the large-scale expedition. They also found 12 species that were not recorded in the scientific literature. The newly discovered creatures included crabs, jellyfish, fish, molluscs, prawns, sponges, starfish, urchins, and worms.

  • Concerns Over Drilling in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park
    The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued notices to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Oil India Limited (OIL) and two concerned state entities to explain how environmental clearances for the seven proposed drilling sites in the Dibru- Saikhowa National Park were given.

    The NGT took note of the petitioners’ contention that OIL did not carry out a biodiversity assessment study for the seven-well exploratory drilling project besides not conducting a public hearing as mandated by the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006.

    Key Points
    OIL has clarified that its exploratory drilling project is “under” and not “in” the 765 sq km Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. This argument is based on Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) enabled drilling of wells up to a depth of approximately 4 km from an existing well plinth without entering the protected area.

    OIL had obtained permission for the seven wells in 2016 on the basis of the ERD technology.

    ERD is drilling a well horizontally to at least twice its vertical depth.

    It is extensively used to intersect hydrocarbon targets far from the surface or areas of the reservoir that otherwise were difficult to access.

    The notice has been issued following a gas leak that occurred at OIL’s baghjan oil field, located near the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

    The disaster at Baghjan has impacted the surrounding ecological life and displaced close to 11,000 people from their homes.

    Earlier, the NGT had also ordered the formation of a committee to probe allegations of large-scale illegal coal mining by North Eastern Coalfields inside DehingPatkai Elephant Reserve in Assam’s Tinsukia district.

    Natural Resources in Assam:
    The State is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world and consists of tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, riverine grasslands, bamboo orchards and numerous wetland ecosystems.

    Assam has wildlife sanctuaries, the most prominent of which are two UNESCO World Heritage sites-the Kaziranga National Park and the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. There are three other National Parks in Assam namely DibruSaikhowa National Park, Nameri National Park and the Orang National Park.

    Kaziranga is a home to Indian one-horned rhinoceros which has also been recognized as the State Animal of Assam.

    Assam has abundant mineral resources- coal, petroleum; limestone and natural gas are the principal mineral resources.

    It is also the largest producer of crude oil in India.

    OIL is the second largest hydrocarbon exploration and production Indian public sector company with its operational headquarters in Duliajan, Assam under the administrative control of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

  • Reasons Behind Pink Water of Lonar Lake
    According to the Agharkar Research Institute, the colour of Lonar lake water in Maharashtra’s Buldhana district turned pink due to a large presence of the salt-loving ‘Haloarchaea’ microbes.

    The colour of the lake water recently turned pink, which not only surprised locals, but also nature enthusiasts and scientists.

    The water samples have been tested by the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the Agharkar Research Institute in Pune.

    Key Points
    It has been assumed that the absence of rain, less human interference (owing to lockdown) and high temperature resulted in the evaporation of water which increased its salinity and pH.

    pH is a measure of how acidic/basic water is.

    The increased salinity and pH facilitated the growth of halophilic microbes, mainly Haloarchaea.

    Halophiles are a group of microorganisms that can grow and often thrive in areas of high salt (NaCl) concentration.

    Haloarchaea or halophilic archaea is a bacteria culture which produces pink pigment and is found in water saturated with salt.

    Because of the biomass of Haloarchaea microbes, the surface of the water turned red or pink. As the biomass subsides, the colour will disappear.

    The colour of the lake is now returning to original as the rainy season has kicked in, allowing dilution of the water. The salinity and pH/alkalinity levels have also come down and green algae have started growing in the water body.

    Further, it was noted that Haloarchaea microbes were ingested by Flamingos.

    These microbes acted as carotenoid (pigment) rich food for the birds.

    Flamingos get their red-pink colour from special colouring chemicals called pigments found in the algae and invertebrates they eat.

  • Indian Bullfrog
    Scientific Name:Hoplobatrachustigerinus.
    Common Names: Bullfrog, Golden Frog, Green Frog, Tiger Frog etc.
    IUCN Red List: Least Concern.
    Indian Wildlife Act 1972: Schedule IV.

    Schedule IV along with Schedule III provide protection with lesser penalties.

    It is native to the Indian subcontinent (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan) and is the largest frog in India.

    These are prolific breeders (producing many offspring), have short breeding seasons, and each egg clutch can contain up to 5,750 eggs.

    Indian bullfrog tadpoles are carnivorous and eat other tadpoles (including their own species).

    The tadpoles grow to be the largest (around 20 millimetres) and also grow the fastest.

    Adult bullfrogs pose a threat to small endemic vertebrates because they can eat everything which fits into their mouths like centipedes, leeches, native frogs, lizards, small snakes and even chicks and ducklings.

    Bullfrogs eat the native frogs as well and their diets overlap, indicating a possibility of competition.

    It is one of the invasive species on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar.

    An invasive species is a species that is accidentally or artificially introduced into a biosphere where it is not normally found.

    In the absence of a natural predator, as it generally happens, the invasive species thrive and causes economic and environmental damage due to the imbalance created by its introduction.
Published on 7/31/2020 1:23:00 PM