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Current Events 19 March 2017

 

NEWS

19 March 2017

Sr. No.

Topic

News

1.

GS II :  SOCIAL- EDUCATION

UGC denies stopping funds to JNU, says letter forged

2.

GS II : GOVERNANCE- LAND ACQUISITION

POSCO to return land to Odisha govt.

3.

GS III : ENVIRONMENT POLLUTION

1.04 cr hit by arsenic contamination in Bengal

4.

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

Health policy wants public hospitals certified for quality

5.

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

The lowdown on India's plan to eliminate TB by 2025

6.

GS III :  SCIENCE AND TECHOLOGY 

Flexing nanotech to prevent steel corrosion

7.

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

Sleeper T cells exposed

8.

GS III :  SCIENCE AND TECHOLOGY 

Biological clocks

9.

GS III :  SCIENCE AND TECHOLOGY 

Telescope upgrade to sniff out solar storms

10.

GS I: GEOGRAPHY

Geomagnetic storms

11.

GS I: GEOGRAPHY

What is a ‘vernal window'?

12.

GS III : ENVIRONMENT

More tiger reserves in Uttarakhand, India

13.

GS III : DEFENCE

Bilateral exercises give fresh push to India's strategic ties

14.

GS III : ECONOMY -INFRASTRUCTURE

India's longest road tunnel all set to ease travel in J&K

15.

GS III : ECONOMY

Ministry to grade Coal India mines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GS II :  SOCIAL- EDUCATION

UGC denies stopping funds to JNU, says letter forged

  • In a relief to professors and students of the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the University Grants Commission has said that a letter sent in its name to the university was a "forged" one.
  • The letter had said that the UGC would not fund the Centre after the Twelfth Plan and not entertain any communication in this regard.
  • The UGC had also underlined it would continue to fund the Centre. The JNU administration had not just received the letter but forwarded it to the Centre, after which there was considerable unease not just at the Centre but in 35 such Centres established all over India since 2007.
  • "(The) University Grants Commission has established Centres for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy in various universities in the Tenth Plan on plan-to plan basis provided these Centres give a satisfactory progress in the areas of their focus. Keeping in view the same procedure the UGC would be extending these Centres from 1st April, 2017 onwards," the UGC said.

 

GS III : ECONOMY- LAND ACQUISITION

POSCO to return land to Odisha govt.

  • South Korean steel giant POSCO has offered to return the land it had acquired for a mega steel plant proposed more than a decade ago, the Odisha government said.
  • "Recently, the POSCO authorities sent a communication to the Odisha government. Since POSCO had not started construction, as per conditions in the lease agreement, the company requested the government to take the land back," said Debi Prasad Mishra, Minister for Industries of Odisha.
  • "Subsequent to receiving the letter from POSCO, we secured the Chief Minister's approval to keep the land in the land bank that is being created for future industrial projects," said Mr. Mishra.
  • In June 2005, the company had signed a memorandum of understanding with the State government.
  • It had proposed setting up a 12 million tonne per annum plant at an estimated investment of Rs. 52,000 crore near the port town of Paradip.
  • Back then, this was the largest Foreign direct investment (FDI) for the country.
  • Locals, however, had protested against the acquisition of 4,004 acres of land. They feared that the industrial project would hit livelihood opportunities based on sustainable betel farming and fishing.
  • In January 2015, an amendment to the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act made it necessary for POSCO to go through the auction route to get iron ore mines.
  • Since there was uncertainty around the company securing a mine, it started folding operations in the State. By then the State government had already transferred 1,723.78 acres of land to POSCO through the Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation.
  • Hundreds of villagers were arrested during the decade long protest while over 1,200 non-bailable warrants were pending for execution.
  • Later, as the process of acquisition slowed down, the police stopped executing warrants.

GS III : ENVIRONMENT  POLLUTION

1.04 cr hit by arsenic contamination in Bengal

  • A recent report tabled in the Lok Sabha stated that West Bengal has the highest number of arsenic-affected people in the country, with more than 1.04 crore arsenic-affected persons.
  • There are 83 blocks in eight districts - Bardhaman, Malda, Hooghly, Howrah, Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24 Paraganas - where ground water is affected by arsenic contamination.
  • Bihar comes second with 16.88 lakh persons, with Assam in third spot with 14.48 lakh victims.
  • The total number of arsenic-affected people in the country is about 1.48 crore.
  • According to the WHO's guidelines for drinking water quality (2011), the permissible limit of Arsenic in groundwater is .01 mg per litre.
  • However, in India the permissible limit in drinking water has recently been revised from .05 mg per litre to .01 mg per litre.
  • The chairman of the West Bengal's Arsenic Task Force, K.J. Nath, also admitted that progress in setting up water treatment plants has been slow.
  • He said since the "technology for removal of arsenic is rather new and expensive, the progress has been slow."
  • The ruling Trinamool Congress had claimed in its 2016 election manifesto that 91% of the population of arsenic affected areas in the State have been provided with clean drinking water.

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

Health policy wants public hospitals certified for quality

  • The long awaited National Health Policy (NHP), 2017, announced a few days ago, proposes to raise public health expenditure as a percentage of the GDP from the current 1.15% to 2.5% by 2025.
  • The resource allocation to individual States will be linked with their development indicators, absorptive capacity and financial indicators.
  • "There will be higher weightage given to States with poor health indicators and they will receive more resources. The Policy aims to end inequity between States. But at the same time, States will be incentivised to increase public health expenditure," says Manoj Jhalani, Joint Secretary - Policy, Ministry of Health and FamilyWelfare.
  • While public health expenditure as a percentage of GDP will reach 2.5% only by 2025, many of the goals listed in the Policy have a deadline of 2025, some of them even sooner.
  • The policy stresses preventive healthcare by engaging with the private sector to offer healthcare services and drugs that are affordable to all.
  • It wants to reduce out-of-pocket "catastrophic" health expenditure by households by 25% from current levels by 2025.
  • It wants to increase the utilisation of public health facilities by 50% from the current levels by 2025.
  • The Centre is working on introducing a health card - an electronic health record of individuals.
  • "The health card will be for retrieving and sharing health data by lower [Primary Health Centre] and higher [secondary and tertiary] healthcare facilities," says Mr. Jhalani.
  • "It will be launched in six months to one year's time in those States that show interest to roll it out in certain districts or across the State."
  • Like the Health Ministry's national strategic plan for tuberculosis elimination 2017-2025 report, the Policy wants to reduce the incidence of new TB cases to reach elimination by 2025.
  • In a similar vein, the policy has set 2017 as the deadline to eliminate kala-azar and lymphatic filariasis in endemic pockets, and 2018 in the case of leprosy.
  • In the case of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, it envisages a 25% reduction in premature mortality by 2025.
  • The policy "aspires" to provide secondary care right at the district level and reduce the number of patients reaching tertiary hospitals.
  • For the first time, there is a mention of public hospitals and facilities being periodically measured and certified for quality.
  • But the most ambitious target is providing access to safe water and sanitation by all by 2020.
  • As per the January 2016 Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation's country paper, sanitation coverage was only 48%.
  • Other challenging targets set by the Policy include reducing the infant mortality rate to 28 per 1,000 live births by 2019 and under five mortality to 23 per 1,000 live births by 2025.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS-4), IMR was 41 in 2015-16; it took 10 years to reduce IMR from 57 to 41. As against 62% children 12-23 months old, who were fully immunised in 2015-16 according to the NFHS-4 data, the Policy has set a target of 90% by 2025.

 

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

The lowdown on India's plan to eliminate TB by 2025

WHAT IS IT ?

  • At the end of 50 years of tuberculosis control activities, the disease remains a major health challenge in India.
  • As per new estimates, the number of new cases every year has risen to 2.8 million and mortality is put at 4,80,000 each year.
  • These figures may go up when the national TB prevalence survey is undertaken in 2017-18.
  • Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in its national strategic plan for tuberculosis elimination (2017-2025), has set a highly ambitious goal of "achieving a rapid decline in burden of TB, morbidity and mortality while working towards elimination of TB by 2025."

HOW DID IT COME ABOUT ?

  • Though the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) has treated 10 million patients, the rate of decline has been slow.
  • Providing universal access to early diagnosis and treatment and improving case detection were the main goals of the national strategic plan 2012-17.
  • But RNTCP failed on both counts, as the Joint Monitoring Mission report of 2015 pointed out.
  • Going by the current rate of decline, India is far from reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals - reducing the number of deaths by 90% and TB incidence by 80% compared with 2015.
  • Yet, the latest report for TB elimination calls for reducing TB incidence from 217 per 1,00,000 in 2015 to 142 by 2020 and 44 by 2025 and reduce mortality from 32 to 15 by 2020 and 3 per 1,00,000 by 2025.

WHY DOES IT MATTER ?

  • Radical approaches are needed to come anywhere close to reaching these ambitious targets.
  • Most importantly, the TB control programme plans to do away with the strategy of waiting for patients to walk in to get tested and instead engage in detecting more cases, both drug sensitive and drug-resistant.
  • The emphasis will be on using highly sensitive diagnostic tests, undertaking universal testing for drug-resistant TB, reaching out to TB patients seeking care from private doctors and targeting people belonging to high-risk populations.
  • The other priority is to provide anti- TB treatment - irrespective of where patients seek care from, public or private - and ensure that they complete the treatment. For the first time, the TB control programme talks of having in place patient-friendly systems to provide treatment and social support.
  • It seeks to make the daily regimen universal; currently, the thrice weekly regimen is followed by RNTCP, and the daily regimen has been introduced only in five States.
  • There will be a rapid scale-up of short-course regimens for drug-resistant TB and drug sensitivity testing guided treatment.
  • In 2013, India "achieved complete geographical coverage" for MDR-TB (multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis) diagnosis and treatment; 93,000 people with MDR-TB had been diagnosed and put on treatment till 2015.

WHAT NEXT?

  • Though Bedaquiline, the drug for people who do not respond to any anti-TB medicine, is provided in six sites in the country, the number of beneficiaries is very small.
  • The report envisages a countrywide scale-up of Bedaquiline and Delamanid.
  • In a marked departure, the report underscores the need to prevent the emergence of TB in susceptible populations. One such segment is those in contact with a recently diagnosed pulmonary TB.
  • Incidentally, active-case finding is already a part of the RNTCP programme but rarely implemented.
  • It wants to increase active case finding to 100% by 2020. Since RNTCP expenditure has increased by 27% since 2012 and is inadequately funded, the Ministry proposes to increase funding to Rs. 16,500 crore.
  • Acknowledging that the business-as-usual approach will not get the Health Ministry anywhere close to the goals, it has earmarked critical components that will be addressed on priority.
  • These include sending customised SMSes to improve drug compliance, incentivising private doctors to notify cases and providing free medicines to patients approaching the private sector, facilitating nutritional support to TB patients, including financial support, rewarding States performing well in controlling TB, and using management information systems to monitor all aspects of TB control.
  • "The ultimate impact of this national strategic plan will be transformational improvements in the end TB efforts of India," the report says. It plans to take a "detect- treat-prevent-build approach" in its war against TB.

 

 

 

 

GS III :  SCIENCE AND TECHOLOGY 

Flexing nanotech to prevent steel corrosion

  • Turning to nanotechnology, a group of marine researchers from Kerala is attempting to combat corrosion of steel used for making fishing boats.
  • Corrosion of steel has been a major cause of concern for the fishing sector of Kerala where steel vessels have almost replaced wooden ones.
  • There is enhanced threat of corrosion in the case of welding joints and the hull of a vessel.
  • The non-availability of good quality steel (BIS 2062 Grade B steel) as specified for boat-building has compounded the problem.
  • Scientists at the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT), Kochi, have successfully tried applying nanomaterials like nano iron oxide, zinc oxide, cerium oxide and titanium oxides on steel surfaces under lab conditions.
  • According to Dr. C.N. Ravishankar, director of the institute, these nanomaterials have high surface area and increased adhesiveness to the substrate.
  • According to Dr. P. Muhammed Ashraf, Principal Scientist at CIFT, who led the research programme, the boat-building steel was coated with nanotrimetal oxide mixtures, and its evaluation in laboratory showed about 40% corrosion inhibition under marine environments.
  • He said that the coating also exhibited healing stress at a faster rate.
  • Conventional methods of coating of steel materials with ceramic, polymeric and electro-deposition are effective only to a limited extent.
  • Corrosion-protection methodologies usually employ organic or inorganic based coatings on steel.
  • The researchers pointed out that the major disadvantages shown by these coatings are poor adhesion, coating defects, poor scratch resistance, optical transparency, low coating flexibility and vulnerability to abrasion.
  • Even the recently introduced nanomaterial-incorporated polymer coatings have their own set of challenges - they tend to develop pinholes and pores, which could lead to the penetration of corrosive agents into the matrix followed by corrosion.

GS II : S&T -HEALTH

Sleeper T cells exposed

  • Long-lived, HIV-infected T cells evade discovery, thereby thwart attempts to find a cure.
  • Now researchers report in Nature that they have identified a protein which sits on the surface of such dormant, infected T cells, and leads to their exposure, towards developing a cure.

 

GS III :  S&T  HEALTH 

Biological clocks

  • Scientists have discovered how the world's oldest biological clocks - those of cyanobacteria - work.
  • By refrigerating the bacteria and literally stopping time, they understood how transitions from stage to stage take place.
  • Cyanobacteria are amongst the first living organisms to produce oxygen using photosynthesis.

 

GS III :  S&T  SPACE

Telescope upgrade to sniff out solar storms

  • The GRAPES-3 experiment at TIFR's Cosmic Ray Laboratory in Ootacamund is getting upgraded.
  • The telescope made news last year when it detected the effect of a solar storm that hit the earth in June 2015.
  • The upgrade will play a major role in getting precise information about the propagation of storms in ‘the last million miles' (from the L-1 point) of their journey from the Sun to the earth.
  • The upgraded detector will have an increased coverage of the sky and improved capacity to determine the direction of incident cosmic rays.
  • The latter property, of being able to discern the direction of detected particles, makes it unique among cosmic ray detectors in the world; it can also to measure the intensity of the particles.
  • Since the enhanced facility can cover a wider field of view (from present 37% to 57%), the chances of spotting solar storms will be higher.
  • The sun is at a distance of 150 million kilometres from the earth, and satellites have been placed at a distance of nearly 1.5 million kilometres, at the so-called L1 point, where they orbit the Sun along with the Earth.
  • Since charged particles from a solar storm will first impact the satellites before hitting the earth, they act as an early warning system.
  • Depending on the speed of the storm, it will take about 20-40 minutes to reach the earth from the L1 point.
  • However, the GRAPES-3 may differ from the satellite estimates of the travel time.
  • This is what Sunil Gupta, Head of the GRAPES-3 experiment, terms traversing the ‘last million miles'.
  • He says: "GRAPES-3 has an important role in understanding the propagation of storms from the L1 point to its impact on the Earth. We have seen indications that the actual time taken may not be what the satellites predict."
  • It is important to know the time when plasma will reach the earth, accurately, so that preventive and protective measures can be put into place in case a solar storm were to strike the earth.
  • If the earth's magnetic field were to be weakened by extreme solar storms, charged particles would shower on to the planet.
  • Apart from rendering electronic devices defunct, charged particles in an extreme solar storm can also short current carrying over-head high voltage lines, leading to large-scale transformers burn out and thereby, power blackouts.
  • A 2008 study conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated that an extreme event could lead to a loss of 40% of transformers in the U.S., which, in turn, could take years to restore.
  • The up side is that the way to prevent such a disaster is well understood: simply switch off the power lines on being informed of an approaching solar storm! And for this to be possible, an accurate determination of the time taken for the solar storm to travel to the earth is needed, which is where the GRAPES-3 set up comes in.


GS I: GEOGRAPHY

Geomagnetic storms

  • New research tells us that when solar storms take place on the Sun, they not only send bursts of charged particles on to the earth, disrupting its magnetic field.
  • The storms can also decrease the number of free electrons over polar regions of the ionosphere. This could lead to improving radio communication and navigation over the Arctic.

 

GS I: GEOGRAPHY

What is a ‘vernal window'?

  • With the first day of spring around the corner, temperatures start to rise, ice melts away, and the world around us starts to blossom. Scientists refer to this transition from winter to the growing season as the "vernal window", and a new study led by the University of New Hampshire, U.S., shows this window may be getting longer.
  • "Historically, the transition into spring is comparatively shorter than other seasons," says Alexandra Contosta, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire's Earth Systems Research Center.
  • "You have snow melting and lots of water moving through aquatic systems, nutrients lushing through that water, soils warming up, and buds breaking on trees. Something striking happens after a very cold winter or when there's been a lot of snow. Things seem to wake up all together, which is why spring seems to happen so quickly and can feel so dramatic."
  • However, research shows that the extent of snow cover over the Northern Hemisphere has declined significantly in the past 30 years. Climate change is altering the timing and duration of the vernal window.


GS III : ENVIRONMENT BIODIVERSITY

More tiger reserves in Uttarakhand, India

  • Uttarakhand is expected to declare two more tiger reserves, the Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary and Surai Range.
  • The State, which has the Corbett and Rajaji tiger reserves, has 340 tigers, the second largest population in the country after Karnataka, according to the 2015 tiger census.
  • With the new additions, Uttarakhand will be the only North-Indian state with four tiger reserves.


GS III : DEFENCE

Bilateral exercises give fresh push to India's strategic ties

  • India is leveraging bilateral military exercises to further strategic cooperation. The Indian Army is currently engaged in or has just concluded four separate exercises with the armies of Nepal, Oman, Singapore and the U.S., with a focus on aspects like counter-insurgency, jungle warfare, heliborne and special operations, meant to promote interoperability.
  • The exercise with Nepal also comes at a time when the Himalayan neighbour is expected to conduct its first military drills with China.
  • The Surya Kiran exercise with Nepal is underway at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, while the Al Nagah-II exercise with Oman is underway at Bakloh in Himachal Pradesh.
  • They are infantry exercises meant to improve interoperability and focus especially on counter-terrorism.
  • Both the exercises are spread over 14 days. According to information submitted in Parliament by Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre on 17 March 2017, during the last three years India has signed defence agreements/memorandum of understandings (MoU) with 21 countries.
  • The Army has conducted exercises with 18 countries during the three-year period, including the current year, and Indian military personnel attended training and courses in 34 countries.
  • This is the ninth edition of the Surya Kiran exercise from March 9-20 with Nepal. The Nepal contingent is represented by 300 personnel, including 26 officers. One officer said the aim of the exercise was to conduct battalion-level combined training between the two armies.
  • "Both the contingents would be working in a mixed group, which will allow them to enhance tactical level understanding of battlefield procedures," he stated. There is a component involving special heliborne operations in the counter insurgency environment, in which the Nepal Army personnel would be trained in basic skills of launching helicopter- borne operations.
  • There is also a component on the study of Left Wing Extremism in South East Asia and the Indian Army hopes to gain from the experience of the Nepal Army, including their best practices.
  • Meanwhile, the Army's Para Special Forces and U.S. Army's Special Forces honed their skills from February 27 to March 12 in Jodhpur.
  • The exercise covered a range of activities, including advanced marksmanship, sniping techniques and military free fall.
  • "It was a platoon strength exercise with focus on joint exercises based on counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist operations in the rural desert terrain," a senior officer said.
  • There were also case studies to include lessons learnt from operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, among others, which the U.S. has been involved in for a long time and which are of interest for India.
  • The Bold Kurukshetra exercise with Singapore is an armoured exercise under way at the Babina field firing range in Uttar Pradesh, involving 250 soldiers from each side.
  • India and Singapore have an agreement that allows the latter to use the Indian Army's facilities for training and exercises.
  • The agreement on utilisation of facilities by the Singapore Air Force was initially signed in October 2007 and Army facilities in August 2008.


GS III : ECONOMY -INFRASTRUCTURE

India's longest road tunnel all set to ease travel in J&K

  • India's longest road tunnel, built on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, will open to traffic very soon following the success of the trial run.
  • The work on the 9.2-km tube tunnel, which is part of a 286-km, four-lane project, started on May 23, 2011 in the lower Himalayan mountain range and cost Rs. 3,720 crore, officials said.
  • The tunnel, which is located at an elevation of 1,200 metre, will be the first in India to be equipped with the world-class integrated tunnel control system, through which ventilation, fire control, signals, communication and electrical systems will be automatically actuated.
  • The tunnel will reduce the travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two and- a-half hours.
  • The road distance from Chenani and Nashri will now be 10.9 km, instead of the present 41 km, officials said.
  • "The formal trial run was successfully completed for peak and off-peak hours between March 9 and March 15," J.S. Rathore Project Director, Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS), told PTI.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to inaugurate the highway tunnel by month-end.


GS III : ECONOMY

Ministry to grade Coal India mines

  • The Coal Controller's Organisation, a Coal Ministry outfit, has been tasked with grading and notifying the mines of Coal India Ltd. from April 2017.
  • This marks a significant change from the present practice of internal grading by Coal India.
  • This could also lead to a major change in the existing grades accorded to the mines.
  • Until now, the grading was done by the coal producing subsidiaries of CIL and was vetted by the CCO, a CIL official said.
  • The change has been triggered by a new thrust on quality following recurring complaints on coal quality and grade mismatch by coal consumers in both the power and the non-power sectors.
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