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Current Events 26 February 2017

 

NEWS 

26 FEBRUARY 2017

Sr. No.

Topic

News

1.

GS III : AGRICULTURE

Pests eat away 35% of total crop yield, says ICAR scientist

2.

GS III: ECONOMY

The lowdown on the TCS buyback offer

3.

GS II: SOCIAL HEALTH

Why India needs the rubella vaccine

4.

GS I: GEOGRAPHY

Why the Barren Island volcano erupts again

5.

GS III: S&T GENETIC ENGINEERING

There is more to come in the CRISPR story

6.

GS III: S&T IT

Darknet robust for lack of “rich clubs”

7.

GS III: ENVIRONMENT  BIODIVERSITY

Black rhinos on the brink of extinction

8.

GS II: SOCIAL HEALTH

Family planning deaths must not go unpunished

9.

GS II: SOCIAL HEALTH

Depression, top cause of disability worldwide

10.

GS III: ENVIRONMENT BIODIVERSITY

Though the net tightens, India remains hub for turtle trade

11.

GS III: ECONOMY ENERGY

Low cost solar imports from China hurting Centre’s Make in India mission

12.

GS II: GOVERNANCE POLICY

Indian Railways mulls new performance index

13.

GS II: BILATERAL INDIA-GERMANY

India, Germany ratify social security agreement

14.

GS III: S&T  SPACE

Setting foot in deep space

15.

GS III: S&T HEALTH

Dietary prebiotics may improve sleep quality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GS III : AGRICULTURE

Pests eat away 35% of total crop yield, says ICAR scientist

  • About 30-35% of the annual crop yield in India gets wasted because of pests, according to P.K. Chakrabarty, assistant director general (plant protection and biosafety) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
  • He said that among such pests, nematodes (microscopic worms many of which are parasites) consisting of roundworms, threadworms and eelworms had recently emerged as a major threat to crops in the country and they caused loss of 60 million tonnes of crops annually.
  • He also said that such large-scale crop-loss was having an adverse effect on the agricultural biosafety which was “paramount to food security.”
  • Citing the instance of a particular kind of nematode which affected plants such as potatoes and tomatoes, he said the Potato Cyst Nematode was first discovered in the Nilgiris and had now spread to various parts of the country.

 

GS III: ECONOMY

The lowdown on the TCS buyback offer

  • Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which is the country’s largest listed company in terms of market capitalisation, has announced India’s biggest buyback offer till date.
  • The software major plans to buy back up to 5.61 crore equity shares at Rs 2,850 per share.
  • Assuming that 5.61 crore shares — equivalent to 2.85% of the company’s equity — are bought back, the offer size would be pegged at Rs 16,000 crore, surpassing Reliance Industries Ltd.’s 2012 share buyback offer of Rs 10,400 crore.
  • The buyback is being made through the tender offer route, which means the existing shareholders can tender their shares through the stock exchange.
  • The buyback offer price of Rs 2,850 represents a 13.7% premium to Rs 2,506.50, the closing price on February 20 when the announcement was made.
  • The buyback offer price is at a premium of almost 15% over the current market price.
  • TCS has a cash pile of more than Rs 38,000 crore as on December 31, 2016.
  • Given the tax rules of India, a buyback is a comparatively better way of rewarding shareholders than doling out hefty dividends.
  • While there is no additional tax in buyback, dividends come at a cost to the company and the shareholders.
  • There is a dividend distribution tax of more than 20% on the companies while individuals have to pay 10% tax if dividend received is more than Rs 10 lakh.

 

GS II: SOCIAL HEALTH

Why India needs the rubella vaccine

  • Buoyed by the elimination of polio six years ago and maternal and neonatal tetanus and yaws in 2016, India has set an ambitious target of eliminating measles and controlling congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), caused by the rubella virus, by 2020.
  • While two doses of measles vaccine given at 9-12 months and 16-24 months have already been part of the national immunisation programme, it is the first time that the rubella vaccine has been included in the programme.
  • Since the rubella vaccine will piggy-back on the measles elimination programme, there will be very little additional cost.
  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “a single dose of rubella vaccine gives more than 95% long-lasting immunity.”
  • All children aged nine months and 15 years will be administered a single dose of the combination vaccine.
  • Measles is highly infectious and is one of the major childhood killer diseases. Of the 1,34,000 measles deaths globally in 2015, an estimated 47,000 occurred in India.
  • Unlike measles, rubella is a mild viral infection that mainly occurs in children.
  • But a woman infected with the rubella virus during the early stage of pregnancy has a 90% chance of transmitting it to the foetus. The virus can cause hearing impairments, eye and heart defects and brain damage in newborns, and even spontaneous abortion and foetal deaths.
  • Of the 1,10,000 children born with CRS every year globally, an estimated 40,000 cases occur in India alone.
  • Since the Pune-based Serum Institute of India is the only manufacturer of the vaccine, the measles-rubella vaccination campaign is being introduced in phases. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Goa and Lakshadweep are covered in the first phase.
  • The entire country will be covered in four phases in 18 months.

GS I: GEOGRAPHY

Why the Barren Island volcano erupts again

  • India’s only active volcano — the Barren Island volcano — in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is again spewing lava and ash, according to a team of scientists from the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).
  • They chanced upon it as part of an ocean expedition in January.
  • During the daytime, they saw ash clouds, but after sundown, red lava fountains spewed from the crater into the atmosphere and hot lava streamed down the slopes.
  • They are preparing for a scientific expedition to the volcano to assess the ecological impact of the eruption.
  • The Barren Island, about 140 km from Port Blair, is a tourist destination and surrounded by waters ideal for scuba diving and is home to a wide variety of aquatic life.
  • The island is open to visitors, with prior permission, and as the name suggests is uninhabited and devoid of any significant vegetation.
  • It’s the only active volcano along a chain of volcanoes from Sumatra to Myanmar. The 354-metre-high island is the emergent summit of a volcano that rises from a depth of 2,250 m.
  • The small, uninhabited 3-km-wide island contains a roughly 2-km wide caldera (a volcanic crater) with walls 250-350 metres high.
  • Historically, the first record of the volcano’s eruption dates back to 1787. It was known to have erupted at least five times over the next 100 years. Then there was silence for a century.
  • In 1991, it spewed so massively that smoke billowed out for about six months.
  • Ever since, there have been eruptions every two-three years, the last in February 2016.
  • All of these recorded eruptions lie on the lowest end of the so-called Volcanic Explosivity Index that ranks volcanoes from 1-8 based on the quantity of volcanic material spewed and the strength with which it does so.
  • The latest eruption was a mere ‘2’ on the scale.
  • However benign this may seem, the renewed volcanic activity over the past few decades has some scientists worried about the amount of unreleased pressure stored in the continental plates that support the volcano.
  • In 1991, the volcano’s eruption was catastrophic for several animal species. The eruption also reduced the number of bird species and their population.    

 

 

GS III: S&T GENETIC ENGINEERING

There is more to come in the CRISPR story

  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently issued a key verdict in the battle over the intellectual property rights to the potentially lucrative gene-editing technique CRISPR–Cas9.
  • It ruled that the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, could keep its patents on using CRISPR–Cas9 in eukaryotic cells.
  • That was a blow to the University of California, Berkeley, which had filed its own patents and had hoped to have the Broad’s thrown out.
  • The fight goes back to 2012, when Jennifer Doudna at Berkeley; Emmanuelle Charpentier, then at the University of Vienna; and their colleagues outlined how CRISPR–Cas9 could be used to precisely cut isolated DNA.
  • In 2013, Feng Zhang at the Broad and his colleagues — and other teams — showed how it could be adapted to edit DNA in eukaryotic cells such as plants, livestock and humans.
  • Berkeley filed for a patent earlier, but the USPTO granted the Broad’s patents first — and last week upheld them.
  • Already, the technique has sped up genetic research, and scientists are using it to develop disease-resistant livestock and treatments for human diseases.
  • The Broad’s victory centred on a key difference: that its patents specified how CRISPR could be adapted for use in eukaryotic cells and Berkeley’s did not. This is why the USPTO ruled that the Broad’s patents would not interfere with the granting of Berkeley’s, and so should be allowed to stand.
  • Berkeley’s team was quick to argue, in the wake of the decision, that its patent — if granted in its current state — would cover the use of CRISPR–Cas9 in any cell. That, the team says, would mean someone wanting to sell a product made using CRISPR–Cas9 in eukaryotic cells would need to license patents from both Berkeley and the Broad.
  • Both teams have filed similar patents in Europe and are still battling for patent rights there.
  • CRISPR stands for Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.
  • Both patent families cover the use of CRISPR–Cas9, which relies on the Cas9 enzyme to cut DNA. But there are alternatives to Cas9 that provide other functions, and a way to sidestep the Berkeley–Broad patent fight.
  • One attractive alternative is Cpf1, an enzyme that may be simpler to use and more accurate than Cas9 in some cases.
  • The Broad has already filed patents on applications of Cpf1 in gene editing, and has licensed them to the biotech company Editas Medicine in Cambridge (which also has licenses for some Broad patents on CRISPR–Cas9).
  • Reports of other enzymes are trickling in.

 

 

GS III: S&T IT

Darknet robust for lack of “rich clubs”

  • Recent research analysing the structure of the Darknet in comparison with the Internet reveals that the former is, in fact, more robust against factors such as security breaches or systemic instabilities than the Internet.
  • The analysis shows this is because of its peculiar topology that is different from that of the Internet.
  • The Darknet’s lack of a “rich club”-like core of highly connected nodes is one aspect that renders it robust against random crashes, targeted attacks and also cascading effects of failures of core nodes.
  • Internet is highly centralized around hubs, [has] highly connected nodes which are very interconnected each other. The Darknet is highly decentralized: we did not find a core of hubs. This [requires] much more effort to dismantle the network,” says Manlio De Domenico, an author of the paper.
  • First created in the early 1990s by the US agencies – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research – the Darknet is both resistant to eavesdropping and traffic analysis.
  • The Internet that we all know so well and can access using search engines like Google or Bing constitutes just a small fraction of the total of overlay networks; there is also the Darknet, the Internet’s alter ego, which consists of the Web’s non-indexed parts that cannot be accessed by search engines.
  • What is more, this Darknet can be accessed only using onion routers like Tor or The Freenet Project– which are special browsers that ensure anonymity of the surfer as well as the service provider.
  • While this is used by defence establishments for passing on sensitive and classified information, it is also, for instance, used by journalists who require utmost secrecy. Certainly it has a sinister side, with criminals also making full use of this technology.
  • The Internet crashed for the first time in 1980 when it hosted thousands of users. The crash was due to a cascading effect of a mistake that originated in one router and not due to an attack on a central node.

 

GS III: ENVIRONMENT  BIODIVERSITY

Black rhinos on the brink of extinction

  • As the value of rhinoceros horn touches $65,000 per kg, poaching has begun to drive the African black rhinoceros to “the verge of extinction” - not just by reducing its population size, but by erasing 70% of the species  genetic diversity - says a research paper published recently in Scientific Reports.
  • Genetic variation is the cornerstone of evolution, without which there can be no natural selection, and so a low genetic diversity decreases the ability of a species to survive and reproduce.
  • Greater the genetic diversity, the better is the population’s ability to respond to pressures such as climate change and diseases.
  • Two centuries ago, the black rhinoceros – which roamed much of sub Saharan Africa – had 64 different genetic lineages; but today only 20 of these lineages remain, says the paper.
  • The species is now restricted to five countries, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

 

GS II: SOCIAL HEALTH

Family planning deaths must not go unpunished

Ramakant Rai Case, 2005:

  • In one of the first decisions on reproductive rights, the Supreme Court, in 2005, was shocked by a Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Health Watch report which showed photographs of women after laparoscopy tubectomies. They were lying on straw on the floor with blood-stained sarees.
  • The photographs prompted the filing of the landmark Ramakant Rai case in the Supreme Court.
  • The court set out directions such as:

(i)   qualification of empanelled doctors,

(ii)  physical examination of women prior to the operation,

(iii)  informed consent,

(iv)  quality assurance committees to be set up,

(v)   an insurance policy,

(vi)  compensation and

(vii) an inquiry after every death.

  • These directions were ignored.

Devika Biswas Case, 2012

  • In 2012, the case of a government doctor operating on 61 women at an abandoned school at night in Bihar shocked the world.
  • Biswas then filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2012 highlighting similar horror stories from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
  • In its September 2016 order in Devika Biswas’ case, the Supreme Court had criticised governments for the manner in which sterilisation camps were run and threatened to stop all such sterilisation operations in the rural areas.
  • The Supreme Court also recorded the statement of the Union that such camps would be phased out.

Focus on female sterilisation

  • The Supreme Court had recorded the submission of Devika Biswas that 97% of all sterilisation procedures were conducted on women and 85% of the family planning budget exclusively went towards female sterilisation.
  • Virtually no attention is paid to male sterilisation.
  • Biswas also pointed out that between 2010-13, 363 people died due to sterilisation.
  • She also said that unrealistic targets have been set resulting in non-consensual and forced sterilisations including on the physically and mentally challenged and young persons.

Chhattisgarh incident, 2014:

  • While the case was going on, the Chhattisgarh incident took place in 2014.
  • On November 8, 2014, the surgeon and an assistant performed over 80 surgeries within 90 minutes at a State-run family planning camp, in an abandoned building near Bilaspur.
  • Within 24 hours, many of the women began complaining of abdominal pain.
  • 13 women died while 65 others were injured.
  • The criminal trial of the surgeon who conducted the laparoscopic tubectomies which resulted in the deaths of 13 women was quashed by the Chhattisgarh High Court.
  • The State government refused to grant sanction for prosecution of the surgeon. As a result, the prosecution was quashed.

 

 

 

GS II: SOCIAL HEALTH

Depression, top cause of disability worldwide

  • According to new estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the largest disability worldwide with the number of people living with depression increasing by over 18% between 2005 and 2015.
  • Furthermore, over 80% of the disease burden is in developing countries.
  • Depression is also the major contributor to suicide deaths, which number close to 8,00,000 a year.
  • In India’s case, the total cases of depressive disorders in 2015 were 5,66,75,969 — nearly 5% of population. The total cases of anxiety disorders in the same period were 3,84,250,93 — which is 3% of the population.
  • Anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Depressive disorders are characterised by loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite and poor concentration. Such disorders include two main sub-categories: major depressive disorders, which involve symptoms such as depressed mood; and dysthymia, a persistent or chronic form of mild depression. The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to depressive episode, but tend to be less intense and last longer.

 

 

GS III: ENVIRONMENT BIODIVERSITY

Though the net tightens, India remains hub for turtle trade

  • As the smuggling networks strengthen, India continues to bear the ignominy of being the source of the illegal trade and export of tortoises and freshwater turtles (TFT).
  • The detection of a staggering 58,442 smuggled amphibians over five years, demonstrates the persistence of the illegal trade despite increasing enforcement.
  • Within India, the Gangetic Plains accounted for 46% of all seizures, with Lucknow and Kanpur being major hubs.
  • Researchers said this was linked to tightening of the enforcement (including an active Special Task Force) in Uttar Pradesh and the Gangetic belt. There is a tradition of turtle poaching in this area given the diversity of TFT population along the river.
  • Apart from the Ganga and its tributaries, TFTs have been poached in rivers of the Western Ghats and, in smaller numbers, in the Eastern Ghats.
  • While domestic consumption of turtle meat in West Bengal and Bangladesh continues, it is the international export to south-east Asian countries and China that rake in profits for smugglers.
  • Turtles form an important part of the riverine system, acting as scavengers in cleaning up water bodies and generally being indicators of river health.
  • Ironically, the National Mission for Clean Ganga envisages breeding and release of turtles to clean wetlands, even as poaching and trade continues across the Gangetic belt.

 

 

GS III: ECONOMY ENERGY

Low cost solar imports from China hurting Centre’s Make in India mission

  • Cheap Chinese imports and the prevailing tax structure in India are making it increasingly attractive for solar manufacturers to choose imports over manufacturing the parts themselves, which could hurt the government’s Make in India mission.
  • The panels make up about 50% of the cost of the entire system. From the developer’s perspective, when they have to quote low tariffs during the bids for units, then what would make sense for them, using cheaper Chinese imports, or relatively costlier Indian made ones?
  • Solar tariffs recently touched a historic low of Rs 2.97 per unit in a reverse auction bid in Madhya Pradesh, which works out to ?3.3 per unit over the 25-year power purchase agreement period.
  • Industry consultants said that such low tariffs forced companies to keep a very sharp eye on their costs, and warn that this could lead to a drop in the quality of inputs being used.
  • The outlook for domestic solar component and solar cell manufacturers over the next few years does not look too good since the prices of the Chinese imports are so low and the industry expectation is for a 20-25% fall in prices over the next year or two.

Low priced Chinese imports in soalr water heaters

  • The problem of Chinese imports being cheaper is not restricted to solar energy producers; but is an issue faced by domestic solar water heater manufacturers as well.
  • Here, not only do Chinese manufacturers have the advantage of being able to sell at lower prices, they also enjoy a tax advantage over Indian counterparts.
  • For now, “the countervailing duty (CVD) exemption has been removed on the import of the full solar water heating system but the exemption is still there for the individual components,” R.S. Sethuraman, Chairman, Solar Hitech Solutions said.
  • “Even if these units are manufactured in India, they are sent to the customer in components and assembled there, so it makes sense for the industry players to import the parts since local manufacturers have to pay excise duty, making them more expensive.”
  • “We have repeatedly asked the government to withdraw all CVD exemptions available on solar water heaters on components in solar water heating systems,” Mr. Sethuraman said. “But the customs regime seems to be encouraging imports and is hurting Make in India.”
  • He said solar water heater makers have also asked the government to make it mandatory for such systems to compulsorily come with a BIS certification.
  • “Even if this makes it costlier to manufacture in India, we will still do it because Chinese manufacturers will not seek to get certified under Indian quality norms,” he said. Mr. Aggarwal said the situation had arisen because of overcapacity in China, but it wasn’t always like this. “In 2009, 2010, 2011, people used to import from companies like First Solar in the U.S,” he said. “But then China developed overcapacity in manufacturing so U.S. firms started going out of business and China started taking over.”

 

Reverse Auction

 

  • reverse auction is a type of auction in which the roles of buyer and seller are reversed.
  • In an ordinary auction (also known as a forward auction), buyers compete to obtain a good or service by offering increasingly higher prices.
  • In a reverse auction, sellers compete to obtain business.

 

 

 

GS II: GOVERNANCE POLICY

Indian Railways mulls new performance index

  • The Indian Railways is mulling a new metric to measures its performance at a time when it is staring at a five-year high operating ratio by the end of this financial year.
  • The financial performance of the Indian Railways is measured in operating ratio which is expected to be at a five-year high of 94.9% in 2016-17.
  • Till December 2016, the Railways’ operating ratio in 2016-17 stood at 109%. This means, the Railways spent ?109 to earn ?100 from April-December 2016.
  • The Railways’ finances took a hit this financial year due to the Seventh Pay Commission’s pay hike recommendations, Railway Ministry officials said.
  • A lower operating ratio means better efficiency.

Better metrics:

  • The Railways formed a committee of executive directors from its budget, finance efficiency and research departments, last week to look at some of the best corporate practice and suggest a new financial ratio.
  • The operating ratio reflects the true reflection of the Railways’ finances only by the end of the financial year.
  • So, we have asked the committee to work out a better financial ratio than the operating ratio reflecting the correct financial and professional health.
  • “The operating ratio is a very different way of measuring the financial health and is not the industry-standard.
  • In the corporate sector, you have various ways of measuring a company’s operating performance such as the Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
  • Amortization is an accounting term that refers to the process of allocating the cost of an intangible asset over a period of time. It also refers to the repayment of loan principal over time.
  • In order to be meaningful, the (financial) ratio should be representative of the operations, be as comprehensive, as reasonably as possible and least subject to arbitrariness.
  • “While the existing concept of Operating Ratio on Indian Railways more or less satisfies the first criteria, it does not meet the other two criteria. It is, therefore, not a satisfactory index of financial performance.”


GS II: BILATERAL INDIA-GERMANY

India, Germany ratify social security agreement

  • India and Germany have ratified the Social Security Agreement (SSA), which will come into force from May 1 this year, to help promote more investment flows between the two countries.
  • The SSA will also integrate the provisions of the 2008 social insurance pact that exempts detached workers of the two countries from making social security contributions in either countries so long as they were making such contributions in their respective countries, the External Affairs Ministry said, adding the 2008 pact will then cease to be in force.
  • “The new agreement establishes the rights and obligations of nationals of both countries and provides for equal treatment of the nationals of both countries ...the requirements to be entitled to a pension can be met by aggregating the periods of insurance completed in India and Germany, whereby each country pays only the pension for the insurance periods covered by its laws. The period of posting will be up to 48 calendar months,” the ministry said.


GS III: S&T  SPACE

Setting foot in deep space

  • The U.S. space agency, NASA said it is considering putting astronauts on an upcoming test flight of the deep space capsule Orion as it aims to orbit the Moon.
  • Orion is being built with an eye to one day ferrying astronauts to Earth’s neighboring planet, Mars, perhaps by the 2030s.
  • Until now, the Orion test flight known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) was scheduled for 2018 and was expected to be unmanned.
  • The capsule will be propelled to space atop a rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently being developed.
  • Orion will “fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown,” NASA added.
  • The space capsule also aims to “stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.”
  • The current plan is to send astronauts on Orion’s second flight, EM-2, an eight-day mission in 2021.

 

GS III: S&T HEALTH

Dietary prebiotics may improve sleep quality

  • Prebioticsdietary fibres found naturally in foods like artichokes, raw garlic and onions — may help improve sleep and buffer the physiological impacts of stress, a first-of-its-kind study suggests.
  • Prebiotics are the lesser-known gut-health promoters which serve as food for good bacteria inside the gut.
  • When beneficial bacteria digest prebiotic fibre, they not only multiply, improving overall gut health, but they also release metabolic byproducts.
  • A research found that dietary prebiotics can improve non-REM sleep, as well as REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep after a stressful event.
  • REM sleep is believed to be critical for promoting recovery from stress.
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