Latest findings about Venus
- Scientists have obtained new data about Venus by bouncing radio waves off Venus.
- The researchers transmitted radio waves toward Venus 21 times from 2006 to 2020 from NASA’s Goldstone Antenna in the Mojave Desert of California and studied the radio echo, which provided information on certain planetary traits.
- The study measured the tilt of the Venusian axis and size of the planet’s core.
- A single Venusian rotation takes 243.0226 Earth days. That means a day lasts longer than a year on Venus, which makes a complete orbit around the sun in 225 Earth days.
- The Venusian planetary core has a diameter of about 4,360 miles (7,000 km), comparable to Earth’s core.
- The study calculated the Venusian tilt at about 2.64 degrees. Earth’s is about 23.5 degrees.
- It is the second planet from the sun, is similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth.
- Above its foreboding landscape is a thick and toxic atmosphere that consists primarily of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets.
- With a runaway greenhouse effect, its surface temperatures reach 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.
- Venus is one of just two planets that rotate from east to west. Only Venus and Uranus have this “backwards” rotation.
- In another quirk, its day-night cycle – the time between sunrises as opposed to the length of a single axial spin – takes 117 Earth days because Venus rotates in the direction opposite of its orbital path around the sun.
Vaccine patent plan
- In view of the global health crisis and the need to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, India and South Africa proposed a relaxation in the norms of the agreement on TRIPS in WTO, to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries.
- In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
- It asked for suspension of vaccine patents for the duration of the pandemic and sharing of the formula for jabs prepared by AstraZeneca and Pzifer.
- The proposal argued this would make vaccines more affordable and allow poorer countries to acquire more doses easily.
- The proposal was supported by more than 100 countries (mostly lower- and middle-income nations) and raised by human rights bodies and global advocacy groups.
- In March 2021, WTO called for vaccine patent rights to be waived until the end of the pandemic and suggested that countries with their own vaccine capacity should start waiving Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)as provided in special emergency provisions.
- Politicians, civil society members, human rights bodies, health professionals and also pharmaceutical companies raised the demand to waive the patents.
About the USA latest move:
- The proposal has received the support of more than 120 countries.
- France also has joined the United States in supporting an easing of patent and other protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
- Russia has also expressed its support for the idea of a waiver on patent protections for coronavirus vaccines.
- The relaxation could help poorer countries get more doses and speed up the end of the pandemic.
- The EU Commission President has also expressed willingness to discuss the proposal.
- The GAVI vaccine alliance, which co-leads the COVAX dose-sharing programme with the WHO welcomed Mr. Biden’s support for waiving intellectual property rights.
Significance of the Move
- Currently, only drug companies which own patents are authorised to manufacture Covid vaccines.
- A lifting of patent will allow the recipes to be shared and there will no longer be an embargo.
- Simply put, once the formula is shared, any company which possesses the required technology and infrastructure can produce vaccines.
- This will lead to cheaper and more generic versions of Covid vaccines making it more affordable.
- It will be a big step in scaled up production and overcoming vaccine shortage and will increase global vaccine coverage.
- The drug makers opine that the proposal if adopted by the WTO would invite new manufacturers that lack essential know-how and oversight from the inventors to crowd out established contractors.
- Inequitable distribution of vaccines has opened a glaring gap between developing and wealthier countries.
- While a few developed countries have already given the shot to a considerable percentage of their population and are getting normalcy back into their lives, poorer nations continue to face shortages with overburdened healthcare systems and hundreds dying daily.
- Vaccine experts and human rights groups have warned that the longer Covid circulates in developing nations, there is a greater chance of more vaccine-resistant, deadly mutations of the virus emerging.
Facebook’s Oversight Board
- Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s January decision to block the then-U.S. President Donald Trump from its platform.
- Trump was blocked for “inciting violent insurrection against a democratically elected government”.
- Facebook then referred the case to its Oversight Board.
Facebook’s Oversight Board:
- It has been set up as an independent body that will help Facebook figure out what content can be allowed on the platform and what ought to be removed.
- It was said to have emerged out of the tensions around the often-conflicting goals of maintaining Facebook as a platform for free speech and effectively filtering out problematic speech.
- The board is autonomous in the exercise of independent judgment.
- Facebook as well as its users can refer cases to the board. The decisions of the board are binding on Facebook.
Indian Army Covid Management Cell
- Indian army has established a COVID management cell to coordinate assistance to civil authority.
- The Cell is under a Director General rank officer which reports directly to the Vice Chief of Army Staff.
- This will bring in greater efficiency in coordinating real time responses to address exponential rise in COVID cases across the country including Delhi.
- Assistance to civil administration in Delhi is already being provided in the form of testing, admissions in military hospitals and transportation of critical medical equipment.
- Indian Army has been at the forefront of COVID response at the national level. It has deployed considerable medical resources to assist civil authorities especially at the five COVID hospitals already functional or in the process of being established at Delhi, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Varanasi, and Patna.
Global Sodium Benchmarks for different food categories
- The WHO has established global benchmarks for sodium levels in foods across different food categories.
- The WHO recommended daily intake of salt or sodium is 5gm, but most people around the world consume more than double this amount.
- It is necessary to maintain normal cell metabolism, healthy plasma and improves the health of the nervous system.
- It is found naturally in a range of foods like meat and dairy.
- However, it is present in very high amounts in processed foods, like snacks, bread, or condiments.
- Excess dietary sodium intake increases blood pressure and consequently increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- It is estimated that 2.5 million deaths could be prevented globally if salt consumption is cut down to recommended levels.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH):
- It is an eating plan to lower or control high blood pressure.
- The DASH diet emphasizes foods that are lower in sodium as well as foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium (nutrients that help lower blood pressure).
Online Certification of Disability
- A notification under Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016 has made mandatory for all States/UTs to grant certification of disability through online mode only using UDID (Unique Disability ID).
- It will ensure complete digitization of certification of disability to achieve pan-India validity to ensure access to government schemes.
- It is in line with Incheon Strategy for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and Pacific.
Other Government Initiatives for Persons with Disabilities:
- Accessible India campaign to help make buildings and other infrastructure disabled friendly.
- Assiatnce to disabled Persons for Purchase/Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP) Scheme to provide for distribution of aids and assistive devices.
- SugamyaPustakalaya: Online library for persons with disabilities.
- Reservation is provided to disabled in higher education.
- 4% reservation in Government jobs.
India is a signatory to:
- Biwako Millennium Framework working towards an inclusive, barrier free and rights-based society.
- United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
- Declaration on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.
G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting
- Recently, the Union Minister of State for Tourism & Culture (I/c) participated in the G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting held in Italy.
- The Minister appreciated and supported the focus of the Italian G20 Presidency on recovery and ensuring new opportunities for People, Planet and Prosperity by putting in place Guidelines on the seven key interrelated policy areas.
- These areas are:
- Safe mobility
- Crisis management Resilience
- Green transformation
- Digital transition
- Investment and infrastructure.
- They are comprehensive and relevant for resilient, sustainable and inclusive tourism framed with the support of the OECD.
Tourism Sector in India:
- Tourism plays a role of significant economic multiplier and becomes critical since India has to grow at rapid rates and create jobs.
- Tourism is an integral pillar of the Make in India programme.
- India has over 200 beaches, 38 UNESCO World Heritage sites and 668 protected areas which can attract significant tourism activity.
- Tourism tends to encourage the development of multiple-use infrastructure including hotels, resorts & restaurants, transport infrastructure (aviation, roads, shipping & railways) and healthcare facilities.
‘Black fungus’ in Covid patients
- A rare but serious fungal infection, known as mucormycosis and colloquially as “black fungus”, is being detected relatively frequently among Covid-19 patients in some states.
- The disease often manifests in the skin and affects the lungs and the brain.
- With severalmucormycosis cases detected in Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat, experts in the national Covid-19 task force recently issued an evidence-based advisory on the disease.
- Although rare, it is a serious infection. It is caused by a group of moulds known as mucormycetes present naturally in the environment.
- It mainly affects people who are on medication for health problems that reduces their ability to fight environmental pathogens.
- Sinuses or lungs of such individuals get affected after they inhale fungal spores from the air. Doctors in some states have noted a rise in cases of mucormycosis among people hospitalized or recovering from Covid 19, with some requiring urgent surgery.
- Usually, mucormycetes does not pose a major threat to those with a healthy immune system.
- Warning signs include pain and redness around the eyes or nose, with fever, headache, coughing, shortness of breath, bloody vomits, and altered mental status. According to the advisory, infection with mucormycetes should be suspected when there is:
- Sinusitis — nasal blockade or congestion, nasal discharge (blackish/bloody);
- Local pain on the cheek bone, one-sided facial pain, numbness or swelling
- Blackish discoloration over bridge of nose/palate
- Loosening of teeth, jaw involvement;
- Blurred or double vision with pain;
- Thrombosis, necrosis, skin lesion;
- Chest pain, pleural effusion, worsening of respiratory symptoms.
- While it is treated with antifungals, mucormycosis may eventually require surgery. To maintain adequate systemic hydration, the treatment includes infusion of normal saline (IV) before infusion of amphotericin B and antifungal therapy, for at least 4-6 weeks.
What is mucormycosis?
- Mucormycosis, commonly called black fungus, is a rare but serious fungal infection caused by a kind of fungus called mucormycete, which is abundant in the environment.
- It mainly affects people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness.
- Vulnerable groups include people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness. These include those with diabetes, cancer, or those who have had an organ transplant.
Four vacation Benches
- Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana nominated four separate Benches of the Supreme Court to sit consecutively in May 2021, to hear extremely urgent cases.
- The decision to have two separate Division Benches sitting in a week during vacations is significant because petitions may be filed concerning COVID management and connected human rights issues.
- The Vacation Benches will hear the cases virtually.
What is Vacation Bench of Supreme Court?
- A Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court is a special bench constituted by the Chief Justice of India.
- The court takes two long vacations each year, the summer and winter breaks, but is technically not fully closed during these periods.
- Litigants can still approach the Supreme Court and, if the court decides that the plea is an urgent matter, the Vacation Bench hears the case on its merits.
- While there is no specific definition as to what an “urgent matter” is, during vacations the court generally admits writs related to habeas corpus, certiorari, prohibition, and quo warranto matters for enforcement of any fundamental right.
Welfare of children
- The Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee, in coordination with UNICEF, has highlighted the need to urgently provide care and protect children suddenly made vulnerable by the loss of one or both parents due to the second wave of COVID-19.
- The Supreme Court has been nudging the Centre to prepare for the third wave of the pandemic.
- Recently, a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had highlighted reports that children would be affected in the third wave.
- The Juvenile Justice Committee has noted the need for concerted efforts to provide interim care for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or even left unaccompanied in their own homes.
- Setting up of State-level nodal officers and a district task force for rapid response for the care and protection of such children.
- Sponsorship for children who had lost parent/s or bread-earners or were facing economic hardship.
- Clear guidance has to be published on steps to be taken in the event when such children in an extremely vulnerable state had been exposed to the virus or showed symptoms of infection. Care measures for their isolation and treatment needed to be stepped up.
- Childcare institutions should be declared “essential services”.
- The caregivers and employees of childcare institutions — both government and private — should be vaccinated as frontline professionals.
- The state should focus on ensuring heightened medical watch for children in institutional care.
E.U., India relaunch FTA talks
- The meeting was held in a hybrid format with the participation of leaders of all the 27 EU Member States as well as the President of the European Council and the European Commission.
- This is the first time that the EU hosted a meeting with India in the EU+27 format. The EU+27 have met in this format only once before, with the US President in March this year.
- During the meeting, the leaders exchanged views on three key thematic areas: i) foreign policy and security; ii) COVID-19, climate and environment; and iii) trade, connectivity and technology.
Free Trade Agreement (FTA):
- It is a significant political milestone and will further build on the momentum witnessed in the relationship since the 15th India-EU Summit in July 2020. The meeting was the initiative of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
- India and the European Union have agreed to relaunch free trade negotiations by resuming talks on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA).
- The talks had begun in 2007, and stalled in 2013, over differences on issues like market access issues, and tariffs by India on products like wine, dairy, and automotive parts, as well as E.U. resistance over visas for Indian professionals.
- India and the E.U. have agreed to work towards a balanced, comprehensive, and mutually beneficial trade agreement.
- They would also launch negotiations for a stand-alone investment protection agreement and a separate agreement on “geographical indications” pertaining to intellectual property rights.
- In 2005, India had scrapped all Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). This has posed hurdles for new E.U. investments in India.
- The relaunched talks would be steered by the recently set up High-Level dialogue between Indian Commerce Minister and his counterpart, EU Trade Commissioner.
- The relaunch of free trade talks holds immense importanceamid the USA negotiations with China on their Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) have run into trouble.
- The Connectivity Partnership document outlines plans to cooperate on digital and infrastructure projects.
- The partnership is seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- The India-E.U. connectivity partnership has committed the two sides to work together on digital, energy, transport, people to people connectivity that was transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, with a rules-based approach.
Temporary waiver for TRIPS:
- India has failed to secure the support of the European leaders for its proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for patent waivers for COVID vaccine.
- The support of a major bloc like the E.U. is crucial to passing the resolution at the WTO by consensus.
- Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has granted permission for emergency use of an anti-COVID-19 therapeutic application of the 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG).
- The order allows for emergency use of the drug as adjunct therapy in moderate to severe COVID-19 patients.
- The drug comes in powder form in sachets and is taken orally by dissolving it in water.
- It selectively accumulates in virally infected cells and prevents their growth by stopping viral synthesis and energy production.
- The drug has been developed by the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS) in collaboration with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Hyderabad.
- INMAS is a lab of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
- Clinical trial results have shown that this drug helps in faster recovery of hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence.
- This will help ease the acute bed shortage and help reduce medical oxygen demand to a great extent.
- The drug being a generic molecule and analogue of glucose, it can be easily produced and made available in plenty in the country.
Conflict and Conservation Report
- International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report titled “Conflict and Conservation” that focuses on the complex relationships between nature and armed conflict.
Objective of the Report:
- To help bring the importance of nature conservation into mainstream political and economic decision-making.
- Major threats posed by the conflict:
(a) Direct killing of wildlife
(b) Degradation of ecosystems
(c) Disruption of conservation efforts
- Armed conflicts were particularly prevalent in some of the world’s more biodiverse regions.
- Conflicts were less frequent within the boundaries of natural reserves and other protected areas.
- Degradation of nature was associated with increased risk of conflict.
- Conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of natural resources can help reduce the pressures that drive conflict by improving the condition and productivity of the landscape.
- Establishing safeguards for staff in protected areas and other conservationists.
- Sanctions against those who commit environmental war.
- Coordinate law enforcement efforts across sectors and scales to strengthen prevention and mitigation.
Challenge ahead in vaccinating India
- The world over, and in India also, even after so many vaccines having been approved, there is a huge shortage of supply, and unjustifiable and inequitable access to these vaccines.
- Vaccine development is a highly complex and a specialised enterprise. Under normal circumstances, it takes 10-15 years to develop any vaccine after the scientific rationale has been worked out.
- But Covid-19 vaccines were developed at an astonishing pace. No other disease has seen so many vaccines developed so fast.
- Out of 250 candidate vaccines that were being developed, at least 10 have already been approved for emergency use in different parts of the world.
- Most of the first flush of approved vaccines were based on two technologies never used in humans earlier.
- These include mRNA-based vaccines of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and the viral vector-based vaccines of Astra Zeneca/Oxford University, Sputnik V, and Coronavac of CanSino Biologics from China.
- Vaccines based on the time-tested technology of using an inactivated virus include Covaxin of Bharat Biotech-ICMR, Janssen of Johnson and Johnson, and vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm from China.
- All these are safe and efficacious in protecting from severe disease and death but not necessarily from infection. These are given as two jabs, with the exception of Janssen, a single-shot vaccine, possibly a trendsetter for future vaccines.
- At least 50 more vaccines are in the pipeline with three or four close to approvals in different parts of the world. Several, including a DNA-based vaccine from Zydus Cadila in India, are in the final stages of development.
Shortage in India
- India is in the grip of the most ferocious second wave of the pandemic seen anywhere in the world.
- With more than 4 lakh cases reported per day, there is a serious concern that the virus could mutate into more dangerous variants and if the chain of viral multiplication is not controlled soon, it will become a global problem.
- New waves the world over are driven by mutants and although current vaccines seem effective against these, the chances of emergence of immune-escape mutants will only increase if the pandemic is not brought under control.
- India, with its inherently fragile healthcare system, has come under immense pressure as never before.
- There is an acute shortage of medical oxygen, and there is a big gap in the supply chain of the ambitious programme to vaccinate all its adult population.
- Although India ranks number three after the US and China in the absolute number of vaccines administered, only about 13% of its population has received a single jab and about 2% fully vaccinated.
- Many countries have already vaccinated more than half their adult population.
- First, with about seven billion people to be vaccinated worldwide, with mostly two jabs each, the demand is obviously very high.
- Second, among the rich nations, more than 80% of available vaccines have been ordered and/or already stocked by a few countries representing only about 20% of the world population.
- Even with a WHO-led effort like COVAX, only about 1% of the African population has received vaccines so far.
- As of now, only three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and recently Janssen — have been approved by the US FDA. The most affordable AstraZeneca vaccine still awaits approval.
- With recent reports of Pfizer getting approval for immunising the age group 12-16, and Moderna and Janssen close to completing safety and efficacy trials in this age group, it is clear that western countries, which have already immunised a significant portion of their adult populations, will proceed to vaccinate young children and, perhaps, even babies. It will therefore become even more difficult to access these vaccines in the free market.
- On the other hand, approval for Sputnik V was recently denied in Brazil. Vaccines of China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm are not yet approved in western countries.
- Then there is the issue of mandatory Co-Win registration as part of the new decentralised distribution strategy, which potentially adds to an entry barrier that could be tougher to navigate for users in the hinterland, both in terms access to the platform and an English-only interface for users so far.
- Vaccines are complex formulations of many components and depend on a seamless supply of raw materials that are mostly imported.
- From production of the bulk material to filling of the formulation in vials is a highly complex and time-consuming process that cannot be hastened.
- Ramping up of existing production, even after adequate funds are available, will inevitably take a minimum 2-3 months.
- Even if the licence is granted to vaccine manufacturers, actual production will take several months of preparation to kick off.
- The vaccination drive to cover India’s adult population will therefore face a supply chain crunch at least for the next few months, unless a large number of vaccines are imported.
- With at least three or four more vaccines, including Sputnik V, Janssen, and Novavax, already slated to be produced in India and several more being indigenously developed, India would certainly be producing vaccines to vaccinate major parts of the world, hopefully by the end of 2021.
- There is a joint proposal of India and South Africa that will be taken up once again at the World Trade Organization, and as per the latest update, the US has already responded positively in support of the proposal when it comes up for consideration sometime soon.
- Under this proposal, companies already producing Covid vaccines will be expected to share their IPR for at least a given period with enough safeguards of their own interests.
- That will greatly help in producing high quality and affordable vaccines for the whole world and, hopefully, all this will happen before the virus is able to develop immune escape mutants.
- The race is on and humanity has no option but to defeat the virus and stay ahead in this race.
- Efficacious and safe vaccines, regardless of their origin, need to be critically but quickly examined and added to the pool.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to Freedom Fighter and social reformer Gopal Krishna Gokhale on his birth anniversary.
- He was born on May 9, 1866, in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra (then Bombay Presidency) in a Brahmin family.
- He was one of the founding leaders of the Indian national movement.
- He was an immensely wise liberal nationalist, made outstanding contributions towards social empowerment.
- He represented the category of highly educated Indians.
- Gokhale became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1889. He was the leader of the moderate faction of the Congress party.In 1905, he was elected president of the Indian National Congress (Benares Session).
- This was also the time when bitter differences had arisen between his group of ‘Moderates’ and the ‘Extremists’led by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others.
- Matters came to a head when the two factions split at the Surat session of 1907.
- Historians note that despite ideological differences, Gokhale maintained cordial relations with his opponents.
- In 1907, he fervently campaigned for the release of Lala Lajpat Rai, who was imprisoned that year by the British at Mandalay in present-day Myanmar.
- He played a leading role in bringing about Morley-Minto Reforms, the beginning of constitutional reforms in India.
- He is best remembered for his extensive work in colonial legislatures. Between 1899 and 1902, he was a member of the Bombay Legislative Council followed by a stint at the Imperial Legislative Council from 1902 till his death.
- At Bombay, he opposed the British government’s onerous land revenue policies and asked for the creation of equal opportunities to fight against untouchability.
- At the Imperial legislature, Gokhale played a key role in framing the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909 and advocated for the expansion of legislative councils at both the Centre and the provinces.
- A critic of British imperial bureaucracy, Gokhale favoureddecentralisation and the promotion of panchayat and taluka bodies.
- He also spoke for the Indian diaspora living in other parts of the British Empire and opposed tooth and nail the indentured labour system, raising their problems in the Imperial legislature as well as at Congress sessions.
- Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society(SIS) in Maharashtra’s Pune on June 12, 1905.
- The SIS launched campaigns for the promotion of education, health care and sanitation.
- It also made efforts to eradicate social evils such as untouchability and oppression of women.
- It is noteworthy that he was one of the first big political leaders who raised the demand for free primary public education.
- He actively participating in budget debates when he was a member of the Imperial Legislative Council.
- His name is associated with an internationally-renowned economics institute – Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.
- The institute was founded by Gokhale’s Servants of India Society in 1930, and it works with the mission to “provide education in all fields of economics with the singular purpose of contributing its might to enhance economic betterment and social welfare”.
- He started English weekly newspaper, The Hitavada (The people’s paper).
- In 1908, he founded the ‘Ranade Institute of Economics’.
- In his autobiography, Gandhi calls Gokhale his mentor and guide. In 1912, Gokhale visited South Africa at Gandhi’s invitation.
- He received personal guidance from Gokhale, including a knowledge and understanding of India and the issues confronting common Indians.
- Similarly, Jinnah was so inspired by Gokhle that his aspiration, during the early years of his political life, was to become a “Muslim Gokhle”.
- He launched the English weekly newspaper named The Hitavad (The people’s paper) in 1911.
- A ransomware attack on a key US pipeline network has led to a disruption in fuel supplies in the eastern part of the United States.
- Colonial Pipeline Company, which transports about 45 per cent of all petrol and diesel consumed on the east coast of the US was forced to shut down operations after a cyberattack.
- The shutdown led to the US federal government declaring a regional emergency to allow transportation of fuels through tanker trucks to tide over the impact of shortages.
What is a ransomware attack?
- A ransomware attack is a cyber-attack using malware that encrypts the victim’s files and requires users pay a ransom to decrypt the files.
- According to experts, with companies having moved to real-time backups, hackers have, as in the case of the Colonial Pipeline attack, also added the element of downloading all the data on an enterprise network before encrypting it.
- The hackers can then threaten to leak the data if the ransom is not paid.
- The US Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that a criminal gang called Darkside was responsible for compromising the Colonial Pipeline network.
How did this attack impact oil prices?
- Oil prices rose in response to the attack on Colonial Pipeline, with the rise in the price of Brent crude.
- The Colonial Pipeline company has said that it is restoring operations in a phased manner with the goal of “substantially restoring operations”.
- Experts noted that a prolonged shutdown of the operations of the pipeline could push up petrol prices in the US as demand peaks during the summer. The disruption has already led to an uptick in international refining margins, pushing up the price of auto fuels.
- An increase in the price of petroleum products in Asia could provide a further push to petrol and diesel prices in India, which are already at record high levels.
- Crude oil prices have risen over the past fortnight despite a surge in Covid-19 infections in Asia due to expectations of increasing crude oil demand from the US and Europe.
How can oil and gas companies deal with such attacks?
- Experts noted that there was a need to move towards fortifying approaches to prevent attacks including employing a zero-trust security framework in enterprise networks.
- A zero-trust approach means anything is suspected whenever any activity is done on the network, and every user, including the CEO, will have to be verified time and again.
- This expert added that other measures such as Cloud Access Security Brokers (CPAB), which act as intermediaries between users and cloud service providers, could “give teeth” to an overall cybersecurity strategy.
- The expert noted that India’s oil and gas PSUs were making efforts to beef up security, and that organisations managing critical infrastructure such as pipelines and refineries were required by the government to implement certain security measures.
- Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) released a report on endangered species threatened by conflict.
Major Highlights of the Report
- A report examined the close interplay between the environment and armed conflict.
- It found that Civil unrest and military exercises pose heightened risks to more than 200 threatened species, including elephant populations and the critically endangered Eastern gorilla which is found in the conflict-prone Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
- The species were facing threats from the direct killing of wildlife, degradation of ecosystems and the disruption of conservation efforts.
- The report meanwhile found that conflicts were less frequent within the boundaries of nature reserves and other protected areas.
- Such areas cover an estimated 15% of the land but overlap with only three per cent of the armed conflict events.
- The report stressed that conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of natural resources can help in reducing the pressures that drive conflict.
- It suggests improving the condition and productivity of the landscape which supports the livelihoods and well-being of indigenous and local communities.
- As environmental degradation and climate change intensify, it is becoming increasingly important to formulate security, development, and environmental policy.
- The report listed policy recommendations to mitigate and prevent armed conflict, including establishing safeguards for staff in protected areas, environmental defenders, and other conservationists.
- It also called for sanctions against those who commit environmental war crimes.
Digital Financial Inclusion
- NITI Aayog and Mastercard released a report titled ‘Connected Commerce: Creating a Roadmap for a Digitally Inclusive Bharat’.
- The report identifies challenges in accelerating digital financial inclusion in India and provides recommendations for making digital services accessible to its 1.3 billion citizens.
Key recommendations in the report include:
- Strengthening the payment infrastructure to promote a level playing field for NBFCs and banks.
- Digitizing registration and compliance processes and diversifying credit sources to enable growth opportunities for MSMEs.
- Building information sharing systems, including a ‘fraud repository’, and ensuring that online digital commerce platforms carry warnings to alert consumers to the risk of frauds.
- Enabling agricultural NBFCs to access low-cost capital and deploy a ‘phygital’ (physical + digital) model for achieving better long-term digital outcomes. Digitizing land records will also provide a major boost to the sector.
- To make city transit seamlessly accessible to all with minimal crowding and queues, leveraging existing smartphones and contactless cards, and aim for an inclusive, interoperable, and fully open system such as that of the London ‘Tube’.
Digital Financial Inclusion
- It can be defined broadly as digital access to and use of formal financial services by excluded and underserved populations.
- Such services should be suited to customers’ needs, and delivered responsibly, at a cost both affordable to customers and sustainable for providers.
- Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, located in the North Sumatra province, erupted in May 2021 belching a massive column of volcanic ash and smoke 3,000 metres (3 km) into the sky.
- The volcano has been active since 2010 when it erupted after nearly 400 years of inactivity.
- Indonesia is home to many active volcanoes owing to its location in the “Ring of Fire” or the Circum-Pacific Belt — an area along the Pacific Ocean characterised by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes.
- The Ring of Fire is home to about 75 per cent of the world’s volcanoes and about 90 per cent of earthquakes also occur here.
Why does a volcano erupt?
- Basically, there are three types of volcanoes — active, dormant, or extinct.
- An eruption takes place when magma (a thick flowing substance), that is formed when the earth’s mantle melts, rises to the surface.
- As magma is lighter than rock, it can rise through vents and fissures on the surface of the earth. Following eruption, the magma is called lava.
- When the magma is runny and thin, gases can easily escape it. In such cases, the magma will flow out towards the surface. However, if the magma is thick and dense and gases cannot escape it, it builds up pressure inside resulting in an explosion.
3 naval ships bring in medical supplies
- Nine ships have been deployed for COVID relief operation ‘Samudra Setu II’ for shipment of Liquid Medical Oxygen and associated medical equipment from friendly foreign countries in the Persian Gulf and South-East Asia.
- Navy’s landing ship tank INS Airavat arrived from Singapore with eight cryogenic oxygen tanks and other critical COVID medical stores.
- INS Trikand and INS Kolkata returned to India with oxygen-filled containers from West Asia.
- Two more warships were en route to India from Kuwait and one ship was at Brunei to embark with medical supplies.
Indian Air Force Initiative:
- Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft carried out sorties from various parts of the country, airlifting oxygen containers, other medical supplies, and equipment.
- IAF aircraft also carried out international sorties. The equipment has been procured from Singapore, Dubai, Thailand, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Indonesia, and Israel.
SOCIALLY AND EDUCATIONALLY BACKWARD CLASSES (SEBC)
- The Supreme Court said that the Centre alone is empowered to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) and include them in the Central List for claiming reservation benefits.
- The President alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), which shall be deemed to include SEBCs in relation to each State and Union Territory for the purposes of the Constitution.
- States could only make suggestions to the President or the statutory commissions concerned for inclusion, exclusion or modification of castes and communities to be included in the List.
- The Central List is to be the “only list” for the SEBC.
- Once published, under Article 342A (1), the list can only be amended through a law enacted by Parliament, by virtue of Article 342A (2).
- In the task of identification of SEBCs, the President shall be guided by the Commission (National Commission for Backward Classes) set up under Article 338B; its advice shall also be sought by the State regarding policies that might be framed by it.
- If the commission prepares a report concerning matters of identification, such a report has to be shared with the State government, which is bound to deal with it, in accordance with provisions of Article 338B.
- However, the final determination culminates in the exercise undertaken by the President (i.e., the Central Government, under Article 342A (1).
- However, the President’s prerogative as far as the identification and inclusion of SEBCs in the List would not affect the States’ power to make reservations in favour of communities or castes within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16.
- Due to COVID-19 pandemic, public procurement portal Government e-marketplace (GeM) has implemented measures like rapid onboarding of sellers of oxygen cylinders and concentrators to enable easy buying of critical health equipment by government agencies.
- It is National Procurement Portal functions under the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGS&D), the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
- It provides the tools of e-biding, reverse e-auction, and demand aggregation to facilitate the government users, achieve the best value of their money.
- It facilitates online procurement of common use Goods and Services required by various Government Departments/Organisations/PSUs.
- It is paperless, cashless, and contactless platform giving end to end solution.
Improve in Portal:
- GeM 2.0 was launched as apilot project and GeM 3.0 offers powerful search engine, real time and multisource price comparison, demand aggregation, etc. GeM 4.0 is the latest version.
Features of GeM 4.0
- MSMEs, Artisans, Self-Help Groups, weavers registered in HoonarHaat and TRIFED will get GeM registration.
- The portal is integrated with many banks and ERPs (Enterprise resource planning) to ensure timely payment and delivery acceptance for all vendors.
- Adoption of TReDS (Trade Receivables Discounting Systems) will provide bill discounting and access to working capital for MSMEs.
- Grievance redressal mechanism has been improved.
- Bidding module has been redesigned and now item-wise bidding is permitted.
Plasma Therapy in COVID treatment
- Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India’s nodal health research body, will meet soon to deliberate the use of convalescent plasma therapy (CPT), widely used in India to treat patients of COVID-19.
- At present, CPT is an investigational therapy permitted “off label“. In other words, they are prescribed for conditions other than those for which they were approved.
- ICMR’s own study, released in September, showed that CPT was not that affective against COVID-19.
- CPT involves transfusion of the blood plasma of a recovered patient into another patient.
- It is based on this concept of passive immunity where the short-term immunity is developed by introductionof antibodies into a person from another person or animal.
- Blood Plasma is the liquid component of blood in which the blood cells float, and it houses antibodies.
- Antibodies are proteins that fight the foreign substances that invade the body.
- Once that is done, some blood cells function as memory cells so that they can identify and defeat the same enemy by quickly producing the same antibodies.
India-Swiss Financial Dialogue
- The Fourth India-Swiss Financial Dialogue recently held virtually through video conferencing.
- Both the countries discussed economic matters as well as coordination on global pandemic situations.
- The Indian delegation included representatives from the Department of Economic Affairs, Department of Revenue, Department of Financial Services and Ministry of External Affairs.
- The Dialogue covered sharing of experiences for collaboration on various aspects including:
- International Financial Services Centre Authority (IFSCA),
- National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF),
- Sustainable finance and
- Cross border financial services.
- Further, matters relating toG20, IMF and tax challenges arising from the digitisation of the economy was discussed along with infrastructure financing.
- Both the countries shared views and perspectives on their respective countries and global economic scenario.
- Both sides emphasised the importance of coordinated bilateral action on a clean and resilient post-COVID world.
- The Dialogue concluded on a positive note for a sustained future collaboration between both countries in the areas of mutual interest.
- Switzerland established diplomatic relations with India soon after Independence.
- A Treaty of Friendship between India and Switzerland was signed at New Delhi on August 14, 1948; one of the first such treaties to be signed by independent India.
- It was an important milestone in Indo-Swiss relations.
- In 2018, India and Switzerland celebrated the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship.
- The Prime Minister of India visited to Switzerland in 2016, 2018 and Swiss President to India in August/September 2017.
- The Joint Statement issued during the visit of the Swiss President in 2017 noted the India-Switzerland relations as ‘A Long-Standing Dynamic Partnership’.
- From 1971 to 1976, during and after Bangladesh’s struggle for Independence, Switzerland represented India’s interests in Pakistan.
- The Indian community in Switzerland comprises approximately 24,567 Indians including over 7,164 persons of Indian origin. Most of them are professionals in Engineering, IT, pharmaceuticals, and paramedical fields. There are about 1000 Indian students studying in Switzerland.
- In 2016, there were about 850 Swiss nationals living in India.
MIS Platform For Domestic Agarbatti Industry
- National Bamboo Mission (NBM) has launched an MIS module for strengthening the domestic Agarbatti industry.
- An MIS (Management Information Systems) based reporting platform for agarbatti stick production has been launched. This platform will help-
- to collate the locations of stick making units,
- for the availability of raw material,
- for the functioning of the units, production capacity, marketing, etc.
- in better synergising the linkages with the industry to enable seamless procurement from production units,
- in plugging the information gaps.
- National Bamboo Mission (NBM), Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) schemes as well as States, together with industry partners have stepped up to support this platform.
Benefits of Initiative:
- It will enhance the support for ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘Make for the World’ since Indian agarbatti is much sought after in global markets.
- It will help to bring back livelihoods for the local communities.
- It will give a boost to efforts for modernising the agarbatti sector.
- It will provide focused support to enable India to become AtmaNirbhar in the agarbatti sector.
Fund for vaccination
- As part of the efforts to mobilise financial resources for the COVID-19 vaccination of people in the age group of 18 to 44 years, Rajasthan Chief Minister has approved a proposal to provide ₹3 crore each from the MLA Local Area Development (LAD) Fund.
- For meeting the expenses, the fund for each legislator has been increased from ₹2.25 crore to ₹5 crore a year.
- The 200 MLAs in the State will contribute a total of ₹600 crore to the vaccination fund account under the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
- From the remaining ₹2 crore in the MLA-LAD Fund, ₹1 crore will be spent on strengthening the medical infrastructure, purchase of equipment and setting up of model community health centres.
India’s growth projection to 9.3%
- Moody’s Investors Service has sharply scaled down the growth projection for India to 9.3% from its earlier estimate of 13.7%.
- Moody’s cited the negative impact of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic for scaling down the growth projections.
- It has warned that the spread of the coronavirus, as well as the rate of vaccinations, will have a direct impact on economic outcomes.
- It suggested that spending will have to be redirected towards healthcare and virus response relative to what the government had budgeted for the FY-2021-22.
- Most extreme weather conditions, the world over, are attributed to climate change. Climate change in India is also affecting a major renewable source of energy – wind.
- Monsoon brings along with it wind speeds that range between 23-29 kms per hour, fuelling the turbines that harness the wind power to generate electricity.
- Last monsoon, the average wind speed was 20-27 kmph, the slowest on record.
- Wind speeds were below normal, particularly in July and September, resulting in widespread decline in capacity utilisation factor (CUF).
- CUF of wind turbines is a measure of efficiency that indicates the extent to which installed capacity is deployed.
- AT the end of the financial year in March 2021, CUF was 17% compared with 20% in the previous two years.
- Central government set a target of building 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022, including 60 GW of wind power.
- At the end of March 2021, India had capacity to produce 38.78 GW of wind power.
- Capacity addition had already slowed due to the pandemic and procedural red tape, with monsoon winds throwing down another challenge.
- Around 2/3rds of wind energy in India are generated during the 4 months ending September.
Osiris-Rex Mission / Asteroid Bennu
- On May 11, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will depart asteroid Bennu and start its two-year long journey back to Earth.
- Bennu is an asteroid located about 200 million miles away from the Earth.
- Bennu is named after an Egyptian deity. The asteroid was discovered by a team from the NASA-funded Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research team in 1999.
- Bennu is a B-type asteroid, implying that it contains significant amounts of carbon and various other minerals.
Significance of bennu
- Bennuis an ancient asteroid that has not gone through a lot of composition-altering change through billions of years, which means that below its surface lie chemicals and rocks from the birth of the solar system.
- Therefore, scientists and researchers are interested in studying this asteroid as it might give them clues about the origins of the solar system, the sun, the Earth, and the other planets.
- OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey its surface and collect a sample from it.
- The mission is essentially a seven-year-long voyage and will conclude when at least 60 grams of samples are delivered back to the Earth.
- The mission promises to bring the largest amount of extra-terrestrial material back to our planet since the Apollo era.
- The mission was launched in 2016, it reached its target in 2018 and since then, the spacecraft has been trying to match the velocity of the asteroid using small rocket thrusters. It also utilised this time to survey the surface and identify potential sites to take samples.
- The spacecraft contains five instruments meant to explore Bennu including cameras, a spectrometer, and a laser altimeter.
Online Parliamentary Proceedings
- Many countries are operating Parliamentary Proceedings virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic. India should alsodo this to ensure the voices of all sections of the country are heard.
Response by World:
- Some democracies used conventional ways and continued to meet physically, but with restrictions. Some switched to virtual meetings with the help of technologies that allow remote working.
- The UK has adopted hybrid models. In this, a mix of members is present in the chamber and others participate by video conference. Many states have had to change laws and relax procedures, reset minimum number rules, and rearrange venues.
Response by India:
- The government shows little or no urgency for parliamentary proceedings. It has shown high resistance to suggestions and interferences by Opposition leaders.
- In a shared crisis, one-sided responses are terribly insufficient and even counter- productive.
- Parliament must return as a space for a wider discussion. The government must take the lead and make this happen.
- It is very important for governments to listen, learn and correct errors to find the best way forward.
- The response to a national health crisis needs the participation of all the people’s representatives, across states and party.
- The virus has brought death and distress to every constituency. To battle this, MPs must group ideas and resources, ask questions, and apply the check and balance.
- The House should reopen its doors virtually to ensure that the executive does not remain limited to echo chambers of its own making.
- In India,COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of orphans in the country.
- Negligence for legal procedures of Child adoption creates a ground for Child trafficking of these orphans.
- According to UNICEF, India has over 30 million orphan and abandoned children.
- The Pandemic has left many more children orphaned due to the death of their parents by Covid-19 infection.
- Today, some people are offering such infants for instant adoption without following proper legal safeguards.
- Moreover, some child trafficking rackets are exploiting negligence for legal procedures of adoption and hasty sentimental considerations by people.
Child Adoption laws in India
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) law, 2015:
- It is a secular law, and all persons are free to adopt children.
- It also allows the adoption of Children of relatives.
- Only, those children can be adopted who are declared legally eligible for adoption under the Juvenile Justice Act.
- Adoption Regulations of 2017:
- Rehabilitation of all orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered children is regulated by the strict mandatory procedures of the Adoption Regulations.
- Violation of the Juvenile Justice Act and the Adoption Regulations invites punishment up to three years and a fine of ₹1 lakh, or both.
- CARA (The Central Adoption Resource Authority):
- The Juvenile Justice Rules of 2016 and the Adoption Regulations of 2017 provided for the creation of CARA.
- It is a statutory body, and it looks after the regulation, monitoring, and control of all intra-country and inter-country adoptions.
- India became the signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoptions.
- Thus, CARA was designated as the nodal agency to grant a no-objection certificate for all inter-country adoptions.
- India is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It provides a legal mandate of all authorities and courts to offer protection to children.
Procedure for legal Adoption in India
- First, parents willing to adopt children should register on the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS).
- Then, specialized adoption agencies will be adjudging the eligibility of prospective adoptive parents living in India based on home study reports.
- If approved, prospective children are offered as per seniority in the adoption list and pre-adoption foster care follows.
- The specialized adoption agency then secures court orders approving the adoption.
- They need to approach authorised adoption agencies in their foreign country of residence for registration under CARINGS.
- Their eligibility is adjudged by authorised foreign adoption agencies through home study reports.
- As per seniority, they are offered profiles of children, and child study reports are finalized.
- CARA then issues a pre-adoption ‘no objection’ certificate for foster care, followed by a court adoption order. No objection certificate from CARA is mandatory for a passport and visa to leave India.
- CARA needs to conduct an outreach program to inform citizens about misuse of illegal adoption.
- Legal process of adoption must be adequately publicized.
- The National and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights are empowered by law to take effective action against those engaging in illegal activities.
- They need to ensure safety of Children through increased Vigilance.
- Social activists, NGOs and enlightened individuals must report all the incidents that come to their notice.
- Media shaming of those involved in Child trafficking can deter the crime to some extent.
Conflict between Israel-Palestinians
- More than 160 people were wounded when Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
- Al-Aqsa mosue complex in Jerusalem’s old City is one of Islam’s most revered location.
- Eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem: Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it later.
Background of conflict
- The conflict dates back to early 20th century. During World War II, over 3 lakj Jews migrated and resettled in Palestine and demanded a new country.
- in 1947, the United Nations voted to split the Palestine between Arabs and Jews.
- The Jewish residents accepted the agreement and declared independence of Israel in 1948 while Arabs rejected the Agreement.
India’s stance on Israel Palestine conflict:
- India believes in the 2-state solution. It supports the establishment of a sovereign independent and a visible state of Palestine along with maintaining India’s growing relationship with Israel.
- India’s called on both sides to avoid changing the status-quo on the ground.
- With the ongoing lockdown in the state of Karnataka and the weddings being restricted to houses because of tough guidelines, there are fears of child marriages going unnoticed.
- The 2020 lockdown witnessed a slew of child marriages being reported in Karnataka.
- A total of 2,180 child marriage cases were reported in Karnataka as per reports of Childline (1098) from April 2020 to January 2021.
- The other complaints ranged from illegal adoptions, child trafficking and child labour to the need for medical help or shelter.
- The number of complaints eased when lockdown restrictions were relaxed but were still worrying.
Situation in Karnataka:
- The Karnataka State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) expects the number of child marriages to go up, given that another lockdown is in place and marriages are being allowed in homes.
- Earlier, when child marriages happened at wedding halls, temples, etc., there were people who would alert the relevant authorities or activists who would be able to reach on time to stop the marriage.
- But now, with marriages happening at homes, the authorities would be getting fewer alerts.
Factors at play:
- The increasing number of child marriages could be attributed to the factors ranging from insecurity for the girl, wherein the parents assume their responsibility is over with her marriage, to the fact that they could get away with a simple marriage without calling too many people, resulting in less expenditure.
- The increased financial strain on the poor has also contributed to some families resorting to child marriage.
- There is a need to create awareness among the people on the ills of child marriage.
- People should alert Childline if they come across child marriages.
- The district authorities should constitute a committee to tackle child marriages and they should conduct regular inspections in the most vulnerable areas.
COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic
- The “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic” report prepared by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.
- The panel notes that the catastrophic scale of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented with appropriate interventions but the failure at multiple levels led to the catastrophic effect of the pandemic.
- The lack of transparency in reporting the initial cases by China was an important contributing factor to the outbreak.
- Early responses to the outbreak detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 “lacked urgency” as many countries failed to heed the alarm.
- The poor coordination among the global institutions and nations meant the warning signs went unheeded.
- The report also notes with concern that the institutions “failed to protect people”. The panel said the WHO could have declared the situation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern much earlier but failed to do so.
- This resulted in eroding the potential of early actions in such situations. It was only in March after the WHO described it as a pandemic that countries were jolted into action.
- The science-denying leaders in some countries also eroded public trust in health interventions and aided the spread of the pandemic.
- The global alarm system needs to be overhauled to ensure timely alerts which can help initiate appropriate countermeasures.
- The overhauling of the WHO is necessary to make it less cautious and give it more authority to send expert missions into countries immediately without waiting for their approval.
- To tackle the ongoing pandemic, the panel calls on the richest countries to donate a billion vaccine doses to the poorest.
- The WHO and the World Trade Organization should also get major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfers for vaccines.