- Australia is witnessing a devastating mouse plague that has affected farmers, community members and residents. To control the plague, the government has now authorised the use of an otherwise outlawed poison called bromadiolone.
- NSW Farmers have called the plague an “economic and public health crisis” and had initially demanded that the government pay for 50 per cent of the cost of baits.
When did the plague begin?
- The current plague is being called one of the worst plagues in decades and started being reported around mid-March in Australia’s eastern states.
- Live Science reported in March as a result of the “rampaging mice”, some farmers lost entire grain harvests “while hotels have had to close because they can’t keep the critters out of the rooms.”
- In some places, residents of affected areas reported mice falling out from roof tops causing “mice rain”.
- Mice have a short breeding cycle (a pair of breeding mice can give birth to a new litter every 21 days or so) and are not very choosy about food.
- The health department of Australia’s Victoria state notes that rodents (which includes rats and mice) are the second most successful mammals on the planet after humans.
How does a plague of this scale affect people?
- Rodents are capable of destroying food grains and can cause widespread damage to domestic households, commercial businesses, farms, manufacturers and livestock.
- Further, rodents can not only gnaw through materials but can also ruin supplies by excreting on them.
- Rodents can also cause diseases such as leptospirosis and typhus fever. They can also carry fleas or ticks that can harm pets and humans.
- Rats and mice can stay in walls, ceilings, under cupboards or bathtubs, in rubbish heaps, wood piles, thick vegetation and in holes under buildings.
How can plagues be controlled?
- Research carried out by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), which is led by CSIRO says that increasing zinc phosphide in mouse baits will help farmers to battle the higher-than-average mouse numbers in eastern Australia.
- As a result of this research, the authorities have allowed makers to double the toxicity levels in mouse baits.
- The first cyclone of 2021, Cyclone Tauktaeformed in Arabian Sea.
- The current characteristics of the storm indicate rapid intensification. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the cyclone that a low-pressure area had formed in the south eastern Arabian Sea close to Lakshadweep on May 13.
Impact of Climate Change:
- It is a well-known climatological fact that during pre-monsoon and post-monsoon seasons in the North Indian Ocean, more cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal compared with the Arabian Sea.
- This is due to a newly discovered Phenomenon (2007) El Nino Modoki — which causes warm moist conditions in the Central Pacific and dry cold conditions in Eastern and western pacific. A more familiar phenomenon, El Nino, was found to suppress cyclone formation in the Arabian Sea.
- The number of cyclones per year show significant differences indicating that El Nino Modoki years are conducive for cyclone formation over Arabian Sea while El Nino is conducive for cyclones over the Bay of Bengal.
- Other factor of the increasing frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones — a combined named used for hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons- in the Arabian Sea is because of the rapid warming that has made the relatively cooler Arabian Sea (compared to the Bay of Bengal) a warm pool region that can actively support cyclone formation.
- There could be a five per cent increase in maximum cyclonic wind speeds if the world warms by two degrees celsius by 2100.
- Ocean warming has made some new challenges also. Cyclones are now intensifying rapidly since warm ocean waters act as a fuel for them. Extremely severe cyclones like Fani and Amphan intensified from a weak to severe status in less than 24 hours due to warm ocean conditions. State-of-the-art cyclone models are unable to pick this rapid intensification because they do not incorporate the ocean dynamics accurately.
- Rapid intensification happens when there is an increase of maximum sustained winds of a cyclone by at least 55 kilometres per hour within 24 hours.
Transparency in Court Proceedings
- A mobile app that would allow media persons to view the Supreme Court’s virtual proceedings live on their mobile phones has been launched.
- Chief Justice of India V. Ramana also launched a new feature in the Supreme Court’s official website called ‘Indicative Notes’.
- The CJI said public access to court hearings was important as the rulings of courts, more particularly the Supreme Court, had an impact on the lives of people across the country.
- It was highlighted that the role of the media assumes importance in the process of disseminating information.
- Indicative Notesis aimed at providing concise summaries of landmark judgments in an easy-to-understand format.
- It would serve as a useful resource for media persons and the public who wish to be better informed about the rulings of the court.
- It is widely opined that access to media to court proceedings would increase transparency.
- The Media is considered the Fourth pillar of democracy. Objective of the media is to spread the news to people.
- Presently, people can’t access the live proceedings of the Supreme Court as they could in pre-covid times.
- In this scenario, the Supreme Court has come up with this app where links will be shared on the App for virtual hearings.
- The Supreme Court is also introducing a feature of Indicative Notes on its website and on the App too. It will be a repository to all the landmark judgements.
- The virtual meetings will be opened for other courts too once a proper informed consensus is reached.
- The SC has taken various steps in past years to take justice closer to people to access it. Even vernacular translations of the judgements are being provided by the Court.
- The e-Court Mission Mode Project was conceptualized with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts.
|1. Open to all
2. Transparency, right to access to justice, fostering public confidence, and education people about how the judiciary functions.
3. Safeguarding public interests
4. Avoiding fake news
5. Safe work conditions
|1. Lack of technical infrastructure, internet connectivity
2. Matters which privacy dimensions are out of scope.
3. Link to live access could be misused.
- The pandemic has presented the Supreme Court with both a challenge and an opportunity to adopt technology. The live proceedings should continually be used even in post-covid times as:
- It is a faster way of operating and justice will be delivered fast.
- Travel costs and other expenses will reduce significantly.
- Mechanisms would become more transparent and accountable.
- Both audio-visual recordings and transcripts of oral arguments should be maintained for the purpose of posterity.
- The openness and transparency will reinforce the public’s faith in the judicial system as “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
- Recently, the World Bank released a report on remittances.
Major Findings of the Report
- Indian scenario
- India received over $83 billion in remittances in 2020.
- It is a drop of just 0.2% from the previous year, despite a pandemic that devastated the world economy.
- In 2019, India had received $83.3 billion in remittances.
- Remittances declined due to a 17% drop in remittances from the United Arab Emirates.
- Neighbouring Countries:
- In Pakistan, remittances rose by about 17%, with the biggest growth coming from Saudi Arabia.
- In Bangladesh, remittances also showed a brisk uptick in 2020 (18.4%), and Sri Lanka witnessed remittance growth of 5.8%.
- In contrast, remittances to Nepal fell by about 2%, reflecting a 17% decline in the first quarter of 2020.
- Global Scenario
- China received $59.5 billion in remittances in 2020 against $68.3 billion the previous year, is a distant second in terms of global remittances for the year gone by
- India and China are followed by Mexico ($42.8 billion), the Philippines ($34.9 billion), Egypt ($29.6 billion), Pakistan ($26 billion), France ($24.4 billion) and Bangladesh ($21 billion).
- Remittance outflow was the maximum from the United States ($68 billion), followed by UAE ($43 billion), Saudi Arabia ($34.5 billion), Switzerland ($27.9 billion), Germany ($22 billion), and China ($18 billion).
- Growing significance of remittances as a source of external financing for low- and middle-income countries, there is a need for better collection of data on remittances, in terms of frequency, and timely reporting.
- Supportive policy responses, together with national social protection systems, should continue to be inclusive of all communities, including migrants.
- The World Bank is assisting member states in monitoring the flow of remittances through various channels, the costs and convenience of sending money, and regulations to protect financial integrity that affect remittance flows.
- It is working with the G20 countries and the global community to reduce remittance costs and improve financial inclusion for the poor.
- The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) study has found that there is only one species of Hoolock gibbons and not two in India.
- The Western Hoolock gibbons (Hoolock Hoolock) are the only apes in India. The other species, Mishmi Hills gibbons (Hoolock leuconedys), is not present here.
- There was confusion before as these small apes present in the northeast have populations had different physical features.
- The CCMB team corroborated the data with mitogenome (genetic information contained in mitochondria) analysis and estimated that the split between two species occurred 1.49 million years ago.
- The new findings will help design conservation programmes by inter-breeding the two populations and maintain their genetic diversity.
Killing of Elephants
- Recently, 18 elephants died on a hilltop in Assam. The preliminary post-mortem report indicates they had been struck by lightning. While the state government is waiting for the final report before ruling out other possible causes.
- According to a member of the team that conducted the post-mortem, it is possible that the elephants were killed by current flowing through the ground. That would be ‘step potential’.
- Moreover, according to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC),a total of 186 elephants were killed after being hit by trains across India between 2009-10 and 2020-21.
How does lightning kill animals?
Lightning may injure or kill animals in several ways like:
- DIRECT FLASH: An animal in an open field may be struck directly by lightning if part of its body protrudes over other objects in the vicinity. Taller animals are more vulnerable.
- SIDE FLASH: When lightning strikes a tall object such as a tree, it may generate a side flash that can strike an animal standing underneath the tree.
- TOUCH POTENTIAL: If one part of a tall animal’s body is in contact with the ground while another part, at a higher elevation, meets a lightning-struck object, a partial current may pass through its body.
- STEP POTENTIAL: The most common lightning hazard among four-legged animals. When current flows through the ground following a lightning strike, the electric potential (voltage) is highest at the point of the strike and decreases with distance along the direction of the flow. If an elephant is facing the strike point, the current will flow from the front feet (higher potential) to the hind feet (lower potential), electrocuting it in the process.
But so many elephants killed in one flash of lightning?
- It can happen because in a single lightning flash, the current flows to the ground several times. These are termed subsequent strokes.
- Therefore, we see a flash of lightning flickering. There is a possibility of each subsequent stroke attaching to different nearby objects due to a few reasons explainable in physics.
- There are two other possibilities of multiple deaths other than step potential. One of these is side flashes from the first elephant being struck to the others. That is why in lightning safety, we advise people to stay at least 2 m away from one another under thunderstorm conditions. The other possibility is multiple side flashes from a nearby tree.
Are elephants particularly vulnerable?
- Since an elephant’s front and hind feet are wide apart, it would appear to make it more vulnerable than a smaller animal, such as a rat.
- The potential difference increases with increasing distance between the two feet. The larger the potential difference, the greater the current through the body.
- Usually, an animal with a larger body mass can withstand a larger current through step potential. Thus, although an elephant could be subjected to a larger step potential, the chance that the current through its body becomes lethal is less.
- But elephants are indeed more vulnerable —because of their height. Following the death of two giraffes in a lightning strike in South Africa last year, it was height that had made the giraffes vulnerable to a direct strike. And elephants too are tall animals.
- But could the elephants have been struck by a direct flash?
Chances of getting directly struck by lightning highly depends on the vicinity. Tallest objects in the vicinity attract the lightning. So, if there are tall trees (higher than the elephants) the chance that lightning strikes them directly is not big. But if they are in an open grassfield the chances are bigger.
- The Bamuni Hill in Assam, where the elephants died, has no tall trees that could have taken the brunt of the lightning strike.
- Several smaller trees were found burnt and split down in the middle, indicating that the area had indeed been struck by lightning. Some of the elephants, too, had burnt ears, charred bellies, and burn marks on the scapular region.
Multiple animal deaths such as these common:
- In 2007, five elephants were killed in a similar incident in Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal.
- In 2016, over 300 reindeer were killed on Norway’s Hardangervidda plateau following thunderstorms.
- In 1972, 53 reindeer were killed in a lightning strike in Alaska.
Elephant causalities on railway tracks:
- According to the data furnished bythe Project Elephant Division of the Ministry, Assam accounted for the highest number of elephant casualties on railway tracks (62), followed by West Bengal (57), and Odisha (27).
Key measures taken:
- A Permanent Coordination Committee was constituted between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board) and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths in train accidents. Among other initiatives undertaken by the Ministry are:
- Clearing of vegetation along railway tracksto enable clear view for loco pilots.
- Using signage boards at suitable points to alert loco pilotsabout elephant presence.
- Moderating slopes of elevated sections of railway tracks.
- Setting up underpass/overpass for safe passage of elephants.
- Regulation of train speedfrom sunset to sunrise in vulnerable stretches.
- Regular patrolling of vulnerable stretches of railway tracksby frontline staff of the Forest Department and wildlife watchers.
Iron Dome aerial defencesystem
- The Iron Dome aerial defence system intercepted a Hamas Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that crossed from Gaza into Israel.
- Iron Dome is a multi-mission system.
- It is capable of intercepting rockets, artillery, mortars and Precision Guided Munitions like very short-range air defence (V-SHORAD) systems as well as aircraft, helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) over short ranges of up to 70 km.
- It is an all-weather system and can engage multiple targets simultaneously and be deployed over land and sea.
- The I-DOME is the mobile variant with all components on a single truck and C-DOME is the naval version for deployment on ships.
- The genesis of the Iron Dome dates to the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war, when Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into Israel.
- The following year, Israel announced that its state-run Rafael Advance Systems would come up with a new air defence system to protect its cities and people.
- It was developed with Israel Aerospace Industries.
- The Iron Dome was deployed in 2011.
How does it work?
- An Iron Dome battery consists of a battle management control unit, a detection and tracking radar and a firing unit of three vertical launchers, with 20 interceptor missiles each.
- The interceptor missile uses a proximity fuse to detonate the target warhead in the air.
- One of the system’s important advantages is its ability to identify the anticipated point of impact of the threatening rocket, to calculate whether it will fall in a built-up area or not, and to decide on this basis whether or not to engage it.
- This prevents unnecessary interception of rockets that will fall in open areas and thus not cause damage. The system has intercepted thousands of rockets so far and, according to Rafael, its success rate is over 90%.
- The system has limitations when it is overwhelmed with a barrage of projectiles.
- Another limitation is the system’s inability to cope with very short-range threats as estimates put the Iron Dome’s minimum interception range at 5-7 km.
- Also, the cost of interception is high.
BRICS EWG Meeting
Recently, India has chaired the First BRICS Employment Working Group (EWG) Meeting, held virtually.
- Participants: Representatives of member nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the representatives of International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Social Security Agency (ISSA).
- Gig and Platform Workers’ Role in Labour Market
- Members discussed how the proliferation of Digital Labour Platforms is transforming the labour processes in the world of work.
- They also discussed challenges faced by them and various measures being taken by member nations including extension of social protection systems.
- Formalization of Labour Markets
- Members discussed various initiatives taken by them towards formalization of jobs.
- They also discussed how COVID-19 has enhanced informalization risk.
- Promoting Social Security Agreements (SSA)
- SSA is a bilateral agreement between India and a foreign country designed to protect the interests of cross border workers.
- The agreement provides for avoidance of ‘double coverage’ and ensures equality of treatment to workers of both countries from a social security perspective.
- As on date, India has signed SSAs with 18 countries.
- SSAwould help the international workers to port their benefit to their home countries thereby preventing loss of their hard-earned money.
- They will be exempted from contributing both in home as well as host countries.
- Members resolved to enter dialogue and discussion with each other and take it forward towards signing of the agreements.
- They also converged on devising a multilateral framework for the same.
- ISSA and ILO expressed willingness to provide technical support in facilitating conclusion of such agreements.
- Participation of Women in Labour Force
- Members resolved to promote participation of women in remunerative, productive, and decent work.
- There was a consensus on extending social security cover to the women workers engaged in the informal sector.
- Impact of Covid-19 on participation of women in the labour force was also discussed.
India’s Low Spending on Health:
- According to the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), India’s public expenditure on health is the lowest among the BRICS nations.
- It also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a setback in the journey of SDGs.
- Also, there is a wide variation in the public expenditure that happens on health as well as on education.
Importance of Malerkotla
- The only Muslim-dominated town of Punjab, Malerkotla, has been in the news recently after Punjab Chief Minister announced that the former princely state would be the 23rd district of the state.
- Historically, Malerkotla owes its foundations in the 15th century to Sufi saint Sheikh SadrauddinSadar-i-Jahan, also known as Haider Sheikh.
- The initial beginnings were humble with the settlement being called ‘Maler’ which was bestowed by the Behlol Lodhi to the Sheikh whose lineage too was Afghan, as was Lodhi’s, and they were said to be distantly related.
- ‘Kotla’, meaning Fortress, was added later in 17th century with a collection of villages which formed a jagir which was awarded to Bayzid Khan, a descendant of Haider Sheikh, by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
- Bayzid Khan supported Aurangzeb against his brother Dara Shikoh and thus gained favour with the emperor and added permanency to the rule of his family. A hereditary succession began thereafter.
- After the decline of the Mughal empire, Malerkotla’s rulers exercised greater independence and at the time of the invasion of India by Ahmad Shah Abdali from Afghanistan, they aligned with him.
Relations of Malerkotla with neighbouring states:
- According to historian Anna Bigelow’s work, ‘Punjab’s Muslims’, after Maharaja Ranjit Singh consolidated his rule in Northern Punjab in the early 19th century, Malerkotla aligned itself with the neighbouring Sikh states like Patiala, Nabha and Jind which too were feeling threatened by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s consolidation of the Sikh empire.
- These cis-Sutlej states accepted British protection in 1809 and were free from interference from the Sikh Maharaja.
- Malerkotla continued under the British protection and the alliance with the neighbouring Sikh states till 1947 when it became the only Muslim majority Sikh state in East Punjab.
- After the dissolution of the princely states in 1948, Malerkotla joined the new state of PEPSU or Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU). PEPSU itself was dissolved in 1954 and Malerkotla became a part of Punjab.
Background of the special status of Malerkotla with the Sikh community:
- The special relationship between Sikhs and Malerkotla goes back to the period when the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was engaged in a series of battles with the oppressive Mughal rules of the region.
- Sher Mohammad Khan was the Nawab of Malerkotla at the time and though a supporter of Aurangzeb and his lieutenants who governed Punjab at the time, he is said to have expressed his anguish at the bricking alive of two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh, Zorawar Singh (aged nine years) and Fateh Singh (aged seven years), by the Subedar of Sirhind Wazir Khan in 1705.
- The ‘Haa da Naara’ or cry for justice was made by Sher Mohammad Khan before Wazir Khan when the order to brick the two young boys was pronounced.
- This incident has been narrated over the years and has attained an image of tolerance of the Nawab towards the two young Sahibzadasand given placed Malerkotla a special place in the Sikh narrative.
- After the death of Guru Gobind Singh, when his follower Banda Singh Bahadur sacked Sirhind and razed it to the ground, he spared Malerkotla.
- Anna Bigelow says while there could be many reasons for this act of Banda Bahadur, Iftikhar Khan, the last Nawab of Malerkotla, has declared in his history of the kingdom, as do many others believe, thatMalerkotla was spared because of ‘Haa Da Naara’.
- “Alternate explanations for Banda Singh Bahadur’s avoidance of Malerkotla are not necessary and are not sought,’ says Bigelow. In popular sentiments, Malerkotla is believed to blessed by Guru Gobind Singh for the ‘Haa da Naara’.
Aftermath of the ‘Haa Da Naara’ episode:
- It is documented that even after this episode, the Malerkotla rulers continued their affinity with the Mughal rulers and once the suzerainty of the Mughals was on the decline, they aligned with the Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Abdali.
- However, who the rulers of the various states of Punjab, Malerkotla included, side with in the conflicts often depended upon a number of factors including money gains, temporary alliances and survival instinct.
- For example, Nawab Jamal Khan of Malerkotla fought against rulers of Patiala and also against Abdali before joining hands with him.
- His successor Nawab Bhikam Shah is said to have fought on the side of Abdali’s forces in a battle against the Sikhs in 1762 which is known as ‘WaddaGhallugara’ or the Great Holocaust where tens and thousands of Sikhs were killed.
- In 1769, a treaty of friendship was signed with Raja Amar Singh of Patiala by the then Nawab of Malerkotla and thereafter the Patiala princely state was often to the aid of Malerkotla especially in 1795 when Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, attacked Malerkotla over the issue of cow slaughter.
- However, the Namdhari (a sect of Sikhs) massacre of 1872 in Malerkotla is an important incident in the historical annals of the town.
- The Namdhari followers — some accounts say there were rogue followers — attacked the town. Certain accounts say the attack was to cause loot and plunder while others say a Namdhari woman had been raped in Malerkotla.
Partition in 1947:
- Despite the odd communal trouble in the town, like in 1935 over Hindu Katha happening before a mosque, the general atmosphere in Malerkotla remained congenial.
- Communal tension in the days leading to Partition remained under control despite there being a general breakdown of law and order in the neighbouring princely states. While Patiala, Nabha and Jind territories saw large scale killings, Malerkotla remained free from it.
Impact of climate change on cave art
- Scientists have warned that environmental degradation is killing one of the oldest and most precious pieces of the world’s human heritage.
- Pleistocene-era rock paintings dating back to 45,000-20,000 years ago in cave sites in southern Sulawesi, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, are weathering at an alarming rate.
Significance of the cave paintings
- A team of Australian and Indonesian archaeological scientists, conservation specialists, and heritage managers examined 11 caves and rock-shelters in the Maros-Pangkep region in Sulawesi.
- The artwork in the area includes what is believed to be the world’s oldest hand stencil (almost 40,000 years ago), created by pressing the hand on a cave wall, and spraying wet red-mulberry pigments over it.
- A nearby cave features the world’s oldest depiction of an animal, a warty pig painted on the wall 45,500 years ago.
- The cave art of Sulawesi is much older than the prehistoric cave art of Europe.
Findings of the study
- The researchers studied flakes of rock that have begun to detach from cave surfaces to find that salts in three of the samples comprise calcium sulphate and sodium chloride, which are known to form crystals on rock surfaces, causing them to break.
- The artwork made with pigments was decaying due to a process known as haloclasty, which is triggered by the growth of salt crystals due to repeated changes in temperature and humidity, caused by alternating wet and dry weather in the region.
- With increased rapid environmental degradation, the researchers have recommended regular physical and chemical monitoring of the sites, akin to the preservation efforts at the French and Spanish prehistoric cave art sites such as Lascaux and Altamira.
Language Learning App
- MyGov, the citizen engagement platform of the Government of India, in partnership with Department of Higher Education has launched an Innovation Challenge for creating an Indian Language Learning App.
- This Innovation Challenge has been launched to take forward Prime Minister’s vision of celebrating India’s cultural diversity through greater interaction among its constituent parts.
- MyGov has launched the Innovation Challenge to create an app that will enable individuals to learn simple sentences of any Indian language and acquire working knowledge of a language.
- The objective of this challenge is to create an app that will promote regional language literacy, thereby creating greater cultural understanding within the country.
- The key parameters that will be looked into will include ease of use, simplicity, Graphical User Interface, gamification features, UI, UX and superior content, that makes it easy and fun to learn an Indian language.
- The Innovation Challenge is open to Indian individuals, startups and companies. MyGov envisions the app to be multi-modular, with the capacity to teach through the written word, voice and video/visuals.
- App developers can propose multiple interfaces for engagement of learners.
- The government had launched the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), comprising 10 labs spread across India to ascertain the status of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the country.
- It would monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 on a regular basis through a multi-laboratory network.
- It has a high-level Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee.
- Also, it has a Scientific Advisory Group for scientific and technical guidance.
- The 10 identified laboratories of INSACOG Consortium report their sequencing results to the Central Surveillance unit of the National Centre for Diseases Control [NCDC] from where it is shared with the State Surveillance Units (SSUs) of Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) by the Central Surveillance Unit (CSU).
- As per a decision taken up at the recent Cabinet meeting, the West Bengal government will set up a Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad).
Legislative Councils, and their importance:
- India has a bicameral systeme., two Houses of Parliament.
- At the state level, the equivalent of the Lok Sabha is the Vidhan Sabha(Legislative Assembly); that of the Rajya Sabha is the Vidhan Parishad(Legislative Council).
- According to theArticle 169, Parliament may by law create or abolish the second chamber in a state if the Legislative Assembly of that state passes a resolution to that effect by a special majority (a majority of the total membership of the assembly).
- As per article 171 clause (1), the total number of members in the legislative council of a state shall not exceed one third of the total number of the members in the legislative Assembly of that state and the total number of members in the legislative council of a state shall in no case be less than 40.
- Six States having a Legislative Council: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka.
- In 2020, Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed the resolution for abolition of the Legislative Council. This resolution is yet to be cleared by the Parliament of India to finally abolish the council.
- In 2019, the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Council was abolished through the J&K Reorganisation Bill, 2019, which reduced the State of J&K to the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
- The legislative power of the Councils is limited. Unlike Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack a constitutional mandate to do so.
- Assemblies can override suggestions/amendments made to legislation by the Council.
- Again, unlike Rajya Sabha MPs, MLCs cannot vote in elections for the President and Vice President. The Vice President is the Rajya Sabha Chairperson while a member from the Council itself is chosen as the Council Chairperson.
- Legislative Council can delay legislation, also it is considered a burden on the state budget.
- It can also be used to park leaders who have not been able to win an election.
Long work hours to more deaths
- Long working hours led to 7.45 lakh deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) published in Environment International.
- The number of people working long hours is increasing and this trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
- While the figures are for 2016, the analysis comes as the Covid-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours.
- The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.
- The number of people working long hours is increasing and this trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
- In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016, 98 lakh people died from stroke and 3.47 lakh from heart diseasebecause of having worked at least 55 hours a week.
- Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.
- This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72% of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers.
- Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.
- With working long hours now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.
- The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.
- Covid-19 has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work.
- In addition, many businesses have scaled back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours.
- Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the latest evidence were conducted for this study.
- Data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 7.68 lakh participants, and 22 studies on stroke covering more than 8.39 lakh participants were synthesized.
- The study covered global, regional, and national levels, and was based on data from more than 2,300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970-2018.
India, Israel, and Palestine
- Recently, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, T S Tirumurti, made a carefully crafted statement at the UN Security Council “open debate” on the escalating Israel-Palestine violence, striving to maintain balance between India’s historic ties with Palestine and its blossoming relations with Israel.
- The statement, the first India has made on the issue, appears to implicitly hold Israel responsible for triggering the current cycle of violence by locating its beginnings in East Jerusalem rather than from Gaza.
- The request that both sides refrain from “attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods” seems to be a message to Israel about its settler policy.
- The statement was also emphatic that “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem including the Haraml al Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected”.
- The site, administered by Jordan, is revered in both Islam and Judaism. Jewish worshippers are not allowed inside but have often tried to enter forcibly.
- India’s policy on the longest running conflict in the world has gone from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades, to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel. In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel.
From Nehru to Rao
- In 1953, consulate in Mumbai was established mainly for issuing visas to the Indian Jewish community, and to Christian pilgrims. This too shut down in 1982, when India expelled the Consul General for criticising India’s foreign policy in a newspaper interview. It was permitted to reopen only six years later.
- In 1948, India was the only non-Arab-state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition plan of Palestine in the General Assembly that led to the creation of Israel.
- The opening of an Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992 marked an end to four decades of giving Israel the cold shoulder.
Changes after 2014
- India-Israel relationship continued to grow, mostly through defence deals, and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture. But India never acknowledged the relationship fully.
- After 2014, the new phase came with an abstention by India at the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution welcoming a report by the HRC High Commissioner.
- Pranab Mukherjee, who in 2015 became the first Indian President to visit Israel, with a first stop at Ramallah, had also reiterated India’s position on the city as the capital of an independent Palestine.
- In February 2018, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. His itinerary did not include Ramallah. The word then was that India had “de-hyphenated” the Israel-Palestine relationship, and would deal with each separately.
- Meanwhile, India continues to improve ties with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and feels vindicated by the decision of some Arab states to improve ties with Israel.
- In fact, the de-hypenhation is a careful balancing act, with India shifting from one side to another as the situation demands.
- For instance, even as it abstained at UNESCO in December 2017, India voted in favour of a resolution in the General Assembly opposing the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
- At the UNHRC’s 46th session in Geneva earlier in 2021, India voted against Israel in three resolutions – one on the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, a second on Israeli settlement policy, and a third on the human rights situation in the Golan Heights.
- It abstained on a fourth, which asked for an UNHRC report on the human right situation in Palestine, including East Jerusalem.
- In February, the International Criminal Court claimed jurisdiction to investigate human rights abuses in Palestinian territory including West Bank and Gaza and named both Israeli security forces and Hamas as perpetrators.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted India, which does not recognise the ICC, to take a stand against it on the issue, and was surprised when it was not forthcoming.
- That is because India’s own balancing act is a constant work of progress. The latest statement is no different. Though it was not pro Palestine, it hardly pleased Israel.
Nuclear Energy in Space
- The UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) of ISRO invited proposals for the three-phase development of a 100-Watt Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG).
- URSC is ISRO’s lead centre for design, development, fabrication, and testing of all Indian-made satellites.
- The centre envisions using RTG for power generation and thermal management of ISRO’s deep space missions.
- RTGs are lightweight, compact spacecraft power systems that are extraordinarily reliable.
- RTGs provide electric power using heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238, in the form of plutonium dioxide.
- The large difference in temperature between this hot fuel and the cold environment of space is applied across special solid-state metallic junctions called thermocouples, which generates an electric current using no moving parts.
- Sometimes referred to as “nuclear batteries”, RTGs are not fission reactors, nor is plutonium the type that is used for nuclear weapons.
- More than 2 dozen US space missions have used RTGs since the first one was launched in 1961 like Cassini, New Horizon and Curiosity etc.
Customs (Import of Goods At Concessional Rate Of Duty) Amendment Rules, 2021
- The Government has brought changes in the existing Customs (Import of Goods at Concessional Rate of Duty) Rules, IGCR 2017 to boost trade facilitation.
- The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs has introduced changes through the Customs (Import of Goods at Concessional Rate of Duty) Amendment Rules, 2021.
- The IGCR, 2017 lay down the procedures and manner in which an importer can avail the benefit of a concessional Customs duty on import of goods required for domestic production of goods or providing services.
- One major change that accommodates the needs of trade and industry is that the imported goods have been permitted to be sent out for job work. The absence of this facility had earlier constrained the industry especially those in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector which did not have the complete manufacturing capability in-house.
- Importers who do not have any manufacturing facility can now avail the IGCR, 2017 to import goods at concessional Customs duty and get the final goods manufactured entirely on job work basis. However, some sectors such as gold, jeweler, precious stones, and metals have been excluded.
- Another major incentive now provided is to allow those who import capital goods at a concessional Customs duty to clear them in the domestic market on payment of duty and interest, at a depreciated value. This was not allowed earlier, and manufacturers were stuck with the imported capital goods after having used them as they could not be easily re-exported.
New Naming System for Virus Variants
- The World Health Organization (WHO) would unveil a system of naming of coronavirus variants drawn from the way tropical storms are named.
- The initiative, like how hurricanes are labelled, seeks to remove stigma. It will also be easier for the lay public to remember rather than these complicated lineage numbers.
- This has been done to destigmatize and deincentivise countries from making their sequencing results public.
- The WHO and health and science agencies across the world refer to viruses and their variants by formal lineage names, which are a combination of letters and names that point to the relationships between different variants.
- Variants such as B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 suggest that they have certain mutations in common and as well clues to their evolutionary history.
- However, because virus names and their associated diseases have frequently been named after geographical places where outbreaks were first reported or samples first isolated — such as the West Nile virus or Ebola.
- 1.7 started to be known as the ‘U.K. variant’ and B.1.351 as the ‘South African’ variant.
- The dilemma of having names that do notstigmatise places but also are amenable to popular use has to an extent been solved by the system of naming hurricanes, or tropical cyclones.
- The World Meteorological Organisation leaves it to countries that surround a particular ocean basin to come up with names.
- The use of convalescent plasma has been dropped from the recommended treatment guidelines for COVID-19, according to an advisory from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
- Though a trial by the ICMR on 400 patients last year — called the PLACID trial — had found no significant benefit from the use of plasma, it continued to find a place in the recommended guidelines.
- Some experts have said the use of such plasma may have even played a role in facilitating new worrisome mutations to the virus.
- Blood plasma is a yellowish liquid component of blood that holds the blood cells of whole blood in suspension. It is the liquid part of the blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body. It makes up about 55% of the body’s total blood volume.
- This plasma contains viral antibodies that have treatment potential for severe cases of the disease.
- Plasma therapy is a medical procedure that uses the blood of a recovered patient to create antibodies on those infected individuals.
- Medically known as convalescent plasma therapy, this treatment uses antibodies found in the blood taken from a recovered Covid-19 patient. It is then used to treat those with severe SARS-CoV-2 infection to aid recovery.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has revealed that 13 officers have been retired in public interest.
- An order of compulsory retirement is not a punishment.
- It does not imply any stigma or any suggestion of misbehaviour.
- The order must be passed by the government on forming the opinion that it is in the public interest to retire a government servant compulsorily.
- The Supreme Court issued important principles regarding compulsory retirement in the Baikunth Nath v Chief Medical Officer (1992) case.
- The SC said, Principles of natural justice have no place in the context of an order of compulsory retirement.
- However, this does not mean that judicial scrutiny is excluded altogether.
- While the High Court or the Court would not examine the matter as an appellate Court, they may interfere if they are satisfied that the order passed is:
- mala fide
- based on no evidence
- arbitrary – in the sense that no reasonable person would form the requisite opinion on the given material.
- According to an RTI reply, electoral bonds worth ₹695 cr. sold during the recent Assembly polls in West Bengal.
- The amount sold was the highest-ever for any Assembly elections since the scheme started in 2018, according to the numbers provided in the reply.
- The scheme allows any Indian citizen or company to purchase the bonds sold by the SBI in denominations of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹1 lakh, ₹10 lakh and ₹1 crore and give them to political parties anonymously.
- Introduced with the Finance Bill, 2017, the Electoral Bond Scheme was notified on January 29, 2018.
- An Electoral Bond is like a promissory note that may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
- A person being an individual can buy Electoral Bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
- The bonds are like banknotes that are payable to the bearer on demand and are interest-free.
- Only the Political Parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951 (43 of 1951) and which secured not less than one percent of the votes polled in the last General Election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, shall be eligible to receive the Electoral Bonds.
- One can purchase these bonds only digitally or through cheques.
- Electoral Bonds shall be valid for fifteen calendar days from the date of issue and no payment is being made to any payee Political Party if the Electoral Bond is deposited after expiry of the validity period.
Supreme Court’s Stance:
- The Supreme Court (SC) agreed that the scheme protects the identity of purchasers of electoral bonds in a cloak of anonymity, but highlighted that such purchases happened only through regular banking channels.
- In 2019, the Supreme Court asked all the political parties to submit details of donations received through electoral bonds to the ECI. It also asked the Finance Ministry to reduce the window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) also told the Supreme Court of India that while it was not against the Electoral Bonds Scheme, it did not approve of anonymous donations made to political parties.
Digital Transformation of Tribal Schools
- The Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Microsofthave signed an MoU for digital transformation of Tribal Schools such as Eklavya Model Residential Schools and Ashram Schools.
- Under the program, 250 Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) have been adopted by Microsoft out of which 50 EMRS schools will be given intensive training.
- The MoU was signed in an online event “Empowering Youth For Success”.
- The collaboration seeks to skill educators and students in next-generation digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI).
- The students from schools under the Ministry will be mentored on projects that involve AI applications for societal good and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Students would get the required skill set through digital transformation and it would open a new chapter with AI and coding being a part of the curriculum.
- Teachers will also be trained for using productivity technologies like Office 365 and AI applications in teaching, helping them deliver blended or remote learning experiences to students in a more personalized, productive, and secure manner.
Increased subsidy on DAP
- The government announced a 140% increase in the subsidy on di-ammonium phosphate (DAP),from Rs 511 to Rs 1,200 per 50-kg bag.
- It is estimated that it will cost the exchequer an additional Rs 14,775 crore in the coming kharif season alone.
DAP and its importance:
- DAP is the second most usedfertiliser in India after urea. Farmers normally apply this fertiliser just before or at the beginning of sowing, as it is high in phosphorus that stimulates root development.
- Without well-developed roots, plants will not grow to their normal size, or will take too long to mature.
- While there are other phosphatic fertilisers as well — for instance, single super phosphate that contains 16% P and 11% sulphur (S) — DAP is the preferred source of P for farmers. This is like urea, which is their preferred nitrogenous fertiliser containing 46% N.
Subsidy scheme in DAP, and how is it different from other fertilisers?
- The maximum retail price (MRP) of urea is currently fixed at Rs 5,378 per tonne or Rs 242 for a 45-kg bag.
- Since companies are required to sell at this rate, the subsidy (the difference between the cost of manufacturing or import and the fixed MRP) is variable.
- The MRPs of all other fertilisers, by contrast, are decontrolled. Technically, companies can sell these at the rates that they — and not the government — decide.
- The government only gives a fixed per-tonne subsidy. In other words, the subsidy is fixed, but MRP is variable.
Non-urea fertilisers attract the same subsidy:
- They are governed by what is called nutrient-based subsidy or NBS. For 2020-21, the Centre fixed the NBS rates at Rs 18.789/kg for N, Rs 14.888/kg for P, Rs 10.116/kg for potassium (K) and Rs 2.374/kg for S.
- Therefore, depending on the nutrient content for different fertilisers, the per-tonne subsidy also varies.
- The subsidy on DAP for 2020-21 was Rs 10,231 per tonne, or Rs 511.50 for a 50-kg bag. Most companies, till recently, were selling DAP to farmers at around Rs 24,000 per tonne or Rs 1,200/bag.
- They could do this when international prices — both final product as well as the imported raw materials/ingredients such as rock phosphate, sulphur, phosphoric acid, and ammonia — were at reasonable levels.
- Landed prices of DAP in India were below $400 per tonne or Rs 29,000 till October. Adding 5% customs duty and another Rs 3,000 towards port handling, bagging, warehousing, interest, trade margins, and other costs took it to around Rs 33,500 per tonne. Netting out the subsidy of Rs 10,231 per tonne, companies could manage to sell at the MRP of Rs 24,000/tonne or Rs 1,200/bag.
- But global prices of fertilisers and inputs have surged over the past 6-7 months, tracking a general bull run in commodities. That has made it unviable for companies to continue selling at the old rates.
So, what did they do?
- All of them raised MRPs. That included the country’s biggest seller. These hikes were effective from April 1.
- Since non-urea fertilisers are technically decontrolled, there was nothing stopping them from undertaking such steep price hikes. But with West Bengal Assembly elections still on, the companies were told to keep these on hold.
What has the government now done?
- The Department of Fertilisers had notified the NBS rates for 2021-22 on April 9. These were kept unchanged from last year’s levels, leaving companies little choice but to go ahead with the MRP hikes.
- Recently, a “historic decision” was taken to increase the subsidy on DAP from the existing Rs 10,231 per tonne (Rs 511.55/bag) to Rs 24,231 per tonne (1,211.55/bag).
- The Department of Fertilisers too has notified a higher NBS rate for P (from Rs 14.888 to Rs 45.323/kg), while keeping those for the other three nutrients (N, K and S) unchanged. This will enable companies to sell DAP at the earlier MRP, though not MOP and other complex fertilisers.
- But the timing of keeping at least DAP prices in check is good, as farmers will start sowing operations from next month with the arrival of the southwest monsoon rains.
- Politically, too, a revival of farmer protests, more so during the time of the Covid’s second wave, is the last thing the government would want.
Advisory on airborne transmission
- In a new advisory, the government has warned that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transported through air as well in the form of aerosols and infect people up to 10 metres away.
- Droplets coming out from an infected person fall within a two-metre distance, while aerosols can be carried be carried in air up to ten metres, it has said.
- Droplets and aerosol remain the main modes of transmission of the disease, although it has also warned of the possibility “surface transmission” — droplets falling on different surfaces and getting picked up by people who touch these surfaces.
- The risk from surface transmission, considered very high in the initial months of the pandemic, is now believed to be greatly reduced.
- The CDC has said current evidence “strongly” suggested transmission from contaminated surfaces “does not contribute substantially to new infections”.
What you should do?
- The advisory asks people to keep their indoor spaces well-ventilated, by keeping doors and windows open, and using exhaust systems.
- In closed, unventilated indoor spaces, droplets and aerosols become quickly concentrated and greatly increase the risk of transmission to the people in the area.
- It stresses that the infection transmission risk was much lower in outdoor areas since the virus particles get easily dispersed.
- It advises introducing outdoor air in offices, homes and larger public spaces, and measures to improve ventilation in these spaces in urban and rural areas alike.
- Simple strategic placement of fans, open windows and doors, even slightly open windows can introduce outdoor air and improve the air quality inside.
- Introduction of cross ventilation and exhaust fans will be beneficial in curtailing the spread of the disease.
Droplet vs aerosol
- It was initially suggested that the virus spreads predominantly through large droplets that come out when a person is talking, sneezing, or coughing.
- These droplets, because of their large size, were supposed to travel only short distances before falling on the ground. A person 6 feet (2 metres) away was considered safe from infection.
- Over the months, however, scientists have been finding increasing evidence of the virus travelling through aerosols as well.
- Aerosols are small solid particles suspended in the air. Relatively light, aerosols can carry the virus to much larger distances. Also, they can remain suspended in the air for several minutes, or even hours, thereby greatly increasing the chance of the infecting a nearby person.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Six sites have been added to India’s tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- A World Heritage site is classified as a natural or man-made area or a structure that is of international importance, and space that requires special protection.
- These sites are officially recognised by the UN and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, also known as UNESCO.
- Six of the nine sites submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India had been accepted by UNESCO for inclusion in the tentative list, which is a requirement before the final nomination of any site.
- UNESCO has already added 30 of India’s cultural sites, 7 natural, and 1 mixed site in its World Heritage List.
- Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the nodal department for forwarding the proposals to UNESCO.
- The recently included proposals are the:
- Maratha military architecture in Maharashtra,
- Hire Bengal megalithic site in Karnataka,
- Bhedaghat-Lametaghat of Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh.
- Ganga ghats in Varanasi,
- temples of Kancheepuram and
- Satpura Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh
- These proposals will remain in tentative list for a year after which the government will decide which one of them to push for in their final dossier to UNESCO.
- With the addition of these six sites, the UNESCO has 48 proposals in tentative list of India.
- As per Operational Guidelines, 2019, it is mandatory to put any monument/site on the Tentative List (TL) before it is considered for the final nomination dossier.
- India has 48 sites in the TL as of now.
- As per rules, any country can submit the nomination dossier after one year of it being on the TL.
Storm likely in Bay of Bengal
- The India Meteorological Department said that a low-pressure area (a precursor to cyclonic storm) is likely to form in the eastern Bay of Bengal and the Northern Andaman Sea.
- Surface temperature of the Bay of Bengal is on the higher side which would likely provide the ammunition the weather system needs to turn into a cyclone.
- If the cyclone takes shape, it will be called Yaas, a name given by Oman.
- The formation of the depression comes close on the heels of Cyclone Tauktae, which left a trail of destruction along the western coast.
- Storms are common in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Seain May, ahead of the monsoon onset.
- A weather system draws on the heat and moisture to gain strength in the sea.
- The low-pressure system of cyclone needs a continuous supply of heat energy. The Bay of Bengal is warmer than the Arabian Sea, and hence can provide the heat energy needed to sustain the low-pressure system.
- Sea surface temperatures and humidity directly correlate with the chances of cyclone formation.
- The Bay of Bengal receives higher rainfall and constant inflow of fresh water from the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers and the surface water keeps getting refreshed, making it impossible for the warm water to mix with the cooler water below. This condition is ideal for depression.
- The absence of a large landmass between the Pacific and the Bayallows cyclonic winds to easily move into the Bay of Bengal.
- Low-pressure system originating from the Pacific Ocean also travel towards the left to the Bay of Bengal.