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Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Genetic modification goes beyond ethics

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CRISPR

Mains level: Potential harms of gene editing technology and the need of an ethical framework for its regulation


Context

Gene modification technology usage

  1. Ever since researchers at the University of Alicante in Spain came up with the revolutionary new gene-editing tool CRISPR, the chance to play god and the temptation to do it have been beckoning scientists
  2. Now, Shenzhen-based Chinese researcher He Jiankui has claimed that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies by altering their DNA using CRISPR
  3. His claim is still unverified and, in fact, Southern University of Science and Technology, which hosts his lab, later said his work “seriously violated academic ethics and standards”

How does gene modification work?

  1. At the heart of Jiankui’s work is CRISPR (short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), the gene editing tool
  2. This tool allowed geneticists and researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence, much more efficiently than earlier techniques did

Consequences of this technology

  1. Tinkering with the variability of a gene pool can have disastrous consequences given that genes are connected and for one single character many of them have to work in unison
  2. There is also the issue of human germline editing
  3. The germline is the sequence of cells that develop into eggs and sperm, and any changes made in it are likely to be passed down to future generations

Scientific endeavours gone wrong

  1. The atom bomb is a great example of this
  2. What started with the simple statement that a small amount of matter could release a lot of energy built upon Niels Bohr’s atomic model morphed into the most destructive discovery mankind has ever seen
  3. That one discovery still influences our lives and society in massively negative terms
  4. In the race to create defences against nuclear weapons, arms budgets of some of the poorest nations in the world now far exceed their spends on education or health

Science has also proved to be a boon

  1. When scientists in the 1970s discovered how to fertilise human eggs in test tubes there was the apprehension that this might lead to people cherry-picking only high-quality parents for their children
  2. As it turned out those fears were unfounded and the discovery became one of the greatest boons for people who were infertile and couldn’t have children

Problems with evolution and need of gene editing

  1. Genetics is a bit of a stab in the dark and in strictly game theory terms, evolution is open-ended and, therefore, painful and wasteful
  2. It is multidirectional and not always progressive with many inadvertent mutations as a result of which we are saddled with an imperfect replication mechanism
  3. One fallout of this has been that, instead of Malthusian natural factors to keep populations balanced, we have had statist interventions that snuff out people through genocides and wars
  4. Hayekian market proponents would say the market demands genetic interventions
  5. Human civilization has always progressed by interfering with the natural evolutionary process

Way forward for India

  1. India does not have a comprehensive gene editing policy in place, though germline gene editing is banned in line with international norms
  2. Yet, in the face of persisting diseases and crippling human conditions, divine intervention may sometimes need to be supplemented with genetic ones in a carefully regulated environment

Foreign Policy Watch: India – Germany

[op-ed snap] Mother Ganga, Father Rhine

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India-Germany relationship over the years


Context

Indo-german ties- Looking back at history

  1. India and Germany look back on decades of successful bilateral relations.
  2. Having come into existence as the states we know them today at a similar time — India in 1947 Germany in 1949 after the devastation of World War II — the two countries entered into diplomatic relations almost immediately
  3. In fact, India was one of the first nations to recognise the young Federal Republic of Germany in 1951
  4. Despite facing different kinds of political and economic challenges during this period, India and Germany shared a common destiny as young democracies
  5. As a consequence, both countries soon started concrete economic development cooperation, which continues till today
  6. 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of this strategic relationship

Cooperation across sectors

  1. In the early years and in line with the government policy of that time, the joint projects targeted industrial growth, poverty reduction and rural development
  2. Time has changed the focus of development cooperation as circumstances changed
  3. Now, the areas of focus are renewable energy and energy efficiency, sustainable urban development, environment protection and resource management
  4. This is complemented by supporting sustainable economic development, including vocational education and training (VET)
  5. Today, India and Germany are in a balanced partnership
  6. Their bilateral relations contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty and create a more inclusive and equitable world

Important bilateral initiatives 

  • Clean Ganga initiative
  1. The Ganga region is home to more than 600 million people — half of India’s population
  2. The Ganga, just as Germany’s largest river, the Rhine, had faced abuse for decades, with untreated industrial and domestic waste flowing into them, causing major pollution and the extinction of marine life
  3. Both rivers have been an inspiration for songs, legends, literature and art. Mythology and sentiment is attached to them
  4. Germany is honoured to share its experience with India to bring back “Mother Ganga” to acceptable standards, as it has successfully done for “Father Rhine”
  • Energy cooperation
  1. India and Germany cooperate closely on energy matters
  2. In 2006, the Indo-German Energy Forum was set up to promote cooperation in renewable energy
  3. Germany’s strategic Green Energy Corridors project will build transmission lines transferring clean energy to different parts of the country
  • Green mobility
  1. Germany pledged up to Rs 8,900 crore over five years to improve solid and liquid waste management and provide climate-friendly urban transport like the Metro in Nagpur, which is the single biggest project of German financial cooperation in India
  2. Germany has partnered with three smart cities — Bhubaneswar, Kochi and Coimbatore — to provide sustainable urban public transport
  3. These projects stand for around 190 already successful or promising cooperation projects of India and Germany today

Way forward

  1. Today, India is one of the biggest and fastest-growing economies, and Germany is the biggest economy in Europe
  2. Germany and India continue to work as equal partners to tackle global development challenges
  3. The know-how and expertise that Germany shares with India is the main value-add of this cooperation, guided by India’s reform programmes and priorities

Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

[op-ed snap] Without maternity benefits

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre & States & the performance of these schemes

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY)

Mains level: Hardships faced by women during and after pregnancy and need for better schemes


Context

Maternity benefits under PMVVY

  1. Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 31, 2016
  2. The scheme largely defeats the purpose it is supposed to serve: according to a recent analysis, it excludes more than half of all pregnancies because first-order births account for only 43% of all births in India
  3. Further, the PMMVY provides little assistance to women who lose their baby, because the successive payments are made only if the corresponding conditionalities are met

Problems in the scheme

  1. Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) of 2013, every pregnant woman is entitled to maternity benefits of ₹6,000, unless she is already receiving similar benefits as a government employee or under other laws
  2. PMVVY violates the NFSA in several ways
  3. First, the benefits have been reduced from ₹6,000 to ₹5,000 per child
  4. Second, they are now restricted to the first living child
  5. Third, they are further restricted to women above the age of 18 years
  6. The application process is cumbersome and exclusionary: a separate form has to be filled, signed and submitted for each of the three instalments, along with a copy of the applicant’s mother-child protection card, her Aadhaar card, her husband’s Aadhaar card, and the details of a bank account linked to her Aadhaar number
  7. The compulsory linking of the applicant’s bank account with Aadhaar often causes problems

Need of pregnant women

  1. The worst form of hardship reported by pregnant women is the inability to improve their nutritional intake or even to eat properly during pregnancy
  2. Women who were working for wages before pregnancy could not work during their pregnancy and earned zero wages
  3. Women need to spend money during delivery or pregnancy which they have to borrow
  4. It is common for the families of the respondents to sell assets or migrate to cover these costs
  5. The PMMVY could help protect poor families from these financial contingencies

Linking PMVVY with NFSA

  1. The provision for maternity entitlements in the NFSA is very important for women who are not employed in the formal sector
  2. The PMMVY, however, undermines this provision due to the dilution of the entitled amount and the exclusion criteria
  3. There is an urgent need for better implementation as well as for compliance of the scheme with the NFSA
  4. Maternity benefits should be raised to ₹6,000 per child at least, for all pregnancies and not just the first living child

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Nations increasing wealth at the expense of environment, shows Inclusive Wealth Report

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Inclusive growth & issues arising from it.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Inclusive Wealth Report 2018

Mains level: Inclusive growth and GDP as measure of growth


News

  • The Inclusive Wealth Report 2018 shows that while overall global wealth is rising, the increase for many countries comes at the expense of environmental assets, such as water, clean air, forests and biodiversity.

Inclusive Wealth Report 2018

  1. A country’s inclusive wealth is the social value (not dollar price) of all its capital assets, including natural capital, human capital and produced capital.
  2. The IWR 2018 builds on previous versions of the report (IWR2012 and IWR 2014) and advances methods of measuring the base of economy- capital of all types.
  3. It covers the period from 1990 to 2014, which is 25 years, which provides us with a picture of the changes in capital assets over almost a generation.
  4. It is biennially released by UNEP, that seeks to evaluate and report on a country’s wealth and wellbeing.
  5. IWI is a tool assessing a nation’s ability to look after its wealth in a way that is sustainable and safeguards its future generations.

Highlights of the report

  1. The Inclusive wealth (IW) in 135 countries was higher in 2014 compared to the level in 1990 and the global growth rate of IW was 44% over the indicated period.
  2. This implies an average growth rate of 1.8% per year.
  3. However, during the same period the global GDP growth per year was 3.4%, which is close to twofold of the annual growth rate of growth in IW.
  4. The global level growth of each of the three capitals over the study period indicate that produced capital was growing at an average rate of 3.8% per year and health and education induced human capital was growing at 2.1%.
  5. Contrary, natural capital was decreasing at a rate of 0.7% per annum.
  6. The structure of capital at the global scale as of 2014 has composed of produced capital (21%), human capital (59% of which 26% education induced human capital and 33% is health induced human capital), and natural capital (20%).

Inclusive wealth over GDP

  1. By this measure, 44 of the 140 countries – more than a third – ranked in the report’s Inclusive Wealth Index have declined in inclusive wealth per head since 1998, even though GDP has increased in many of them.
  2. The report explores alternatives to using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a country’s wealth.
  3. It says that GDP measures the size of a country’s economy but not its underlying asset base.
  4. Instead, it uses inclusive wealth, which focuses on stocks of manufactured, human and natural capital.

Way Forward

  1. The health of an economy must be drawn from the health of the environment.
  2. To make the right choices that will keep us on a sustainable path, we have to be able to properly measure our progress.
  3. This report will equip policy-makers with the right numbers, so that they can make the right decisions to deliver results for generations to come.

With inputs from: UN Environment

Monsoon Updates

India may face an intense and increased water deficit in 2019

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Geography | Important Geophysical phenomena

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Monsoon dynamics in India, Global Water Monitor & Forecast Watch List

Mains level: Impact of deficit monsoon


News

  • Water deficits will increase and intensify in India in 2019, says the latest edition of Global Water Monitor & Forecast Watch List.

About WSIM

  1. The report is presented by IScience (US based LLC) states the findings from the latest Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM).
  2. ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM) monitors and forecasts water anomalies on a near global basis.
  3. WSIM includes algorithms to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture and electricity generation.
  4. WSIM has been run continuously since April 2011 and has been validated against subsequent monitoring based on observed data.

Details of the Forecast

  1. The forecast predicts severe to exceptional surplus water for regions including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram.
  2. Moderate to severe deficits were forecast for Bihar.
  3. From February through April, deficits in India are expected to moderate overall and some regions in the country’s eastern third will normalize.
  4. However, intense deficits will persist throughout Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and along the Tungabhadra River through Karnataka.
  5. The forecast for the final months — May through July (2019) — indicates primarily moderate deficits in India and pockets throughout the region.
  6. The 12-month forecast through July 2019 indicates exceptional (greater than 40 years) water deficits in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh.

Expected El-Nino Impact

  1. Though this September’s extreme heat was unrelated to El Niño which usually introduces warm dry conditions.
  2. El Niño is being blamed for low rainfall during the June-to-September monsoon season.
  3. The monsoon rain deficits have caused drought-like conditions in almost a third of Indian districts, and added stress for the farmers.

Coffee production to decline

  1. India’s coffee production is expected to fall to its lowest in five years due to flood damage to plantations in southern states such as Kerala and Karnataka.
  2. India exports about three quarters of the coffee it produces, and flood damage has been reported in all key producing areas of the country.

Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

Panel suggests measures to tackle crisis in stressed thermal power projects

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Solutions to revamp India’s power sector


News

Background

  1. The High Level Empowered Committee (HLEC) set up by Government of India in July 2018 came out with its report on stranded thermal power projects.
  2. The Committee has assessed the landscape of these stranded assets and identified the various reasons that have contributed to the current scenario.
  3. This report focused on 34 thermal power stations, totalling to a capacity of 40 gigawatt (GW), which are entirely fuelled by coal and lignite.

Reasons behind Power sector crisis

  1. Institutional challenges related to the issue have contributed to the problem.
  2. The envisaged a capacity addition requirement of 88 GW was surpassed with 99 GW during the corresponding period leading plants to perform below their rated capacities.
  3. Several root causes identified by the HLEC are interconnected with the debt burden of the distribution utilities and the financial stress on banks/financial institutions as well as promoters and bidders.
  4. A significant chunk of the problem has been caused by the erratic coal supply and the uncertainty of coal supplies due to scrapping of mine auctions by the Supreme Court.

Suggested solutions

HLEC has put forth suggestions, most of which are in line with current government policies to help power plants in general and stressed assets in particular.

  • Coal Supply
  1. Coal supply is an inter-ministerial issue, whereby the ministries for coal and railways have been requested to work out mechanisms to address short-term issues of supply.
  2. Linking coal supply to power plant efficiency is a good way to incentivise better, newer and more efficient assets.
  • Shutting inefficient Plants
  1. Old plants operating way past their lifetime are less efficient in resource utilization, have higher emission profiles and are also expensive due to swift recovery of renovation costs that keep adding on to them.
  2. Closing down of old, inefficient thermal power units make for good economics and good environmental sense.
  • Addressing financial risks
  1. Several measures related to power markets to address the financial risks have been strongly recommended by the HLEC.
  2. These include getting NTPC or any other agency to act as an aggregator for power purchases, which can subsequently be sold to distribution utilities.
  3. The idea is not new as Power Finance Corporation (PFC) had recently conducted a tender for procuring 2500 megawatt (MW) of thermal power from stranded assets under specific conditions.
  • Easing Clearances
  1. Many promoters are facing National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) for defaults, and their assets are also online for sale.
  2. Any new owner of a power plant should not be subjected to these challenges of obtaining clearances and signing agreements again, else the interest to acquire the asset may wane.

Gas-based thermal power: Not on Priority

  1. The talk to revive gas power plants is important, and serves good purpose as natural gas is a relatively cleaner fuel with lesser emissions.
  2. However, gas supply will continue to remain a problem for several reasons.
  3. Priority of supply of natural gas has always been lopsided to fertiliser industry, which uses natural gas as raw material and has a strong government presence and control.
  4. The political economy of gas supply and pricing will be heavily determined by this emerging consumer base as well.
  5. Even if imported, the lack of sufficient LNG storage terminal capacity and subsequent pipeline capacity will ensure that things remain more of the same in the near future.
  6. Therefore, these are mere platitudes unless a strong position is taken on reviving the fortunes of these power stations.

Way Forward

  1. The HLEC has shown that ways can be found to sort out the mess within the thermal power sector for coal fired power plants.
  2. However, the sole focus on coal has meant that gas-based power plants will have to wait for their turn under the sun.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

ISRO successfully launches hyperspectral imaging satellite HysIS

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the HysIS

Mains level:  Important missions of ISRO


News

  • The ISRO has successfully launched the PSLV-C43/HysIS mission from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota late.
  • This mission, the sixth one this year that will use a polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), will see the launch of HysIS – India’s own earth observation satellite.
  • The satellite will be accompanied by 29 other satellites developed by various nations, including 23 from the US.

About the Launch

  1. The PSLV launcher has a total length of 39.4m and consists of a four-stage rocket, that has alternating solid and liquid stages.
  2. PSLV-C43 is a core-alone version of the launch vehicle, and the lightest one in operation. The combined weight of the satellites is 641.5kg.
  3. PSLV-C43 mission’s payload consists of the HysIS satellite, one micro-satellite and 29 nano satellites.
  4. While the 30 foreign satellites will be launched at an altitude of 504 km from the Earth’s surface, ISRO’s HysIS satellite will be launched at an altitude of 636 km.
  5. The satellite will be put into a polar synchronous orbit, which sets it in motion along the axis that runs along the Earth’s geographic North and South Pole.

HysIS

  1. HysIS stands for Hyper Spectral Imaging Satellite.
  2. The objective of the probe is to provide observations within the visible, near infrared and shortwave infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  3. The imaging tools will help the HysIS satellite monitor atmospheric activity and climate change, while also assisting studies of Earth’s magnetic field.
  4. These observations will have a host of applications, prime among which relate to agriculture, forestry, water management, and coastal patterns.
  5. The satellite’s payload also consists of a 730W power backup, and a 64Ah Li-ion battery.
  6. It will continue to make observations till 2023, when the mission ends.
  7. After this launch, the next big event for the Indian space organisation will be its awaited mission to the moon – Chandrayaan-2 – in early 2019.

Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.

[pib] Emergency Response Support System (ERSS)

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ERSS, 112 India App, SHOUT

Mains level: Need for pan-India emergency response system.


News

  • The Union Home Ministry has launched Emergency Response Support System (ERSS) for Himachal Pradesh.

Emergency Response Support System (ERSS)

  1. Central Government has allocated ₹321.69 Crore under Nirbhaya Fund for implementation of ERSS project across the country.
  2. Under this project, a single number based 112 emergency services which will connect to Police, Fire, Health and other help lines through an Emergency Response Centre in the State.
  3. The service also includes a ‘112 India’ mobile app integrated with Panic Button of smartphones and ERSS State website for ease of citizen in availing immediate assistance.
  4. To increase the effectiveness of Emergency Response, the ERC has also been integrated with Location Based Services provided by Telecom Service Providers.
  5. Himachal Pradesh is the first state to launch pan-India single emergency number ‘112’ under ERSS.
  6. The ‘112 India’ mobile app will be subsequently rolled out in all States & Union Territories to help people across the country access the unified emergency services.

Safety Feature for Women

  1. To ensure safety of women, a SHOUT feature has been introduced in ‘112 India’ mobile app.
  2. It helps seek immediate assistance from registered volunteers in the vicinity apart from the immediate assistance from Emergency Response Centre.