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October 2019

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explained: What is Quantum Supremacy, claimed by Google?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quantum Supremacy

Mains level : Quantum Computing and its applications

  • Google announced that it has achieved a breakthrough called quantum supremacy in computing.
  • Scientists have developed an experimental processor that took just 200 seconds, to complete a calculation that would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years.

Quantum supremacy

  • It refers to a quantum computer solving a problem that cannot be expected of a classical computer in a normal lifetime.
  • This relates to the speed at which a quantum computer performs.
  • The phrase “quantum supremacy” was coined in 2011 by John Preskill, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology in a speech.
  • According to reports, the quantum processor took 200 seconds to perform a calculation that the world’s fastest supercomputer Summit would have taken 10,000 years to accomplish.

What is quantum computing?

  • Quantum computing takes advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.
  • Due to the way the tiniest of particles behave, operations can be done much more quickly and use less energy than classical computers.

How is Quantum computer different from a traditional computer?

  • What differentiates a quantum computer from a traditional computer is the way the two store information.
  • Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured – instead of just 1s or 0s – which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.
  • Classical computers carry out logical operations using the definite position of a physical state.
  • These are usually binary, meaning its operations are based on one of two positions. A single state – such as on or off, up or down, 1 or 0 – is called a bit.
  • In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce what’s known as a qubit.
  • These states are the undefined properties of an object before they’ve been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarisation of a photon.

 What makes a quantum computer so powerful?

  • In their research paper published in the journal Nature, scientists have announced that their Sycamore computer has solved a problem that is considered intractable for classical computers.
  • This was achieved by developing architecture of what is known as “qubits”.
  • “Qubits” is short for “quantum bits”, which are to quantum computers what bits are to traditional computers.
  • The more the number of qubits, the higher the amount of information, which increases exponentially compared to the information stored in the same number of bits.

What exactly has Google achieved?

  • From the development of a single superconducting qubit, the researchers proceeded to systems including architecture of 54 qubits with Sycamore.
  • One of these did not perform, the University of California, Santa Barbara said in a statement.
  • This architecture led to the 53 qubits being entangled into a superposition state.
  • Preparing this superposition state was accomplished in a matter of microseconds.
  • The researchers then sampled from this distribution by measuring the qubits a million times in 200 seconds.
  • The equivalent task for a state-of-the-art classical supercomputer would take approximately 10,000 years, they wrote in their paper.

Why does it matter?

  • First, it is important to know that scientists are still a long way from developing a quantum computer.
  • What they have achieved is the development of an architecture of qubits, and the demonstration of its computing capabilities.
  • In the long term, scientists are always looking to improve on what they have already achieved.
  • If and when created, a quantum computer could revolutionise science research and technological advances.
  • It could boost areas like artificial intelligence, lead to new energy sources and even to new drug therapies.

Issues with QC

  • On the other hand, there may also be issues of national security.
  • They could also override the encryption that protects our computers and the data we use online.
  • Because of that, the governments of the United States and China consider quantum computing a national priority.
  • As some scientists work on quantum computers, others are devising security techniques that could thwart their code-breaking abilities.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

India, Pak. sign Kartarpur pact


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kartarpur Corridor

Mains level : Pilgrimage diplomacy and Kartarpur corridor

  • India and Pakistan finally signed an agreement to operationalize the Kartarpur corridor that will facilitate pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.

About the agreement

  • The agreement is valid initially for five years.
  • India will hand over the list of pilgrims to Pakistan 10 days in advance and those granted permission to go may be informed only four days before the proposed date of travel.
  • The agreement said pilgrims would be allowed to carry a maximum of Rs. 11,000 and a 7-kg bag that could contain drinking water, and they would not be allowed to venture beyond the shrine.
  • They would travel in the morning and return the same day.
  • However there has been no progress on resolving the disagreement over a $20 fee that Pakistan intends to levy on each traveller.

Why is Pakistan seeking fees?

  • The fees is being criticized as “jazia” tax on pilgrims from Indian side.
  • However, Pakistan has spent about Rs 1,000 crore on the Kartarpur corridor infrastructure.
  • It said it would be providing langar to the pilgrims who visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.
  • It would also be providing e-rickshaws to ferry the pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side.

Guidelines  issued

  • According to the “do’s and don’ts” issued by the MHA children below 13 years and persons of about 75 years and above will have to travel in groups.
  • All pilgrims who propose to visit will have to necessarily register online. Registration does not confer a right to travel.
  • Pilgrims would be allowed to carry kirpans (dagger), one of the five articles of faith worn by Sikhs.
  • Smoking, drinking and use of tobacco are not allowed inside the PTB complex at Dera Baba Nanak.


Kartarpur Corridor

  • The first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, founded Khartarpur in 1504 AD on the right bank of the Ravi River. The name Kartarpur means “place of God”.
  • The corridor is being built to connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur with Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak.
  • It is held to commemorate his 550th birth anniversary celebrations on November 12.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Global Ease of Doing Business Report 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the index

Mains level : Ease of doing business in India

  • India has improved its score in the World Bank’s global Ease of Doing Business rankings, rising 14 notches to be placed 63rd out of 190 countries on the back of “sustained business reforms”.

About the index

  • The indicator measures the performance of countries across 10 different dimensions in the 12-month period.
  • The DBR ranks countries on the basis of Distance to Frontier (DTF), a score that shows the gap of an economy to the global best practice.
  • The 10 areas of study are: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, and resolving insolvency.
  • Each country is scored and also ranked ( a comparison ).
  • The 0-100 score measures any given country’s performance with respect to the best practice across the entire set of countries. A score of zero signifies worst regulatory performance and 100, the best.
  • The indicator, however, is not necessarily representative of each country.

Important features of India’s performance

  • The World Bank has recognized India as one of the top 10 improvers for the third consecutive year.
  • Recovery rate under resolving insolvency has improved significantly from 26.5% to 71.6%.
  • The time taken for resolving insolvency has also come down significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years.
  • India continues to maintain its first position among South Asian countries. It was 6th in 2014.

What helped India improve?

  • For 11 countries, two cities were selected to construct the indicator – Delhi and Mumbai in the case of India.
  • It has further streamlined, in Delhi, the process and reduced the time and cost of obtaining construction permits and improved building quality control by strengthening professional certification requirements.
  • In addition to this, Mumbai’s streamlining of obtaining building permits has made it faster and less expensive to get a construction permit.
  • Its efforts to make it easier to trade across borders and resolve insolvency have also helped improve its ranking.
  • The government’s goal was to be among the top 50 economies by 2020.

What are the problem areas?

  • India still lags in areas like enforcing contracts and registering property.
  • It takes 58 days and costs on average 7.8 per cent of a property’s value to register it, longer and at greater cost than among OECD high-income economies.
  • And it takes 1,445 days for a company to resolve a commercial dispute through a local first-instance court, almost three times the average time in OECD high-income economies.

Global performance

  • The 10 top ranking countries with respect to the indicator were: New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong SAR China, Denmark, Korea, USA, Georgia, United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden.
  • China (rank 31, score 77.9) made it to the top 10 list for the second such year.
  • New Zealand and Somalia retained their 1st and 190th spot respectively.
  • As far as India’s neighbourhood is concerned, Pakistan carried out the most reforms in the South Asia.
  • Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Afghanistan made zero regulatory changes.
  • South Asian region generally underperforms with regard to enforcing contracts and registering property, as per the Bank.

Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

Chenani Nashari Tunnel renamed after Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chenani Nashari Tunnel

Mains level : Not Much

  • Union Ministry for Road Transport & Highways announced renaming of Chenani Nashri Tunnel on NH 44 in Jammu & Kashmir as Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Tunnel.

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Tunnel

  • This 9 km tunnel is the longest such state of art tunnel in the country, connecting Udhampur to Ramban in Jammu.
  • The key features of the tunnel are — it is a single-tube bi-directional tunnel, with a 9.35-metre carriageway, and a vertical clearance of 5 metres.
  • It cuts down 31 km of travel distance and reduces the travel time between the two points by about two hours, in addition to substantial saving in fuel cost.
  • There is also a parallel escape tunnel, with ‘Cross Passages’ connecting to the main tunnel at intervals of 300 metres.
  • It also has smart features such as an integrated traffic control system; surveillance, ventilation and broadcast systems; fire fighting system; and SOS call-boxes at every 150 metres.

Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nano-pharmaceuticals

Mains level : Nano-pharmaceuticals and their applications

  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released guidelines for evaluation of nano-pharmaceuticals, which are emerging as more potent tools for treating various diseases.

What are Nano-pharmaceuticals?

  • Nanopharmaceuticals represent an emerging field where the sizes of the drug particle or a therapeutic delivery system work at the nanoscale.
  • They are derived by application of nanotechnology in medical therapeutics.
  • In the pharmaceutical industry, a long-standing issue is a difficulty of delivering the appropriate dose of a particular active agent to specific disease site.
  • Nanopharmaceuticals have enormous potential in addressing this failure of traditional therapeutics which offers site-specific targeting of active agents.
  • Such precision targeting via nanopharmaceuticals reduces toxic systemic side effects, resulting in better patient compliance.


  • They are expected to bring about a revolution in treatment strategies as they would enable targeting specific delivery of drugs and therapeutic molecules.
  • They offer higher efficacy and lower toxicity in many disease conditions.
  • They are expected to be of great use particularly in cancer treatment.

Why need guidelines?

  • Every year several new nano-pharmaceuticals are being developed and marketed across the world.
  • India too has a sizable pool of nano-scientists generating a large number of scientific publications in this domain.
  • However, regulatory approval is the most important factor for translating laboratory research into bedside medicine.
  • The new set of guidelines is designed to facilitate this process.

About the guidelines

  • The guidelines cover all the aspects of evaluation from the definition and categorization of nano-pharmaceuticals to pharmacovigilance of the new set of therapeutics.
  • It has been prepared as a joint project by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, and ICMR and Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation under health Ministry.
  • It will give a big boost to innovators and drug manufacturers to optimise their research and come out with medicines that would be safer and more affordable.

History- Important places, persons in news

Pushkaram Festival


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pushkaram

Mains level : Significance of the festival

  • Guwahati is marking the inauguration of the 12-day Brahmaputra Pushkar and Sanskritik Mahotsav.
  • Devotees from Tamil Nadu will perform the rituals at the banks of Brahmaputra river.


  • Pushkaram is an Indian festival dedicated to worshiping of rivers.
  • It is also known as Pushkaralu (in Telugu), Pushkara (in Kannada) or Pushkar.
  • It is celebrated at shrines along the banks of 12 major sacred rivers in India, in the form of ancestor worship, spiritual discourses, devotional music and cultural programmes.
  • The celebration happens annually, once in 12 years along each river.
  • Each river is associated with a zodiac sign, and the river for each year’s festival is based on which sign Jupiter is in at the time.

Significance of the festival

  • The transit of Jupiter in 2018 was marked by the entry of Pushkaram in the river Tamiraparani on October 12 last year.
  • The planets were in a unique constellation, the phenomenon occurring after 144 years.
  • This year, the transit of Jupiter will signal the movement of Pushkaram from Tamiraparani to the Brahmaputra.
  • The end-phase will be celebrated for three days at Kurukkuturai and the waters taken to Guwahati, where it will be consigned to the Brahmaputra.

Medical Education Governance in India

[op-ed snap] Medical devices are not drugs


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Medical devices regulations in India


The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is going to put in place a regulatory framework for medical devices that will favor the lobbyists for the medical device industry. The medical industry has already proven itself to be brazenly irresponsible towards patients in India as we are seeing in the ongoing hip-implant scandal.

Steps towards regulation

  • Regulation, not law – Rather than moving a new law to regulate the medical device industry, the ministry is creating a regulatory framework out of notifications and rules, using powers delegated under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
  • The ministry notified the Medical Device Rules, 2017 using powers under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. At that time, only a few medical devices were notified as “drugs”. 
  • In the latest notification, the government announced its intention to treat all medical devices as “drugs” under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. All medical devices would be placed within the framework of the Medical Device Rules, 2017. 
  • Poor regulation – retrofitting medical devices into the Drugs and Cosmetics Act will lead to a toothless regulatory framework for devices, similar to what exists for drugs today.

Problems with the move

  • Bypassing parliament – The ministry cannot create new offenses or penalties through its rule-making authority. Only Parliament can enact a law that creates new offenses and penalties for wrongdoing. The Medical Device Rules 2017 contain no penal provisions. 
  • No legally binding provisions – Although the Drugs and Cosmetics Act contains a penal provision for the manufacture of substandard drugs, it cannot be used to penalise manufacturers of sub-standard medical devices. Legally binding standards recognised in the Second Schedule to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act covers only pharmacopeias for drugs. 
  • If no standards for medical devices are recognised in the Second Schedule, there can never be a prosecution of a manufacturer of sub-standard medical devices.
  • Foreign markets – Companies that make defective products will recall them from foreign markets and sell the same product in India, and comply with the law.  
  • Even though the sale of substandard drugs can be prosecuted under the current law, most manufacturers who make poor quality drugs go scot-free. 
  • No prosecutions will take place because there will be no basis to prosecute intentional wrongdoing in the law.
  • Standards of medical devices – Medical devices will be far more difficult to standardise when compared to drugs.
  • No tools – There are no tools available to Indian regulators under the proposed framework to hold makers of sub-standard medical device manufacturers to account. At most, the ministry can prohibit the manufacture and sale of certain medical devices under Section 26A or cancel a license to prevent future harm. 
  • Past errors – There are no penalties or prosecution to punish for the harm already inflicted on patients due to negligence or worse, intentional wrongdoing by the manufacturer.
  • Registry of patients – One of the main challenges faced by the government in securing justice for faulty hip-implants was to secure a list of patients who had received the implant through surgery.
  • Neither the doctors nor the hospitals have an incentive to share the list of patients or even inform the patients because it would mean opening themselves up to legal liability for surgically implanting faulty devices in the patient’s body.
  • The proposed regulatory framework will do little to hold the powerful medical devices industry accountable in cases of intentional wrongdoing. 
  • Medical devices are not drugs, and it would be a grave mistake to apply the same regulatory framework to regulate these complex devices.

Way ahead

  • Create a confidential patient register that should be maintained by the government to record all details of implants.
  • This register could be used to notify patients in the case of malfunctioning devices. 
  • The government must rethink this toothless framework and instead enact a new law through Parliament.
  • There is a need for new ideas to regulate this industry in the Indian context where the courts lack the capacity to tackle such complex issues.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

[op-ed snap] Good report card


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Ease of Doing Business


The rise in India’s ranking by 14 places to 63 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 survey is a positive development. 


  • India also figures in the top ten most improved countries in the world for the third consecutive year. 
  • From 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2020, it has been a significant upward journey for the country.
  • The rank list is an important input in the plans of global investors. 

Reasons for improvement

  • IBC implementation – India’s rank improved from 108 to 52 in the “resolving insolvency” category. The overall recovery rate for lenders moved up from 26.5 cents to 71.6 cents to the dollar according to the World Bank. 
  • TFA – signing TFA at WTO resulted in a reduction of trade procedures and paperwork. The country’s ranking in the “Trading across borders” category jumped 12 places from 80 to 68. This shows abatement of paperwork in favor of the electronic filing of documents and single-window customs procedures.
  • Dealing with construction permits – The country’s ranking has improved by 25 places from 52 to 27.

Challenges remain

  • Global competitors – India is still below its competitors for global capital, particularly China. 
  • Other indicators – The country lags in key metrics such as “Starting a business’, “Enforcing contracts” and “Registering property”. 
  • Delhi and Mumbai only – The rankings are based on samples and audits done in Mumbai and Delhi only. Starting, running or shutting down a business may be easier in Delhi and Mumbai compared to Coimbatore or Hyderabad where it is more difficult.
  • Federation – It is not easy to streamline processes across the country due to India’s federal set up where States have a big say in several parameters such as securing building permits, land approvals, electricity connections, registering assets etc. 


The easier part is now done and the rise in the rankings from hereon will depend on how much the Centre is able to convince the States to reform their systems.