Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defence system

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Iron Dome

Mains level : Paper 3- Iron Dome rocket defence system

Context

  • Amid the Israel-Palestine conflict, the night sky over Israel has been ablaze with interceptor missiles from Iron Dome shooting down the incoming rockets in the sky.

What is Iron Dome?

  • Iron Dome is a multi-mission system capable of intercepting rockets, artillery, mortars and Precision Guided Munitions 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 can be deployed over land and sea.
  • Iron Dome is jointly manufactured by Rafael Advanced Systems and has been in service with Israeli Air Force since 2011.
  • The radar system was developed by Elta.

Working of Iron Dome

  • 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 paper states.
  • The system has intercepted thousands of rockets so far and, according to Rafael Advanced Systems, its success rate is over 90%.

Limitations of the system

  • The system can see limitations when it is overwhelmed with a barrage of projectiles.
  • The system has a ‘saturation point’.
  • It is capable of engaging a certain number of targets at the same time, and no more.
  • One of the possible limitations 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 kilometres.

 

Israel-Palestine Clash

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : al-Aqsa mosque

Mains level : Paper 2- Israel-Palestine conflict

Context

On Monday, Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem, leaving a reported 300 people injured. The stand-off came at the end of a week of tensions over the eviction of Palestinian residents from two neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, to make way for Jewish settlers.

Cause of the clashes

  • The Al-Aqsa is located on a plaza at Temple Mount, which is known in Islam as Haram-e-Sharif.
  • The Mount is also Judaism’s holiest site.
  • The most imposing structure on the compound is the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome.
  • The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall sacred to Jews, is one side of the retaining wall of the Al-Aqsa compound.
  • Soon after the 1967 Six-Day War ended, Israel gave back to Jordan the administration and management of the Al-Aqsa compound.
  • While non-Muslims have not been allowed to worship at Al-Aqsa, Jewish individuals and groups have made repeated attempts to gain entry to the Mount Temple plaza.
  • Since the late 1990s, around the time of the first intifada, such attempts began occurring with a regularity as Jewish settlers began claiming land in East Jerusalem and surrounding areas.
  • It has led to repeated clashes and tensions at Al-Aqsa.

Rival claims over Jerusalem

  • Both Israel and Palestine have declared Jerusale their capital.
  • In July 1980, the Israeli Parliament passed the Jerusalem Law declaring it the country’s capital.
  • Palestinians declared Jerusalem the capital of the putative state of Palestine by a law passed by the Palestinian Authority in 2000.
  • The 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence also declared Jerusalem as the capital.
  • For the present, the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters in Ramallah.

How the world is reacting

  • The Security Council held a meeting on the situation in Jerusalem, but did not make any statement immediately.
  • Last Friday, the US said it was “extremely concerned” .
  • The UAE, which recently recognised as Israel as a state and sealed a historic peace agreement to normalise relations with it, has “strongly condemned” the clashes and the planned evictions in Jerusalem over the past week.
  • Saudi Arabia said it “rejects Israel’s plans and measures to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem”.
  • Pakistan Prime Minister also condemned Israel for violation of international law.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What the easing of IP norms on Covid vaccines means for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS

Mains level : Paper 2- What IP waiver for Covid vaccine mean to India

Background of waiver proposal

  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced its support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Following the onset of the pandemic, the World Health Organisation proposed a COVID-technology access pool as a knowledge sharing initiative to rapidly scale up vaccine output around the world.
  • As vaccine research progressed last year, wealthy and advanced countries, placed huge advance purchase orders for vaccines.
  • This meant that smaller, developing countries would take longer to get vaccines and find resources to pay for them.
  • In October 2020, India and South Africa floated a proposal at the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council to waive certain provisions of the WTO’s TRIPS pact till the pandemic subsides.
  • The proposal envisaged facilitating wider access to technologies necessary for the production of vaccines and medicines.
  • While a majority of the least developed countries backed the proposal, some like China, Turkey and Thailand sought more clarity.
  • However, the proposal was nixed with the E.U., the U.S., Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.K. rejecting it outright, along with Brazil.
  • Among other things, the argument was that such waivers could dampen innovation and research in areas such as pharmaceuticals and diagnostic technologies.

What next

  • The WTO’s TRIPS Council is tentatively expected to hold a meeting on the waiver proposal again later this month.
  • If and when an agreement is reached here, the WTO’s Ministerial Council will also have to sign off.
  • Since WTO decisions are based on consensus, all 164 members need to agree on every single aspect of the negotiated waivers and conditions attached.

Way forward for India

  • The Centre can take two steps immediately in consonance with its stance at the WTO, following the U.S.’ statement of support.
  • The Union government must issue notification under Sections 92 and 100 of the Patents Act to freely licence all patents necessary for vaccine and drug production to treat COVID-19.
  • Issues of the amount of royalties can be decided in due course as laid out in the Patents Act, but that should not come in the way of immediate licensing by the government.
  • The government need to provide full support to companies to scale up vaccine production.
  • Indian industry has a well-respected expertise and capability to rapidly manufacture raw materials, consumables and equipment necessary to produce drugs, vaccines, medical devices and equipment if Intellectual Property barriers are removed.

————————————————-//—————————————

BACK2BASICS

  • COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) will compile, in one place, pledges of commitment made under the Solidarity Call to Action to voluntarily share COVID-19 health technology-related knowledge, intellectual property and data. C-TAP works through its implementing partners, the Medicines Patent Pool, Open COVID Pledge, UN Technology Bank-hosted Technology Access Partnership and Unitaid to facilitate timely, equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 health technologies.

Understand how the story has progressed:

India seeks TRIPS waiver for Vaccines

How IPR served as barrier to the right to access healthcare

Important Judgements In News

Reading Maratha quota verdict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 102nd Amendment

Mains level : Paper 2- Maratha quota judgement

  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the Maharashtra law granting reservation to the Maratha community.
  • The court had framed six questions of law on the issue.
  • The court unanimously agreed on three of those issues, while the verdict was split 3:2 on the other three.

Issue 1:  Whether Indra Sawhney judgment needs to be revisited

  • One of the key issues was to examine whether the 1992 landmark ruling by the nine-judge bench in Indra Sawhney v Union of India had to be revisited.
  • First, it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”.
  • Second, it reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas reasoning that it was needed to ensure “efficiency” in administration.
  • However, the court said that this 50% limit will apply unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
  • The Maratha quota exceeded the 50% ceiling. 
  • The arguments by state governments before the court was that the Indra Sawhney verdict must be referred to a 11-judge Bench for reconsideration since it laid down an arbitrary ceiling which the Constitution does not envisage.
  • The court said that the 50% ceiling, although an arbitrary determination by the court in 1992, is now constitutionally recognized and held that there is no need to revisit the case.

Issue 2 and 3: Does Maratha quota law come under exceptional circumstances

  • The state government’s argument was that since the population of backward class is 85% and reservation limit is only 50%, an increase in reservation limit would qualify as an extraordinary circumstance.
  • All five judges disagreed with this argument.
  • The bench ruled that the above situation is not extraordinary.

Issue 4,5 and 6: Validity of 102nd Amendment

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018 gives constitutional status to the National Backward Classes Commission.
  • The Amendment also gives the President powers to notify backward classes.
  • The Bench unanimously upheld the constitutional validity of the 102nd Amendment but differed on the question of whether it affected the power of states to identify socially and economically backward classes (SEBCs).
  • Attorney General, appearing for the central government, clarified that this was not the intention of the law.
  • The Attorney General argued that it is inconceivable that no State shall have the power to identify backward class”.
  • The Attorney General explained that the state government will have their separate list of SEBCs for providing reservations in state government jobs and education.
  • The Parliament will only make the central list of SEBCs which would apply for central government jobs.
  • However, the Supreme Court held that “the final say in regard to inclusion or exclusion (or modification of lists) of SEBCs is firstly with the President, and thereafter, in case of modification or exclusion from the lists initially published, with the Parliament”.
  • This raises a question: How does this impact interventions by other states to provide reservations for other communities, for example Jats in Haryana and Kapus in Andhra?
  • The majority opinion essentially says that now the National Backward Classes Commission must publish a fresh list of SEBCs, both for states and the central list.
  • The Supreme Court also issued a direction under Article 142 of the Constitution of India which says that till the publication of the fresh list the existing lists will continue to operate.

————————————————-//————————————-

BACK2BASICS

  • National Commission for Backward Classes is a constitutional body (102nd amendment 2018 in the constitution to make it a constitutional body) (Article 338B of the Indian Constitution).
  • It was constituted pursuant to the provisions of the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993.
  • According to Article 338B, Commission shall consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three other Members and the conditions of service and tenure of office of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members so appointed shall be such as the President may by rule determine. The Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the Commission shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Climate change causing a shift in Earth’s axis, finds new study

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Polar shift

Mains level : Paper 3- How climate change causing a shift in the Earth's axis of rotation

About the study

  • A study is published in Geophysical Research Letters of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
  • The study has added yet another impact of climate change on the earth – marked shifts in the axis along which the Earth rotates.
  • It says that due to the significant melting of glaciers because of global temperature rise, our planet’s axis of rotation has been moving more than usual since the 1990s.

How the earth’s axis shifts

  • The Earth’s axis of rotation is the line along which it spins around itself as it revolves around the Sun.
  • The points on which the axis intersects the planet’s surface are the geographical north and south poles.
  • The location of the poles is not fixed, however, as the axis moves due to changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet.
  • Thus, the poles move when the axis moves, and the movement is called “polar motion”.
  • Generally, polar motion is caused by changes in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, oceans, or solid Earth.
  • But now, climate change is adding to the degree with which the poles wander.

What the study says

  • As per the study, the north pole has shifted in a new eastward direction since the 1990s, because of changes in the hydrosphere (meaning the way in which water is stored on Earth).
  • From 1995 to 2020, the average speed of drift was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995.
  • The faster ice melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s, the study says.
  • The other possible causes are terrestrial water storage change in non‐glacial regions due to climate change and unsustainable consumption of groundwater.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Govt leverage in Covid-19 vaccine pricing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DPCO

Mains level : Paper 2- Vaccine pricing issue

How government regulate prices of drugs

  • The Supreme Court flagged the issue of differential pricing for vaccines among States and the Centre and directed the central government to clarify it in an affidavit.
  • To ensure accessibility, the pricing of essential drugs is regulated centrally through The Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
  • Under Section 3 of the Act, the government has enacted the Drugs (Prices Control) Order (DPCO).
  • The DPCO lists over 800 drugs as “essential” in its schedule, and has capped their prices.
  • The capping of prices is done based on a formula that is worked out in each case by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), which was set up in 1997.

So, why the government is not regulating price of vaccines through DPCO

  • This is because the regulation through DPCO is not applicable for patented drugs or fixed-dose combination (FDC) drugs.
  • This is why the price of the antiviral drug remdesivir, which is currently in great demand, is not regulated by the government.
  • To bring vaccines or drugs used in the treatment of Covid-19 such as remdesivir under the DPCO policy, an amendment can be brought.

What other options government can explore to deal with the vaccine price issue

1) Patent Act 1970

  • The Patent Act 1970 has two key provisions that could be potentially invoked to regulate the pricing of the vaccine.
  • Section 100 of the Patents Act gives the central government the power to authorise anyone (a pharma company) to use the invention for the “purposes of the government”.
  • It enables the government to license the patents of the vaccine to specific companies to speed up manufacturing and ensure equitable pricing.
  •  Under Section 92 of the Act, which deals with compulsory licensing, the government can, without the permission of the patent holder, license the patent under specific circumstances prescribed in the Act.
  • Section 92 can be invoked in case of circumstances of national emergency or in circumstances of extreme urgency or in case of public non-commercial use.
  • After the government issues a notification under Section 92, pharma companies can approach the government for a licence to start manufacturing by reverse engineering the product.
  • However, in the case of biological vaccines like Covid-19, even though ingredients and processes are well known, it is difficult to duplicate the process from scratch.
  • The process will also entail new clinical trials to establish safety and efficacy, which makes compulsory licensing less attractive.

2) The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

  • Section 2 of this law gives the government “power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease”.
  • These broad, undefined powers can be used to take measures to regulate pricing.
  • However, the law lacks the teeth to implement such an important policy framework.
  • Violation of the Act is penalised under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with “disobedience to order duly promulgated by (a) public servant”.

3) Direct procurement by the Centre

  • Apart from these legislative options, experts suggest that the central government procuring directly from the manufacturers could be the most beneficial route to ensure equitable pricing.
  • As the sole purchaser, it will have greater bargaining power.

Major seismic hazard along Assam faultline

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Himalayan Frontal Thrust

Mains level : Paper 1- Major seismic hazards along Assam faultline

Location of epicentre

  • An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 on the Richter scale hit Assam around 8 am on Wednesday.
  • The primary earthquake had its epicentre at latitude 26.690 N and longitude 92.360 E, about 80 km northeast of Guwahati, and a focal depth of 17 km, the National Centre for Seismology (NCS) said.

The faultline

  • The preliminary analysis shows that the events are located near to Kopili Fault closer to Himalayan Frontal Thrust (HFT).
  • The Kopili Fault is a 300-km northwest-southeast trending fault from the Bhutan Himalaya to the Burmese arc.
  • The fault is a fracture along which the blocks of crust on either side have moved relative to one another parallel to the fracture.
  • The area is seismically very active falling in the highest Seismic Hazard zone V associated with collisional tectonics where Indian plate sub-ducts beneath the Eurasian Plate the NCS report said.
  • HFT, also known as the Main Frontal Thrust (MFT), is a geological fault along the boundary of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Need for earthquake preparedness

  • The Northeast is located in the highest seismological zone, so we must have constant earthquake preparedness at all levels.
  • Continuous tectonic stress keeps building up particularly along the faultlines.
  • Today’s earthquake was an instance of accumulated stress release — probably, stress was constrained for a fairly long time at this epicentre, and hence the release was of relatively higher intensity.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Understanding the Ct value in a Covid-19 test

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RT-PCR Test

Mains level : Paper 2- Ct value in RT-PCR test

Recently, the Maharashtra government sought clarity from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on the threshold Ct value to treat a person Covid-negative.

What is Ct value

  • Short for cycle threshold, Ct is a value that emerges during RT-PCR tests.
  • In an RT-PCR test, RNA is extracted from the swab collected from the patient.
  • It is then converted into DNA, which is then amplified.
  • Amplification refers to the process of creating multiple copies of the genetic material — in this case, DNA.
  • Amplification takes place through a series of cycles — one copy becomes two, two becomes four, and so on.
  • Put simply, the Ct value refers to the number of cycles after which the virus can be detected.
  • The lower the Ct value, the higher the viral load — because the virus has been spotted after fewer cycles.

Why Ct value is important

  • According to the ICMR, a patient is considered Covid-positive if the Ct value is below 35.
  • If the benchmark were to be lowered to 24 — the value mentioned in Maharashtra’s letter — it would mean that Ct values in the range 25-34 would not be considered positive.
  • A benchmark of 35, therefore, means that more patients would be considered positive than we would get if the benchmark were 24.
  • The ICMR has said lowering Ct threshold parameter may lead to missing several infectious persons.

Does Ct score indicate the severity of disease

  • A small study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology in January this year found that there was no correlation between Ct values and severity of disease or mortality in patients with Covid-19 disease.
  • It found that the time since the onset of symptoms has a stronger relationship with Ct values as compared to the severity of the disease.
  • The Ct value tells us about the viral load in the throat and not in the lungs.
  • The Ct value does not correlate with severity – only with infectivity.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Complexities of herd immunity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Herd immunity

Mains level : Paper 2- Herd immunity and issues related to it

What is herd immunity

  • The herd immunity concept is based on lowering the number of susceptible individuals.
  • If sufficient individuals in the population are immune either through vaccination or a prior exposure, then the number of susceptible individuals drops.
  • For example, if the immune population is 70%, then the susceptible population is 30%.

Does herd immunity really protect from subsequent waves?

  • The number of daily cases depends on three factors: The number of infectious people in the population, the number of susceptible individuals, and the rate of transmission of the virus.
  • The rate of transmission is dependent on the nature of the virus and the extent of contact between individuals.
  • So, if the rate of transmission increases due to change in social behaviour and increased contact then even with a large percentage of the immune population, a significant number of daily cases can result.
  • The “herd immunity” number is not a static number but it changes depending on the rate of transmission of the virus and the extent of virus present.

Estimating exposures in metro cities

  • Serosurveys indicated that Covid had touched 56% of population in Delhi by January; 75% in some slums Mumbai in November, and about 30% in Bengaluru in November.
  • The population touched by Covid can also be estimated by the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR).
  • This is the total number of deaths divided by the total people infected. In India, the estimate is 0.08%.
  • So this number can be used to back-calculate the number of infections based on the number of deaths in the different cities.
  • The table given below shows the number of people exposed to Covid in some metros until January 31 using the method above.

What are the reasons behind the recent surge

  • The reasons behind the recent surge are not fully understood.
  • The one factor that is not in doubt, however, is that interaction and contact with the population has increased since February.
  • Such increased contact increased the virus in circulation and led to increased cases in the susceptible population.

What the US’s recognition of killings of Armenians as genocide mean

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anatolia region

Mains level : Paper 2- Relations between Turkey and the US

What is genocide

  • According to Article II of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948, genocide has been described as carrying out acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Why Armenians were targeted

  • In a way, the Armenians were victims of the great power contests of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The resentment started building up after the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 in which the Turks lost territories.
  • In the Treaty of Berlin, big powers dictated terms to the Ottomans, including putting pressure on Sultan Abdülhamid II to initiate reforms “in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds.”
  • The Sultan saw this as a sign of strengthening ties between the Armenians and other rival countries, especially Russia.
  • Post the treaty, there were a series of attacks on Armenians by Turkish and Kurdish militias.
  • In 1908, the Young Turks wrested control from the Sultan and promised to restore imperial glory.
  • Under the Turks, the empire became more and “Turkik” and persecution against the ethnic minorities picked up.
  • In October 1914, Turkey joined the First World War on the side of Germany.
  • In the Caucasus, they fought the Russians, their primary geopolitical rival.
  • But the Ottomans suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Sarikamish by the Russians in January 1915.
  • The Turks blamed the defeat on Armenian “treachery”.

How the killings took place

  • As the War was still waging, the Ottomans feared that Armenians in eastern Anatolia would join the Russians if they advanced into Ottoman territories.
  • First, Armenians in the Ottoman Army were executed.
  • On April 24, the Ottoman government arrested about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. Most of them were later executed.
  • The Ottoman government passed legislation to deport anyone who is a security risk.
  • Then they moved Armenians, including children, en masse to the Syrian Desert. That was a march of death.
  • Before the First World War broke out in 1914, there were 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
  • According to a study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in 1922, four years after the War, the Armenian population in the region was about 387,800.
  • This has led historians to believe that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the course of the War.

What is Turkey’s response

  • Turkey has acknowledged that atrocities were committed against Armenians, but denies it was a genocide which comes with legal implications.
  • Turkey also challenges the estimates that 1.5 million were killed.
  • The Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a strong statement to Mr. Biden’s announcement saying it doesn’t not have “a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence”.
  • Turkey has called on the U.S. President to correct the mistake of recognition as genocide.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Amid concerns in India and Brazil, the unused vaccine stockpile in US

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Vaccine inequality

Issue of diverting the vaccine stock to India

  • Epidemiologists to industry leaders are urging the Biden administration to release the reserve to countries like India and Brazil, given the assertion that the doses won’t be used in the US.
  • According to Brown University School of Public Health Ashish Jha, the US is “sitting on 35-40 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine Americans will never use”.
  • In early April, US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said the US will likely not need the AstraZeneca shot. 
  • The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been granted Emergency Use Authorization by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
  • With documented cases of blood clots in younger women in Europe correlated with the vaccine, FDA authorisation may be further delayed.

What has the US said in response

  • Co-ordinator of the US Covid-19 taskforce that the Quad partnership and team is providing assistance across government to the country.
  •  He also stated that as their confidence around our supply increases, we will explore the option of exporting the vaccines.

Vaccine inequality

  • According to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, highest-income countries are vaccinating at a pace 25 times faster than the lowest ones.
  • The US has 22.9% of the world’s vaccines but only 4.3% of the world’s population.
  • China has 21.9% and 18.2% respectively, and India 13.8% and 17.7%, according to the tracker.
  • Almost half of all vaccines have gone to 16% of the world’s population.
  • The Washington Post reported that the world’s poorest 92 countries may not be able to vaccinate even 60% of their population for another three years.
  • India has vaccinated 8% per cent of the population with one dose and 1% with two. Brazil has vaccinated less than 12% with one.

Impact on vaccination in African nations

  • India’s stalled vaccine exports have domino effects on the rollouts in African nations and other developing countries, as Serum’s productions were fuelling efforts globally before India’s second wave.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Understanding infections after Covid-19 vaccination

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : How vaccine works

Mains level : Paper 2- Breakthrough infections

Breakthrough infections

  • There have been several cases of Covid-19 vaccinated people, even those who have received both doses, testing positive for the virus.
  • Such cases are referred to as “breakthrough” infections, indicating that the virus has been able to break through the defences created by the vaccine.
  • Such cases have led to some doubts being expressed about the effectiveness of the vaccine, and contributed to the already prevailing vaccine hesitancy. 
  • However, vaccines protect not against the infection, but against moderate or severe disease and hospitalisation.
  •  It typically takes about two weeks for the body to build immunity after being vaccinated.
  • So, the chances of a person falling sick during this period are as high — or as low — as the chances for any person who has not been vaccinated.
  •  Also, those in the priority list of vaccination, such as healthcare workers and frontline workers, have been prone to getting infected due to prolonged occupational exposure to the virus

Full protection not possible

  • It is very well understood that no vaccine offers 100% protection from any disease.
  • However, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) in the United States, vaccinated people are much less likely to get sick, but it is never entirely ruled out.
  • Then there is the emergence of new variants of the virus.
  • Some variants of the virus are able to evade the human immune response, and therefore have a greater chance to break through the defences created through the vaccine.

Breakthrough cases in India

  • Among 10.03 crore people who had taken only the first dose of Covishield vaccina, 17,145 had got infected.
  • That translates into a 0.02% prevalence.
  • Among the 1.57 crore people who received the second dose as well, 5,014, or about 0.03%, had got infected later.
  • About 1.1 crore doses of Covaxin have been administered until now.
  • Of the 93.56 lakh who took only the first dose, so far 4,208 have got the infection.
  • That is about 0.04% of the total.
  • Among the 17.37 lakh who have taken the second shot, only 695 had been infected, again 0.04%.

Challenges

  • “Given the scope of the pandemic, there’s a huge amount of virus in the world right now, meaning a huge opportunity for mutations to develop and spread.
  • That is going to be a challenge for the developers of vaccines.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

How & why of oxygen therapy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Epithelial cell

Mains level : Paper 2-Oxygen requirement in covid patients

How Covid-19 leads to shortness of breath?

  • Shortness of breath occurs because of the way Covid-19 affects the patient’s respiratory system.
  • When a person inhales, the tiny air sacs in the lungs — alveoli — expand to capture this oxygen, which is then transferred to blood vessels and transported through the rest of the body.
  • Respiratory epithelial cells line the respiratory tract.
  • Their primary function is to protect the airway tract from pathogens and infections, and also facilitate gas exchange.
  • And the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can infect these epithelial cells.
  • To fight such infection, the body’s immune system releases cells that trigger inflammation.
  • When this inflammatory immune response continues, it impedes the regular transfer of oxygen in the lungs.
  • Simultaneously, fluids too build up.
  • Both these factors combined make it difficult to breathe.
  •  Low levels of oxygen triggered by Covid-19 are inflammatory markers, which include elevated white blood cell counts and neutrophil counts.

Does a patient always show Covid symptoms when their oxygen levels drop?

  • No.
  • According to the FAQs on Covid-19 from AIIMS e-ICUS, sudden deaths have been reported at presentation to the emergency department, as well as in hospital.
  • AIIMS has said that the reasons that have been proposed include a sudden cardiac event, preceding “silent hypoxia” that went unnoticed, or due to a thrombotic complication such as pulmonary thromboembolism.
  • In silent hypoxia, patients have extremely low blood oxygen levels, yet do not show signs of breathlessness.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

President’s address in Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : President’s address

Mains level : Significance of Presidential address

Many Opposition parties announced their decision to boycott the President’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament at the start of the Budget session in solidarity with the farmers protesting against the three farm laws.

Try this PYQ:

Q. The President’s address is one of the most solemn occasions in the Parliamentary calendar. Discuss. Highlight its importance in Parliamentary Democracy.

President’s address

  • The Constitution gives the President the power to address either House or a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.
  • Article 87 provides two special occasions on which the President addresses a joint sitting. The first is to address the opening session of a new legislature after a general election.
  • The second is to address the first sitting of Parliament each year. A session of a new or continuing legislature cannot begin without fulfilling this requirement.
  • When the Constitution came into force, the President was required to address each session of Parliament.

In the UK, the history of the monarch addressing the Parliament goes back to the 16th century.  In the US, President Gorge Washington addressed Congress for the first time in 1790.

History & precedent

  • In India, the practice of the President addressing Parliament can be traced back to the Government of India Act of 1919.
  • This law gave the Governor-General the right of addressing the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State.
  • The law did not have a provision for a joint address but the Governor-General did address the Assembly and the Council together on multiple occasions.
  • There was no address by him to the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) from 1947 to 1950.
  • And after the Constitution came into force, President Rajendra Prasad addressed members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for the first time on January 31, 1950.

By the govt, about the govt

  • The President’s speech essentially highlights the government’s policy priorities and plans for the upcoming year. The address provides a broad framework of the government’s agenda and direction.
  • There is no set format for the President’s speech. The Constitution states that the President shall “inform Parliament of the cause of the summons”.

How it is done in India?

  • The speech that the President reads is the viewpoint of the government and is written by it.
  • Usually, in December, the PM’s Office asks the various ministries to start sending in their inputs for the speech.
  • A message also goes out from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs asking ministries to send information about any legislative proposals that need to be included in the President’s address.
  • All this information is aggregated and shaped into a speech, which is then sent to the President. The government uses the President’s address to make policy and legislative announcements.

Assembly debates on the matter

  • During the making of the Constitution, Prof K T Shah wanted the President’s address to be more specific.
  • He suggested that the language be changed to specify that the President shall inform Parliament “on the general state of the Union including financial proposals, and other particular issues of policy he deems suitable for such address”.
  • His amendment was inspired by the US Constitution, according to which the President gives to Congress information on the State of the Union, and recommend measures as he shall judge necessary.
  • But Shah’s amendment was rejected by the Constituent Assembly.
  • The address of the President follows a general structure in which it highlights the government’s accomplishments from the previous year and sets the broad governance agenda for the coming year.

Notable addresses till date

  • In 1985 President Giani Zail Singh announced that PM Rajiv Gandhi’s government intended to introduce a new national education policy and the anti-defection law.
  • In 1996, PM Vajpayee’s 13-day government announced its intention of giving statehood to Uttaranchal and Vananchal (Jharkhand) and 33 percent reservation to women in legislatures.
  • During his second stint in 1999, Vajpayee’s government mooted the idea of a fixed term for Lok Sabha and State Vidhan Sabhas.
  • After the devastating tsunami of 2004, PM Manmohan Singh’s government used the President’s Address to announce the creation of a national law for disaster management.

Procedure & tradition

  • In the days following the President’s address, a motion is moved in the two Houses thanking the President for his address.
  • This is an occasion for MPs in the two Houses to have a broad debate on governance in the country.
  • The PM replies to the motion of thanks in both Houses and responds to the issues raised by MPs.
  • The motion is then put to vote and MPs can express their disagreement by moving amendments to the motion.

Role of the opposition

  • Opposition MPs have been successful in getting amendments passed to the motion of thanks in Rajya Sabha on five occasions (1980, 1989, 2001, 2015, 2016).
  • They have been less successful in Lok Sabha. For example in 2018, Lok Sabha MPs tabled 845 amendments of which 375 were moved and negated.

Significance of the address

  • The President’s address is one of the most solemn occasions in the Parliamentary calendar.
  • It is the only occasion in the year when the entire Parliament, i.e. the President, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha come together.
  • The event is associated with ceremony and protocol.
  • The Lok Sabha Secretariat prepares extensively for this annual event.
  • In the past, it used to get 150 yards of red baize cloth from the President’s house for the ceremonial procession.

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

Comparison between India- Bangladesh per capita GDP

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GDP, GNP, GVA etc.

Mains level : India's GDP related issues

In IMF’s latest Economic Outlook, Bangladesh has overtaken India in GDP per capita. This has caught everyone’s attention.

Do you know?

  • In the 2019 edition of Transparency International’s rankings, Bangladesh ranks a low 146 out of 198 countries (India is at 80th rank; a lower rank is worse off).
  • In the latest gender parity rankings, out of 154 countries mapped for it, Bangladesh is in the top 50 while India languishes at 112.

Bangladesh surpasses India

  • Typically, countries are compared on the basis of GDP growth rate, or on absolute GDP.
  • For the most part since Independence, on both these counts, India’s economy has been better than Bangladesh’s.
  • This can be seen from Charts 1 and 2 that map GDP growth rates and absolute GDP — India’s economy has mostly been over 10 times the size of Bangladesh, and grown faster every year.
  • However, per capita income also involves another variable — the overall population — and is arrived at by dividing the total GDP by the total population.

What made India lag behind?

There are three reasons why India’s per capita income has fallen below Bangladesh this year:

  • The first thing to note is that Bangladesh’s economy has been clocking rapid GDP growth rates since 2004.
  • Secondly, over the same 15-year period, India’s population grew faster (around 21%) than Bangladesh’s population (just under 18%).
  • Lastly, the most immediate factor was the relative impact of Covid-19 on the two economies in 2020. While India’s GDP is set to reduce by 10%, Bangladesh’s is expected to grow by almost 4%.

How has Bangladesh managed to grow so fast and so robustly?

  • Freshly start: In the initial years of its independence with Pakistan, Bangladesh struggled to grow fast. However, moving away from Pakistan also gave the country a chance to start afresh on its economic and political identity.
  • Diverse labour participation: As such, its labour laws were not as stringent and its economy increasingly involved women in its labour force. This can be seen in higher female participation in the labour force.
  • Textile boom: A key driver of growth was the garment industry where women workers gave Bangladesh the edge to corner the global export markets from which China retreated.
  • Less dependence on Agriculture: It also helps that the structure of Bangladesh’s economy is such that its GDP is led by the industrial sector, followed by the services sector. Both of these sectors create a lot of jobs and are more remunerative than agriculture.
  • Better social capital: Bangladesh improved a lot on several social and political metrics such as health, sanitation, financial inclusion, and women’s political representation.

Retaining the lead

  • The IMF’s projections show that India is likely to grow faster next year and in all likelihood again surge ahead.
  • But, given Bangladesh’s lower population growth and faster economic growth, India and Bangladesh are likely to be neck and neck for the foreseeable future in terms of per capita income.

Nobel and other Prizes

Explained: Auction theory

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Auction Theory, Nobel Prizes

Mains level : Auction theory and its utility

This year, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson for “improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats”.

Do you remember the 2G spectrum scam, Coalgate scam etc. that rocked the nation? Can you relate this auction theory for bidding public assets to private entities?

What is Auction?

  • Essentially, it is about how auctions lead to the discovery of the price of a commodity.
  • Auction theory studies how auctions are designed, what rules govern them, how bidders behave and what outcomes are achieved.
  • When one thinks of auctions, one typically imagines the auction of a bankrupt person’s property to pay off his creditors.
  • Indeed, this is the oldest form of auction. This simple design of such an auction — the highest open bidder getting the property (or the commodity in question) — is intuitively appealing as well.

Evolving definitions of auction

  • Over time, and especially over the last three decades, more and more goods and services have been brought under auction.
  • The nature of these commodities differs sharply. For instance, a bankrupt person’s property is starkly different from the spectrum for radio or telecom use.
  • Similarly, carbon dioxide emission credits are quite different from the spot market for buying electricity, which, in turn, is quite different from choosing which company should get the right to collect the local garbage.
  • In other words, no one auction design fits all types of commodities or seller.

The Auction Theory

Three key variables need to be understood before we move to actual propositions.

(1) Rules of the auction

  • Imagine participating in an auction. Your bidding behaviour is likely to differ if the rules stipulate open bids as against closed/sealed bids.
  • The same applies to single bids versus multiple bids, or whether bids are made one after another or everyone bids at the same time.

(2) Commodity or service

  • The second variable is the commodity or service being put up for auction. In essence, the question is how each bidder values an item.
  • This is not always easy to ascertain. In terms of telecom spectrum, it might be easier to peg the right value for each bidder because most bidders are likely to put the spectrum to the same use.
  • This is called the “common” value of an object.

(3) Uncertainty

  • The third variable is uncertainty.
  • For instance, which bidder has what information about the object, or even the value another bidder associates with the object.

The theory

  • Wilson developed the theory for auctions of objects with a common value — a value which is uncertain beforehand but, in the end, is the same for everyone”.
  • Wilson showed what the “winner’s curse” is in an auction and how it affects bidding.
  • As shown in the illustration, it is possible to overbid — $50 when the real value is closer to $25. In doing so, one wins the auction but loses out in reality.
  • Milgrom “formulated a more general theory of auctions that not only allows common values but also private values that vary from bidder to bidder”.
  • He analysed the bidding strategies in a number of well-known auction formats, demonstrating that a format will give the seller higher expected revenue when bidders learn more about each other’s estimated values.

Significance of Auction theory

  • Throughout history, countries have tried to allocate resources in various ways.
  • Some have tried to do it through political markets, but this has often led to biased outcomes. For Ex: The rationing of essential goods worked in State-controlled economies. People who were close to the bureaucracy and the political class came out ahead of others.
  • Lotteries are another way to allocate resources, but they do not ensure that scarce resources are allocated to people who value it the most.
  • Auctions, for a good reason, have been the most common tool for thousands of years used by societies to allocate scarce resources.
  • When potential buyers compete to purchase goods in an auction, it helps sellers discover those buyers who value the goods the most.
  • Further, selling goods to the highest bidder also helps the seller maximise his or her revenues. So, both buyers and sellers benefit from auctions.
  • Whether it is the auction of spectrum waves or the sale of fruits and vegetables, auctions are at the core of allocation of scarce resources in a market economy.

What are the criticisms levelled against auctions and what are the economists contribution?

1.Issue of Winner’s Curse

  • The most common one is that auctions can lead buyers to overpay for resources whose value is uncertain to them.
  • This criticism, popularly known as the ‘winner’s curse’, is based on a study that showed how buyers who overpaid for U.S. oil leases in the 1970s earned low returns. Dr. Wilson was the first to study this matter.
  • The rational bidders may decide to underpay for resources in order to avoid the ‘winner’s curse’, and Dr. Wilson argued that sellers can get better bids for their goods if they share more information about it with potential buyers

2.Auction formats

  • Economists traditionally working on auction theory believed that all auctions are the same when it comes to the revenues that they managed to bring in for sellers. The auction format, in other words, did not matter.
  • This is known as the ‘revenue equivalence theorem’.
  • But Dr. Milgrom showed that the auction format can actually have a huge impact on the revenues earned by sellers.
  • The most famous case of an auction gone wrong for the seller was the spectrum auction in New Zealand in 1990.
  • In what is called a ‘Vickrey auction’, where the winner of the auction is mandated to pay only the second-best bid, a company that bid NZ$1,00,000 eventually paid just NZ$6 and another that bid NZ$70,00,000 only paid NZ$5,000.
  • In particular, Dr. Milgrom showed how Dutch auctions, in which the auctioneer lowers the price of the product until a buyer bids for it, can help sellers earn more revenues than English auctions.
  • In the case of English auctions, the price rises based on higher bids submitted by competing buyers. But as soon as some of the bidders drop out of the auction as the price rises, the remaining bidders become more cautious about bidding higher prices.

Conclusion

  • The contributions of Dr. Milgrom and Dr. Wilson have helped governments and private companies design their auctions better.
  • This has, in turn, helped in the better allocation of scarce resources and offered more incentives for sellers to produce complex goods.

Right To Privacy

Narco Test and the Issue of Consent

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Narcoanalysis, Polygraph Test

Mains level : Not Much

Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010 has held.

Try this question:

Q.What are the ethical issues associated with the Lie-detection tests?

Various Lie detector tests

(1) Polygraph Test

  • A polygraph test is based on the assumption that physiological responses that are triggered when a person is lying are different from what they would be otherwise.
  • Instruments like cardio-cuffs or sensitive electrodes are attached to the person, and variables such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, change in sweat gland activity, blood flow, etc., are measured as questions are put to them.
  • A numerical value is assigned to each response to conclude whether the person is telling the truth, is deceiving, or is uncertain.

(2) Narcoanalysis

  • Narcoanalysis, by contrast, involves the injection of a drug, sodium pentothal, which induces a hypnotic or sedated state.
  • In such a state, the subject’s imagination is neutralized, and they are expected to divulge information that is true.
  • The drug, referred to as “truth serum” in this context, was used in larger doses as anaesthesia during surgery and is said to have been used during World War II for intelligence operations.

Why these tests are so (in)famous?

  • Investigating agencies seek to employ these tests in the investigation, and are sometimes seen as being a “softer alternative” to torture or “third degree” to extract the truth from suspects.
  • These tests put into consideration the international norms on human rights, the right to a fair trial, and the right against self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Constitution.

Legal status in India

  • In ‘Selvi & Ors vs State of Karnataka & Anr’ (2010), a Supreme Court Bench comprising CJI ruled that no lie detector tests should be administered “except on the basis of the consent of the accused”.
  • Those who volunteer must have access to a lawyer, and have the physical, emotional, and legal implications of the test explained to them by police and the lawyer, the Bench said.
  • It said that the ‘Guidelines for the Administration of Polygraph Test on an Accused’ published by the National Human Rights Commission in 2000, must be strictly followed.
  • The subject’s consent should be recorded before a judicial magistrate, the court said.

What was the latest Judgement?

  • Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010 has held.
  • The consequences of such tests on “individuals from weaker sections of society who are unaware of their fundamental rights and unable to afford legal advice” can be devastating.
  • It may involve future abuse, harassment and surveillance, even leakage of the video material to the Press for a “trial by media.”
  • Such tests are an affront to human dignity and liberty and have long-lasting effects.
  • “An individual’s decision to make a statement is the product of a private choice and there should be no scope for any other individual to interfere with such autonomy,” the apex court had held.

Legal status of its outcome

  • The results of the tests cannot be considered to be “confessions”, because those in a drugged-induced state cannot exercise a choice in answering questions that are put to them.
  • However, any information or material subsequently discovered with the help of such a voluntarily-taken test can be admitted as evidence, the court said.
  • Thus, if an accused reveals the location of a murder weapon in the course of the test, and police later find the weapon at that location, the statement of the accused will not be evidence, but the weapon will be.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

China’S Climate Commitment

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Net Zero

Mains level : Climate change commitments

Context- Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping made two promises that came as a welcome surprise to climate change watchers.

What has China announced ?

  • First, Xi said, China would become carbon net-zero by the year 2060.
    • Net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorptions and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
    • Absorption can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while removal involves application of technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
  • Second, the Chinese President announced a small but important change in China’s already committed target for letting its emissions “peak”, from “by 2030” to “before 2030”.
    • That means China would not allow its greenhouse gas emissions to grow beyond that point.
    • Xi did not specify how soon “before 2030” means, but even this much is being seen as a very positive move from the world’s largest emitter.

How significant is China’s commitment?

  • China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It accounts for almost 30% of global emissions, more than the combined emissions in the United States, the European Union and India, the three next biggest emitters.
  • Getting China to commit itself to a net-zero target is a big breakthrough, especially since countries have been reluctant to pledge themselves to such long term commitments.
  • So far, the European Union was the only big emitter to have committed itself to a net-zero emission status by 2050.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

CBD Oil

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Research and development is medical science

Context- Earlier this week, late actor Irrfan Khan’s wife Sutapa Sikdar made an appeal to legalise CBD oil in India for its potential to treat cancer. Her appeal followed the criticism of actor Rhea Chakrabaorty after it was reported that she had administered CBD oil, used as a pain reliever for some, to Sushant Singh Rajput when he was alive.

About CBD oil ?

  • CBD oil is an extract from the cannabis plant. The two main active substances in it are cannabidiol or CBD and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
  • The high that is caused by the consumption of cannabis is due to THC. CBD, however, does not cause a “high” or any form of intoxication.
  • CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil.
  • Cannabidiol can reduce pain and anxiety. It also reduces psychotic symptoms associated with conditions such as schizophrenia as well as epilepsy.
  • There is not enough robust scientific evidence to prove that CBD oil can safely and effectively treat cancer.
  • CBD oil manufactured under a license issued by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 can be legally used. However, the use of cannabis as a medicine is not much prevalent in India.

History- Important places, persons in news

Who was Kanaklata Barua ?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kanaklata Barua

Mains level : Role of women in Indian National Movement

A Fast Patrol Vessel (FPV) named ICGS Kanaklata Barua was commissioned in the Indian Coast Guard on Wednesday, in Kolkata. It is named after a teenage freedom fighter who was shot dead in Assam during the Quit India Movement.

Who was Kanaklata Barua ?

  • One of the youngest martyrs of the Quit India Movement, Kanaklata Barua has iconic status in Assam. Barua.
  • Then 17, led the Mukti Bahini, a procession of freedom fighters to unfurl the Tricolour at Gohpur police station on September 20, 1942. When police did not let them move forward, an altercation led to firing, killing Barua at the head of the procession.
  • She had joined the Mrityu Bahini [a kind of a suicide squad] just two days before the incident. The squad strictly admitted members aged 18 and above but Kanaklata was an exception. She wanted to lead the procession and after much persuasion she was allowed to.
  •  Even as Barua fell to bullets, she did not let go of the flag. She did not want it to touch the ground. Another woman volunteer behind her — Mukunda Kakoty — came and held the flag, and she, too, was shot.

    How important is her legacy ?

  •  1940’s was a time where you saw a lot of women coming to the fore, leading processions, patriotic fervour was at its peak — and Kanaklata was a product of this time.
  • There are schools named after her, there are two statues, there is a ship. While we see her as an icon now, people in her village hated her then — she was a rebel, who questioned patriarchy.