9th October Current Affairs

1. Nobel Prize in Medicine, 2020

News: Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology on Monday for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis C Virus

  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a bloodborne virus and causes liver diseases. It refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver.
  • The novel virus caused several deaths in the 1960s and 1970s — but remained unknown until its discovery in the late 1980s.

What are other Hepatitis Viruses?

  • Before the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, two other viruses were known to cause hepatitis in patients.
  • The Hepatitis A virus was known to spread mainly through contaminated food and water and caused a relatively milder form of liver inflammation.
  • Hepatitis B, discovered in the 1960s, was known to transmit mainly through infected blood and caused a more serious form of the disease.
  • Incidentally, the discovery of the Hepatitis B virus too was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Medicine, given to Baruch Blumberg in 1976. There are vaccines available for this disease now.

How Hepatitis C came to observation?

  • The discovery and identification of the Hepatitis B virus facilitated the development of a diagnostic test to detect its presence in blood.
  • Thereafter, only blood sanitized from this virus would be given to patients, but it was observed that even this sanitized blood was able to prevent only 20% of the blood-borne hepatitis cases.
  • It was then that the search for the new virus began.

How is Hepatitis C treated?

  • Presently there is no vaccine available for HCV. However, it can be treated with antiviral medication. Hepatitis A and B are preventable by vaccine.

Hepatitis in India

  • 40 million people are chronically infected with the Hepatitis B virus and 6 to 12 million with the Hepatitis C virus.
  • In 2018 the National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme(NVHCP) was launched which has the target to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030. The program is the largest program for Hepatitis B and C diagnosis and treatment in the world.
  • Hepatitis Bis included under India’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) which provides free of cost vaccination against a total of 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • The first recombinant DNA-based vaccine for Hepatitis Binfection was made in India by Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotech.

2.Shyamji Krishna Verma

News: PM has paid rich tributes to revolutionary freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Varma on his birth anniversary.

About Shyamji Krishna Varma

  • SK Varma (1857–1930) was an Indian revolutionary fighter, a patriot, lawyer and journalist who founded the Indian Home Rule Society, India House and The Indian Sociologist in London.
  • He was a noted scholar in Sanskrit and other Indian languages. He pursued a brief legal career in India and served as the Divan of a number of Indian princely states in India.
  • He had, however, differences with Crown authority, was dismissed following a supposed conspiracy of local British officials at Junagadh and chose to return to England.
  • An admirer of Dayanand Saraswati’s approach of cultural nationalism, and of Herbert Spencer, Krishna Varma believed in Spencer’s dictum: “Resistance to aggression is not simply justified, but imperative”.

3.Kamath Committee Report

News: The Supreme Court recently asked the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India about the steps taken to implement the K.V. Kamath Committee report on recommendations to bail out sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Background:

  • Various writ petitions have been filed in the court highlighting the plight of borrowers, small and big, who were being charged compound interest, post the pandemic moratorium which expired on August 31.

When was the committee setup?

  • In August this year, RBI set up a committee headed by K.V. Kamath on restructuring of loans impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The Committee was tasked to recommend parameters for one-time restructuring of corporate loans.

Recommendations made by the Committee:

  • Graded approach to restructuring of stressed accounts based on severity of the impact on the borrowers- Banks can classify the accounts into mild, moderate and severe as recommended by the committee.
  • Five financial parameters to gauge the health of sectors facing difficulties-total outside liabilities to adjusted tangible networth, total debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (Ebitda), debt service coverage ratio (DSCR), current ratio and average debt service coverage ratio (ADSCR). 26 sectors have been identified including auto, aviation, construction, hospitality, power, real estate and tourism.

Applicability of these recommendations:

  • The committee was to scrutinise restructuring of loans above ₹1500 crore. The resolution under this framework is applicable only to those borrowers who have been impacted on account of Covid.
  • Only those borrowers which were classified as standard and with arrears less than 30 days as at March 1, 2020 are eligible under the Framework.

Why these measures were necessary? How serious is the debt problem?

  • Corporate sector debt worth Rs 15.52 lakh crore has come under stress after Covid-19 hit India, while another Rs 22.20 lakh crore was already under stress before the pandemic.
  • This effectively means Rs 37.72 lakh crore (72% of the banking sector debt to industry) remains under stress. This is almost 37% of the total non-food bank credit.
  • Besides, Companies in sectors such as retail trade, wholesale trade, roads and textiles are facing stress. Sectors that have been under stress pre-Covid include NBFCs, power, steel, real estate and construction.

4.India-Myanmar Relations

News: A two-day visit by the Foreign Secretary of India and the Army Chief to Myanmar completed with greater engagement between India and Myanmar.

Details:

  • As a part of India’sMedical or Drug Diplomacy a package of 3,000 vials of the antiviral Remdesivir given to assist Myanmar in its fight against the pandemic.
  • India has shown willingness to prioritise Myanmar in sharing Covid -19 vaccines, when available.
  • Operationalisation of the crucial Sittwe portin Myanmar’s Rakhine state by March 2021 is committed.
  • The two sides also discussed progress in the ongoing Indian-assisted infrastructure projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateralhighway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. The project will link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and then from Myanmar’s Kaladan river to India’s north-east.
  • India has been concerned over some militant groups like the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) from the North-East region taking shelter in Myanmar. Myanmar handed over 22 cadres of Indian insurgent groups in May 2020.
  • The maintenance of security and stability in their border areas and mutual commitment not to allow their respective territories to be used for activities inimical to each other were re-stressed.
  • Myanmar successfully conducted the 4thmeeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in Nay Pyi Taw.
  • The Union Peace Conference: 21stCentury Panglong is a continuing peace conference started in
  • Aim:To have a stable political environment in Myanmar with peaceful transition into democracy.
  • Outcome of 4thmeeting: The government of Myanmar and ten armed ethnic groups signed a framework agreement for the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
  • Indian Support:India assured continued support in sharing experiences in constitutionalism and federalism to assist Myanmar in its democratic
  • Rohingya Issues:India came forward for support for ensuring safe, sustainable and speedy return of Rohingya refugees from refugees camps of Bangladesh.
  • Building on the progress made under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP), India proposed to finalise projects under phase-III of the programme, including setting up of a skills training centreand upgrading of agricultural mechanisation.
  • Liaison Office:With the formal inauguration of liaison office in Nay Pyi Taw, India has taken one more significant step towards establishing its embassy in Nay Pyi Taw.
  • India has its embassy in Yangon,the former capital.

India-Myanmar

  • India and Myanmarhave shared cultural roots and historical relations, apart from the strategic, economic, social and political ties.
  • Myanmar is amember of both Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is an organization of East Asian nations as well as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) which bridges South and South-East Asia.
  • Connectivity projects through Myanmar help India overcome its Chicken-neck dilemma (Siliguri Corridor).Myanmar is also necessary for the development of North-Eastern India.
  • Myanmar stands at the confluence of India’s Neighbourhood Firstand Act East Policy and India-Myanmar partnership is at the heart of India’s vision to create a connected and cooperative neighbourhood.
  • Recently, India and Myanmarhad signed 10 agreements with a focus on socio-economic development of Myanmar, during Myanmar President U Win Myint’s visit to India.
  • Myanmar’s growing closeness with China and the recent proposal of China Myanmar Economic Corridoris a cause of concern for India amidst growing India-China tension.

5.World Habitat Day

News: The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day (5th October 2020).

About the Day:

  • It focuses on thestate of human settlements and people’s right to sufficient shelter.
  • It also aims to remind people that they are responsible for the habitat of future generations.
  • The Global Observance of World Habitat Day 2020, is being co-hosted by UN-Habitat and the Government of Indonesia.
  • UN-Habitatis a United Nations agency for Urban development that promotes sustainable human settlements. World Habitat Day was first celebrated in 1986 with the theme “Shelter is My Right”.
  • Nairobi(Kenya) was the host city for the observance that year.
  • Theme: “Housing for All-A better Urban Future”.
  • Thefocus is to promote sustainable housing management to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11. Sustainable Development Goal 11 aims to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

Global Scenario:

  • Currently, around 55% of the world population is living in cities, and the number is growing every day.
  • Around 1.8 billion people are still living in the slums. Around 3 billion lack basic hand washing and sanitation facilities.

Indian Scenario:

  • Challenges:In a country of India’s size, diversity, and population, it is a staggering challenge to implement an ambitious urban agenda.
  • Lack of Basic Amenities:Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition, there is a shortage in slum areas especially.
  • Public Health Infrastructure:Despite the huge growth in urban population density during the last two decades, there has been no commensurate improvement in the healthcare infrastructure.
  • High Level of Pollution:The growing rate of air pollution due to vehicular traffic and huge construction and demolitions waste increase morbidity amongst the people living the cities.
  • The large-scale migration from urban areas to the rural areasin the time of Covid-19 pandemic was a major challenge.

Measures:

  • Major flagship Missions such as Swachh Bharat Mission-UrbanPradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban, the Smart Cities Mission, the AMRUT Missionwere in implementation mode in India well before the SDGs were adopted by the other Member States.
  • Housing:There is a huge focus on the use of new and environmentally safe construction technologies and techniques. Through a global housing technology challenge (GHTC), the very best of national and international technologies are sought to be brought in.
  • GHTC aims to fast-track the construction of affordable housing and meet the target of constructing 1.2 crore houses by 2022.
  • GHTC focuses on identifying and mainstreaming proven demonstrable technologies for lighthouse projects and spotting potential future technologies for incubation and acceleration support through ASHA (Affordable Sustainable Housing Accelerators).
  • Urban Poor:The PM SVANidhi scheme targeting the street vendors who were affected by the lockdown that was imposed.
  • collateral free working capital of Rs.10,000is made available to the street vendors immediately by the participating banks.
  • Simultaneously, they are being brought on to the formal economy and the formal, digital banking ecosystem.
  • National urban policy framework 2018seeks to rebuild Indian cities around clusters of human capital, instead of considering them simply as an agglomeration of land use.

6.Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo

News: DRDO successfully conducted the flight test of its Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART) system.

What is the SMART system?

  • Torpedoes are self-propelled weapons that travel underwater to hit a target but are limited by their range.
  • In the mid-2010s, DRDO undertook a project to build capacity to launch torpedoes assisted by missiles; Monday’s was the first known flight test of the system.
  • This SMART system comprises a mechanism by which the torpedo is launched from a supersonic missile system with modifications that would take the torpedo to a far longer range than its own.
  • For example, a torpedo with a range of a few kilometres can be sent a distance to the tune of 1000 km by the missile system from where the torpedo is launched.

Why is it significant?

  • SMART is a game-changing technology demonstration in anti-submarine warfare.
  • India’s anti-submarine warfare capacity building is crucial in light of China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Assets of such warfare consist of the deployment of submarines, specialised anti-submarine ships, air assets and state-of-the-art reconnaissance and detection mechanisms.
  • The Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capability got a boost in June after the conclusion of a contract for Advanced Torpedo Decoy System Maareech, capable of being fired from all frontline warships.
  • India has been indigenously developing and building several anti-submarine systems and vessels in the recent past.

7.Nobel Prize in Physics, 2020

News: Three scientists won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for advancing our understanding of black holes, the all-consuming monsters that lurk in the darkest parts of the universe.

Who are these laureates?

  • Briton Roger Penrose received half of this year’s prize for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.
  • German Reinhard Genzel and American Andrea Ghez received the second half of the prize for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.

What are black holes?

  • A black hole is formed when stars collapse and can be defined as a space in the universe with an escape velocity so strong that even light cannot escape it.
  • Escape velocity is the speed at which an object must travel to override a planet or an object’s gravitational force. For instance, for a spacecraft to leave the surface of the Earth, it needs to be travelling at a speed of about 40,000 km per hour. Since light cannot get out, black holes are invisible and can only be tracked with the help of a space telescope or other special tools. And the reason light cannot escape is mainly that the gravity inside a black hole is very strong as a result of a lot of matter being squeezed into a small space.

Their contributions

  • Penrose has been awarded the prize for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity. Genzel and Ghez have been awarded the prize for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy. Penrose’s work has shown that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
  • Einstein himself did not believe that black holes exist and presented his theory in November 1915, providing a new way to look at and understand the gravity that shapes the universe “at the largest scale”.
  • Penrose used Einstein’s general theory of relativity in order to prove that the process of formation of black holes is a stable one. Genzel and Ghez, on the other hand, have discovered that an invisible and an extremely heavy object governs the stars’ orbit at the centre of the Milky Way.

8.Production Linked Incentive Scheme

News: The Ministry of Electronics and IT had approved some proposals by electronics manufacturers under its Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme.

What is the PLI scheme?

  • As a part of the National Policy on Electronics, the IT ministry had notified the PLI scheme on April 1 this year. The scheme will, on one hand, attract big foreign investment in the sector, while also encouraging domestic mobile phone makers to expand their units and presence in India.
  • It would give incentives of 4-6 per cent to electronics companies which manufacture mobile phones and other electronic components.
  • A/c to the scheme, companies that make mobile phones which sell for Rs 15,000 or more will get an incentive of up to 6 per cent on incremental sales of all such mobile phones made in India.
  • In the same category, companies which are owned by Indian nationals and make such mobile phones, the incentive has been kept at Rs 200 crore for the next four years.

Tenure of the scheme

  • The PLI scheme will be active for five years with financial year (FY) 2019-20 considered as the base year for calculation of incentives.
  • This means that all investments and incremental sales registered after FY20 shall be taken into account while computing the incentive to be given to each company.

9.Bio-decomposer technique

News: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced that the Delhi government will start spraying bio-decomposer solution prepared by Pusa Research Institute from October 11 to prevent stubble burning.

What’s the plan?

  • Pusa Research Institute has developed capsules containing bio-decomposers.
  • These capsules are mixed with a solution. When applied on fields, it dissolves the stem of stubble, converts it into compost, fertility of land increases and less fertiliser is used.
  • Delhi government will provide the solution to farmers free of cost and spray it in farms.
  • The solution will help in the disposal of stubble, without the involvement of stubble burning.

How were these bio-decomposers formed?

  • Pusa Decomposer is a mix of seven fungi that produce enzymes to digest cellulose, lignin and pectin in paddy straw. The fungi thrive at 30-32 degree Celsius, which is the temperature prevailing when paddy is harvested and wheat is sown.

10.Right to Protest

News: On March 23, the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest against the citizenship law was cleared by Delhi police after curbs were imposed on assembly and movement of people in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The protest had been on for more than 100 days. Even the apex court had appointed interlocutors to hold talks with the protesters and report back on the ground situation.

What has the Supreme Court ruled now?

  • The judgment upheld the right to peaceful protestagainst a law but made it unequivocally clear that public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied, and that too indefinitely.
  • It is the duty of the administration to remove such road blockades.
  • Dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated area.
  • Fundamental rights do not live in isolation. These rights are subject to reasonable restrictions imposed in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and public order.

Right to Protest peacefully:

  • The right to protest peacefully is guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
  • Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b)give to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, and to assemble peaceably and without arms. However, under Articles 19(2) and 19(3), the right to freedom of speech is subject to “reasonable restrictions”. These include the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Powers of state:

  • The legal provisions and avenue available to police for handling agitations, protests, and unlawful assemblies are covered by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, and The Police Act, 1861.

11.Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2020

News: French-American duo Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for the chemistry of CRISPR, which allows scientists to ‘cut-paste’ inside a genetic sequence.

The CRISPR technology

  • The CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, developed in the year 2012 CRISPR has made gene editing very easy and simple, and at the same time extremely efficient.
  • The technology works in a simple way — it locates the specific area in the genetic sequence which has been diagnosed to be the cause of the problem, cuts it out, and replaces it with a new and correct sequence that no longer causes the problem. The technology replicates a natural defence mechanism in some bacteria that use a similar method to protect itself from virus attacks.

Working of CRISPR

  • An RNA molecule is programmed to locate the particular problematic sequence on the DNA strand.
  • A special protein called Cas9, often described in popular literature as ‘genetic scissor’, is used to break and remove the problematic sequence. A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. But the auto-repair mechanism can lead to the re-growth of a problematic sequence.
  • Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process by supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes, which replaces the original sequence. It is like cutting a portion of a long zipper somewhere in between and replacing that portion with a fresh segment. Because the entire process is programmable, it has a remarkable efficiency and has already brought almost miraculous results.

Uses of CRISPR

  • There are a whole lot of diseases and disorders, including some forms of cancer, that are caused by an undesired genetic mutation. These can all be fixed with this technology. There are vast applications elsewhere as well. Genetic sequences of disease-causing organisms can be altered to make them ineffective.
  • Genes of plants can be edited to make them withstand pests, or improve their tolerance to drought or temperature.

12.Stockholm Convention

News: The Union Cabinet has approved the Ratification of seven chemicals listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

Stockholm Convention

  • It is a global treaty to protect human health and environment from POPs, which are identified chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate in living organisms, adversely affect human health/ environment and have the property of long-range environmental transport (LRET).

Key Provisions:  The provisions of the Convention require each party to:

  • Prohibit and/or eliminate the production and use, as well as the import and export, of the intentionally, produced POPs that are listed in Annex A to the Convention
  • Restrict the production and use, as well as the import and export, of the intentionally, produced POPs that are listed in Annex B to the Convention
  • Reduce or eliminate releases from unintentionally produced POPs that are listed in Annex C to the Convention Ensure that stockpiles and wastes consisting of, containing or contaminated with POPs are managed safely and in an environmentally sound manner

What are POPs?

  • Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), sometimes known as “forever chemicals” are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes.
  • Because of their persistence, POPs bioaccumulate with potential adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Many POPs are currently or were in the past used as pesticides, solvents, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals.
  • Although some POPs arise naturally (e.g from volcanoes), most are man-made via total synthesis.

Threats of POPs

  • Exposure to POPs can lead to cancer, damage to central & peripheral nervous systems, diseases of the immune system, reproductive disorders and interference with normal infant and child development.

India’s actions on POPs till now

  • The MoEFCC had notified the ‘Regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants Rules, on March 5, 2018, under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The regulation prohibited the manufacture, trade, use, import and export seven chemicals which were already listed as POPs under Stockholm Convention-

Do you know?

  • The Global Environment Facility (GEF) serves as a financial mechanism for the following conventions:
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
  • Minamata Convention on Mercury

13.Poverty and Shared Prosperity

News: The World Bank in its biennial Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report mentions that Covid-19 can add around 27-40 million new poor in Sub-Saharan Africa and around 49-57 million in South Asia region.

The “new poor” will:

  • Be more urban poor.
  • Be more engaged in informal services and manufacturing and less in agriculture.
  • Live in congested urban settings and work in the sectors most affected by lockdowns and mobility restrictions.

Details:

  • Extreme Poverty Projection:The COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021, depending on the severity of the economic contraction.
  • Percentage of Population:The pandemic and global recession may cause over 4% of the world’s population to fall into extreme poverty.
  • Extreme poverty:It is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day. The World Bank measures poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50, and also a multidimensional spectrum that includes access to education and basic infrastructure.
  • Increase in Rate of Poverty:Global extreme poverty rate is projected to rise by around 3% to 9.2% in 2020. If the pandemic would not have been there, the poverty rate was expected to drop to 7.9% in 2020.
  • Regions of Incidence: Many of the newly poor individuals will befrom countries that already have high poverty rates (Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia).
  • Around 82%of the total poor will be in middle income countries (MICs).
  • Flood Prone Areas:About 132 million of the global poor live in high flood risk regions. The focus on flooding in this report primarily reflects the fact that floods are one of the most common and severe hazards, especially in lower-income countries.
  • Reverse of Progress Made:Current increasing poverty is reversal of the achievements made in two-and-a-half decades (1990-2015).
  • Extreme poverty ratedeclined by 26%. It dropped to 10% from nearly 36%.
  • During 2012-2017, the growth was inclusive and the incomes of the poorest 40% of the population grew.
  • Theaverage global shared prosperity was 2.3% during the period.
  • Diminished Shared Prosperity:Average global shared prosperity is estimated to stagnate or even contract over 2019-2021 due to the reduced growth in average incomes.
  • Shared prosperity is defined as the growth in the income of the poorest 40% of a country’s population.
  • Reason: Global extreme povertyis expected to rise for the first time in 20 years because of the disruption caused by Covid-19.
  • It is exacerbating the impact of conflict and climate change, which were already slowing down poverty reduction.